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When I finished with my exposé of this place, the CDC was going to wish they’d been willing to leave me dead. I kept that thought firmly in mind as I plastered a smile across my face and said, “Well, then, come on in. What can I do for you?” I paused, something else about the situation registering. I’d only heard one set of footsteps. “Where are your guards?”

“That’s part of why I’m visiting. We’ve been reviewing your test results, and we’ve decided I don’t need them in your quarters.” Dr. Thomas’s smile looked as real as mine. Whoever made the decision to send him into my room without protection had done it without asking how he felt about it. And clearly, how he felt wasn’t good.

“Does that mean they’ve also decided I’m not a danger to society?”

“Don’t be too hasty, Georgia. It simply means they’ve decided that spontaneous amplification is not an immediate danger. We still have a lot to do before we can be confident your body is prepared to function outside a laboratory setting.” Dr. Thomas adjusted his glasses with one hand, something I’d learned to read as a nervous tic. “You may not feel particularly protected, but I assure you, this is the cleanest, most secure environment you have ever been in.”

“It’s definitely the most boring,” I agreed, twisting around to face him. I’d been sitting cross-legged on my bed for long enough that my thighs ached when I moved. That was good. It looked like I wasn’t doing anything. I was actually tensing and relaxing the muscles of my core, strengthening them as best I could without a better means of using them. I’d asked a few times about getting access to an exercise room, or at least a treadmill. So far, I’d had no luck. That meant I was getting my exercise where I could, and through whatever means available.

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.”

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