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“Don’t think she can breathe over there, chief,” drawled Shaun. “Pretty sure she hasn’t kicked the oxygen habit just yet.”

The door opened and closed again behind me, and Rick said, sounding surprised, “Why is Senator Ryman trying to crush Georgia?”

“Post-traumatic shock,” said Shaun. “He thinks he’s a boa constrictor.”

“You kids can laugh,” said the senator, finally letting go. Relieved, I stepped back before he could decide to do it again. “You scared me to death.”

“We scared ourselves pretty badly, too, Senator,” I said, continuing my retreat until I was next to Shaun. He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing. There was a world of relief in that simple gesture. I leaned into his hand, looking toward the stranger. “Joe, I presume?”

“Dr. Joseph Wynne, Memphis CDC,” he said and walked over to extend his hand in my direction. I took it. His grip was solid without being crushing. “I can’t begin to say how glad I am to speak with you face-to-face.”

“Glad to still be in the shape to speak,” I said. Pleasantries accomplished, I frowned. “Now, can someone fill me in on why I was standing next to a highway, doing my civic duty, and suddenly woke up in a CDC iso ward? Also, if I could get hooked up with my clothes, that’d be awesome. I feel kind of naked here, and that’s weird when there’s a United States senator in the room.”

“That’s a funny story, actually,” said Shaun.

Releasing Joe’s hand, I craned my head around to eye my brother. “Define ‘funny.’ ”

Shaun picked up a bundle from the counter on the other side of him and passed it to me. My clothes and a plastic bag containing my gun and all my jewelry. As I hugged the bundle to my chest, he said, with all apparent sincerity, “Someone called the CDC two minutes before you did and told them that we’d all been killed in the accident.”

For a moment, all I could do was stare at him. Then, swiveling my head around to direct the stare to Joe and Senator Ryman, I demanded, “Is this true?”

Looking distinctly uncomfortable now, Joe said, “Well, darlin’, we have to react to every call we get ”

“You had test results from us. You knew we weren’t dead.”

“Those types of test results can be falsified,” Joe said. “We did the best we could.”

I nodded grudgingly. Under the strict interpretation of the law, the CDC would have been within its rights to come into the valley, shoot us, sterilize the surrounding area, and deal with our remains. The fact that it took us alive for extensive testing was unusual, because it represented an unnecessary risk on its part—no one would have questioned it if the CDC had killed us.

“What made you take us alive?” I asked.

Joe smiled. “Ain’t many people who can make a call that drastic to the CDC and sound that calm about it, Ms. Mason. I wanted to meet anyone who could do that.”

“Our parents taught us well,” I said. Raising the bundle of clothes and gear, I asked, “Is there a place where I could get dressed?”

“Kelly!” Turning, Joe flagged down a passing woman in a doctor’s coat. She was fresh-faced and wide-eyed; she couldn’t have been any older than Buffy, and her long blonde hair, clipped back with a barrette, created the illusion of resemblance. A knot formed in my throat.

Joe gestured from the woman to me. “Georgia Mason, Dr. Kelly Connolly. Dr. Connolly, if you could please show Ms. Mason to a changing room?”

Shaun slid off the counter. “C’mon, Rick. I’ll show you the men’s room.”

“Much obliged,” said Rick, snagging his own clothes from the counter.

“Certainly, Dr. Wynne,” said Kelly. “Ms. Mason, if you’d come this way?”

“Sure,” I said, and followed her.

We walked down a short hallway, this one painted a warm yellow, and Kelly opened a door leading into a small locker room. “The nurses change here,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. Putting my hand on the knob, I glanced to her. “I can find my own way back.”

“All right,” she said. Hesitating, she looked at me. I looked back. Finally, she said, “I read your site. Every day. I used to follow you on Bridge Supporters, before you managed to schism off.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? To what do I owe the honor?”

She reddened. “Your last name,” she said, sounding abashed. “I did a report in medical school on human-to-animal transmission of the Kellis-Amberlee amplification trigger. I found you when I was looking for information on your your brother. I stayed for the writing.”

“Ah,” I said. She seemed about to say something more. I waited, watching her.

Her blush deepened. “I just wanted to take this opportunity to say that I’m sorry.”

I frowned. “About ?”


It felt like all the blood in my veins had turned to ice. Careful to keep breathing, I asked, “How did you know about that?”

She blinked, surprise unconcealed as she said, “I saw the notice that she’d been added to the Wall.”

“The Wall?” I said. “But how would they know to oh, Jesus. The cameras.”

“Ms. Mason? Georgia? Are you all right?”

“Huh?” At some point, I’d looked away from her. I looked back, shaking my head. “I just I didn’t realize she’d already be on the Wall. Thank you. Your condolences are appreciated.” I turned and walked into the changing room without waiting for her to respond, closing the door behind me. Let her think I was rude. I’m a journalist. Journalists are supposed to be rude, right? It’s part of the mystique.

Thoughts chased themselves through my head like leaves tumbling in the wind as I stripped off my CDC-issue pajamas and began getting my own clothes on. It took longer than normal because I had to pause every step along the way to get the appropriate recording devices, cameras, and wireless receivers into their assigned pockets. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to find anything for weeks.