I bit my lip to keep from laughing out loud. Everything gets funnier when you’re waiting to find out whether you’re in mortal danger, and Becks saying “tinkle” would have been hysterical under the best of conditions. This was, after all, a woman who once pissed off the side of a moving RV while fleeing from a mob of hungry zombies. On camera, no less. We got a lot of downloads that day, even with the modesty filters in place. “Well, last time we went to a CDC office, they were—hell with it, he won’t mind if I show you, and it’ll be faster this way.” I stood, sliding my phone back into my pocket.
“Thanks, Shaun.” Becks followed me. She was doing her best to look embarrassed, and she was doing a decent job. I would have believed it if I’d been watching the scene through a security feed, and if I hadn’t known her so well. “It’ll only take me a minute.”
“It’s cool. Keeps me from getting twitchy while we wait.” I hesitated, looking at the door. Something about it was wrong in a way that was so weird that I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was like waking up one morning to find that my hair had changed color—impossible, and hence invisible, at least for a little while.
Look at the light, advised George.
The light above the door—the light that should have been green, signaling that the standard security features were active, and that the door would open after a successful blood test had been run—was glowing a strong and steady yellow. I nodded toward it, watching as Becks followed the direction of the gesture. She went pale. A green light means everything is good, all systems go. A red light means a lockdown: Either there’s live viral material in the room with you or there’s live viral material right outside the room, where you don’t want to go. Either way, if you sit tight, the problem will resolve itself. A yellow light… I wasn’t sure what a yellow light could possibly mean, beyond the chilling “this door has not been properly locked.”
Ignoring the testing panel waiting for my palm, I reached out and gently grasped the doorknob. Nothing shocked or stung me. The light didn’t change. I gave a gentle tug. The door swung just as gently inward. There was no hydraulic hiss; the hydraulics were not engaged.
“I don’t think there’s a place anywhere on this planet where that’s a good thing,” said Becks, reaching under her jacket to rest her hand against the grip of her pistol. “Suggestions?”
“I suggest we go and find Director Swenson, let him know that he’s having some kind of security problem—and I don’t mean two reporters loose in his building. You’re going to have to wait for that tinkle.”
“I can hold it,” said Becks gravely.
We left the white-on-white confines of the conference room for the white-on-white of the hall we’d come in through. There was no one in sight in either direction, making it seem like we might be the last two people on Earth.
Something isn’t right here, said George.
“Got that right,” I muttered, drawing my own pistol and releasing the safety. Becks was looking at me intently, waiting for me to clarify whether I was talking to George or to her. I gestured down the hall in the direction we’d come from. “I think I can get us out if we go this way. But I’ll bet you a dollar our good director went the other way.”
“Then that’s the way we’re going,” said Becks, turning to scan the hall ahead of us. “Looks clear from here.”
“I think that’s the problem.” I started walking, keeping my pistol at a low, defensive angle. Technically, it’s legal for me to be armed anywhere I want to be, since I’ve passed my tests and I keep my licenses up-to-date at all times. Less technically, I’m not sure it’s a good idea for anyone, be he blogger, God, or the president of the United States, to go around waving a gun in a government building. It tends to give them the crazy idea that you might shoot, and things tend to get real unpleasant real fast after that happens.
The not-rightness of the situation became more and more apparent as we walked. We passed labs, break rooms, and more of the one-way windows into rooms intended for patient care. We passed bulletin boards, signs, and even the bathrooms. What we didn’t pass was anyone who demanded to see our IDs and asked what we were doing wandering around the building unescorted. Near as I could tell, the Portland CDC had been quietly and effectively deserted. All we needed was a creepy minor-key soundtrack to reinforce the idea that this was a bad situation. George waited silently inside my head, not making any comments that might distract me. That was good. I was already jumpy enough.
“We should be catching up to the director soon, assuming he hasn’t taken a turn we missed,” I said. “If he has, we better hope there’s an emergency exit somewhere in this place.”
“Pessimism doesn’t become you.”
“But I’m so good at it.” We kept walking, Becks trailing about three feet behind me and turning every few steps to sweep the corridor. If anything came lunging after us, she’d have time to gun it down before it caught up. “Hey, did you ever see those f**ked-up first-person shooter games that were so big before the Rising? The ones with the zombies chasing you through government buildings and creepy old houses and shit?”
“Shut up, Shaun.”
“That’s what this feels like. One big maze, and we’re the rats unlucky enough to be in it.” A reassuring exit sign marked one of the doors ahead, and the light above it was a steady, reassuring green. I started to think that maybe there was an innocent explanation for all this, like a broken circuit somewhere that had required a quick, quiet evacuation of the unsecured areas. The director might have been intending to come back for us.