Coming to you live, p.1
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       Coming to You Live, p.1
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           Mira Grant
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Coming to You Live


  Coming to You Live

  Mira Grant

  orbitbooks.net

  orbitshortfiction.com

  Copyright

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by Seanan McGuire

  Excerpt from Into the Drowning Deep copyright © 2017 by Seanan McGuire

  Cover copyright © 2017 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Author photograph by Carolyn Billingsley

  Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact permissions@hbgusa.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  Orbit

  Hachette Book Group

  1290 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10104

  www.orbitbooks.net

  www.orbitshortfiction.com

  Previously published in Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant in hardcover, mass market, and ebook by Orbit in 2016

  First eBook Edition: March 2018

  Orbit is an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

  The Orbit name and logo are trademarks of Little, Brown Book Group Limited.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

  The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors for speaking events. To find out more, go to www.hachettespeakersbureau.com or call (866) 376-6591.

  ISBN: 978-0-316-38105-5

  E3-20171109-JV-PC

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Book I: O Canada One

  Two

  Three

  Book II: Pay the Piper One

  Two

  Three

  Book III: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Book IV: Enemy Without, Enemy Within One

  Two

  Three

  Book V: The Gang’s All Here One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Extras Meet the Author

  By Mira Grant

  A Preview of Into the Drowning Deep

  About Orbit Short Fiction

  Orbit Newsletter

  Book I

  O Canada

  Some people call what we did “running away.” I call it “a strategic retreat before I started shooting motherfuckers in the head.” Isn’t that a nicer way to put things?

  —SHAUN MASON

  No matter how far we get from the people who made me what I am today, I’m still not sleeping. So I guess they won after all. Bully for them.

  —GEORGIA MASON

  One

  The dream was always the same: I woke up, and I was in a world gone white. White walls, white floor, white ceiling, white bulbs in the naked light fixtures. One wall had been replaced by a mirror, and when I sat up and looked at myself, I was wearing a white hospital gown. The only color left in the world was my hair—brown—my eyes—brown—and the blue ID band around my left wrist. I raised my arm to look at it.

  SUBJECT 7C—DESIGNATE GEORGIA MASON

  The intercom clicked to life, and Dr. Thomas’s voice filled the room, cool, distant, and artificially compassionate. “Good morning, Georgia. Did you sleep well?”

  “I had a dream,” I said, still looking at the ID band. “I dreamt Shaun came and found me.” I dreamt we’d toppled the CDC. I dreamt we’d saved the President, and lost Becks, and saved the country, if not the world. I dreamt of Canada, and the wild green fields of freedom. All those things seemed so far away now, like they had never been possible.

  “That’s good.” Dr. Thomas sounded pleased. I tensed. It was never good when the doctors responsible for my care sounded that happy. It usually meant pain to come, and more restrictions on my already limited privileges. “We designed that dream for you, Georgia, to make you feel better about your ongoing confinement. Did he break you out of here? Did he take you away from all this? To Canada, perhaps?”

  I went cold. “Yes,” I admitted, having long since learned that lying to the men who kept me captive did me no good at all. The fact that I could even consider lying was a testament to what they’d done to me. The woman I’d never been but remembered being would have died before she lied, no matter what the circumstances were. The most she’d ever been willing to do was withhold information, not sharing the things she didn’t consider important. That vicious dedication to honesty had been enough to get her killed, and get me created, with my greater talent for saying one thing when I meant another.

  That didn’t make it a fair trade. I liked being alive—it was a fun way to spend my time—but I would have given it up in an instant if it could have meant being the original Georgia Mason again, not a cheap knockoff. Shaun would have torn down the walls of the world to get back to the original. He didn’t even know that I existed.

  And now even my dreams weren’t safe from the men who’d made me.

  “That’s very good,” said Dr. Thomas. “We’re going to be making some adjustments to your programming over the next few weeks, Georgia. It’s important that you know what we’re planning to do, because we need to see if awareness allows you to fight the changes. We need you to struggle. Not that it’s going to do any good. You were born in this room. You’re going to die here. But you knew that, didn’t you? Even in your sweetest dreams, you knew that seeing the sun—seeing Shaun—was too good to be true.”

  I threw back the covers, intending to leap out of bed and hammer my hands against the mirror. They were probably standing right on the other side, watching me, judging me, measuring my reactions. Well, I’d give them a reaction. I’d give them an explosion. I’d hit that glass until it shattered, and then we’d see who was trapped here. I wasn’t trapped here with them. They were trapped here with me.

  But when I pulled the blankets off my legs, my legs weren’t there. My body ended in a pair of carefully bandaged stumps. Dr. Thomas was laughing, his voice drifting through the intercom like the judgment of an angry god.

  “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “You must have been so deep in the dream that you forgot. We removed those the last time you tried to run, Georgia. You can’t run anymore. You’re never going to get away from here. You’re never going to leave us. We’ll keep you until we’re done with you, and then we’ll keep you in jars, sliced and sectioned for study, until you give up all your secrets—so give up, give up, give up—”

  The dream always ended the same way, too: I woke screaming, clawing at the air, with the winter chill heavy on my skin and Shaun’s hands pinning my shoulders to the bed, Shaun’s voice cutting through my cries as he pleaded with me to—

  “Breathe, George, breathe, they can’t hurt you anymore, they’re not here, and if they were here, I’d throw a fucking party, right after I shot them into Swiss cheese, so come on, Georgia, breathe.”

  My vision cleared and there he was, bending over me, his knees planted in the mattress and his hands holding me down, keeping me from hurting myself. I stopped flailing, giving one final kick for the sake of feeling the blankets against my heels. My body was still my own. My mind belonged to me. My life belonged to me—to me, and to the man who
was looking down on me with such terrified concern. My best friend. My adoptive brother, weird as that past relationship was in the light of our present one. The only person I’d ever loved enough to die for.

  “Better now?” asked Shaun.

  “Better,” I said, and forced a smile.

  He watched me for a moment longer before he took his hands off my shoulders and collapsed, all but boneless, to the mattress beside me. “That dream again, huh?”

  I nodded wordlessly. He didn’t need me to describe the dream: He’d heard it all before, over and over again, on the nights when I woke up screaming. It wasn’t as bad as it had been when the dream was new. Back then, I’d managed to claw off strips of my own skin trying to remove the tracking devices my subconscious mind believed were planted there, the ones that would inevitably lead the CDC to our position and put me back in that featureless white room. It didn’t matter that the CDC as I remembered it no longer existed, subsumed as they’d been by the EIS and by the sweeping policy changes put in place by the Ryman administration. The CDC had created me, growing me from a few scraps of DNA and programming my oldest memories from a combination of the electrical patterns of the original Georgia Mason’s brain and their own ideas about what sort of person I should be. I was their daughter and their masterwork, and one day, they were going to come for me.

  When they did, though, Shaun was going to be ready. I could see that simple, sincere truth in his eyes, and so I allowed my own eyes to close as I nestled up against him, breathing deeply, and waited for sleep to come back and claim me again.

  It was going to be a long wait. As Shaun rubbed my back, and the sound of the owls going about their business outside drifted in through the windows, I found that I was okay with that.

  Two

  Georgia was still asleep when I rolled out of bed and tiptoed for the door, leaving her to slowly roll into the warm spot created by my body. I stopped at the door and looked back at her, unable to stop myself from smiling. She always looked so peaceful in the mornings. Sure, it was usually because she’d exhausted herself screaming in the middle of the night, but that didn’t change the fact that in the morning, when her eyes were closed and the screaming was over, she looked like this was working, like she was healing, like she was getting better.

  It was amazing how good we were getting at lying to each other and to ourselves about the state of our respective recoveries. George slept in stages: pre-nightmare, nightmare, post-nightmare, like a marathon runner who had to punish her body before she could let it relax. I didn’t sleep so much as move from one catnap to another, sometimes staying in bed for ten or twelve hours just to get half that much rest. As long as I never dipped much below the surface of my dreams, I didn’t have to live with the things they would try to show me.

  We had gotten lucky, Georgia and I. We had taken everything the world had thrown at us, and in the end, we’d been able to walk away together, side by side, and let everyone else keep fighting without us. If George wanted to get hung up on the fact that the woman who’d walked away from the fight wasn’t exactly the same as the woman who’d signed up for it, well. I wasn’t the same man either. I didn’t even have the convenient excuse of having died and come back as an abomination of science. Unlike George, I’d been alive and kicking for every awful moment, even if I’d spent more than half of it out of my mind with grief and shock.

  Some days I wasn’t sure I had ever come back into my mind. George got the nightmares to tell her that everything she knew was a lie, but at least when she was awake, she believed in the world around her. She believed I was real, and that I loved her; she believed that the sky and the forest and the snow would keep us safe. She believed we’d done the right thing, even though I knew she thought—sometimes privately, sometimes aloud and with a vehemence that frightened even me—that we’d paid way too much for what we’d gotten away with. She always believed.

  Me? I wasn’t sure I believed in anything anymore, not even in myself. Sometimes I thought I was the one who’d died in Sacramento, bleeding out my life across the inside of our van, and that everything I’d experienced since putting the gun to my best friend’s head and pulling the trigger was either the hallucination of a dying mind, or—even worse—the vicious work of some CDC tech. Maybe I was a brain in a jar, and George’s nightmares were my subconscious trying to make me face the truth. Maybe. After everything we’d been through, it didn’t seem that far out of line.

  But then she’d smile at me, or rub her thumb across the corner of my mouth to try to coax me into kissing her, and I would think, nah. Nah, there’s no way I could have a dream this good; there’s no way my lies could ever be this perfect. Truth is stranger than fiction, and so this had to be the truth. It was just that the moments when I could believe that were few and far between, and they didn’t seem to be getting any more common.

  My name is Shaun Mason, and I am not okay.

  I walked through the cabin, picking up pieces of my gear from tables and couches as I made for the back door. We were careful about decontamination—we had to be, until we knew whether my immunity to Kellis-Amberlee, which had been contracted from the original Georgia, had been sexually transmitted to her clone, and the mere fact that I could think that sentence with a straight face said something about how fucking weird my life had become—but we weren’t always careful about where things got put away after they were certified clean. Body armor tended to wind up on the couch in the front room. Boots got piled up by the back door. And weapons went on every flat surface in the place, always loaded, always close to hand.

  That part, at least, was intentional, for both of us, even if we never wanted to talk about it. George and I both knew that one day, someone was going to come looking for us. Maybe they would be a friend, a member of the EIS who just wanted to check George’s vitals, since there had never been a clone who’d survived outside laboratory settings for as long as she had. Maybe they would be an enemy, an old CDC scientist come to reclaim their secret weapon and use it for evil. It didn’t matter either way, because she wasn’t going back. We weren’t going back, and anyone who tried to make us had better be prepared to learn just how many bullets we could squeeze off in the space between “hello” and “good-bye.”

  My pistol was on the low mail table next to the door. I picked it up, checked the clip, and shoved it into my belt before I opened the door and stepped out into the fresh air of the Canadian morning. The sky was a perfect, pristine blue, save for the long tail of a jetliner high overhead. Transcontinental, if they were willing to risk cutting across abandoned territory. During the Rising, when the dead had risen from their beds and gone walking around snacking on the living, most rural and low-population areas had been declared too dangerous, impossible to defend, and evacuated. The United States had lost the state of Alaska, judged too hostile for human occupation and left for the zombie wolves and polar bears to divide between themselves. Canada had lost substantially more. Pretty much the entire middle of the country had been written off and left for the infected.

  The infected, and people like us, who had nowhere else to go. Anyone who didn’t want to live in the modern American surveillance state, where everything you did could and would be held against you in a court of law, wound up running for the Canadian border. It was still a largely deserted country. Our closest neighbors were fifteen miles away—a nice group of First Nations activists who refused to miss out on this opportunity to take back what the European settlers had stolen from them—and even they were only there for half the year. They moved from site to site, working them all, helping to massage this land back into something livable.

  Farmers and survivalists and cultists and dog breeders and political refugees dotted the Canadian countryside like mushrooms growing after a rain, hiding in dense forest or on the banks of rivers or, as with me and George, in plain sight. Everyone who knew us expected us to be living in an underground bunker, where George could craft her manifesto and I could do pushups until my bic
eps exploded. That was why we had found a nice little cabin that had been sealed against the weather and clearly deserted within the past decade and claimed it as our own. Sure, the original owners might have been surprised by some of our enhancements—razor wire and pit traps and homemade land mines not being exactly standard for their brand of rustic “getting back to nature”—but under the circumstances, I didn’t think they were going to question it. There had still been food in the pantry when we’d found the place. The original owners were probably long dead, eaten by their neighbors while out for a walk and leaving a perfectly good cabin for us to find.

  Me, I had no interest in being eaten by the neighbors. Even more, I had no interest in George being eaten by the neighbors. I’d managed to survive losing her once. I’d done it by driving myself insane and rolling through the world like a wrecking ball, breaking everything I touched with the sheer force of my denial. The fact that I’d survived that period of my life was nothing short of a miracle, and I meant that literally. Only a miracle could have brought my dead sister back to me, and now that I had her, I wasn’t letting her go. Not if I had to burn the entire fucking world down to keep her safe.

  Branches crunched underfoot as I walked across the yard, steering well clear of the orange spikes that marked the land mines and the yellow spikes that marked the pit traps. The infected didn’t pay attention to little things like lawn ornaments. There was always the vague concern that we’d kill somebody who was just coming to borrow a cup of sugar, but anyone who lived out here would know that you didn’t stroll up to the front door and ask for what you wanted: You stood as far away as you could while still being heard, and you yelled. Yelling might attract the dead, but it would sure as hell make the living friendlier.

 
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