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This time, I was faster on my cue. “Inconvenienced how, exactly?”

“You’ll be sleeping in my lab for the duration. I realize it’s an invasion of your privacy, but it can’t be avoided if we want to get good results.”

I managed not to laugh at the notion of my possessing anything remotely resembling “privacy” in the room I’d been sleeping in. “I think I can handle it.”

“Thank you,” said Dr. Shaw. Her smile faded, replaced by her more familiar chilly professionalism. “Is there anything you’d like to bring with you?”

I blinked. I hadn’t realized she meant we’d be leaving the room now. “No,” I said, with complete honesty. My gun was tucked into the top of my left sock, and I’d long since finished reading the few books I’d been able to cajole Dr. Thomas into giving me. Nothing else here was mine. They could decant the next girl and put her in this room, and she’d never know I’d existed, just like I woke up not knowing there had been others here before me.

The thought was sobering. One way or another, I was never going to come back here. Either I’d get out, or I’d just be gone, and no one would miss me, or mourn for me, except for maybe Gregory. Maybe not even him. Assuming his cover hadn’t been blown, he’d probably be busy trying to find out whether the new Georgia Mason was the one he could finally save.

“Good,” said Dr. Shaw, breaking me out of the dark spiral of my own thoughts. “If there’s nothing here you’d like to bring, then we’re ready to begin.”

“I didn’t have anything else on my calendar for today,” I said. Dr. Shaw started for the door. I followed, resisting the urge to look back at the room that was never mine, not really. It was a stopping point, and yet somehow, walking through the door with her felt very, very final.

Two of the technicians from our first round of tests were waiting for us in the hall, along with two guards I didn’t recognize. I was getting used to that. I focused my attention on the technicians, smiling as earnestly as I could. “Kathleen. George. It’s good to see you again.”

“See?” crowed Kathleen, bouncing in place. The guards looked at her with visible discomfort but didn’t move from their positions. “I told you the sleep studies would get approved!”

“I should never have doubted you,” I said.

“You’re looking… well,” said George.

“I’ve had lots of rest,” I said.

“Which is excellent for our purposes,” said Dr. Shaw. “Now that we’re all acquainted again, come along. We have much to do, and little time in which to do it.” This said, she turned and strode down the hall, her heels punctuating each step with a gunshot-crisp crack. Kathleen and George fell into step behind her, and I trailed after them, with the guards following after me. Their presence kept me from getting too relaxed. This might be a step toward freedom, but I wasn’t in the clear yet.

Dr. Shaw led us down the hall toward the lab where her first round of tests on me had been conducted, stopping at an unmarked door. “You are no longer required,” she informed the guards, holding up her ID badge. “I assure you, the automated systems will make sure nothing untoward happens between here and our final destination.”

“Our apologies, Dr. Shaw, but we have our orders,” said the elder of the two guards, a tall, Hispanic man with a thin mustache covering his upper lip. He looked less nervous than his companion. Maybe that’s why he got the unenviable job of telling Dr. Shaw he wasn’t going to do what she wanted him to do. “We are to escort the subject to your lab and ensure that she’s secured before we leave our posts.”

“Bureaucracy will be the death of us all,” muttered Dr. Shaw, with what looked like sincere annoyance. “Very well, then, if you must. But if either of you so much as breathes on something you shouldn’t, the cost of decontamination will be coming out of your paychecks, and I will be speaking to your supervisors. Do I make myself clear?” Kathleen and George stepped up to flank us, presenting a united line. I was the only one not wearing a lab coat. For some reason, that struck me as funny.

The guards looked more uncomfortable than ever, but they stood their ground. I almost had to respect that. “Perfectly, ma’am,” said the older guard. “We’re just doing our jobs.”

“Yes, well, I believe you’ve established that.” She swiped her badge down the front of a magnetic scanner in the wall. The scanner beeped once. The door in front of us didn’t budge; instead, a door on the other side of the hall swung open. The guards turned. Dr. Shaw looked smug. “Gentlemen, if you’re so intent on managing my patient’s welfare, you can lead the way.”

I frowned at the expression on her face. Then I looked through the open door, and my frown struggled to become a smile.

The door opened in what appeared to be the side of a hall. A sign was posted on the wall visible through the opening—CAUTION: ACTIVE BIOHAZARD LABS BEYOND THIS POINT. CONTAMINATION RISK IS SET AT BIOSAFETY LEVEL 3. DO NOT PROCEED WITHOUT APPROPRIATE CLEARANCE. Beneath that, some joker had taped a printout reading “So come on in, and kiss your ass good-bye.”

“Ma’am?” asked the older guard.

“I realize you’ve been working primarily in Level 1 and 2 areas, but my primary lab is maintained in the Level 3 wing.” Dr. Shaw glanced to me as she spoke, giving me a brief but meaningful look that chased away any doubts I may have had about my fate. If I were still Dr. Thomas’s pet subject, he would never have let me enter a Level 3 biohazard lab. He approved this. He was done with me.

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