Authors: Mira Grant
She took a breath, clearly preparing another protest…and then she stopped, and straightened, the mask of the frightened intern dropping away like a coat she didn’t need to wear any longer. She was still scared; she would have been a fool not to be. Whether she trusted the people who had sent her to me or not, she was embedded in what part of her must have viewed as enemy territory, and I was between her and all the exits. Even if she’d been able to make it to the exit, she would have been stranded in the forest. We patrolled regularly. Shady Cove was safer than, say, Santa Cruz. It was still abandoned territory, and it belonged to the infected.
“In the event that my cover is breached, I have been instructed to remind you that I am an employee of the United States government. As such, any retaliation against my person will be considered a federal crime, and will be prosecuted accordingly.”
“Nice,” I said agreeably. “Succinct, yet threatening. This is where I remind you that I’m a Canadian citizen, and that if I were arrested, the Canadian government would demand that I be returned to them to stand trial.” My own government would be harsher on me than the feds could ever be. To the feds, I was a mad scientist and a valuable nuisance, tolerated because of the things I might yet discover. My friends in the CDC and medical-research community even considered me an asset. After all, I vaccinated the underground population, preventing an outbreak of whooping cough or measles from adding a whole new frisson of despair to life after the zombie apocalypse. But to the Canadian government…
To them, I was a traitor and a disappointment and a stain upon an otherwise pristine record of loyal patriots slaving away for the greater good. People who say Canadians are the politest people on the planet have never been on the receiving end of a disappointed military official’s anger. I’d die before I let them ship me back to my home country.
Sadly, sometimes that meant other people had to die in my stead. “Well?” I prompted. “Are you going to tell me what you did to get yourself sent here? Or did you volunteer?”
“I refused to run some human-serotype trials,” she said. Her tone was flat. The fear was still there, but it was buried under old shame and older disillusionment. “I said that it was against my moral and religious beliefs. It was…it was shameful, what they wanted done. My supervisor said that I was violating my contract, that I had agreed to do whatever the CDC required. Then he said that if I wanted to redeem myself, I could take a field assignment. And then he sent me here.”
Serotyping is most commonly used to distinguish types of bacteria. The only way it could have been part of a test that Zelda would refer to as “shameful” was if it had been being used for organ transplant typing. Organ transplants weren’t easy before the Rising, and they’ve only gotten more complicated, and more expensive, since then. You can’t carve bits out of dead people and drop them into live ones anymore, not unless you want your live people to undergo explosive amplification and start trying to eat your surgeons. I briefly considered the implications, and then dismissed them as irrelevant to the issues at hand: staying alive, and neutralizing the threat of the CDC stepping in. “I’m going to want the names of the people you were working for. Dr. Kimberley is going to be very interested in knowing who’s doing that sort of study.” Zelda’s eyes widened. I sighed. “They really didn’t brief you, did they? I tolerate spies for a reason. Part of that reason is that I know the CDC isn’t really out to get me, since your new director is one of my old lab mates. She’s also fucking weird, but we try not to hold that against her. She’s cleaning house right now, and people like you give me the information she needs to know about whose research she should be reviewing more closely.”
“But that’s…that’s…that’s treason!” Zelda stared at me like I had just told her Santa Claus was a myth and the Easter Bunny had undergone amplification.
“Everyone has their own definitions,” I said. “Zelda Roland, do you admit that you are in the employ of the Centers for Disease Control, and that you have entered my lab under false pretenses, to collect information on my staff and our research for your actual employers?”
Her eyes darted from side to side, making one last pointless bid for freedom. She didn’t find it. There were no exits aside from the one where I was standing, and she wasn’t quite desperate enough to charge straight at me. Finally, her shoulders sagged. “Yes,” she admitted.
“Great. Please return to your quarters. We’re going to give you a gun and lock you in.” Her eyes widened, and I sighed. “No, we don’t expect you to kill yourself. What kind of monsters do you take us for? Signs point to an attack on this facility sometime in the very near future, and since I can’t trust you, I can’t have you on the front line, but I won’t leave you defenseless either. After all this is over, we can discuss your future employment prospects, and who you’re going to be working for. Oh, don’t look so confused. You have to know that I’ve welcomed a few defectors from the CDC. We’d be happy to make you one of them. You’re good. Cocky and green and way too easily manipulated, but good. You can talk to Tom about what we require if you want to change employers.”
“You…you’d let me stay here?” She paused. “You
? You didn’t just find out?”
“Mad science is not forgiving of stupidity or willful blindness, Miss Roland,” I said. “You were too good and too easy to recruit. There’s no way you hadn’t already been picked up by an acronym agency. If it had been WHO or USAMRIID, we would have told you thanks but no thanks. They play too roughly with their toys. The CDC we can usually get along with. Now, will you please remove yourself quietly to your quarters, before I have to make you go?”
“Yes, Dr. Abbey,” she said. “Thank you, Dr. Abbey.” She picked up a notepad from next to the workstation she’d been using and half ran toward me, only stopping at the last moment, when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to get out of her way.
I smiled sweetly. “Just to be clear: if I find out that you went anywhere but back to your quarters, I will add you to my list of enemies. You won’t enjoy that list. You won’t be on it for very long, either. No one ever is. Clear?”
“Clear,” she said. “I’m going to my quarters now.”
“Excellent,” I said, and stepped aside. She rushed past me, careful to avoid actual physical contact, and broke into a run as soon as she hit the hall. I stayed where I was for a silent count of twenty, letting her get away. She needed time to think, and I? I needed time to find a way to keep my people—including Zelda and Elaine—alive.
It was time to call Tessa.
Joe pushed his head into my lap as I sat down at my computer, his finely honed canine instincts picking up on my distress. He was big enough that he made typing difficult. He also made me feel safe, and so I let him stay as I sent Tessa a chat request. Just to make sure she understood the urgency of my situation, I sent her three more in rapid succession. Childish and annoying? Maybe. But it was oh, so soothing, and I needed a little soothing just then.
People rushed by in the hall outside my open office door. None of them stopped to ask me for instructions or tell me what was going on. I had trained them well, and they all knew that a mad scientist who was working peacefully at her desk was a mad scientist who wasn’t going to react well to being interrupted. They’d call if they actually needed me for something. If everything went well, they wouldn’t need me for anything at all.
I was preparing to send another chat request when a window popped up on my screen, framing Tessa’s harried, exhausted face. “What is it?” she demanded. “We didn’t have an update scheduled until tomorrow, and I have found nothing new.”
“Clive dumped her on my doorstep,” I said, skipping the introductory material and going straight for the advanced course. “I need to know how many people he’s rolling toward me, when they got moving, and whether they have any heavy artillery. I’m assuming he wants to take the building in one piece, so if he’s smart, he won’t have brought a tank, but when’s the last time Clive went for ‘smart’ over ‘showy’?”
“This wasn’t part of our original deal,” said Tessa—but it was just for show. Her hands were already starting to dance across the keyboard, performing a hacker’s ballet for one soloist and an audience of me. “I could hang up on you right now and it wouldn’t damage my reputation one little bit.”
“Except for the part where Elaine Oldenburg is in my observation room, and before she came to me, she was with Clive. He used her the way hunters used to use real foxes: He set her loose to see which way she’d run, and now he’s chasing her.” I shook my head. “I hired you to find everything you could on her, and you never found out that Clive had sent her. If I told people, it would ruin you. That makes this a part of the original deal. He’s coming after her. He’s coming for me.”
“And if anyone asks why he went up against a neutral party, he can say you kidnapped one of his people to experiment on,” said Tessa. “I’d be impressed if you weren’t so screwed. As it is, I’m just glad I’m a couple of thousand miles away. Can you courier my Lego before he shoots you in the head? I’m asking for my boy, you understand, not for myself.”
“I sent them off two days ago.”
Tessa smiled briefly as she continued typing. She wasn’t looking at her webcam anymore. She probably didn’t even realize that it was still on. Then her fingers stilled and her eyes grew wide. “Okay. I’ve got chatter about Clive putting together a big party, lots of calls for caterers and cooks—looks like he has a force of about sixty men, three explosive experts, and six virologists with him. Why would he need to bring his own virologists?”
“Because he’s planning to kill me, scare my staff into agreeing to work for him, and put his own people in charge,” I said blithely. “It’s what I’d do in his place. No tanks or air support, huh? Just bodies on the ground, and his firm belief that the sheer size of his balls will be enough to make us lay down our arms and surrender. Asshole.”
“What does he want with your lab?”
“We have vaccines, medicines, all the equipment and supplies he’d need to cook biofuel and meth—hell, what
he want with my lab? If it weren’t already mine, I’d want to come and take it away from me. Can you get a read on his location? Is he on the move, or did we catch this early enough to cut it off at the pass?”
Please, he’s still in his man cave, fantasizing about how fun it’s going to be to put a bullet through my skull,
Please, we caught this while it was latent, and not once the infection had become systemic.
It was almost funny how quickly I defaulted to putting things in medical terms, and it wasn’t funny at all, because that was how I coped with situations I didn’t have a better way to handle: I turned them into cases, things to be studied and taken carefully apart, one quivering chunk at a time, until they were quiescent and couldn’t hurt me anymore. Looked at in that way, my reaction wasn’t funny at all.
“Give me a second.” Tessa’s fingers resumed their ballet, performing arabesques and leaps at a speed that my own more mundane typing never even approached. She frowned, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. Then her face fell. I didn’t really need to hear her answer: not once I’d seen her expression. But she looked up all the same, and said quietly, “He’s been on the move since yesterday morning. His people will be tripping your perimeter sensors within the hour.”
“Got it.” I sighed. “Well, this isn’t how I was planning to spend my afternoon. I’ll pay you before I go to get myself slaughtered by a megalomaniac. Your Legos should be there in a few weeks. I hope you enjoy the shit out of them.”
“I’m sure I will,” said Tessa gravely. “It’s been a pleasure working with you, Dr. Abbey. I hope you’ll be able to kick his hiney all the way back to the hole that he crawled out of. E-mail me if you do. I will watch the news until I hear from you.” And then her picture was gone, replaced by the blank face of my monitor.
I looked at my reflection in the glass and sighed. I looked sad, and why shouldn’t I? My facility was about to be under attack, Jill was still looking for infiltrators who weren’t as civic-minded as Zelda from the CDC, and maybe worst of all, Tessa had just confirmed—with a single, casual comment—that her son was no longer among the living. She would enjoy the Legos for him. He was beyond enjoying anything at all.
Some days I think the world as it is was invented just to fuck with us. And then I realize that doesn’t make any sense at all, because it assumes a childish, vengeful God. If there is a God, He or She isn’t a child. God is a scientist, and all this shit we’re wading in is our agar. It’s the only growth medium we’re ever going to get.
“Fuck my life,” I muttered. “Come on, Joe. Let’s go get ourselves killed.” I rose, pushing Joe’s head off of my lap in the process. He followed me out of the room.
Tom was in his lab when I arrived. His own little swarm of interns and technicians was gone, all of them probably helping lock down the facility, but he was still bent over his compounding station, adding a pinch of this and a drop of that to a vial, like he was making the world’s most complicated brownie recipe. I stopped in the doorway and cleared my throat, not wanting to startle him. Tom rarely worked in things that could actually explode, but I didn’t need to take any chances today.
“Hi, Dr. Abbey,” he said, without looking away from his station. “Give me just a second, I’m almost ready for you.”
“Should I ask what you’re doing, or is this one of those things that’s better for me not to know?” I asked. “In case you missed the announcement, Clive is on his way, and he’s bringing an army. All hands are supposed to be getting ready for war, not making whatever that is.”
“It’s a blend of synthetic cannabinoids,” said Tom. He added another drop to his vial. “It’s not precisely a match to the cocktail Jill extracted from our guest, but it’s close enough that the effects should be extremely similar—maybe even better. I went for long-term impact instead of short-term potency. She drinks this, she’ll be talking to space lobsters for days.”