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Authors: Mira Grant

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BOOK: Blackout
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I’d never seen him before in my life. But he was wearing hospital scrubs, with a CDC nametag pinned to his chest. That made him, if not an ally, at least a vaguely known quantity.

“Who are you?” I asked, taking another step forward. “Did Dr. Thomas send you to check up on me?”

“No,” he said, with careful patience. “Like I said before, I saw you on the monitors. You looked unsettled. I thought I’d come down and see if you needed anything. A glass of water, another blanket…”

“What if I wanted to go to the bathroom?”

He didn’t miss a beat. “I’d call for guards to escort us there, so I didn’t get fired. But I’d be happy to get you some water and an extra blanket first.” He took the clipboard from under his arm, flipping back the top sheet. “Are you having trouble sleeping? This says you had some caffeine earlier. I know that when I have too much coffee, I can’t sleep for love or money.”

“I was sleeping just fine,” I said. “Then I woke up. My internal clock is all messed up. It might help if I knew what time zone we were in.”

“Yeah, it probably would,” he agreed. “I’m Gregory, by the way, Miss Mason. It’s a pleasure to see you up and about.” He turned his clipboard as he spoke, holding it against his chest with the paper facing me. “You had everyone concerned for a while there.”

I’ve had a lifetime of experience in the fine art of not reacting to things. Still, I froze as my eyes found the block letters on the top sheet of Gregory’s clipboard, clearly intended for me to see.

YOU ARE NOT SAFE HERE
.

Gregory’s expression begged me not to react, like he knew he was taking a risk, but had gauged it a worthwhile one. I managed to school my face into something close to neutrality, tilting my chin slightly upward to hide the unavoidable wideness of my eyes. I would have killed for my sunglasses in that moment, if someone had offered me the opportunity.

“I’m not sure you can blame me for that. I was technically dead at the time.”

Relief flooded Gregory’s expression. He nodded, turning his clipboard around like he was reading from it, and said, “That’s true. You weren’t legally alive until you started breathing independently.”

“That’s interesting. Who got to make that fun call?”

“It’s part of the international agreement concerning the use of human cloning technology for medical research,” Gregory said, flipping over another page. “As long as the clone never breathes independently of the life-support machines, it’s not a living entity. It’s just meat.”

“So you’re allowed to call me a clone?”

“Dr. Thomas said you’d reached that conclusion on your own, and that we were allowed to reinforce it, if it came up. Said it would make you more confident in your own identity.” Gregory glanced up from his clipboard and smiled. “I don’t think anyone expected you to figure it out so soon.”

“That’s me, refusing to meet expectations,” I said, struggling to keep my tone neutral. This man said I wasn’t safe. Did I trust him?
Could
I trust him?

Did I have a choice?

“All we expect from you now is that you keep getting better,” said Gregory, with the sort of firm, bland sternness I’d been getting from medical authority figures since I was seven years old. He turned his clipboard around again, showing me the second sheet of paper.

I AM WITH THE EIS. WE ARE GOING TO GET YOU OUT OF HERE. GO ALONG WITH EVERYTHING THEY ASK YOU TO DO. DO NOT ATTRACT ATTENTION
.

I nodded. “I’ll do my best,” I said, replying to both what he’d said aloud, and to what he’d written down for me to see. “Thanks for stopping by.”

“Well, you’ll be seeing a lot of me. I’m one of your night attendants. Now, are you sure I can’t get you anything?”

“Not just yet,” I said, and paused, suddenly alarmed by the idea of being left alone, again, in the dark. “Actually… I don’t know if this is something you can do, but can you turn the lights back on? Please? It’s so dark in here with the door shut that I’m not sure I’ll be able to get back to sleep.”

“I can turn the lights back on,” Gregory assured me. “I can even turn them up halfway, if you’d like, so that you’re not trying to sleep with things lit too bright.”

“That would be great,” I said. Tomorrow, I’d have to start trying to talk Dr. Thomas into giving me a lamp.

“I’ll do it as soon as I get back to the monitoring station,” said Gregory, putting a subtle stress on the word “soon.” “If you decide you need anything else, all you need to do is say the word. The monitors will alert me immediately.”

“Got it,” I said, suddenly glad I didn’t talk in my sleep. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Likewise, Miss Mason,” said Gregory. He turned his clipboard around one final time, hiding the message written there, and took another step back. The door slid shut almost instantly—too fast for me to have rushed out of the room after him, even if I’d been inclined to try—and I was plunged back into darkness.

I stayed where I was, counting silently. The lights came on as I reached a hundred and forty-five. The monitoring station, wherever it was, was approximately two and a half minutes away for a man walking at
normal speed. That was good to know. That meant it would take at least thirty seconds for someone to run from there to here. There’s a lot you can do in thirty seconds, if you’re really committed.

I walked back over to the bed and climbed under the covers, stretching out with my hands tucked under my head as I stared up at the ceiling. So the EIS was getting involved… and they weren’t on the side of the CDC. That was interesting. Interesting, and potentially bad.

The EIS—the Epidemic Intelligence Service—was founded in 1951 to answer concerns about biological warfare in the wake of World War II. EIS agents were responsible for a lot of the earliest efforts against infectious pandemics. Without them, smallpox, wild polio, and malaria would never have been eliminated… and if they’d been aware of the Marburg Amberlee and Kellis flu trials, the accidents that led to the creation of Kellis-Amberlee might never have occurred. They’ve always had a reputation for ruthlessness, focus, and getting the job done. It’s too bad the Rising put an end to most of what they did. In a world where there’s only one disease making headlines, what are a bunch of disease detectives good for?

But the branch held on. No matter how much the CDC restructured, no matter how the funding shifted, the EIS endured. Every time there was a whisper of corruption from inside the CDC, the EIS was there, dispelling the rumors, cleaning up the mess. Most people wrote them off as a bunch of spooks who refused to admit they weren’t necessary anymore. I’d always been one of those people.

Maybe it was time for me to reevaluate my position.

Gregory came from the EIS; the EIS was part of the
CDC; the CDC brought me back to life. Gregory said I wasn’t safe here; Gregory spoke to me on his own, without barriers or guards. Dr. Thomas wouldn’t come near me without an armed guard. Dr. Thomas was willing to let me believe Shaun was dead. I probably couldn’t actually afford to trust either one of them. But given a choice between the two…

If the EIS was willing to get me out of here, I was willing to bank on my ability to escape from the EIS. I let my eyes drift closed, rolling onto my side. It was time to start playing along and find out what was going on, because when Gregory and his friends broke me out I was going to break the whole thing open.

I didn’t dream of funerals this time. Instead, I dreamed of me and Shaun, walking hand in hand through the empty hall where the Republican National Convention was held, and nothing was trying to kill us. Nothing was trying to kill us at all.

The difficulty with knowing what something is and how it operates is that you’re likely to be wrong, and just as likely to be incapable of admitting it. We form preconceptions about the world, and we cling to them, unwilling to be challenged, unwilling to change. That’s why so many pre-Rising structures remain standing. Our generation may be willing to identify them as useless, archaic, and potentially deadly. The generations that came before us regard them as normal parts of life rendered temporarily unavailable, like toys put on a high shelf. They think someday we’ll have those things again. I think they know they’re wrong. They just can’t admit it, and so they wait to die and leave the world to us, the ones who will tear all those death traps down.

Sometimes the hardest thing about the truth is putting down the misassumptions, falsehoods, and half-truths that stand between it and you. Sometimes that’s the last thing that anybody wants to do. And sometimes, it’s the only thing we
can
do.

—From
Postcards from the Wall
, the unpublished files of Georgia Mason, originally posted on July 16, 2041.

I keep writing letters to my parents. Letters that explain what happened, where I went, why I ran. Letters that tell them how much I love them, and how sorry I am that I may never see them again. Letters about how much I miss my house, and my dogs, and my bad-movie parties, and my freedom. I sometimes think this must be
what it was like for everyone in the months right after the Rising, only the threat of the infected was never personal. They didn’t kill all those people because they wanted to, or because their victims knew some inconvenient truth. They did it because they were hungry and because the people were there. So maybe this isn’t like the Rising at all. With us, it’s personal. We asked the wrong questions, opened the wrong doors, and Alaric will try to say that it was never
my
fault, it was never
my
idea, but he’s wrong.

I always knew there was an element of danger in what we did, and I went along with it willingly because these people are my heart’s family, and this is what I wanted. So I keep writing letters to my parents, saying I’m sorry, and I miss them, and I may not make it home.

So far, I haven’t sent any of my letters. I don’t know if I ever will.

—From
Dandelion Mine
, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, July 16, 2041. Unpublished.

Four

D
r. Abbey’s screening room was originally the Shady Cove Forestry Center’s private movie theater, intended for teaching bored tourists and wide-eyed school groups about safely interacting with the woods. I’ve watched a few old DVDs that Alaric dug out of the room’s back closet. Most of them said “safely interacting with the woods” meant being respectful of the wildlife, and backing away slowly if you saw a bear. Personally, I think “safely interacting with the woods” means carrying a crossbow and a sniper rifle whenever you have to go out alone. I’ll never understand the pre-Rising generation… but sometimes I wish I could. It must have been nice to live in a world that didn’t constantly try to kill you.

The screening room was in disarray when we started crashing with Dr. Abbey. Now, barely a month later, it was as close to state-of-the-art as could be achieved with secondhand parts and cobbled-together wiring. That was Alaric’s doing. I’m sure Dr. Abbey’s people could have handled everything eventually—this wasn’t the first time she’d uprooted her entire lab with little
warning—but Maggie got uncomfortable when she didn’t have access to a big-ass screen. So she batted her eyes at our last surviving tech genius, and Alaric, who was probably glad to have something to distract him from his sister’s situation, started flipping switches. The result was something even Buffy might have been proud of, if she hadn’t been, you know, dead.

The room was set up theater style, with gently curved rows of chairs descending toward the hardwood floor. Dr. Abbey was standing in front of the screen with her arms crossed, leaning against the built-in podium.

“Sorry we took so long.” I held up my bowl of popcorn as I descended the steps, shaking it so she could hear the kernels rattle. “You said we could stop for snacks.”

“That’s true; I did. One day you’ll figure out how to tell when I’m serious.” There was no actual rancor in Dr. Abbey’s tone. I stopped being able to really piss her off the day she learned that I couldn’t amplify. I guess there are some advantages to being a human pincushion.

“Did you bring me any?” Maggie was sitting in the middle of the front row. She turned to look over the back of her seat. Her curly brown-and-blonde hair—brown from nature, blonde from decontamination and bleaching—half hid her face. She was one of the only women I knew who managed to make that combination look natural, largely on account of having a Hispanic father, a Caucasian mother, and really good skin.

“Sure.” I started down the steps. Becks and Alaric followed me.

“Hey, Dr. Abbey,” said Becks.

“Hello, Rebecca,” said Dr. Abbey.

“Gimme popcorn,” said Maggie. I leaned over to
hand her the bowl. She beamed, blew me a kiss, and started munching.

Out of all of us, Maggie was the one who didn’t have to be here. Alaric, Becks, and I were the ones who broke into the CDC facility in Memphis. While we were there, a man we thought was our ally showed his true colors, and the newest member of our team was killed. Her name was Kelly Connolly. She worked for the CDC, and she wanted to do the right thing more than almost anyone else I knew. The fact that her name will never go up on The Wall is a crime and a sin, and there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.

BOOK: Blackout
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