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Authors: Mira Grant

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BOOK: Blackout
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Things like this absolutely
are
an exact science. They’re exactly what the Fictionals tell us to expect once mad science gets involved. I decided that was something else that didn’t need to be pointed out. Instead, I seized on the thing he was doing his best to avoid saying. “The men with guns are here because there’s a chance I’m going to spontaneously amplify, aren’t they?”

“Yes,” said Dr. Thomas. He looked genuinely sorry as he continued. “It will take a few days to be sure your system has properly adjusted to the infection. Until then, I’m afraid your movements will be carefully monitored. You can use the intercom to request food or drinks, and there will always be an escort ready if you need to visit the sanitary facilities. Showers will be available to you on a regular basis.”

“Can I ask for an Internet connection?” I asked.

He looked away as he answered. “That isn’t a good idea yet. We’re still running tests, and we don’t want to stress you more than is absolutely necessary. Hard copy reading material can be provided, if there are specific subjects you’re interested in.”

“Carefully censored, so as not to ‘stress’ me?” He had the good grace to look embarrassed. That didn’t make me feel any better. “If you’re trying to avoid stress, you should know that isolation stresses me.”

“That may be, but you’re going to have to live with it for a little while longer. I’m sorry. It’s necessary for your health.”

Something about the way he said that made my throat close up. A dozen nightmare scenarios flashed through my mind, all of them beginning in the dangerous seconds following the gunshot that killed me. I took a long drink of Coke to steady myself, and asked, “Is Shaun okay? Did he make it out of Sacramento? Please. Just tell me if he made it out of Sacramento.”

“It’s July of 2041. It’s taken us a little over eight months to get you to the point of being both awake and aware of your surroundings,” said Dr. Thomas. He delivered this apparent non sequitur in a hurried almost-monotone, like he wanted to get what he was about to say out of the way as quickly as possible. “A great deal has changed during that time.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I know.”

“Why aren’t you answering me? What are you trying to—”

“Miss Mason, I can’t give you the answers you’re asking me for. But I am truly and sincerely sorry for your loss.”

I gaped at him, openmouthed. I was still gaping when he stepped out of the room, the door closing behind him. I didn’t move. Not until my Coke hit the floor with a metallic
clink
, so much like the sound of a bullet casing being dropped. My knees went weak, and I sank into a kneeling position, my eyes fixed on the blank white door.

My cheeks were wet. I reached up with one hand, touching my right cheek. My fingertips came away damp. “I’m crying?” I said numbly. Retinal Kellis-Amberlee robs its victims of the ability to cry. Somehow, the idea that I could cry now was even more unbelievable than the idea that I was a CDC science project.

I staggered to my feet and stumbled over to the bed, where I collapsed atop the covers and curled into a ball, hugging my knees to my chest. The tears came hard after that, leaving me shaking and barely able to breathe. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I fell asleep.

I dreamed of funerals. Sometimes they were mine, and Shaun was standing in front of a room full of people, awkwardly trying to pretend he knew what he was doing. Those were the good dreams. Those were the dreams that reflected life as I knew it. Other times—most of the times—it was his face on the picture in front of the funereal urn, and either I was delivering a eulogy in a robotic monotone, or Alaric was standing there, explaining how it was only a matter of time. Once I was gone, no one really expected anything else.

The room was dark when I opened my eyes. They ached in a totally unfamiliar way. I shifted enough to free a hand to rub them, and discovered that my eyelids were puffy and slightly tender. I considered getting upset about it, but dismissed the idea. Either this was a normal side effect of crying, or Dr. Thomas had been right to be concerned, and I was starting to amplify. If it was the first, I needed to learn to live with it. If it was the second, well. It might be somebody’s problem. It wasn’t going to be mine.

I sat up on the bed, squinting to make out shapes in the darkened room. Even with the retinal Kellis-Amberlee, I probably couldn’t have seen in a room this dark. Still, dwelling on it gave me something to do for a few seconds, while I waited for my eyes to stop aching and let my thoughts settle down into something resembling normal. I wasn’t usually this scattered. Then again, I hadn’t usually just come back from the dead. Maybe I needed to cut myself a little slack.

Minutes slipped by me almost unnoticed. It wasn’t until my butt started going numb that I realized how long I’d been sitting there, paralyzed by the simple reality of the dark. “Fuck that,” I muttered, and slid off the bed, only stumbling a little as my feet hit the floor. There. Step one had been successfully taken: I was standing up. Everything else could come from there.

If I remembered correctly, the wall with the door would be about six feet in front of me. I started forward, holding my hands out in a vain effort to keep myself from walking face-first into anything solid. I felt a little better with every step. I was
up
. I was
doing something
. Sure, what I was doing was basically creeping my way across a dark room like a heroine from one of Maggie’s pre-Rising horror movies, but it was
something
, and that was a big improvement over what I’d been doing before.

It’s amazing how effective simple disorientation is as a mechanism for controlling people. Reporters use it whenever we think we can get away with it. We try to be the ones in control of the environment, using everything from props and street noise to temperature to keep people either completely relaxed or totally on edge, depending on the needs of the piece. Well, the CDC was trying to disorient me, and I’d been playing right into their hands. Who cared if I was a clone of myself, being kept under lock and key in a secret facility somewhere? I was still Georgia Mason—call it “identity until proven otherwise.” And if I was going to be Georgia Mason, I couldn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. I needed to do something.

My hands hit the one-way mirror. I stopped, leaning forward until my forehead grazed the surface of the glass. If I squinted, I could make out the hallway on
the other side. It was like trying to look through a thick layer of fog; if the lights in the hall hadn’t been on, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all. As it was, I was only getting outlines. The walls. The equally deceptive “windows” looking in on those other, empty rooms. Were they waiting for their own secretly cloned residents? Was I the first, the last, or somewhere in the middle?

“Stop it,” I muttered, wrenching my way out of that line of thought. It was something I needed to think about—probably at great length, and potentially as part of an exposé on illegal human cloning being conducted by the CDC—but this wasn’t the time. Here and now, it didn’t matter if they had a damn
army
of clones. I was the only clone I cared about.

I was the only…

I stepped away from the mirror, staring into the darkness in front of me. If the CDC was monitoring me on a hidden video feed—and I had absolute faith that the CDC was monitoring me on a hidden video feed, that’s what hidden video feeds are
for
—they’d probably think I was having a seizure. Let them think what they wanted. My frozen stare was as close as I could allow myself to come to cheering and punching the air in raw triumph.

They’d almost managed to catch me in their little logic puzzle, I had to give them that, but I’ve spent my entire life pursuing the truth ahead of all other things, and I know a lie when I don’t hear one. Dr. Thomas tried so very hard not to give me any firm answers… and that was the problem. He said he was sorry for my loss. He wouldn’t let me have an Internet connection, not even one that wasn’t capable of transmitting, only receiving. And he never, not once, went so far as to say
that Shaun was dead. Why wouldn’t he tell me Shaun was dead?

Because he didn’t have any proof. The old Internet rallying cry: pics or it didn’t happen. There was no way he could invent a believable story that I wouldn’t be able to poke holes in, and if he’d been telling the truth, he would have been happy to prove it.

Shaun was alive.

I could be a clone, up could be down, and black could be white, but Shaun had to be alive. If I were in their shoes, the only thing that would have convinced me to clone a potentially recalcitrant reporter—and let’s face it, I was renowned for my stubbornness, especially when people were trying to tell me what to do—was the need to have that
specific
reporter on my side. The CDC wouldn’t have brought me back unless they needed me to do something for them. And there was only one thing I could do that no one else could.

I could make Shaun stop.

Shaun was alive, and he was doing something they didn’t approve of. Shaun was doing something they wanted stopped. But this was the CDC—they were the good guys. Whatever he was doing had to be something I would support stopping, right? Shaun was always good at making trouble, and I was usually the one in charge of stopping him. Take me out of the picture, and well…

For a moment, I lost myself in the pleasant fantasy of the CDC telling me that they were done processing me, everything was fine, and I could go. They’d hand me a pair of sunglasses and show me the door, sending me out into the world to find Shaun and give him a brisk smack upside the head. I was the only one he’d listen to, after all.

Regretfully, I set that pretty daydream aside. If they just wanted to make Shaun settle down, they’d hit him with a tranquilizer dart or something. Cloning a single sterile organ for a transplant patient cost millions of dollars. My shiny new factory-issue body probably came with a price tag somewhere in the billions. Shaun could cause a lot of trouble if he wanted to, but he wasn’t capable of
that
much trouble—certainly not enough to justify the cost of resurrecting me.

So what had he done that justified it? What did they want from me that they couldn’t get from him? My fingertips brushed the edge of the door. I stopped, turned, and paced in the opposite direction, letting the fingers of my other hand whisk along the wall. Fine; so they hadn’t brought me back from the dead for purely altruistic reasons. I knew that when I woke up. I represented too much money and too much time to be a purely scientific exercise. If this had happened before the Rising, human cloning might have been seen as a way to enhance and extend life. Worn out your body? Get a new one! Every cosmetic procedure imaginable in one easy step. Well, assuming you considered having your brain—whatever it was they did to my brain—having your brain somehow extracted and inserted into a whole new body “easy.”

That was before the Rising. Our modern zombie-phobic society would never embrace something that brought people back from the dead, even if they came back without all those antisocial cannibalistic urges. When I got out of here—if I got out of here—I was going to have a lot of extremely fast explaining to do, unless I wanted to find myself getting shot dead for the second time in my life.

There was something wrong with that phrase. I reached the wall, turned, and continued pacing.

Shaun was alive, Shaun was causing trouble, and they weren’t willing to risk getting caught in a lie if they told me he was dead. That might mean they were planning to use me against him somehow, convince me to spill private information about where we hid our network keys and offsite backup drives. That idea felt thin, like there was something I was missing, but it was a start. Every article begins with a line that can be twisted, somehow, into a hook.

Fine: The CDC brought me back so they could use me as a weapon against the only person in the world I loved more than I loved the truth. How they were planning to do that, I had no idea. Shaun knew I was dead. If anyone in the world knew, without question, that I was dead, it was Shaun; he’s the one who pulled the trigger. Seeing a woman who looked like me might make him pause for a second, but it wouldn’t be enough to bring him running.

Would it?

The door opened abruptly, sending light flooding into my absolute darkness. I recoiled, more from the expectation of pain than anything else, stumbling to a stop and catching myself against the wall.

The light didn’t hurt my eyes the way it would have before my resurrection, but it still made them sting, blinding me for a few disorienting seconds. I raised a hand to shield them, squinting through the brightness at the man standing in the doorway. He wasn’t moving, and hadn’t moved, as far as I could tell, since he opened the door.

I dropped my hand. “Hello?” I hated the uncertainty in my voice. I was still unsteady, and the CDC was controlling too damn much of my environment. I hate being controlled.

Having two things to hate actually helped. I stood up straighter, frowning at the man silhouetted in the doorway. Being in pajamas should probably have made me feel vulnerable. Instead, it just made me angrier, like it was one element of control too many. Let them take away my connection to the outside world, my autonomy, and hell, even my body, but they weren’t allowed to
dress
me.

“I said hello,” I said, more sharply. I took a step forward. “Who are you? What are you doing in here?” Belatedly, it occurred to me that maybe walking toward a man I couldn’t really see was a bad idea. Human cloning was illegal, after all, and it was entirely possible that there might be people at the CDC who didn’t want me up and walking around.

“I saw you on the monitors,” said the man. He had a low, pleasant voice, with just a hint of a Midwestern accent. He stepped out of the doorway, moving back into the hall, and giving me my first real look at his face. His skin was a medium brown with reddish undertones, a few shades lighter than Mahir, a few shades darker than Alaric, with a bone structure I thought might be Native American. He had straight, dark hair, worn loose and almost as long as mine. It grazed his shoulders, tucked behind his ears to keep it from getting in his face. I’d have to remember that trick, at least until I could get my hands on a pair of scissors. He was smiling cautiously in my direction, like a man facing a snake that could decide to bite at any second.

BOOK: Blackout
9.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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