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“What is it?” I asked, half from sincere curiosity, and half to keep him talking to me. It’s easier to get information from people who think you’re interested in the same things they are.

“Slime mold,” said the assistant. He sounded happy about it, too.

“Oh,” I said, unable to quite mask my dismay. Then again, I was the one who had living goo smeared on something like fifteen percent of her skin. I think I was allowed a little dismay. “That’s… special. What happens to it when you’re done with me?”

“We’ll dust it with a powder that makes it go dormant, and then just roll it off your skin,” he said. “Can you relax your arm for me?”

“Sure.” I let my arm drop back to its original position. He attached the sensor to the inside of my elbow. “I guess that makes sense. No residue, no medical waste…”

“It’s self-cleaning, so even if it gets bloody, it’s safe to use again after eight hours. It also reacts to the presence of live virus.”

“Really?” I asked, blinking. “How?”

“It tries to ooze away.”

This time, I couldn’t suppress my shudder. Several alarms went off on the machines connected to the various sensors, earning me dirty looks from a few of the assistants. “Sorry!” I said.

“George, please refrain from making the subject wiggle,” said Dr. Shaw, not looking away from the monitor she was studying.

The assistant—George—reddened. “Sorry, Dr. Shaw.”

I waited for him to get the sensor on my elbow firmly seated, then asked, “So you’re another George, huh? The original form?”

“George R. Stewart,” he replied. “And yes, the ‘R’ stands for ‘Romero.’ My parents were grateful, not creative.”

“Georgia, here,” I said. “One of my best friends was a Georgette.”

“Georgette Meissonier, right?” George caught my startled expression and reddened again. “I, um. I’m a big fan of your work. Your last post was… it was amazing. I’ve never read anything like it.”

I wasn’t sure whether I should feel flattered or embarrassed. I wound up mixing both reactions as I said awkwardly, “Oh. So you know the part where I’m dead.”

“The dead have been walking for a quarter century.” He moved to my other side, adjusting another sensor. Dr. Shaw’s other assistants all seemed to have machines to tend, leaving George with the dubious honor of working with the living equipment. Me, and the slime mold. “I’m glad you’re back. If anyone deserves to be back…”

“Let’s hope the rest of the world feels the same way when I start doing the celebrity blog circuit,” I said, putting a lilt in my tone to show that I was joking. I wasn’t joking.

“They’re waiting for you,” he said, cheeks getting redder still. He stopped talking after that, focusing all the more intently on the sensors he was shifting. I blinked a little, watching him. I’d expected a lot of reactions. That wasn’t one of them. My last post… it made me another name on The Wall, but that was all, wasn’t it?

Wasn’t it?

The idea that I’d become some sort of symbol worried me. I’m a realist. I’ve been a realist since the day I looked at the Masons—who’d been Mommy and Daddy until that moment—and realized that Shaun was right, and they didn’t love us.

I’d already known the CDC was never going to let me go. Whatever they brought me back for—blackmail or science project or just because I was the most convenient corpse when they decided to prove they could do it for real—it wasn’t going to include opening the doors and telling me to go on my merry way. I was a prisoner. I was a test subject. I was, in a very real way, as much a piece of lab equipment as the machines that I was connected to. The only difference was that the machines couldn’t resent the fact that they had no choice in their own existence.

And if I was a symbol, I was also a weapon, whether I wanted to be one or not.

“Are any of them pinching you?” asked George.

“No,” I said, resisting the urge to shake my head. I didn’t want to trigger any more alarms if I didn’t have to. “I think we’re good to continue.”

“We’re almost done,” he said, and offered one more awkward, almost worshipful smile before moving away.

The remainder of the tests passed without incident. More living slime was applied to my limbs and torso, sometimes by George, sometimes by one of the other assistants; more sensors were attached or moved, allowing Dr. Shaw’s equipment to record a detailed image of everything going on inside me. I resisted the urge to spend the whole time staring at the monitors. I didn’t understand them. All I could do was upset myself more by watching them.

I’d almost managed to drift off again when the assistants began pulling the sensor pads off, letting George sprinkle what looked—and smelled—like baby powder on the sticky green residue the sensors left behind. True to his word, the green stuff rolled into tight little balls, which he scraped off me with the edge of his hand, gathering it all into one gooey-looking mass.

“Please don’t forget to feed the slime mold,” said Dr. Shaw, moving to disconnect the sensors at my temples. “I have no desire to listen to a week of complaints because we have to culture ourselves a new colony.”

“Yes, Dr. Shaw,” said George, and hurried off with his handful of inert green goop. Most of the other assistants followed him, leaving me alone with Dr. Shaw and Kathleen, the assistant who had initially brought me my currently discarded robe. She was holding it again, face a mask of patience as she waited for Dr. Shaw to finish freeing me from their equipment.


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