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Eventually, I managed to go back to sleep. When I woke, my headache was gone. The isolation was another matter. Dr. Thomas didn’t appear, and the orderlies who brought my meals were even more perfunctory than usual, like they were performing an unpleasant chore. I considered trying to talk to them, and dismissed it in favor of playing the good little clone, tractable, meek, and willing to be told where to sit, what to eat, and when to go to the bathroom. None of them appeared more than once, and I could see the guards waiting in the hall when the door slid open to allow the orderlies in or out.

That was enough to worry me. Were the guards there because they thought I might be smart enough to get wind of what was coming? Had some other clone of Georgia Mason seen the writing on the wall when her decommissioning approached, and tried to make a break for it? Or had Gregory slipped somehow—was our window not as secure as he thought it was, did he say the wrong thing, did he get caught? Were the guards there because the plan to bust me out, sketchy as it was, had been blown?

I realized the fear was irrational almost as soon as I finished figuring out what it was. I still had my gun. If Gregory had been caught, someone would have come to take my gun. As long as I was armed, I had to make myself assume that things were going as planned… whatever that plan turned out to actually be.

The next “day” inched by at a glacial pace. By the time dinner came, I was virtually climbing the walls. I forced myself to sit on the bed, holding as still as I could, and tried to focus on what I knew about the layout of the facility. I’d seen plenty of labs, but I didn’t have a good idea of where they were relative to one another—the identical halls and rapid walk-throughs had seen to that. If I managed to get out of here, I’d be flying blind unless I had someone to escort me. All of which brought me back to Gregory, and the increasingly pressing question of where he was.

Another unfamiliar orderly brought my lunch, a truly uninspiring combination of cheese slices, soy spread, and sliced bread. “The catering has definitely gone downhill around here,” I called after his retreating back. My stomach rumbled, making it clear that no matter how lousy the food looked, I was damn well going to eat it. I needed to keep my strength up.

The cheese was as bland as I’d expected. After the second bite, I started to doubt that it was even cheese, since it tasted more like a blend of soy and artificial flavorings. I wrinkled my nose and kept eating. Cheese meant protein, even if it didn’t necessarily mean dairy, and protein was a good thing. That thought was almost enough to motivate me through the rest of the plate before I lost all interest, picked up the bread, and retreated with it to the bed. Who cared if I got a few crumbs in the sheets? It wasn’t like there was anyone here to complain about them.

For some reason, that made me wonder if any of the Georgia Masons who came before me tried to seduce an orderly when they hit the last days of their captivity. The image was enough to make me snort with involuntary laughter. It wasn’t just that I had no idea how to go about seducing somebody—seduction was never exactly required, given my particular set of circumstances. It was the idea of any of those stiff, buttoned-down orderlies trying to explain that dinner didn’t come with a side order of clone sex.

Hell, maybe one of the other Georgias even made a play for Dr. Thomas. That would certainly explain why he was so careful to avoid physical contact, even now that we were well past the point of needing to worry about spontaneous amplification. Maybe he was afraid I’d rip my pajama top open and start trying to buy my freedom.

I was still snickering when the door slid open and a slim blonde woman in a lab coat stepped into my room. “Did I come at a bad time, Georgia?” asked Dr. Shaw. “I can come back later, if you would prefer.”

I jumped to my feet, dropping my bread. “Dr. Shaw,” I said. “I wasn’t expecting you today.” Or here. Or ever.

“There are times one must enjoy the privileges of surprise,” she said. “Have you finished your lunch? I do apologize for the blandness of the ingredients, but I was unable to come and brief you before your afternoon meal was delivered, and it was important that preparations begin immediately.”

My shoulders tensed. I forced them to unlock. Dr. Shaw is a friend, I reminded myself. She gave me the gun. She’s not going to do anything to hurt me. Not unless she had to, anyway. “Preparations?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and smiled. She was gorgeous when she smiled. Not beautiful; gorgeous, like the cam-girl  p**n  bloggers who make a living on looks and panty shots. Maybe that was the reason she didn’t smile much. Save them up, and use them like weapons when she needed them. “I finally got approval for my deep-state sleep study. They would probably have dragged their feet on me longer, but Dr. Thomas has proposed a series of tests that will occupy all your time as of next week, and that gave me the leverage I needed to convince our superiors to let me have you until then.” She paused, clearly expecting something from me.

“Um… yay?”

“Yes,” she said, with an enthusiastic nod. “Very ‘yay.’ This is going to tell us so much about your mental state, Georgia. There are things to be discovered by examining your subconscious that, well… I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say that I expect us to both be very pleased with my results. Now, I am afraid you may be slightly inconvenienced by what has to be done…” She let the sentence trail off, again waiting for my reply.


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