Vivi Valdez popped a gummy bear into her mouth as she settled in for her fourth evening of low-key surveillance. It was one of her favorite parts of the job: she was alone, free to proceed as she liked. On the first day she had identified an office suite across the street from her target that emptied out by six p.m. Since then, she’d spent the evenings sprawled on industrial carpet in front of a picture window with eyes on the entrance to the Genetic Research Institute of Toronto. She’d hacked GRIT’s closed circuit security cameras in the lobby so she could watch their feed from her phone and made note of every entrance and exit, cross-referencing with her list of GRIT’s staff and associates.
On the second night, she’d broken in. That had been a fun evening, figuring out the weaknesses in each level of high-tech security. Once she was in, though, Vivi had found the labs kind of creepy. She had stolen classified information from, at last count, four hostile nations, and she was very comfortable sneaking around in the dark. But the lab was full of things she couldn’t interpret: equipment humming through the night; screens showing what were either elaborate screensavers or magnifications of very tiny organisms reproducing as she watched; glowing liquid— actually glowing!—that she imagined would do horrible things to anything it touched. Or possibly turn her into an angst-ridden superhero. Vivi’s initial brief was too vague for her to figure out what she was looking for in that morass, so she had planted a bug in the office of Dr. Nathaniel Sturgis, Director of Research, and gotten the hell out, with plans to return once she had more intel.
Now Sturgis’s droning voice was feeding directly into her earbud as he dictated a report: “. . . distribution mechanism appears to have been effective. Evidence indicates the process was initiated after fewer than six hours, causing the predicted responses . . .” Vivi couldn’t tell if he was talking about an amoeba or a person, but it sounded sinister, so she made a note of the timestamp to flag this section for the analysts at Langley. At this point Sturgis’s voice was enough to trigger her gag reflex. Two days of listening had convinced Vivi that he was a pig: dismissive of undergraduates, bullying of research assistants, and a self-satisfied name-dropper with anyone he thought he could get something out of. But he was mentioned by name in the level-two surveillance directive, and he was annoyingly cagey about a lot of his research. Vivi was betting that when she got her expanded orders they would include nailing him for something juicy.
Vivi decapitated another bear—an indulgence that was unlikely to leave crumbs—feeling lazy but productive, which was more relaxing than when she was on agency-mandated vacation. She loved the buzz of being on the job. Even if Canada was technically a friendly nation— maybe especially because Canada was a friendly nation—any mistakes would have consequences.
Vivi’s phone rang, a muted burbling that told her it was Arun. She rolled away from the window, bounced to her feet, and tapped in her code.
“Valdez, minimally secure line,” she answered.
“Hey kiddo. How’s Canada treating you?”
Vivi grinned but kept it out of her voice. “A little too cold for me, and way too polite.”
“The language isn’t giving you any problem?” Arun’s voice was a shade too innocent, but Vivi couldn’t help taking the bait.
“This is Ontario.”
“Still,” Arun commented mildly. “You never know when you might run into some French.”
Vivi rolled her eyes. Her lack of facility with languages was a running joke in their unit: if only she could learn to fake her way through a foreign language as well as she could another persona, she’d be the perfect chameleon. “At least when I do a British accent I don’t sound Australian.”
“What d’you mean, mate?” Arun said. “My British accent is brilliant, what.”
It was a stupid joke that they’d been telling each other, with variations, for years, ever since that incident in Capetown, but Vivi still felt the urge to giggle. She stomped it down. “I’ve got a link into the closed circuit TV in the lobby and a bug in the director’s office,” she said and then, because it sounded too sudden, “and I haven’t heard any French yet.”
Arun instantly switched to serious. “Any indications so far?”
“Sturgis was on the phone yesterday reassuring someone that the project was on schedule and that he was seeing as-expected results of the live test.”
“Could be anything,” Arun...