Vivi had a sudden flash of memory, something she had tried to bury for years. She was in a living room that wasn’t her own, pretending to be someone she wasn’t, someone who looked just like her. They had switched clothes and hairstyles and gone to each other’s houses. Her hair was falling out of the clumsy pigtails the other girl had done for her. She remembered the thrill and fear of being found out. It was the rush she had been chasing ever since.
A door opened outside Sturgis’s office. Vivi was flattened to the wall beside the door before the light went on in the anteroom, throwing a chilly square of light through the frosted glass panel. She was barely breathing. How could she have gotten so distracted?
The door handle turned and Sturgis strode in quickly, no hesitation, no suspicion someone might be there, no apparent container of deadly germs. She was calculating the odds of edging around the open door and escaping when Sturgis, seeing the files on the table, whirled.
He started, then relaxed. “Dr. Niehaus, what are you –”
He stopped. Stared. There was no way he would buy it, they didn’t look that much alike, but Vivi felt herself slipping on Niehaus’s personality anyway, because that’s what she did. “Director Sturgis! Sorry, I should have called, but I was thinking about what you said, and I want to reconsider.”
Sturgis’s mouth was open, and Vivi could see him balancing on the rim of belief. “I have this total knee-jerk reaction to classified research, just run for the hills.” Good thing Vivi had just listened to that conversation again. Niehaus’s accent was fresh in her mind, as was the content. She took a risk. “But you can probably understand that.”
Sturgis’s florid face bloomed with complicity. “I suppose that does make sense, yes, after what happened with DYAD. That’s actually exactly why . . . I thought . . . you might be able to shed some light . . . on my current . . .”
He was slowing down, his brain catching up with the situation. She had to keep him moving. “So perhaps you could tell me more? I’m really curious to know how I can help.” She added an element of shy flirtation to her smile; everything she knew about Sturgis, from his work history to his tailored suit and expensive haircut, told her he would go in for admiration.
“Well, I can’t talk about the details right now,” Sturgis said, moistening his lips. He hadn’t stepped back, so they were only a foot apart now. “There’s paperwork, of course, the NDA, the exact offer . . .” Translation: he’s not supposed to be telling anyone anything, Vivi thought. “But perhaps we could have an exchange of information. I can give you the broad outlines,” he leaned forward, “if you could tell me about the—” and then he stopped, very suddenly.
Vivi waited with an expression of expectant innocence that had served her well in the past. “Dr. Sturgis?”
His stare didn’t waver; Vivi wasn’t sure he had even heard her. Panic raced through her. She couldn’t get burned, not here, not now. Her job let her be the person she wanted to be, a competent badass, while helping to keep her country safe. She wasn’t going to lose it all over this asshole.
“You’re not Cosima Niehaus.” Vivi kept her expression gently surprised while she took a slow breath in preparation for violence, but what Sturgis said next knocked the wind out of her. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? Oh my God. Oh my God. You have to understand. I didn’t know—I didn’t realize—”