Maybe the fact that I was actually feeling vulnerable behind my facade of journalistic calm was showing through, because Dr. Thomas said, “I understand. You must be very confused.”
“Also frightened, disoriented, and a little bit trying to convince myself this isn’t a dream,” I replied. I picked up my Coke again, not to drink, but to feel it in my hand. It was a poor substitute for the things I really wanted—my sunglasses, a gun, Shaun—but it would have to do.
“You have to understand that this is an experimental procedure. There was no way we could predict success, or even be sure that you would be yourself when you woke up.” Dr. Thomas watched me as he spoke. He was telling the truth, or at least the truth as he understood it. “To be honest with you, we’re still not sure how stable you are.”
“I guess that explains the men with the guns, huh?” I took a sip of Coke without thinking about it, and decided against putting the can back down. I deserved a little comfort. Resurrection turns out to be really hard on a person. “So you’re waiting for me to flip out and… what, exactly?”
“Cloning is a complicated process,” said Dr. Thomas. “Modern generations are infected with the Kellis-Amberlee virus while in the womb. Their bodies grow up handling the infection, coming to… an agreement with it, if you will. Adult infections have been rare since the Rising.”
“But cloned tissue is grown under clean-room conditions,” I said. “How did you introduce the infection?”
“Aerosol exposure when the…” He stuttered to a stop, obviously unsure how to proceed. Their reports probably referred to me as “the subject” or “the body” at that stage of the process. Using a proper pronoun would involve giving too much identity to something he’d been treating as a lab experiment.
The temptation to point that out was there. I let it pass. I needed an ally, even one who thought he was getting me to cooperate, more than I needed to score a few points just to make myself feel better. “How far along in the growth cycle was the tissue?” I asked.
“Halfway,” he said, visibly relieved. “We used techniques developed for organ cloning to accelerate the growth of the entire body. The immune and nervous systems were fully mature. We even used a blood sample on file at the Memphis installation, to be sure the exposure involved the strain of Kellis-Amberlee with which you were originally infected. It seemed the most likely to be compatible with your system. For all that we work with this virus every day, things like this, well, they aren’t precisely an exact science…”
Things like this absolutely are an exact science. They’re exactly what the Fictionals tell us to expect once mad science gets involved. I decided that was something else that didn’t need to be pointed out. Instead, I seized on the thing he was doing his best to avoid saying. “The men with guns are here because there’s a chance I’m going to spontaneously amplify, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” said Dr. Thomas. He looked genuinely sorry as he continued. “It will take a few days to be sure your system has properly adjusted to the infection. Until then, I’m afraid your movements will be carefully monitored. You can use the intercom to request food or drinks, and there will always be an escort ready if you need to visit the sanitary facilities. Showers will be available to you on a regular basis.”
“Can I ask for an Internet connection?” I asked.
He looked away as he answered. “That isn’t a good idea yet. We’re still running tests, and we don’t want to stress you more than is absolutely necessary. Hard copy reading material can be provided, if there are specific subjects you’re interested in.”
“Carefully censored, so as not to ‘stress’ me?” He had the good grace to look embarrassed. That didn’t make me feel any better. “If you’re trying to avoid stress, you should know that isolation stresses me.”
“That may be, but you’re going to have to live with it for a little while longer. I’m sorry. It’s necessary for your health.”
Something about the way he said that made my throat close up. A dozen nightmare scenarios flashed through my mind, all of them beginning in the dangerous seconds following the gunshot that killed me. I took a long drink of Coke to steady myself, and asked, “Is Shaun okay? Did he make it out of Sacramento? Please. Just tell me if he made it out of Sacramento.”
“It’s July of 2041. It’s taken us a little over eight months to get you to the point of being both awake and aware of your surroundings,” said Dr. Thomas. He delivered this apparent non sequitur in a hurried almost-monotone, like he wanted to get what he was about to say out of the way as quickly as possible. “A great deal has changed during that time.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Why aren’t you answering me? What are you trying to—”
“Miss Mason, I can’t give you the answers you’re asking me for. But I am truly and sincerely sorry for your loss.”
I gaped at him, openmouthed. I was still gaping when he stepped out of the room, the door closing behind him. I didn’t move. Not until my Coke hit the floor with a metallic clink, so much like the sound of a bullet casing being dropped. My knees went weak, and I sank into a kneeling position, my eyes fixed on the blank white door.
My cheeks were wet. I reached up with one hand, touching my right cheek. My fingertips came away damp. “I’m crying?” I said numbly. Retinal Kellis-Amberlee robs its victims of the ability to cry. Somehow, the idea that I could cry now was even more unbelievable than the idea that I was a CDC science project.
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