Dr. Shaw’s laugh was surprisingly light and delicate, like it belonged to someone much younger and less put together. “Oh, come now, Matthew. You can’t really expect me to believe that you consider a haircut a sudden change in her environment. I understand the necessity of controlling all variable factors while she gets her strength back, but no sensible young woman would take something this simple and medically necessary as a new source of stress.”
“I like it,” I contributed, before Dr. Thomas could say anything else. He turned to frown at me as I made my way across the lab to where he was waiting for me. “It’s going to be a lot easier to brush. I’ve never tried to deal with long hair before.”
“I suppose the convenience will make up for the aesthetic failings,” he said stiffly.
I frowned. I couldn’t stop myself, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to. “This is the length I prefer my hair to be,” I said. “The only ‘aesthetic failing’ is that I keep taking bleach showers without access to hair dye. I’m going to wind up blonde if this keeps up much longer, and that’s not a good look for me.”
“We all have our trials in this life,” said Dr. Shaw. “Georgia, thank you for your cooperation today. You were very easy for us to work with, and I appreciate it.”
“No problem, Dr. Shaw,” I said. “It was my pleasure.”
“It’s time for us to go, Georgia,” said Dr. Thomas. There was an edge to his voice that I normally heard only when I was pushing for privileges he didn’t want to give. My curious look just seemed to fluster him. He scowled, cheeks reddening. “It’s time to go,” he repeated.
“Okay,” I said, trying to look unconcerned as I followed him out the door. He hadn’t put the handcuffs back on me, and with every step, it became a little harder not to panic. I’d been so sure I could get the gun back to my room without getting caught, but now… now…
I made it to the hall without either of the guards so much as batting an eye. I’d done it. Maybe not forever—maybe not even until the next day—but I’d done it. I had a weapon, and I was loose in the halls of the CDC. For one brief, drunken moment, I fantasized about opening fire and running like hell, heading for the nearest exit and never looking back. It would never have worked. It would have been a poor way to repay Dr. Shaw and Gregory for arming me. But God, I wanted to do it.
The only thing that stopped me was knowing that Shaun really was alive, somewhere. If I ran, they’d shoot me. I was smart enough to know that. And then Shaun would be alone again, in a world where people would do this sort of thing to a girl who’d been innocently going about the business of being dead. He needed to be warned. I needed to survive long enough to be the one who warned him. They could make another Georgia Mason if I didn’t survive… but I wanted it to be me. Not some other girl who shared my memories. Me.
Dr. Thomas scowled all the way back to my room. He didn’t say a word, and neither did the guards. Once we were there, he slapped his palm against the exterior sensor to open my door, and spoke his first words since we left the lab: “Do you need to use the lavatory?”
“Not right now,” I said. “I am hungry, though.”
“Your diet is still restricted, but I’ll see about having some soup sent.” His eyes flicked to my hair, expression hardening. “You may have to wait. I recognize that you have little experience with waiting.”
“I didn’t ask her to cut my hair,” I said, too annoyed by the way he was looking at me to watch what I was saying. “She did it so she could get the sensors to stay on. Sensors she glued down with slime mold, mind you. I think I’ve paid for this haircut.”
“I’m sure you didn’t argue with her either, Georgia. If you don’t need to use the facilities, you can enter your room now.”
“Thank you,” I said sourly, and kept my head up as I walked inside. The door slid shut behind me, leaving me with the appearance of solitude. It was a lie—it was always a lie. I was being watched, possibly even by Dr. Thomas, who could be standing on the other side of that stupid mirror for all that I knew. I never thought I’d miss my f**ked-up eyes. Then I died, and I learned that there are things a lot worse than needing to wear sunglasses all the time. Things like being spied on, knowing you’re being spied on, and not being able to do a damn thing about it.
Lacking anything else to do to distract myself, I climbed into bed. Eventually, the lights were dimmed. I closed my eyes, feigning sleep, and waited.
False sleep turned into the real thing at some point. I awoke to the sound of the door sliding open. Sitting bolt upright, I squinted into the glare from the hall, trying to make out the figure standing there. Even shading my eyes with my hand couldn’t turn him into anything more than an outline.
“It’s all right, Georgia,” said a familiar voice—Gregory. He motioned for me to get up, the gesture clear even without fine details. “Come on. If you want to understand what’s really going on here, you need to come with me.”
“I’m coming,” I said. Taking a breath to steady my nerves, I slid out of the bed and walked to the door, where the chance to get my answers was waiting.
Fuck survivor’s guilt. I’m not supposed to be the guilty one here. The people who made me the last man standing… they’re the guilty ones. And they’re the ones who should be afraid.
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