I found the first wall less than twenty yards from where I’d started, mostly hidden behind a tall patch of something I assumed was probably immature corn. It looked like corn, anyway. I never spent that much time studying agriculture. The wall was white, and should have stuck out like a sore thumb in the primarily green biodome, but it didn’t. Like the door we’d entered through, it was somehow part of its surroundings.
The dome wasn’t a perfect circle, although it wasn’t a square, either; after following the wall long enough to map the angles of two corners with my hands, I decided that it was most likely an octagon. This campus was even bigger than I’d initially assumed. I kept walking, enjoying the springy feel of the grass beneath my feet, and tried to figure out what else I might learn from the structure of the dome.
I crested a low hill and found myself facing a pine forest. It was small, no more than fifteen trees forming the edge, but it was enough of a surprise to stop me in my tracks for a moment. The shock was probably a good thing; it kept me from punching the air in sheer delight. We were in Seattle. The Seattle CDC was the only campus with an evergreen forest inside their biodome. I’d seen pictures.
As I stood contemplating the pines, I realized that my feet were cold. I looked down. My thick white socks—so perfect for roving the halls of the CDC—were less perfect for wandering around a grassy meadow. They were soaked to the ankles, with grass stains around the toes. There was no way Dr. Thomas would let me wear them back into the main building.
I stiffened, glancing back toward the sound of his voice. He wasn’t in view; if he was coming after me, or sending his guards, he was still a little ways away. With only a few seconds to move, I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing. I just bolted for the trees.
Shaun was always the one who put himself in mortal danger for kicks, but I still tried to stay in decent physical condition. It was the smart thing to do if I was going to keep following him into hazard zones, looking for the “perfect story” to slap up on his side of the site. I’d never been an athlete, but I’d been running ten-minute miles since I was fourteen, and that was enough to outrun any zombie that ever shambled into my path. I felt weirdly betrayed when I found myself gasping for breath, my heart hammering hard against my ribs as I slumped against a tree. All those hours of work, undone by one little death.
I yanked my socks off. The little gun fell to the grass. I scooped it up, lifting my top long enough to tuck the gun into my waistband, the muzzle digging painfully into my stomach. I pulled the drawstring on my pants a little tighter. The pajama top was loose enough that when I let it go, it fell to cover the weapon without a trace.
“Georgia?” Dr. Thomas’s voice was closer this time; he was coming for me himself, rather than sending his flunkies to fish me out of the biodome. That was good. He’d be less attuned to the little details than a professional guard would have been—they would have noticed the high color in my cheeks and the slight unsteadiness of my legs as I stepped out of the cover of the tree line.
“Here,” I said, proud of the way that I was barely gasping at all. My bare toes dug into the grass, tangling deep. I was going to need a serious shower when all this was over. “I’m sorry. Were you calling me?”
Dr. Thomas fixed me with a stern eye. “What did I say about no funny business?” he asked.
Cold arced down my spine. Someone must have seen me pull the gun out of my sock. He knows, I thought, desperately wondering if I could draw before he had a chance to call for his guards, and whether it would do me any good if I did. Even if I didn’t shoot myself, they’d just decommission me, or whatever it is you call getting rid of a clone that you don’t need anymore. They’d throw me out like yesterday’s garbage—and all because of a pair of goddamn socks—
“That means you come when I call,” said Dr. Thomas. “I’m willing to forgive it this time—we can call it youthful exuberance, and it doesn’t need to go into my report of the day’s activities. But that assumes you’ll behave from now on. Can I trust you to behave, Georgia?”
“What?” Relief flooded over me, washing away the cold. I nodded so hard it felt like I was going to sprain something. “Yes, absolutely. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore you, I was just… the grass, and then the trees, and…” I paused, making my voice very small before I said, “It reminded me of home, that’s all.”
If the CDC did their research on Berkeley, they knew we had more green space per capita than any other densely populated city in the state of California. Chalk it up to general perversity and being built around a university that resisted all attempts to render it fully secure. The idea of trees being something I would miss was believable if you didn’t know me well enough to know that I’d been avoiding unnecessary exposure to the outside world for my entire life.
Dr. Thomas’s expression softened. “I can understand that.” His frown returned as he glanced down at my feet. “Georgia, what in the world happened to your socks?”
“They got wet, so I took them off.” I held up my grass-stained socks. “At least we have plenty of bleach, right?”
To my surprise, Dr. Thomas actually chuckled. He seemed more human in that moment than he had since the first uneasy hours after I woke up in an unfamiliar bed. Too bad that wasn’t going to make me change my mind about getting the hell out of here before they had me “decommissioned” and replaced me with something more tractable.
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