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Authors: Mira Grant

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BOOK: Blackout
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“They can’t do this,” said Becks.

“It’s already done. The only question is whether
they’re going to get caught, and so far, the answer’s been ‘no.’ Things are chaotic. No one knows exactly what’s going on, and the people carrying out the orders aren’t the ones giving them. As long as no one ever gives the order that says ‘let those people die, they don’t matter,’ nothing illegal is being done.” A small, bitter smile twisted the edges of Dr. Abbey’s lips. “Trust me. I’m a scientist. We know all about the art of skirting ethics.”

“We have to go to Florida,” said Alaric. He grabbed my sleeve, eyes wild. “We have to! They’re going to let her die! Shaun, you have to help me; you can’t let my sister die!”

He’s right; you can’t
, said George.
You can’t go to Florida, either. So what are you going to do?

The answer was obvious, at least to me. I gave Alaric’s hand a reassuring pat before removing it from my sleeve, folding my arms, and focusing on Dr. Abbey. “What do you want us to do?”

She lifted her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“You made a big production out of telling us things suck in Florida. We knew things sucked. You just wanted us to really
believe
it. So you’ve got us. We believe.” I let my smile mirror hers. “It’s classic media manipulation. Present the facts in the scariest way possible, and wait for your audience to sell their souls for whatever you think they need.”

“And what could I possibly have that you would need?”

“Beyond the whole ‘shelter and hiding us’ thing, which we already have, you know where Alaric’s sister is. That means you know someone who’s involved with the camps in Florida. Can you get her out?”

Alaric’s eyes widened, and he focused on Dr. Abbey
with new hope. “Is that why you told us all this? Can you get Alisa out of Florida?”

“It’s possible,” said Dr. Abbey, putting her remote back on the podium. “I could pull a few strings.”

“Thought so.” I looked at her appraisingly. “Now I know you don’t want to cut me open, because I’m a better test subject alive than I’d be dead. And I know you don’t want to kick us out for basically the same reason. So what do you want?”

“I do want you to leave, actually. I just don’t want you to stay gone.” Dr. Abbey shook her head. “Remember what I said about the mosquitoes?”

“Which part?” asked Maggie. “The scary part, the really scary part, the legitimately terrifying part, or the part that makes suicide sound like an awesome way to spend an evening?”

“That last one, probably. As I said before, there
are
labs working to sequence the genetic code of the mosquitoes. But they’re working with inherently damaged data, because they’re working with dead specimens.”

Becks stared at her. “You want us to go out and catch mosquitoes for you?”

“Not all of you. Just him.” Dr. Abbey pointed at me. “If you can get into one of the infection zones and catch some live specimens, we may be able to determine their base species��or at least make a better, more educated guess—without needing to wait for the gene sequencers to finish running. Plus, we can study their behavioral patterns, maybe come up with ways to avoid being bitten.”

“This is all assuming I survive the bug hunt,” I said dryly.

“You’ve survived everything else you’ve run up against, even when there’s no way you should have. I’m willing
to take the chance.” Dr. Abbey sighed, raking her brown and bleach-yellow curls back with one hand. “Look. I realize this isn’t exactly the nicest thing I’ve ever done to you people.”

“You’re a mad scientist,” said Maggie, in what may well have been intended as a reassuring tone. “We don’t expect you to be nice. We just go to bed every night hoping you won’t mutate us before we wake up.”

Dr. Abbey blinked at her. “That’s… almost sweet. In a disturbing sort of a way.”

“Maggie’s good at sweet-but-disturbing,” said Mahir. “Are you genuinely telling us you have the capacity to extract Alaric’s sister from danger, and will not do so unless we agree to your request?”

“I’m telling you I have the capacity to
try
.” Dr. Abbey shook her head. “Please don’t misunderstand what I’m offering here. I can’t guarantee anything. The mosquitoes haven’t reached Ferry Pass, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. It also doesn’t mean there won’t be another form of outbreak before we can get there. All I’m offering is a chance, and yes, sometimes, chances have to be paid for.”

Alaric gave me a pleading look. The others followed suit, even Dr. Abbey, all looking at me with varying degrees of hope, or reluctance, or resignation. In that instant, I knew that what came next was entirely my decision. Maybe I was the crazy one, maybe I was the one who felt like he had nothing left to lose, but I was also their leader, and the only one my team had left. They needed someone to tell them what to do. Even Mahir, for all that half the time it seemed like
he
was the one who was actually in charge, needed me to be the one to pull the trigger.

“I didn’t sign up for this shit,” I muttered, as quietly as I could.

Good thing you’re such a natural, then, isn’t it?

I managed to bite back my laughter before it could escape. The team might be used to me talking to myself, but that didn’t mean they’d forgive me for laughing at a time like this. I turned my laugh into a smile, calling up all the old tricks I’d been forced to learn back when I was a working Irwin and needed to smile despite pain, or terror, or just plain not wanting to be the dancing monkey for a little while.

“You know we can’t all go, right, Doc?” I asked.

Dr. Abbey nodded. “I know.”

“Alisa’s going to need ID, papers, everything. There’s no way she can use her real name. It wouldn’t hurt for the rest of us to have a fallback plan, either. I want to send Mahir and Maggie up the coast. There’s an ID fixer there who comes pretty highly recommended.”

“The Monkey,” said Alaric.

“I’ve heard of him. He’s supposedly the best, and things
are
going to get worse before they get better,” said Dr. Abbey, apparently unperturbed by my desire to split the team. “I’m even willing to supply an unmarked car, to help them get there.”

“And someone’s staying with you, to coordinate.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I’m going with you,” Becks said, stepping up next to me before Alaric could speak. She raised a warning finger in his direction. “
Don’t
argue. You aren’t good at fieldwork, you don’t like being away from your computer, and if Dr. Abbey can get Alisa out of Florida, your sister will want to know that you’re safe. We won’t be.”

Alaric deflated slightly, looking ashamed. I couldn’t blame him. He was clearly relieved not to be the one going, and just as clearly felt like he should have insisted on it.

“Hey,” I said. He didn’t look at me. “
Hey
.”

This time Alaric’s attention swung my way. “What?”

“Becks is right. Alisa needs you more than we do. Stay with Dr. Abbey. Keep the crazy science lady happy, or at least non-homicidal. We’ll be back as soon as we can. Okay?”

For a moment, I didn’t think Alaric was going to give in. Finally, he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “If that’s the best way.”

“It is.” I looked to Dr. Abbey. “Well? What are we waiting for? Let’s get this show on the road.”

She smiled. “I thought you’d never ask.”

But I’m scared a lot, too. There are ten girls sleeping in the classroom with me, and also our chaperone, Ms. Hyland. I don’t think anyone here realizes my e-diary can also transmit. They’re not supposed to be able to do that. That’s why the people let me keep it. I don’t know what I’d do if they took it away from me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me this for last Christmas. I think it’s saving my life.

They’re starting to say scary things when they think none of us are listening—or maybe they don’t care anymore whether we’re listening or not, and that’s scary, too. Please come get me. Please find a way to come and get me. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I’m really scared, and I need my brother.

Please come.

—Taken from an e-mail sent by Alisa Kwong to Alaric Kwong, July 19, 2041.

This morning I woke up, and for almost ten minutes, I forgot that George was dead. I could hear her in the bathroom, getting her clothes on and waiting for her painkillers to kick in. I could even see the indent her head left in the pillow. And then I turned to get something from my bag, and when I looked back, the indent was gone. No one was in the bathroom. I was alone, and George was dead again.

It’s been happening more and more often. Just those little moments where something slips, and it becomes
possible, for one beautiful, horrible moment, to lie to myself about the world. I won’t pretend that I mind them, or that I’m not sorry when they end. I also won’t pretend that I’m not afraid.

The last big break with reality is coming. I can practically hear it knocking at the door. And I’m terrified I won’t have time to finish everything I need to do before it gets here.

I’m sorry, George. But I’m afraid I might want you back so much that I’m willing to let myself let you down.

—From
Adaptive Immunities
, the blog of Shaun Mason, July 17, 2041. Unpublished.

Five

I
barely glanced up from my book when the door slid open. It was an outdated sociology text written when people still lived in the middle of Canada, but it was a
book
, and in the absence of access to the Internet, I was so starved for data that I’d take what I could get. They still wouldn’t let me have anything but hard copy, for fear that I’d somehow figure out a way to hopscotch off the local wireless network. As if. Techie tricks were Buffy’s forte, and Buffy had left the building.

The door slid closed. I kept reading. Dr. Thomas cleared his throat. The sound was a dead giveaway. After a week with nothing to distract me, I’d learned to recognize my regular visitors by the things they couldn’t help, like the way they breathed—or, in Dr. Thomas’s case, the annoying way he cleared his throat. I turned a page. Dr. Thomas cleared his throat again.

“I can keep this up all day,” I said pleasantly, even though the fact that I was the first one to speak proved I couldn’t actually stand spending any more time sitting silently and pretending I wasn’t bothered by Dr.
Thomas standing there, watching me. “You know what you need to do.”

“I think you’re being unreasonable.”

“I think that I legally became a human being as soon as you detached me from your crazy mad science clone incubator, which means I’m entitled to basic human courtesy.” I turned another page. “It’s up to you.” Gregory wanted me to play along. Well, I was playing, but that also included a certain amount of understandable resistance. A totally complacent Georgia Mason would never have been believable, to anyone.

Dr. Thomas sighed. Finally, he said, “Hello, Georgia. May I come in?”

“Why, hello, Dr. Thomas.” I looked up, dog-earing the top of the page to keep my place. “Would it make any difference if I said you couldn’t?”

“No,” he said curtly. I was starting to learn the limits of his patience. It was difficult, more so than learning to tell his footsteps from the footsteps of the guards who usually accompanied him. If I pushed him too far, they’d gas the room, and I’d wake up to find that whatever tests I’d been balking at had been run while I was unconscious.

When I finished with my exposé of this place, the CDC was going to wish they’d been willing to leave me dead. I kept that thought firmly in mind as I plastered a smile across my face and said, “Well, then, come on in. What can I do for you?” I paused, something else about the situation registering. I’d only heard one set of footsteps. “Where are your guards?”

“That’s part of why I’m visiting. We’ve been reviewing your test results, and we’ve decided I don’t need them in your quarters.” Dr. Thomas’s smile looked as real as mine. Whoever made the decision to send him
into my room without protection had done it without asking how he felt about it. And clearly, how he felt wasn’t good.

“Does that mean they’ve also decided I’m not a danger to society?”

“Don’t be too hasty, Georgia. It simply means they’ve decided that spontaneous amplification is not an immediate danger. We still have a lot to do before we can be confident your body is prepared to function outside a laboratory setting.” Dr. Thomas adjusted his glasses with one hand, something I’d learned to read as a nervous tic. “You may not feel particularly protected, but I assure you, this is the cleanest, most secure environment you have ever been in.”

“It’s definitely the most boring,” I agreed, twisting around to face him. I’d been sitting cross-legged on my bed for long enough that my thighs ached when I moved. That was good. It looked like I wasn’t doing anything. I was actually tensing and relaxing the muscles of my core, strengthening them as best I could without a better means of using them. I’d asked a few times about getting access to an exercise room, or at least a treadmill. So far, I’d had no luck. That meant I was getting my exercise where I could, and through whatever means available.

BOOK: Blackout
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