Excerpt from Vitro/Vivo

from Chapter 3

Shi, her mouth in a single forbidding line, took Drei by the arm and steered her back to the elevator.  “You should have left well enough alone after the first time,” she began as soon as the doors closed, speaking swiftly, with no allowance for interruption.  “It was only a fluke that you happened to survive and find your way back.  I hoped you’d be wiser after that.  They wanted to send you off again, but I said a demotion would be enough to keep you out of trouble.”

Drei stared at her dumbly, her mouth going dry.  Send her off?  Quite the oblique way to speak of murdering someone.

Shi’s eyes were flashing.  “I risked my position by standing up for you, and as soon as you recover you’re back at it.  Well, that’s the end of it.  I can’t protect you anymore.”

The elevator had reached the top, but Shi put her hand next to the door-close sensor and held it there.  Somehow she managed to speak even more rapidly.  “If you can’t keep your nose out of this, then you’d better leave entirely.”

“Leave – the City?” Drei croaked.

Shi gave a curt nod.  “You’re already under suspicion.  Don’t push your luck.”

Drei’s thoughts were coming in frenetic snatches, refusing to form anything coherent.  “But – my home – my job –”

“You’ll never work for Ab-Gen again, that’s for sure,” Shi said grimly.

The thought of losing everything familiar and safe, of fleeing the City into an unknown wilderness, was too overwhelming to face.  Drei seized onto something else.  “But I have to know. Who are they?  What’s going on?  Has Ab-Gen really stopped replicating their materials?”

“Stopped replicating?” Shi repeated with a humorless laugh.  “Obviously.  How could they replicate what’s not there?  But you know too much already.  Get out of here.”

Drei’s nerves were so raw that she let out a small yelp when the elevator doors opened.  She gazed out at the walkway that led to the main door, then looked back to Shi.  Her supervisor – former supervisor – seemed to be looking at her in pity.

Pity.  Like a child who had wandered from the safe confines of the youth center.  That thought, alone, spurred Drei to straighten and find just enough resolve to say, “If Ab-Gen’s materials are being depleted, then I’m not the only one in danger.  You’re right that I can’t leave this alone.  Because I care about our people, and I’m going to help them, whatever the cost.”

The impact of her dramatic statement was considerably marred by Shi’s response as Drei walked away from her toward the building’s entrance.  “Brave words, for a microbe trying to fight the universe.”

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