It wasn’t the actual outdoors; a quick glance upward was enough to confirm that I was actually in a moderately sized biodome, with a ceiling of steel and clear, bulletproof glass protecting me from any chance of feeling an actual breeze. I was standing in a lie. A big green lie, filled with flower beds and vegetable gardens and an expanse of grass even bigger than our yard in Berkeley. I didn’t care. In that moment, the lie was as good as the truth would have been, because I was standing in the green, and there were butterflies—butterflies—fluttering past like it was no big deal. Like there were green things and butterflies everywhere in the world.
“What is this?” I asked, turning back to Dr. Thomas. My eyes were burning; that weird tingling burn that I was learning to recognize as a sign of tears. I fought the urge to swipe my hand across them. I’d been capable of crying for a little under a month, and I already hated it.
“Those of us involved with your care thought you might benefit from a little fresh air.” Dr. Thomas was smiling that paternal smile again. I stopped fighting the urge to wipe my eyes, and started fighting the urge to punch him in the nose. “Welcome to Biodome six-eighteen.”
Something croaked in one of the apple trees to my left. I glanced over just in time to catch a flash of black wings as what could only have been a crow took off, presumably to find a tree that wasn’t next to unwanted humans. The distraction gave me the time I needed to get my breathing—and threatened tears—under control. My expression was one of wide-eyed amazement as I turned back to Dr. Thomas.
“You mean this has been here all along?” I asked.
His smile widened. Asshole. “This is one of the larger CDC establishments. This habitat allows us to grow some of our own food, and studies have shown that access to outdoor environments can assist in psychological recovery.”
“Wow. I had no idea.” I might have been laying it on a little thick with that last one, but I was too distracted to care. I was busy reviewing everything my damaged memory contained about the North American CDC facilities.
“I thought it would make a nice treat for you.”
Nice how he was willing to take credit for it, now that I’d stepped “outside” without losing my shit. “It’s amazing,” I said, trying to infuse my words with an air of wonder.
It must have worked, because Dr. Thomas didn’t say anything. He just kept smiling, watching as I apparently soaked in the wonders the CDC had prepared to impress me. I was impressed, all right; impressed by how much of Mahir’s series on the various CDC installations had managed to survive the transfer of my memories. He’d broken them down by region, listing their major features, like helipads, private airstrips… and biodomes.
There were eight CDC facilities equipped with biodome simulators. Only four used them for agricultural purposes. Assuming this was one of the facilities that had existed when Mahir wrote his report, I was in one of those four.
None of the staff I’d spoken to had Southern accents. Dr. Thomas sounded like he was from the Midwest, but his accent was blurry, like he hadn’t been home in a long time. Dr. Shaw sounded sort of like Becks, which meant she was probably from somewhere in New England. Everyone else had the Hollywood non-accent that meant West Coast, and I doubted the CDC was bussing in guards and orderlies just to confuse my sense of place.
So we weren’t in the South—that took Huntsville off the list—and while we might be in the St. Paul facility, I didn’t think so. The accents were wrong. That left either Seattle or Phoenix.
My smile was genuine as I turned back to Dr. Thomas. “Thank you so much for letting me see this,” I said. “I think you’re right. I feel better just being here.”
Being in either of those two cities meant we were near a dozen bloggers who knew me. More importantly, we were near a dozen bloggers whose hunger to be the first at the scene would mean they listened first and shot second if I managed to show up on their doorsteps. All I had to do was find a way out of the building, and while I wouldn’t be exactly in the clear, I would be in a much better situation than I could have been. I would have a chance.
“Well, as long as your recovery continues without any setbacks, and as long as you continue to cooperate, I believe I can see clear to letting you out for a constitutional every other day. How does that sound?”
My smile froze again. It sounds like you think I’m some sort of house pet, you patronizing bastard, I thought, but said only, “That sounds great.”
“We have half an hour before your next tests. Would you like to explore the dome?”
“Can I?” I didn’t have to feign my interest. The biodome was a new environment. After weeks in the sterile CDC halls, I needed that more than I could have guessed.
“I wouldn’t have brought you here if I wasn’t going to let you have a little time to roam,” said Dr. Thomas. That damn paternal smile was back on his face. “Go ahead. Look around. You’re completely secure here. No one will come in and trouble you.” His smile slipped a bit, turning stern as he added, “But, Georgia, if you were to attempt to open any of the doors—”
“You wouldn’t blame a girl for trying?” I asked.
Dr. Thomas’s eyes narrowed, all pretense of a smile fading. “I most certainly would.”
“Understood.” I offered a cool nod to the two guards who were still standing next to Dr. Thomas, and turned to walk deeper into the biodome.
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