(33) Night Lab

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"Oh, this is nostalgic," says Oreo as we step out into a garbage-sorting area. It's packed with hazardous-waste bins and other detritus—sealed bags of old lab supplies are scattered everywhere. "That way," says Oreo, pointing to another door. There are several leading off from this room, but apparently the doors from waste-disposal bays in scientific buildings look the same everywhere. He's right again, anyway. This one lets us out on the other side of those big glass doors. It's a little eerie to see the Anport van still parked outside with Sleepwalkers shambling past it, like at any moment, one will decide to smash in its windows and contaminate the inside, leaving us stranded. None of that happens, of course. I've just watched too many zombie movies.

The stairs of the building are unlocked. Ember proves she's a beast by beating all of us to the almost-top floor, where Oreo pinpointed the address of the scientific team. I come close to overtaking her when Ditzy gets distracted by a brightly hazard-signed lab on floor seventeen. 

"No," I say.

"It's been seven weeks. Even most viruses die without a host by then."

"I don't care. We are not opening the hermetically sealed biohazard laboratory in the top-tier university science building whose other inhabitants started a Sleeper apocalypse."

"Can I just see if it's unlocked?"

"Why?"

"In case we need somewhere to escape the Redding." She smiles as brightly as the neon-yellow warning signs. I am not convinced. "If air can't get in, water can't, either."

She just wants to see the inside of the forbidden room. I should have seen this coming. Ditzy takes warning signs as a challenge, not a hint.

"My answer is no," I repeat, then stop dead at the faintest ticking sound in the wall beside us. We both fall silent, listening.

"Pipes," says Ditzy.

"Redding activity, or just cooling?"

"Use your Redding-sense."

I keep forgetting I have that. The wall and pipes do give off a signal, but it's faint. The ticking seems to be a standard case of building-cooling at the end of the day—we are on the side that would have faced the sun an hour ago. Now that I'm paying attention, though, I notice something else. There's a thin line of Redding in these pipes, but past it is another, then past that, another. There are pipes running through these walls like spiderweb, and with the door we're standing beside, it suddenly makes sense. Labs need water. Lots of water. If there are high-end labs like this one all over, this building could be a highway for the Redding if it wants to come for us. I brief Ditzy on what I find, then pull her away. This time, she doesn't protest.

We catch up to the others on the twenty-ninth floor, in front of a more office-style lab door. It's locked. Ember kicks it in, making Oreo wince.

"Don't break their experiments," he says.

"I'll break anything I have to to get this thing off my lawn." Ember tracks down a rolling chair and deposits him in it. "Your wheelchair."

He thanks her and scoots off, pushing off the counters to propel himself. "Gather the laptops," he calls back to us as he vanishes down the nearest aisle.

Ember waves to Ditzy, who empties our solar charger and Oreo's onto a counter. We fan out. It's evening now, and the red light that bounces off the next-door apartment block isn't enough to illuminate the lab. We click on flashlights instead. I feel like a burglar. So do the others, apparently: Calico J jumps like a squirrel every time he bumps into something, Patrick touches nothing at all, and Ditzy is obviously enjoying herself.

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