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“We appreciate it.”

The guards didn’t accompany me into the bathroom. I still moved like they were there, watching me; it was the only way I knew to keep from getting annoyed by the knowledge that I was being watched by half a dozen hidden cameras. If Buffy had been here, she could have spotted them all by measuring minute inaccuracies in the grout, and disabled them with soap suds and mock-clumsiness. If one of us was going to come back from the dead, it should have been her. She could have treated it like just another story. She would have handled it better.

Then again, maybe not. The truth is allowed to be stranger than fiction, and the parts of this that weren’t making sense yet might have been enough to send her over the edge. The only reason they weren’t making me crazy was the fact that I had something to hold on to. Shaun was alive. Shaun was out there somewhere. And wherever he was, he needed me.

I undressed the way I always did, shoving my pants down my legs and peeling my socks off in the same gesture, concealing my little gun. It meant putting the same clothes back on when I was finished, carrying the clean pajamas they’d provided back to the room, and changing under the covers of my bed, but I’d been able to pass it off as a strange form of modesty… at least so far. I soaped up and rinsed down in record time, assisted by the fact that my bleach rinse only lasted for about fifteen seconds—a perfunctory nod to regulations, while acknowledging that I hadn’t been near anything infectious since I was Frankensteined to life.

George and the guards were still waiting outside the bathroom when I emerged. “All clean,” I announced, wiping my damp bangs back from my forehead. “Now, about those painkillers.”

George nodded, motioning for the lead guard to take us back to my room. True to his word, my dinner tray was waiting when we arrived, tomato soup the color of watered-down blood and what looked like grilled cheese sandwiches. High-end hospital food. Tomato soup and cheese sandwiches seemed to surface at every other meal. I didn’t mind as much as I might have. At least they were well prepared, which was more than I could say for many of the more ambitious things to come out of the kitchen.

Four small white pills were sitting on the tray, next to my glass of milk. “Thanks,” I said, stepping through the doorway, into the room.

“Have a nice night, Miss Mason,” said George. The door closed, cutting him from view.

I sat down at the table, palming the pills and dropping them into my lap as I mimed swallowing them. The room’s white-on-white decorating scheme helped with that. Whoever was monitoring the security monitors currently airing The Georgia Mason Show would have to be paying extremely close attention to catch white pills being dropped onto the white legs of my pajamas, where I covered them with my white napkin.

My soup was hot, and had obviously been put on the table seconds before we returned to the room. That didn’t fit George’s twelve-minute estimate, so either he was wrong, or he really had been telling me to wait for midnight. That was fine. It wasn’t like I had anything else to do.

An orderly came and took my empty dishes after I finished eating. The pills I’d managed not to take were safely tucked into the seam of my pillowcase by then. I smiled. He flinched. I smiled wider. If these people couldn’t handle the results of their crazy science, they shouldn’t be bringing back the dead. The orderly all but scurried from the room, and I started to feel a little bad. It wasn’t his fault. None of this was. The orders that controlled my life came from way above his pay grade.

I paced around the room a few times, feigning my normal restlessness, before climbing back into bed. I’d been sleeping more and more, and all sense of time was going rapidly out the window. If the alarms were going off for six hours, and they’d been off for about an hour and half, that meant I’d been awake for less than eight hours. It felt like forever. I was exhausted.

Maybe they were putting something in my food after all.

The throbbing in my head kept me from falling into anything deeper than a light doze. It shattered when the door opened. I sat up, squinting.


“We have sixteen minutes,” said Gregory. He didn’t leave the doorway. Maybe there was too much risk of him getting stuck in the room when the sixteen-minute security window closed. “I’m sorry. It was the best I could arrange on such short notice.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I swung my feet around to the floor, wincing a little. “Did you bring any painkillers I can actually trust?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Gregory dipped a hand into his pocket. “I even brought water.”

“Thanks,” I said. The word seemed to stick in my throat. Shaun was always the one who brought me painkillers when the light got to be too much and one of my migraines decided to start making its presence known. I missed him so much.

“We don’t have long.”

I paused in the process of getting up. Then I stood and walked toward him, holding out my hand for the pills. “What do you mean? Sixteen minutes, right?”

“We arranged the window when today’s testing schedule went up on the intranet.” Gregory sounded grimmer than I’d ever heard him. “Someone’s going to get caught over this one. It won’t be me, but whoever it is, they’re going to be lucky if all they lose is their job.”

A chill started in the pit of my stomach. “What are you saying?”

“They’ve started stress-testing you. That isn’t good.” He dropped two pills into my hand, producing a bottle of water from his other pocket. “Four subjects have made it this far. None of them got through the alarm sequence without permanent psychological damage. Georgia, I’m sorry. We didn’t realize they were going to speed things up like this, but with your brother—” He stopped dead.


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