“Right,” I muttered, and turned to look in that direction. From where I was, it looked like a fish tank filled with luminescent blue liquid. I frowned and started toward it, trying to figure out what it was, and why it was important enough for Gregory to risk both our lives by bringing me here.
I think, on some level, that I knew what it was even before I saw it; I just had to put off understanding for as long as possible if I wanted to be able to handle what I was about to see. But maybe that’s hindsight, me trying to justify things to myself. I don’t really know. What I do know is this:
The blue liquid wasn’t fully opaque; it just looked that way from a distance. It cleared as I approached, and by the time I reached the tank, I could see the outline of a human figure through the blue. I squinted, but couldn’t make out any real details beyond the fact that it was female, and surrounded by a forest of tangled cords.
Gregory stepped up behind me and leaned to my left, pressing a button at the top of a control panel I hadn’t noticed until then. The glow brightened, and the liquid began turning transparent, small lines of bubbles marking the spots where filters were cleansing some element out of the mix. In only a few seconds, I could see the figure floating in the tank.
She was naked, in her mid-twenties, and curled in a loose fetal position, like she had never needed to support her own limbs or head. Her hair was dark brown and badly needed to be cut. It was long enough that the movement of the liquid around her made it eddy slowly, wrapping around her neck and arms. Sensors were connected to her arms and legs, running up to join with the main cable. Her mouth and nose were exposed—she was breathing the liquid; I could see her chest rise and fall—and a thicker tube was connected at her belly button, presumably providing her with oxygen and nutrients. I stared at her, watching the way her fingers twitched and her eyes moved behind the thin shields of her eyelids.
Gregory waited, watching me watch her. The room seemed to be holding its breath, both of us waiting to see what I would do, whether I would be able to look at what was in front of me without snapping. For a moment, I didn’t know the answer.
The moment passed. I took a shaky breath, followed it with another, and asked, “How many of us are there?”
“At the moment, three.” Gregory turned his attention to the tank where another Georgia Mason floated. Her hair had never been bleached, and was still the dark brown that mine was supposed to be. I felt a brief flare of jealousy. She looked more like me than I did. “This is subject number 8c. It’s the last member of the subject group following yours.”
“Wait—subject group?” I turned my back on the tank, unsure of my ability to keep my cool while I watched my own silent doppelganger floating in the blue. “What does that mean?”
“Your designation is ‘subject 7c.’ Subject 7a didn’t mature properly; 7b went into spontaneous amplification during the revivification process.” He gestured at the tank. “Subject 8a was shut down due to issues with spinal maturation at about this stage.”
“And 8b?” He wasn’t using names for any of the other subjects, I noticed—he wasn’t even giving them genders. They were just things to him, at least until the moment they woke up and turned into people. That was actually reassuring, because he treated me like a person. I wasn’t the same as them.
“Subject 8b is part of why we’re here. Subject 8c is just the backup, in case something goes wrong.” Gregory looked at me carefully. “Are you ready to proceed?”
“You mean, do I want to scream and throw things and maybe vomit, but can I keep myself together a little longer? Yes, and yes.” I shook my head, taking comfort in the fact that I could feel the air against my ears. I might have started out like that girl in the tank, but I wasn’t her anymore. I was awake, and alive, and my hair had been cut. We have to take our comforts where we can find them.
“All right,” said Gregory. “Follow me.”
He led me to a large metal rectangle on the far wall. He tapped a button on a control panel next to it, and stepped back as a whirring sound began to emanate from the wall itself. The metal rectangle slid slowly upward, revealing the room on the other side of the thick, industrial-grade glass. He tapped the control panel again, and the lights came on.
The walls of the room were featureless and white. The only thing that even resembled furniture was a narrow hospital bed with white sheets, surrounded by IV drips and beeping monitors. Thick black straps secured the room’s single occupant to her bed, holding her in place. Unlike the girl in the tank—unlike me, when I first woke up—her hair was cut short, in a precise replica of the haircut I’d worn since I was twelve. I touched the close-shorn hair at the back of my neck without realizing I was going to do it, feeling how uneven the strands were. Dr. Shaw had done her best, but she was no hairdresser.
“This is 8b?” I asked. My voice was weaker than I wanted it to be. I swallowed hard, trying to clear away the dryness that was growing there. “What are they doing with her?”
“They’re stabilizing her.” Gregory touched another button. A video projection appeared on one side of the window, obscuring that half of the room. It showed subject 8b being removed from her tank and shifted onto a gurney. Her hair was long in the recording, and it stuck to her face and shoulders like seaweed. “This was taken a week ago.”
“A week—but that was after they knew that I wasn’t going to amplify. They knew I was viable.” Panic tried to rise inside me like a small, biting animal. I forced it down again as hard as I could, breathing in and out through my nose several times before I asked, “Why are they stabilizing her? What are they planning to do with her?”
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