That was another thing. The overhead lights were industrial fluorescents, the sort that have been popular in medical facilities since long before the Rising. They should have been burning my eyes like acid… and they weren’t.
I was diagnosed with retinal Kellis-Amberlee when I was a kid, meaning that the same disease that causes the dead to rise had taken up permanent residence in my eyeballs. It didn’t turn me into a zombie—retinal KA is a reservoir condition, one where the live virus is somehow contained inside the body. Retinal KA gave me extreme light sensitivity, excellent night vision, and a tendency to get sickening migraines if I did anything without my sunglasses on.
Well, I wasn’t wearing sunglasses, and it wasn’t like I could dim the lights, but my eyes still didn’t hurt. All I felt was thirst, and a vague, gnawing hunger in the pit of my stomach, like lunch might be a good idea sometime soon. There was no headache. I honestly couldn’t decide whether or not that was a good sign.
Anxiety was making my palms sweat. I scrubbed them against the legs of my unfamiliar white cotton pajamas. Everything in the room was unfamiliar… even me. I’ve never been heavy—a life spent running after stories and away from zombies doesn’t encourage putting on weight—but the girl in the one-way mirror was thin to the point of being scrawny. She looked like she’d be easy to break. Her hair was as dark as mine. It was also too long, falling past her shoulders. I’ve never allowed my hair to get that long. Hair like that is a passive form of suicide when you do what I do for a living. And her eyes…
Her eyes were brown. That, more than anything else, made it impossible to think of her face as my own. I don’t have visible irises. I have pupils that fill all the space not occupied by sclera, giving me a black, almost emotionless stare. Those weren’t my eyes. But my eyes didn’t hurt. Which meant either those were my eyes, and my retinal KA had somehow been cured, or Buffy was right when she said the afterlife existed, and this was hell.
I shuddered, looking away from my reflection, and resumed what was currently my main activity: pacing back and forth and trying to think. Until I knew whether I was being watched, I had to think quietly, and that made it a hell of a lot harder. I’ve always thought better when I do it out loud, and this was the first time in my adult life that I’d been anywhere without at least one recorder running. I’m an accredited journalist. When I talk to myself, it’s not a sign of insanity; it’s just my way of making sure I don’t lose important material before I can write it down.
None of this was right. Even if there was some sort of experimental treatment to reverse amplification, someone would have been there to explain things to me. Shaun would have been there. And there it was, the reason I couldn’t believe any of this was right: I remembered him pulling the trigger. Even assuming it was a false memory, even assuming it never happened, why wasn’t he here? Shaun would move Heaven and Earth to reach me.
I briefly entertained the idea that he was somewhere in the building, forcing the voice from the intercom to tell him where I was. Regretfully, I dismissed it. Something would have exploded by now if that were true.
“Goddammit.” I scowled at the wall, turned, and started in the other direction. The hunger was getting worse, and it was accompanied by a new, more frustrating sensation. I needed to pee. If someone didn’t let me out soon, I was going to have a whole new set of problems to contend with.
“Run the timeline, George,” I said, taking some comfort in the sound of my voice. Everything else might have changed, but not that. “You were in Sacramento with Rick and Shaun, running for the van. Something hit you in the arm. One of those syringes like they used at the Ryman farm. The test came back positive. Rick left. And then… then…” I faltered, having trouble finding the words, even if there was no one else to hear them.
Everyone who grew up after the Rising knows what happens when you come into contact with the live form of Kellis-Amberlee. You become a zombie, one of the infected, and you do what every zombie exists to do. You bite. You infect. You kill. You feed. You don’t wake up in a white room, wearing white pajamas and wondering how your brother was able to shoot you in the neck without even leaving a scar.
Scars. I wheeled and stalked back to the mirror, pulling the lid on my right eye open wide. I learned how to look at my own eyes when I was eleven. That’s when I got my first pair of protective contacts. That’s also when I got my first visible retinal scarring, little patches of tissue scorched beyond recovery by the sun. We caught it in time to prevent major vision loss, and I got a lot more careful. The scarring created small blind spots at the center of my vision. Nothing major. Nothing that interfered with fieldwork. Just little spots.
My pupil contracted to almost nothing as the light hit it. The spots weren’t there. I could see clearly, without any gaps.
“Oh.” I lowered my hand. “I guess that makes sense.”
I paused, feeling suddenly stupid as that realization led to another. When I first woke up, the voice from the intercom told me all I had to do was speak, and someone would hear me. I looked up at the speaker. “A little help here?” I said. “I need to pee really bad.”
There was no response.
There was still no response. I showed my middle finger to the mirror before turning and walking back to the bed. Once there, I sat and settled into a cross-legged position, closing my eyes. And then I started waiting. If anyone was watching me—and someone had to be watching me—this might be a big enough change in my behavior to get their attention. I wanted their attention. I wanted their attention really, really badly. Almost as badly as I wanted a personal recorder, an Internet connection, and a bathroom.
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