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Authors: Mira Grant

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Mahir’s glare faded, replaced by weariness. “Alaric is still attempting to find out what keeps happening to our mirror sites. We’ve put up six new reports from the junior bloggers in the past hour, none of which touch on the Gulf Coast tragedy, and three of them have vanished into thin air. I think he’s going to start pulling his hair out before much longer.”

“This is what happens when you piss off a government conspiracy.” I started walking toward the kitchen. “How’s Becks doing on the extraction plan?”

Mahir answered with a small shake of his head.

“Aw, damn.” Alaric’s little sister, Alisa, was in Florida when Tropical Storm Fiona made landfall. She managed to survive the first wave of infections, through a combination of quick thinking and dumb luck. After that… Alaric was unable to step forward to claim her, since Dr. Abbey said that if one of us left, all of us left. We thought Alisa might wind up placed with a foster family, but things in Florida were too bad for that. She wound up in a government-sponsored refugee camp. She was sending regular updates and had managed to stay mostly out of trouble. Still, it was clear that if we didn’t find a way to get her out of there soon, Alaric was going to do something stupid. I understood his motivation. Family’s the most important thing there is.

“Yes, well. It is what it is.” Mahir paced me easily. He wasn’t always a field man, but he’d been working out since we arrived at Dr. Abbey’s—something about not wanting to die the next time we wound up running for our lives. “Dr. Abbey requests the pleasure of your company once you’ve had the opportunity to clean yourself up.”

I groaned. I couldn’t help it. “More blood tests?”

“More blood tests,” he confirmed.

“Motherfucker.” I scowled at nothing in particular. “Immunity is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Yes, absolutely, being mysteriously immune to the zombie plague which has devastated the world is a terrible cross to bear,” said Mahir, deadpan.

“Hey, you try giving blood on a daily basis and see how you feel about it.”

“No, thank you.”

I sighed. “Is this another of those ‘no caffeine before donating’ days? Did she say?”

“I believe it’s not.”

“Thank God for that.” Don’t get me wrong. No one knows why I seem to be immune to Kellis-Amberlee amplification—something the CDC has been telling us is impossible since the Rising, by the way. You get bitten, you amplify, simple as that. Only it turns out that with me, it actually goes “you get bitten; you get annoyed; you have to take a lot of antibiotics, because human mouths are incredibly dirty and dying of a bacterial infection would suck; you get better.” I understood why Dr. Abbey needed blood almost every day. It was just a
lot
of needles.

Becks was in the kitchen when we arrived. She was sitting on the counter, holding a can of Coke. “Looking for this?” she asked.

“My savior.” I walked toward her, making grabbing motions. “Gimme. Gimme sweet, sweet caffeine.”

“The word is ‘please,’ Mason. Look it up.” She tossed me the can, a gentle underhand lob that wouldn’t shake the contents up too much. The team does that a lot these days—throws me things to double-check my manual dexterity. My recovery after being bitten was too miraculous to believe. We’re all waiting for it to wear off and for me to go rampaging through the lab.

I made the catch and cracked the tab, taking a long, cold drink before putting the can down on the nearest table and asking, “Have any of the new guys made it in yet?”

“The first batch is in processing now,” Becks replied. “We managed to net twenty-four infected tonight, including your four.”

“Cool.” Our lovely hostess needed a constant supply of fresh subjects, since her experiments required a couple dozen at any given time, and her lab protocols didn’t leave many of them alive past the three-day mark. Snatch-and-grab patrols were going out twice a week, minimum, and at the rate they were working, Shady Cove was going to be free of the infected in under three months.

“I guess.” Becks slid off the counter, giving me a calculating look. “What were you doing out there tonight, Mason? You could have been killed.”

“That wasn’t my first solo in these woods.”

“It was your first one at night.” She shook her head. “You’re starting to scare me.”

“And me,” said Mahir.

And me
, said George.

“You don’t get a say in this,” I muttered. Mahir didn’t look offended. He knew I wasn’t talking to him. In a more normal tone, I asked, “So what do you want me to do, Becks? I don’t speak science. I barely speak research. Things are a mess out there, and we’re stuck in here, spinning our wheels.”

“So maybe it’s time you stopped spinning.” The three of us turned toward Dr. Abbey’s voice. Like the lab computer, it was pleasant and Canadian-accented. Unlike the lab computer, it was coming from a short, curvy scientist with bleached streaks in her shaggy
brown hair. Her lab coat was open, exposing a bright orange C
EPHALOPODS
U
NION
#462 T-shirt.

I raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I’m listening. What have you got in mind?”

Dr. Abbey held up a thumb drive. “Get your team and meet me in the screening room. It’s time we had a little talk about what’s going on in Florida.” She quirked a small smile. “You can bring popcorn.”

“Science and snacks, the perfect combination,” I said. “We’ll be there.”

“Good,” said Dr. Abbey, and left.

Mahir stepped up next to me. “Do you have any idea what that’s all about?”

“Nope.” I shrugged, picking up my Coke again. The second drink was just as good as the first had been. “But hey. We may as well get started. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Managing things without Georgia has never been what I would term “easy,” but it’s never been harder than in the past few months. The devastation wreaked by Tropical Storm Fiona would have been terrible even without the additional horror of a newly discovered insect vector for Kellis-Amberlee infection. The loss of life would have been appalling even if so many of the lost had not gone on to attack and infect their fellow men. I find myself watching the news feeds and wishing, more than ever before, that Georgia Mason were with us today.

Georgia had a gift for reporting the news without letting sentiment color her impressions: She saw the world in black and white, no shades of gray allowed. It could have been a crippling disability in any other profession, but she made it her greatest strength. If she were here, she would be the one reducing bodies to statistics, rendering disasters into history. But she’s not here. She, too, has been reduced to a statistic, has been rendered into history. All of which means that I, unprepared as I am, have been forced to do her job.

May posterity show mercy when it looks back upon the work we do today. We did what we could with what we had.

—From
Fish and Clips
, the blog of Mahir Gowda, July 16, 2041.

Subject 7c is awake, responsive, and self-aware. Subject has asked several conditionally relevant questions, and does not appear to suffer any visual or cognitive
disorders. Subject self-identifies as “Georgia Mason,” and is able to recount events up to the point of physical death (see
G
EORGIA
C. M
ASON
,
AUTOPSY FILE
for details of injury).

We are prepared to continue with this subject for the time being. Full medical files are being transmitted under a secure encryption key.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Dr. Matthew Thomas, July 16, 2041.

G
EORGIA
M
ASON
L
IVES
.

—Graffiti from inside the Florida disaster zone, picture published under Creative Commons license.

Three

I
have to give Dr. Thomas this: He recovered quickly from the question I obviously wasn’t supposed to be asking yet. “I don’t think you understand what you’re saying.” He retrieved his pen from the floor. “Maybe you need to sit down.”

“My eyes are wrong. I could possibly be convinced to believe in a regenerative treatment that erased my scars. I could even accept that it was a deep enough dermal renewal to remove my licensing tattoo.” I raised my wrist, showing him the spot where my personal information should have been permanently scribed. “But there’s nothing that could have repaired my eyes. So I ask again: How long have I been a clone?”

Dr. Thomas narrowed his eyes. I stood up a little straighter, trying to look imposing. It wasn’t easy to do in a pair of CDC-issue pajamas.

“This is highly irregular…” Dr. Thomas began.

“So is cloning reporters.” I took a final sip of Coke before forcing myself to put it down. The caffeine was already starting to make me jittery. The last thing I wanted to do was finish the can and have my hands
start shaking. “Come on. Who am I going to tell? I’m assuming you’re not planning on giving me a connection to the outside world anytime soon.”

Dr. Thomas gave me a calculating look. I looked back, wishing I had the slightest idea of how to look earnest and well meaning with my strange new eyes. Living life behind a pair of sunglasses was so much easier.

Finally, he nodded, a familiar expression flickering across his face. I’d seen it worn by a hundred interview subjects, all of whom thought they were about to pull one over on me. None of them ever seemed to realize that maybe my degree in journalism included one or two classes in human psychology. I may not be good at lying, but oh, I know a lie when I hear one.

“As I said before, this is highly irregular,” he said in a lower, warmer tone of voice.

Trying to win my trust through confession. Pretty standard stuff, even if the situation was anything but standard. “I know, but please. I just want to know what’s going on.” I’ve never done “vulnerable” well. It wasn’t on the final exam.

Maybe the fact that I was actually feeling vulnerable behind my facade of journalistic calm was showing through, because Dr. Thomas said, “I understand. You must be very confused.”

“Also frightened, disoriented, and a little bit trying to convince myself this isn’t a dream,” I replied. I picked up my Coke again, not to drink, but to feel it in my hand. It was a poor substitute for the things I really wanted—my sunglasses, a gun, Shaun—but it would have to do.

“You have to understand that this is an experimental procedure. There was no way we could predict
success, or even be sure that you would be yourself when you woke up.” Dr. Thomas watched me as he spoke. He was telling the truth, or at least the truth as he understood it. “To be honest with you, we’re still not sure how stable you are.”

“I guess that explains the men with the guns, huh?” I took a sip of Coke without thinking about it, and decided against putting the can back down. I deserved a little comfort. Resurrection turns out to be really hard on a person. “So you’re waiting for me to flip out and… what, exactly?”

“Cloning is a complicated process,” said Dr. Thomas. “Modern generations are infected with the Kellis-Amberlee virus while in the womb. Their bodies grow up handling the infection, coming to… an agreement with it, if you will. Adult infections have been rare since the Rising.”

“But cloned tissue is grown under clean-room conditions,” I said. “How did you introduce the infection?”

“Aerosol exposure when the…” He stuttered to a stop, obviously unsure how to proceed. Their reports probably referred to me as “the subject” or “the body” at that stage of the process. Using a proper pronoun would involve giving too much identity to something he’d been treating as a lab experiment.

The temptation to point that out was there. I let it pass. I needed an ally, even one who thought he was getting me to cooperate, more than I needed to score a few points just to make myself feel better. “How far along in the growth cycle was the tissue?” I asked.

“Halfway,” he said, visibly relieved. “We used techniques developed for organ cloning to accelerate the growth of the entire body. The immune and nervous systems were fully mature. We even used a blood
sample on file at the Memphis installation, to be sure the exposure involved the strain of Kellis-Amberlee with which you were originally infected. It seemed the most likely to be compatible with your system. For all that we work with this virus every day, things like this, well, they aren’t precisely an exact science…”

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