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Authors: Mira Grant

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BOOK: Blackout
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I never thought I’d be so grateful to Buffy for making me and Shaun sign up for that stupid virtual Pilates class.

The thought of Shaun, even that briefly, was painful. I pushed it away. I was still holding tightly to the belief that he was alive, but it was hard, and getting harder as Dr. Thomas continued not giving me anything to work with. I had to believe Shaun was alive. If I didn’t, I was going to go insane.

Assuming the CDC didn’t drive me crazy first.

“I thought you’d been provided with reading material?” Dr. Thomas gave my book a meaningful look. “That was what you requested, wasn’t it?”

“ ‘Something to read’ was on the list, yes, but I provided authors and titles, and nothing I’ve been given has been remotely like the things I asked for.” I blew a wayward strand of hair out of my face. “I’ve been asking for a haircut, too. Any idea when I might be able to get one? If it’s too hard to find someone on your staff who’s cut hair before, you can give me a pair of scissors and I can do it myself.”

“No, I’m afraid I
can’t
give you a pair of scissors, Georgia, and I’ll thank you not to make a suggestion like that again, unless you’d like to have your silverware privileges revoked.” Dr. Thomas frowned in what I’m sure was intended to be a paternal manner. He’d been trying that a lot recently, acting like he had a fatherly interest in my welfare. Maybe if my own father had ever shown that sort of interest, I would have believed it. As it was, all he’d managed to do was get on my nerves. “Asking for potential weapons is not a sign of mental stability.”

“Pardon me for arguing, Dr. Thomas, but I’m a clone living in a post-zombie America. I’m pretty sure
not
asking for potential weapons would be a much worse sign. Besides, I’m not asking for weapons, I’m asking for a haircut, and giving options if there’s no way to get me someone willing to do it.” I kept smiling. It was better than screaming.

Dr. Thomas sighed. “I’ll see what I can do. In the meanwhile, you’re going to need to do something for me.”

I stiffened. “What kind of something?” I asked carefully.

“We need to run some special tests tomorrow, in addition to the ones on your usual schedule. There’s some concern about your internal organs. These tests won’t be quite the noninvasive sort that you’ve become accustomed to, I’m afraid. They’ll be rather painful, and unfortunately, the nature of the needed data requires you to be awake during the process.”

“And they’re dealing with my internal organs?” I raised my eyebrows. It was a sign of how numb I was becoming to their endless tests that I couldn’t even work up a mild level of concern over the idea of my kidneys shutting down. “Are my internal organs doing something they’re not supposed to be doing?”

“No, no, not at all. We just want to be sure they’re not going to
start
doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. They’re much younger than you look, after all, and there’s always a chance for biological error.”

“I don’t really have a choice about this, do I?”

“Not really,” said Dr. Thomas. “I hoped you’d be accommodating, since we’re only concerned about your health.”

“If I don’t fight you on this, can I get some of the books from my list?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“How about that haircut?”

Dr. Thomas shook his head. “All things in good time, Georgia. For now, don’t push it. I’m going to need you to go on an all-liquid diet for the next twelve hours, and then we’ll be taking some fluid and tissue samples in the morning.”

That was one of the first indicators I’d had of the actual time. I perked up a little. “If the tests are being run in the morning, that makes it, what, four in the afternoon? Five?”

“Don’t push it,” Dr. Thomas repeated, and withdrew a pair of clear plastic handcuffs from his pocket. “It’s time for today’s tests.”

“This is really unnecessary,” I said, and presented my wrists.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to go through this for much longer.” Dr. Thomas snapped the cuffs into place, careful not to touch my skin. He never touched me when he could help it. The few times that I’d “tripped” and touched him with my bare hands, he’d practically injured himself lunging away from me. It was a funny response, but it wasn’t useful, especially not when I was trying to convince him that I was harmless.

“That would be nice,” I said, and stood, pausing a moment as my rubber-soled socks found traction on the hard tile floor. I would have preferred shoes—even slippers—but the orderlies responsible for my clothing wouldn’t let me have anything but socks. At least the rubber treads made it easier for me to walk with my hands restrained.

The cuffs didn’t come out until the third time they took me out of my room. They’d been a constant reality since then. If I left the room to go anywhere but the bathroom, I left it in handcuffs. Presumably, whoever was actually in charge of my care—and it wasn’t Dr. Thomas; if he’d been in charge of me, he would never have come near me—wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to make some sort of daring escape. I was never sure whether I should be flattered by their apparent faith in my ingenuity or insulted by the fact that they thought handcuffs would stop me. That was the sort of thing I had a lot of time to think about these days. Solitary confinement punctuated only by intrusive medical testing will do that for a person.

The guards were waiting in the hallway. I recognized both. Not surprising, but reassuring in its own way. If I was starting to know the guards on sight, that meant they didn’t have an infinite number of them. Eventually, they’d start thinking of me as a person, rather than as a test subject, and that would make them easier to get around when the day finally came for me to escape. Assuming I didn’t spontaneously amplify or suffer acute organ failure before then. Also assuming Gregory didn’t find a way to smuggle me out with the laundry, or do something else out of a bad pre-Rising heist movie.

Also, if the guards had never been repeated, I would have started to worry that they were being taken out back and shot after their shifts were finished. Call me sentimental, but I’d really rather not be the human equivalent of a death sentence.

One of the guards led us down the empty hall, while the other walked behind us. In the time since I woke up, I hadn’t seen anyone aside from Dr. Thomas, Gregory, the constantly shifting crew of guards, and the lab technicians who were waiting at the end of this little journey. If there were any other patients in the building, my handlers were doing an excellent job of keeping me away from them. Whether that was for my protection or for theirs, I couldn’t say.

We reached the end of the hall. The first guard pressed his hand against a blood test panel, waiting for the light over the door to go from red to green. The door opened, and the guard stepped through. Dr. Thomas repeated the process. The second guard gestured for me to do the same, not saying a word. None of the guards liked to talk to me. I’m pretty sure I made them nervous.

Dr. Thomas and the first guard were waiting on the other side. Dr. Thomas motioned for me to start walking, not waiting for the second guard. “Come along. The faster we get this done, the faster we can get you back to your room.”

“Yes, empty rooms without Internet are absolutely the sort of place I yearn to get back to.” This hall was colder. I shivered. This was a negative-pressure zone, and whoever was responsible for the environmental controls kept them turned lower than was strictly necessary.

“It’s for your own good,” said Dr. Thomas. There was no conviction in his words. He was parroting the argument we’d been having almost constantly since we met, and somehow, the thought of having it one more time was enough to make me tired.

“Right,” I said, and kept plodding steadily along.

Dr. Thomas stopped at a door that looked like every other door in the vicinity. “Here we are. I don’t have to remind you again how important it is that you cooperate with the technicians, do I?”

“No, Dr. Thomas, you do not,” I replied blandly. “I’m going to be a good girl today. I’d like you to make note of that in my file, since maybe it can help me get Internet privileges faster. How would that be?”

Dr. Thomas smiled, the expression not quite managing to mask the fact that he was grinding his teeth. “We’ll see,” he said, and opened the door.

I was becoming quite the expert in CDC labs, at least as they were configured locally; like the guards, they seemed to rotate, with every battery of tests conducted in a different place. Even when I saw the same rooms, they’d been rearranged, equipment swapped around until my head spun. I couldn’t tell whether
they were intentionally trying to disorient me or just doing a really good job by mistake. Either way, I’d started making note of the things they couldn’t rearrange—or wouldn’t, anyway, unless those things were pointed out to them. I glanced up as I entered the room, making note of the pattern of holes on the ceiling. This was the one I called lab three, then. The last time I’d been in lab three, my afternoon test array included a bone marrow sample.

“Won’t this be fun,” I muttered.

Lab three was about the size of every other lab I’d been in at the CDC: twice the size of my current bedroom, and roughly the size of a large living room. It just seemed small because it was so packed. My stomach sank as I realized I didn’t know what half of the machines were for. Technicians in lab coats bustled around the room, making tweaks and adjusting settings.

I used to try guessing which technicians would be running my tests. That was before I realized the person in charge was never one of the people operating the machines. Operating machines was beneath anyone chosen to supervise testing on a real live clone of a dead journalist. This session was no different. As soon as the door closed behind us, another door opened on the opposite side of the lab, revealing a small office. A tall, Nordic-looking woman with ice-blonde hair scraped into a tight bun stepped out, offering a chilly smile in our direction.

She was beautiful, in a “touch me and get frostbite” sort of way. Her lab coat was the normal white, but she had accessorized it with an indecently red silk shirt the color of the lights on a testing unit. Her shoes matched her blouse. I found myself envying them, despite their
three-inch heels. I hate high heels. Having actual shoes would have been enough to make up for my dislike. Besides, in a pinch, high-heeled shoes can make good improvised weapons. Sure, that gets you right back to barefoot, but at least then you’re armed.

“Ah, Dr. Thomas,” she said, directing her words at my escort, even as her gaze settled firmly on me. “You’re just in time. Thank you for bringing the subject to see me.”

“It was no trouble, really, Dr. Shaw. If there’s anything I can do to assist—”

“There’s nothing you can help me with,” she said, still not looking in his direction. She was studying my face avidly, like she expected it to provide the answer to some question she hadn’t told me anything about. “I’ll have you contacted when it’s time to return her to her holding cell. Thank you.”

“Dr. Shaw, I’m not sure—”

Annoyance flashed across her features as she looked away from me for the first time. “I have tests to perform, Dr. Thomas, and as you have made so abundantly clear, we are on a schedule, one that required me to jump through a ludicrous number of hoops in order to get even this much access. I refuse to waste any of my allotted time in shepherding you around my equipment. You may go, and take your trained monkeys with you. I will send one of my assistants to collect you when I’m prepared to remand the subject to your care.”

Dr. Thomas hesitated, looking like he was going to argue. Dr. Shaw narrowed her eyes very slightly, and took a single half step forward. The heel of her shoe hit the floor with a loud snapping sound, like a pencil being broken in half.

That seemed to decide the matter. “Georgia, Dr.
Shaw is in charge until I return,” he said. “Cooperate with whatever she requests.” He turned and stepped quickly out of the room, gesturing for the guards to follow him. Looking uncertain about the whole situation, they did.

Dr. Shaw waited for the door to shut before returning her attention to me. Something about her expression made me want to squirm, which just annoyed me even more. I stood up a little straighter, narrowing my eyes, and met her stare for stare.

Finally, surprisingly, she laughed. “Oh,
very
good! They really did bring you back, didn’t they? Or good as, one supposes. If you would be so kind as to step behind the screen there and remove your clothing, we can begin.”

“Sorry. Can’t.” I held up my hands, showing her the cuffs. “I’m too much of a threat to run around without restraints.”

“I see.” Dr. Shaw reached into her pocket, producing a key. She smiled at my startled expression. “They’re standard CDC issue, for control of troublesome subjects. It wouldn’t do to have someone require the services of a locksmith simply because their primary physician was unavailable when their cuffs needed to be removed.”

I kept still as she unlocked me, waiting until the cuffs had vanished into her pocket before I asked, “Does the CDC make a practice of handcuffing patients?”

“Only the potentially dangerous ones.” Her amusement vanished as quickly as it had come. “Now please. Behind the screen, and remove your clothing. Kathleen will supply a robe once you’re done.”

“Why is it that you people always try to get me naked first thing? It’s not like I have any weapons to
hide in my pajama pants.” I rubbed my wrists as I walked to the indicated screen and stepped behind it. Then I stopped, my heart jumping up into my throat as I saw what the screen had been concealing from the rest of the room.

“Go ahead, Georgia,” said Dr. Shaw’s voice from the main room. “We really must get started as quickly as possible.”

I stepped slowly forward, barely breathing as I picked up the tiny pistol that was sitting on the stool, almost like it was waiting for me. I revised that thought to remove the “almost” as I felt the way the gun fit into my palm, vanishing behind my fingers. Firearms this small were usually mass-manufactured, but this was a custom job. There was no other way to explain the rightness of it sliding into my hand. It felt like it was made for me because it
was
made for me.

BOOK: Blackout
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