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“Ah…” Dr. Thomas looked suddenly uncomfortable, realizing he’d said more than he should have. “Yes. Governor Tate was another unfortunate casualty of the incident which claimed your… I mean to say, the incident that resulted in your untimely…” He stopped, looking even more uncomfortable.

“Death?” I suggested. “Murder? Martyrdom? I always wanted to be a martyr.” That was my second lie for the day. I never wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to live long enough to bury Shaun, however long that happened to be, and I wanted to die in my time, and on my own terms.

“Yes.” Dr. Thomas nodded, looking relieved. “After the governor’s death, President Ryman selected your colleague to stand with him. He said it was the least he could do to honor your memory, and to show the blogging community that it would still have a voice.”

My shoulders tightened. He said “blogging community” the way most people would say “dead rat.” Choosing my words carefully, I asked, “So Ryman won the election?”

“By a good margin. The events in Sacramento, unfortunate as they were, only provided his campaign with additional exposure.”

“Yeah, I’m sure they did.” What happened in Sacramento would have given Ryman’s campaign virtual domination over the news cycles, regardless of what his opposition did to try to force themselves back into the picture. As long as Ryman himself made it out alive, he’d been all but guaranteed the White House. “Can you let Rick know I’d like to see him?”

“I’ll pass the word, but the vice president is a very busy man.”

I’m sure you will, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Thank you. It would be nice to have someone to talk to. I’m going a little stir-crazy in here.”

“I understand, but, Georgia, things have changed since your death. Your face is very well known in the outside world, and even some of our personnel are… uncomfortable… about the implications of your presence. I’m sure you can see where it would be bad for everyone if someone assumed you had amplified because they were aware of your current legal status.”

“Right.” I forced a smile. From the look on Dr. Thomas’s face, I could tell that it didn’t look any more genuine than it felt. Given the circumstances, that was probably okay. There was no way the comment about “current legal status” was intended as anything but a warning: He was telling me I was still listed as deceased in all the government databases that mattered, and that if someone shot me, they wouldn’t be guilty of murder. They’d be acting within the law.

Life was easier when I was dead.

Dr. Thomas stood. “Now, if you’d come with me, we’ve prepared a little treat for you.”

“A treat?” The gun in my sock pressed reassuringly against my calf as I stood, reminding me that whatever else I might be, I was no longer defenseless. Sure, I’d be lucky if I could take out more than one of them before they were on top of me, and that assumed that my memory of knowing how to fire a gun could overcome the fact that my new body had no muscle memory, but there was a chance. That was more than I’d had before. I was going to hang on to it with everything I had.

“Come with me.” Dr. Thomas turned and walked toward the door, confident that it would open at his approach. It did, of course, sliding smoothly aside to reveal the hallway. Envy burned my throat as I walked after him. The doors wouldn’t respond to me. I walked toward them and they stayed stubbornly closed, like I was infected.

Like I was still dead.

The ever-present guards were waiting outside the lab. They fell into position ahead and behind us. We walked the length of the familiar hall, passing the doors I was accustomed to stepping through. I was starting to get worried—maybe this whole thing had been a test; maybe Gregory was working for the CDC after all, and I’d failed by going along with his grand conspiracy theory—when Dr. Thomas finally stopped. The lead guard did the same.

“Here we are,” said Dr. Thomas. He touched the apparently featureless wall. A piece of paneling slid aside to reveal a blood test unit. “Georgia. You understand that this is a privilege, and that any inappropriate behavior on your part will result in your being sternly reprimanded.”

I didn’t want to think about what a reprimand might constitute, given that I already lived in a small, isolated box with no privacy. “I understand,” I said.

“Good. I told them we could trust you to be cooperative.” Dr. Thomas slapped his hand down on the blood testing unit. The light above the door clicked on, going from red to green, and the door swung open. Swung—not slid.

Light lanced into the hall, so bright it seemed almost like a physical attack. I automatically moved to shield my eyes, the part of my brain that handled reflexes kicking in before my conscious mind realized my retinas weren’t burning. I slowly forced my arm down, raising my head and squinting into the brightness.

Sunlight. It was sunlight. I could smell green things, the sharp bitterness of tomato plants, the sweet bland scent of grass. I started hesitantly forward, my feet carrying me almost without consulting the rest of my body. The guards followed me, but at a distance, giving me a few meters of space as I moved out of the antiseptic CDC hall, and into the green.

I’ve never been an outdoorsy person. Shaun used to say the only reason I ever left my room was to yell at him for doing dangerous shit. He wasn’t entirely right, but he wasn’t entirely wrong, either. And stepping through that door was still just shy of stepping into Heaven.


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