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“Look at where that got us,” I muttered, leaning forward in the chair and reaching for the mouse. “Stay where you are, guys. You’ll be a hell of a lot happier in the long run.”

George didn’t say anything, and kept not saying anything as I went back to my in-box and started skimming, looking for messages that actually needed my attention. I needed to start editing footage. I needed to post and let people know that I was still alive, but most of all, and first of all, I needed to calm down a little bit. My heartbeat was starting to speed up as my body realized that the running away was over—we’d reached our destination, and now it was finally safe for me to freak out.

My hand was shaking. I sat perfectly still, waiting for the tremors to pass. I didn’t have time for another breakdown. One a month is about my limit, and since this one was unlikely to come with the extra-bonus “full visual hallucinations of your dead sister,” I didn’t see the point of doing it again. Eventually, the shaking stopped, and I started again.

I hit Important when I was halfway down my in-box. It was buried in thread updates, private messages from the moderators, and random posts from my mailing lists, and I almost didn’t click because I didn’t recognize the sender’s e-mail address. “Who the f**k uses ‘TauntedOctopus’ for a handle, anyway?” I asked myself. It wasn’t entirely a rhetorical question. I was hoping the sheer stupidity of it would be enough to make George speak up.

Instead, it was enough to make me stop, swear, and open the message. Who uses “TauntedOctopus” as a handle? Probably a woman who wears T-shirts telling you not to do it. Dr. Abbey.

From: [email protected]

To: Shaun.Ma[email protected]

Subject: Aren’t you a busy boy?

I admit I was surprised when I heard that the Portland CDC had been overrun by the infected less than twenty-four hours after you left me. You don’t waste time, and I respect that. Then again, it’s not like you have much time to waste. You’re not the only one who knows how to operate a camera, and I bet you dollars to donuts that somebody got footage of you and your little band of Merry Men on the trek out here. It’s just a matter of time before somebody figures out we were in contact, and then the shit you’re in will be so deep that it’ll make your current shit look like chocolate pudding. Don’t come back. We started tearing down the lab as soon as you left, and by the time you get this message (assuming you live long enough to get this message, which is by no means guaranteed), we’ll be on our way to a new location. The little “arrangement” I have with the CDC depends on a certain status quo, and you’re playing in dangerous enough waters that I can’t count on it right now. So hurry up and get your answers or get yourselves killed, will you?

The attachments on this message contain everything I’ve done to date involving mapping the structure of Kellis-Amberlee against the autoimmune oddities that cause the formation of stable reservoir conditions. I don’t have a mechanism for reversing them, or a reliable way to induce them in adult subjects, but there’s more than enough to prove that reservoir conditions are the result of the immune system beginning to learn to cope under supposedly impossible conditions. Most of the research won’t make any sense to you, but it’ll make perfect sense to the little CDC flunky who introduced us. Make sure she sees it. Tell her it all goes public if you think she’s holding out on you. See what she has to say after that.

You’re a brave idiot, Shaun Mason, and I’m sorry I never got to meet your sister. Almost as sorry as I am that you never got to meet my husband. Give my regards to the Merry Men, and tell them to sleep with one eye open, because you’re well on the way to pissing off some pretty damn important people. Good for you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Somebody has to.

Best wishes, and stay the f**k away from me,

Dr. Shannon L. Abbey

A flare of guilt rose, washed over me, and died as I contemplated the fact that talking to us cost Dr. Abbey her lab. She knew what she was doing when she let us through her door. Maybe she didn’t invite us to come for a visit, but once we were there, she was perfectly happy to tell us what she knew. If she wasn’t going to blame us for showing up, I wasn’t going to feel bad for doing it.

The attachments on her message downloaded clean, and they opened to reveal huge, detailed medl charts and graphs that made about as much sense as abstract art. I recognized some of the labels, but that was about it. That was okay because Dr. Abbey was right: It didn’t matter if her research made sense to me. What mattered was that her research would make sense to Kelly, and once she’d seen it, maybe she’d know where we needed to look next. Given the situation we were in, every little bit was about to start counting, big time.

I forwarded Dr. Abbey’s message to Alaric and Mahir with a priority flag, printed copies of the attachments, and returned to cleaning out my in-box. Nothing else was nearly as interesting as that message, which wasn’t much of a surprise. “Here’s my Kellis-Amberlee research, enjoy” was a pretty hard act to follow.

According to the site log, Mahir was logged in, which meant that either he was awake or I had reasonable cause to think he might be. That was good enough for me. Leaning back in my chair, I dug my phone out of my pocket and snapped it open.

Luck was with me: Mahir, not his wife, answered the phone. “Shaun. Thank God.”

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