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The blood test required to exit the bathroom was set into the door itself, just above the knob. It didn’t unlock until I checked out clean.

The three orderlies were waiting in the hall, with an unhappy Dr. Thomas between them and me. If I did anything bad enough to make them pull those triggers, the odds were good that he’d be treated as collateral damage.

“Wow,” I said. “Who did you piss off to get this gig?”

He flinched, looking at me guiltily. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course not. Thank you for bringing me to the bathroom. Now, could I get that water?” Better yet, a can of Coke. The thought of its acid sweetness was enough to make my mouth water. It’s good to know that some things never change.

“If you’d come this way?”

I gave the orderlies a pointed look. “I don’t think I have much of a choice, do you?”

“No, I suppose you don’t,” he said. “As I said, a precaution. You understand.”

“Not really, no. I’m unarmed. I’ve just passed two blood tests. I don’t understand why I need three men with guns covering my every move.” The CDC has been paranoid for years, but this was taking it to a new extreme.

Dr. Thomas’s reply didn’t help: “Security.”

“Why do people always say that when they don’t feel like giving a straight answer?” I shook my head. “I’m not going to make trouble. Please, just take me to the water.”

“Right this way,” he said, and started back the way we’d come.

There was a tray waiting for us on the bolted-down table in the room where I’d woken up. It held a plate with two pieces of buttered toast, a tumbler full of water, and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, a can of Coke with condensation beading on the sides. I made for the tray without pausing to consider how the orderlies might react to my moving faster than a stroll. None of them shot me in the back. That was something.

The first bite of toast was the best thing I’d ever tasted, at least until I took the second bite, and then the third. Finally, I crammed most of the slice into my mouth, barely chewing. I managed to resist the siren song of the Coke long enough to drink half the water. It tasted as good as the toast. I put down the glass, popped the tab on the can of soda, and took my first post-death sip of Coke. I was smart enough not to gulp it; even that tiny amount was enough to make my knees weak. That, and the caffeine rush that followed, provided the last missing piece.

Slowly, I turned to face Dr. Thomas. He was standing in the doorway, making notes on his clipboard. There were probably a few dozen video and audio recorders running, catching every move I made, but any good reporter will tell you that there’s nothing like real field experience. I guess the same thing applies to scientists. He lowered his pen when he saw me looking.

“How do you feel?” he asked. “Dizzy? Are you full? Did you want something besides toast? It’s a bit early for anything complicated, but I might be able to arrange for some soup, if you’d prefer that…”

“Mostly, what’d I’d prefer is having some questions answered.” I shifted the Coke from one hand to the other. If I couldn’t have my sunglasses, I guess a can of soda would have to do. “I think I’ve been pretty cooperative up to now. I also think that could change.”

Dr. Thomas looked uncomfortable. “Well, I suppose that will depend on what sort of questions you want to ask.”

“This one should be pretty easy. I mean, it’s definitely within your skill set.”

“All right. I can’t promise to know the answer, but I’m happy to try. We want you to be comfortable.”

“Good.” I looked at him levelly, missing my black-eyed gaze. It always made people so uncomfortable. I got more honest answers out of those eyes… “You said you were my personal physician.”

“That’s correct.”

“So tell me: How long have I been a clone?”

Dr. Thomas dropped his pen.

Still watching him, I raised my Coke, took a sip, and waited for his reply.

Subject 139b was bitten on the evening of June 24, 2041. The exact time of the bite was not recorded, but a period of no less than twenty minutes elapsed between exposure and initial testing. The infected individual responsible for delivering the bite was retrieved from the road. Posthumous analysis confirmed that the individual was heavily contagious, and had been so for at least six days, as the virus had amplified through all parts of the body.

Blood samples were taken from the outside of Subject 139b’s hand and sequenced to prove that they belonged to the subject. Analysis of these samples confirmed the infection. (For proof of live viral bodies in Subject 139b’s blood, see the attached file.) Amplification appears to have begun normally, and followed the established progression toward full loss of cognitive functionality. Samples taken from Subject 139b’s clothing confirm this diagnosis.

Subject 139b was given a blood test shortly after arriving at this facility, and tested clean of all live viral particles. Subject 139b was given a second test, using a more sensitive unit, and once again tested clean. After forty-eight hours of isolation, following standard Kellis-Amberlee quarantine procedures, it is my professional opinion that the subject is not now infected, and does not represent a danger to himself or others.

With God as my witness, Joey, I swear to you that Shaun Mason is not infected with the live state of Kellis-Amberlee. He should be. He’s not. He started to amplify, and he somehow fought the infection off. This could change everything… if we had the slightest f**king clue how he did it.

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