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“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.

It was made of hardened ceramic and heat-resistant plastic polymer. All the metal detectors in the world wouldn’t be able to catch the fact that I was carrying it, and the guards’ reluctance to touch me when they didn’t have to meant I was pretty much safe from a pat down. It was mine. They wouldn’t take it away from me, because they wouldn’t know I had it. Not until I needed them to.


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