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.