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The need for a bathroom crept slowly higher on the list, accompanied by the need for a drink of water. I was beginning to consider the possibility that I might need to use a corner of the room as a lavatory when the intercom clicked on. A moment later, a new voice, male, like the first one, spoke: “Miss Mason? Are you awake?”

“Yes.” I opened my eyes. “Do I get a name to call you by?”

He ignored my question like it didn’t matter. Maybe it didn’t, to him. “I apologize for the silence. We’d expected a longer period of disorientation, and I had to be recalled from elsewhere in the building.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Oh, we weren’t disappointed,” said the voice. He had the faintest trace of a Midwestern accent. I couldn’t place the state. “I promise, we’re thrilled to see you up and coherent so quickly. It’s a wonderful indicator for your recovery.”

“A glass of water and a trip to the ladies’ room would do more to help my recovery than apologies and evasions.”

Now the voice sounded faintly abashed. “I’m sorry, Miss Mason. We didn’t think… just a moment.” The intercom clicked off, leaving me in silence once again. I stayed where I was, and kept waiting.

The sound of a hydraulic lock unsealing broke the quiet. I turned to see a small panel slide open above the door, revealing a red light. It turned green and the door slid smoothly open, revealing a skinny, nervous-looking man in a white lab coat, eyes wide behind his glasses. He was clutching his clipboard to his chest like he thought it afforded him some sort of protection.

“Miss Mason? If you’d like to come with me, I’d be happy to escort you to the restroom.”

“Thank you.” I unfolded my legs, ignoring pins and needles in my calves, and walked toward the doorway. The man didn’t quite cringe as I approached, but he definitely shied back, looking more uneasy with every step I took. Interesting.

“We apologize for making you wait,” he said. His words had the distinct cadence of something recited by rote, like telephone tech support asking for your ID and computer serial number. “There were a few things that had to be taken care of before we could proceed.”

“Let’s worry about that after I get to the bathroom, okay?” I sidestepped around him, out into the hall, and found myself looking at three hospital orderlies in blue scrubs, each of them pointing a pistol in my direction. I stopped where I was. “Okay, I can wait for my escort.”

“That’s for the best, Miss Mason,” said the nervous man, whose voice I now recognized from the intercom. It just took a moment without the filtering speakers between us. “Just a necessary precaution. I’m sure you understand.”

“Yeah. Sure.” I fell into step behind him. The orderlies followed us, their aim never wavering. I did my best not to make any sudden moves. Having just returned to the land of the living, I was in no mood to exit it again. “Am I ever going to get something I can call you?”

“Ah…” His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he said, “I’m Dr. Thomas. I’ve been one of your personal physicians since you arrived at this facility. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me. You’ve been sleeping for some time.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” The hall was built on the model I’ve come to expect from CDC facilities, with nothing breaking the sterile white walls but the occasional door and the associated one-way mirrors looking into patient holding rooms. All the rooms were empty.

“You’re walking well.”

“It’s a skill.”

“How’s your head? Any disorientation, blurred vision, confusion?”

“Yes.” He tensed. I ignored it, continuing. “I’m confused about what I’m doing here. I don’t know about you, but I get twitchy when I wake up in strange places with no idea how I got there. Will I be getting some answers soon?”

“Soon enough, Miss Mason.” He stopped in front of a door with no mirror next to it. That implied that it wasn’t a patient room. Better yet, there was a blood test unit to one side. I never thought I’d be so happy for the chance to be jabbed with a needle. “We’ll give you a few minutes. If you need anything—”

“Using the bathroom, also a skill.” I slapped my palm down on the test panel. Needles promptly bit into the heel of my hand and the tips of my fingers. The light over the door flashed between red and green before settling on the latter. Uninfected. The door swung open. I stepped through, only to stop and scowl at the one-way mirror taking up most of the opposite wall. The door swung shut behind me.

“Cute,” I muttered. The need to pee was getting bad enough that I didn’t protest the situation. I glared at the mirror the entire time I was using the facilities, all but daring someone to watch me. See? I can pee whether you’re spying on me or not, you sick bastards.

Other than the mirror—or maybe because of the mirror—the bathroom was as standard-issue CDC as the hallway outside, with white walls, a white tile floor, and white porcelain fixtures. Everything was automatic, including the soap dispenser, and there were no towels; instead, I dried my hands by sticking them into a jet of hot air. It was one big exercise in minimizing contact with any surface. When I turned back to the door, the only things I’d touched were the toilet seat and the floor, and I was willing to bet that they were in the process of self-sterilization by the time I started washing my hands.

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