Skin Deep Page 7

“Worst case?” Loralee asked.

“I’m not here to talk about ponies and flowers.”

“Worst case,” Loralee said, looking to the others, “the virus that Panos developed could be used to deliver huge chunks of useless data to people’s DNA—or it could cut out chunks of their DNA.”

“So . . . zombies?” J.C. said.

Ivy grimaced. “Normally, I’d call him an idiot. But . . . yeah, this kind of sounds like zombies.”

Not again, I thought. “I hate zombies.”

The engineers all gave me baffled looks.

“. . . Zombies?” Loralee asked.

“That’s where this is going, isn’t it?” I asked. “You turning people into zombies by accident?”

“Wow,” Garvas said. “That’s way more awesome than what we actually did.”

The other two looked at him, and he shrugged.

“Mister Leeds,” Laramie said, looking back to me. “This is not science fiction. Removing chunks of someone’s DNA doesn’t immediately produce some kind of zombie. It just creates an abnormal cell. One that, in our experiments, has a habit of proliferating uncontrollably.”

“Not zombies,” I said, feeling cold. “Cancer. You created a virus that gives people cancer.”

Garvas winced. “Kind of?”

“It was an unintended result that is perfectly manageable,” Laramie said, “and only dangerous if used malignly. And why would anyone want to do that?”

We all stared at him for a moment.

“Let’s shoot him,” J.C. said.

“Thank heavens,” Tobias replied. “You hadn’t suggested we shoot someone in over an hour, J.C. I was beginning to think something was wrong.”

“No, listen,” J.C. said. “We can shoot Pinhead McWedgy over there, and it will teach everyone in this room an important life lesson. One about not being a stupid mad scientist.”

I sighed, ignoring the aspects. “You said the virus was developed by a man named Panos? I’ll want to talk to him.”

“You can’t,” Garvas said. “He’s . . . kind of dead.”

“How surprising,” Tobias said as Ivy sighed and massaged her forehead.

“What?” I asked, turning to Ivy.

“Yol said a body was involved,” Ivy said. “And their company is about storing data in human cells, so . . .”

I looked to Garvas. “He had it in him, didn’t he? The way to create this virus? He stored the data for your product inside his own cells.”

“Yes,” Garvas said. “And somebody stole the corpse.”


“Security Nightmare,” J.C. said as we made our way to the office of Panos, the deceased gene-splicer.

“So far as we can tell,” Loralee said, “Panos’s death was perfectly natural. We were all devastated when he had his fall, as he was a friend. But nobody thought it was anything more than a random accident on the ski slopes.”

“Yeah,” J.C. said, walking with my other two aspects just behind him, “because scientists working on doomsday viruses dying in freak accidents isn’t at all suspicious.”

“Occasionally, J.C.,” Tobias said, “accidents do happen. If someone wanted his secrets, I suspect killing him and stealing his body would be low on the list of methods.”

“Are you sure he’s dead?” I asked Garvas, who walked on my other side. “It could be some kind of hoax, part of an espionage ploy of some sort.”

“We’re very sure,” Garvas replied. “I saw the corpse. The neck doesn’t . . . uh . . . turn that way on someone alive.”

“We’ll want to corroborate that,” J.C. said. “Get coroner reports, photos if possible.”

I nodded absently.

“If we follow the simplest line of events,” Ivy said, “this is quite logical. He dies. Someone discovers that his cells hide information. They snatch the body. I’m not saying it couldn’t be something else, but I find what they’re saying to be plausible.”

“When did the body disappear?” I asked.

“Yesterday,” Loralee said. “Which was two days after the accident. The funeral was to be today.”

We stopped in the hallway beside a wall painted with cheerful groups of bubbles, and Garvas used his key card to open the next door.

“Do you have any leads?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he replied. “Or, well, too many. Our area of research is a hot one, and lots of biotech companies are involved in the race. Any one of our less scrupulous rivals could be behind the theft.” He pulled open the door for me.

I took the door from Garvas and held it, much to the man’s confusion. If I didn’t, though, he was likely to walk through while my aspects were trying to enter. The engineers entered. Once they’d gone in, my aspects went through, and I followed. Where had Yol run off to?

“Finding out who did this should be easy,” J.C. said to me. “We just have to figure out who hired that assassin to watch us. What I don’t get is why everyone is so worried. So the nerds accidentally invented a cancer machine. Big deal. I’ve got one of those already.” J.C. held up a cellphone and wiggled it.

“You have a mobile phone?” Ivy asked, exasperated.

“Sure,” J.C. said. “Everyone does.”

“And who are you going to call? Santa?”

J.C. stuffed the phone away, drawing his lips to a line. Ivy danced around the fact that none of them were real, but she always seemed—deep down—to be okay with it, unlike J.C. As we walked along this new hallway, Ivy fell in beside him and began saying some calming things, as if embarrassed for calling out his hallucinatory nature.

This newer area of the building was less like a kindergarten, more like a dentist’s office, with individual rooms along a hallway decorated in tans with fake plants beside doorways. Garvas fished out another key card as we reached Panos’s office.

“Garvas,” I asked, “why didn’t you go to the government with your virus?”

“They’d have just wanted to use it as a weapon.”

“No,” I said, putting my hand on his arm. “I doubt it. A weapon like this wouldn’t serve a tactical purpose in war. Give the enemy troops cancer? It would take months or years to take effect, and even then would be of marginal value. A weapon like this would only be useful as a threat against a civilian population.”

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