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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.


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