The knob turned without any resistance and the door swung inward, nearly spilling me—and by extension, Becks—into a pantry-sized room with glowing amber tubes running all along the edges of the ceiling, like supersized versions of the portable field light. I recovered my balance and stumbled fully into the room, thrusting Becks behind me before slamming the door shut. There were three old-fashioned deadbolts on the inside, the kind of things that can never go down, not even in a power failure. I slid all three of them into the closed and locked position before I’d even finished processing the impulse to do it.
“Shaun?” Kelly’s voice was strident enough to make me wince. “Where are you? Are you okay?”
“We’re in some sort of weird closet.” I backed away from the door, keeping my pistol trained just above the knob. If the infected started trying to batter their way inside, I’d make them pay for every inch they gained.
“Are the lights red, yellow, or green?”
“Yellow.” It was close enough to the truth, and closer than either of the other options.
Kelly sighed in obvious relief. “That means the security system is engaged, but you’re not in one of the sections already locked down. The door is soundproof, scent-proof, and splatter-proof, so as long as everyone inside is clean, you should be okay.”
“As long as we don’t mind dying like rats in a cage, you mean. How do we get out of here, Doc?”
“There should be a door directly opposite the one you came in through.”
The wall was blank and featureless. “No door.”
“Touch the wall.”
not iJust do it.”
If Kelly was trying to kill us, she wouldn’t have given us a bolt hole. I nodded toward the far wall, saying, “Doc wants us to touch it.”
“Anything’s better than going back out there.” On this philosophical note, Becks slapped her left palm flat against the wall—which immediately wavered and turned translucent, revealing a second wall behind it. There was a door at the center, twin to the one we’d entered through.
Becks yanked her hand away, swearing loudly. In my ear, Kelly said, “I hear shouting. Do you see the real wall now?”
“You could’ve warned us!” The newly revealed wall included three testing panels, all with reassuringly green lights shining next to them.
“I wasn’t sure it would be there,” said Kelly. Her tone was sincere; either she really meant it, or she was a much better actress than she’d been letting on. “Put your hands against the test panels. You’re going to need to check out as clean if you want the glass to lift. If you’re not…”
If we weren’t, we’d never get out of this room. “Are you sure the tests will work?”
“It’s a secondary system. It doesn’t run off the main grid. If the screen was still in place and the interior lights are on, it should work.”
“I’m trusting you on this one, Doc. Don’t f**k us.” I holstered my pistol and walked over to join Becks at the wall, slapping my hand against one of the testing units. She lifted her eyebrows. I nodded to her, and she mimicked the motion. From her grimace, the needles bit into both of us at the same time. These tests were built for crude effectiveness, not reassurance. They didn’t waste time with any of the niceties like stinging foam or pretest hand sterilizer—or full-sized needles. The feeling of the test engaging was like brushing my palm across the surface of a cactus, all tiny pinprick stings that didn’t hurt because they didn’t last long enough to totally register. They just itched like a sonofabitch.
“Step away from the testing center,” intoned a pleasant female voice.
Becks and I exchanged a look as we took a long step backward. “Doc, the room’s talking,” I reported.
“That’s normal,” she said. Somehow I didn’t find that particularly reassuring.
The lights next to the two units we’d used began to flash through the familiar red-green pattern as the units themselves filtered our blood looking for live viral bodies. There was still no sound from the hall outside, which wasn’t helping. Sure, we knew that we weren’t going to be eaten in the next thirty seconds, but the entire infected staff of the Portland CDC could be out there, and we’d have no idea. Not the sort of thing I really wanted to be thinking about.
Breathe, said George.
I took a deep breath as the lights nex tin testing units turned a uniform, steady shade of green. “Thank you,” said the female voice. “You may proceed.” The glass slid to one side, vanishing into a groove in the far wall.
“This is your f**king fault, Mason,” growled Becks, starting for the now-accessible door.
“How are you coming to that conclusion?”
“You’re the one who said this was like a pre-Rising video game.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I didn’t really want to give Kelly any reason to doubt our infection status—not when I still needed her to guide us to safety. “Okay, Doc, the clear wall’s open now. There’s a door. What do you want us to do?”
“Listen closely: You’re in one of the secondary escape corridors. They’re designed to get essential staff out if at all possible, even during an outbreak. They aren’t public, and they’re never used for the transport of biological materials, just evacuations. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”