“You thought I’d realized? Realized what?” I balled my hands into fists, glaring at the intercom. It belatedly occurred to me that this could come off as inappropriately aggressive—by CDC standards, anyway; Shaun would have said I was displaying just the right amount of aggression—and I shoved my still-balled hands behind my back, trying to conceal them.
“This was a test. We wanted to see how you would respond to an extreme stress situation—especially one that was a close mirror to things you would have experienced”—Dr. Thomas paused for just a little too long before finishing the sentence—“before.”
I kept staring at the intercom. I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t say anything.
More sharply this time: “Georgia?”
I didn’t say anything.
Annoyed now, but with a thin ribbon of anxiety running under the words, like my silence was a sign that some unknowable bearing strain had finally been reached: “Georgia, please. Don’t be childish.”
“Don’t be childish?” I echoed, my eyes growing even wider for half a heartbeat before narrowing, reducing my vision to a thin line. “Did you seriously just tell me not to be childish?”
“You faked an outbreak to see how I would respond to stress, and now you’re basically saying ‘gotcha,’ like that makes it all better! I died in an outbreak, you bastard! The fact that I’m not crying in a corner should be all it takes to prove that I’m not being childish. If anyone’s being childish, it’s you. You’re the one playing ass**le pranks and getting offended when your target doesn’t find them funny.”
The silence lasted several seconds before Dr. Thomas said, “I think you’re being unreasonable.”
“And I think you’re being a dick. In fact, four out of five cloned journalists agree that you’re behaving badly.” I crossed my arms. “So did I pass?”
“Did. I. Pass?” I repeated, enunciating each word until it was almost a sentence all by itself. “You said this was a test of how I would react under stress. Well? Did I pass? Am I a fully functional individual?”
Again, silence. Finally, sounding almost subdued, Dr. Thomas said, “We’ll go over your test results tomorrow. One of the orderlies will be along shortly with your dinner, and to take you to use the facilities. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“What cooperation? You blasted my ears out with your damn special effects and watched me like a bunch of sick voyeurs!” I realized I was yelling and took a deep breath, forcing myself to ramp it back. It wasn’t easy. Very little seemed to be, these days.
There was no response. The intercom was already off.
I walked back to my bed, feeling the headache the alarm had summoned starting to construct itself, bit by bit, in the space between my ears. Dropping to the mattress, I let gravity pull me into a slump, catching my forehead on my hands before it could hit my knees. I stayed like that for I don’t know how long—long enough for my wrists to start going numb—before I heard the door slide open. I lifted my head.
One of the familiar rotating guards was standing there with an orderly. George, from Dr. Shaw’s team. I blinked.
“We’re here to take you to the restroom,” he said, giving no sign that we’d met before. “Your dinner will be waiting when we bring you back, along with painkillers for your head.”
I frowned a little. “Do you have medical sensors in my mattress?”
He risked a smile. “No. We just have cameras that show us the way you’re clutching your temples. If you would come with us…?”
Whatever game he was playing, he was probably playing it on Dr. Shaw’s behalf, and while I still wasn’t sure I trusted her, I trusted Gregory, and he trusted her. My relationships with the people around me were becoming increasingly conditional. Trust George because Dr. Shaw trusted him. Trust Dr. Shaw because Gregory trusted her.
Trust Gregory because he was the one who stood the best chance of getting me out of here without getting me killed. Again.
“Sure,” I said, and stood.
There was another guard outside. He fell into step behind me, while the first guard took point, and George stayed to my right. We walked to the bathroom, stopping outside the door.
“How’s your head?” asked George.
“It hurts,” I replied. “How long was I in there?”
“About six hours.”
That explained the way reality had seemed to stretch and blur into nothing but alarm bells and waiting. I scowled. “I’d better be getting a lot of painkillers,” I said, even though there was no way I’d be taking them. The people who prepared my food could drug me at any time, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. That didn’t mean I needed to make it easy.
“You’ll be getting a medically safe dosage,” said George, in what sounded like it was supposed to be a reassuring tone. “Now please, you have about twelve minutes before your dinner is ready. You don’t need to rush, but you wouldn’t want your soup getting cold.”
The last time Gregory had come to remove me from my quarters, he’d done it at midnight. I nodded slightly, indicating that the message had been received—assuming it was a message at all, and wasn’t just me fumbling for meaning where there wasn’t any. “I’ll be quick.”
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