Jack nodded as much as the head brace would let him. The lights overhead were completely off, but the room still seemed to glow. He could see through the mirror now: at least ten people sat at computers, and as he watched them he noticed that it was them he could hear talking. “Tell me how you feel,” Eastman said, once again pulling up the folding chair and sitting beside the gurney. There was still so much noise in the room that Eastman was bellowing to be heard above it.
“How do you think?” Jack said. His own words echoed in his head.
“Just tell me,” Eastman said. “The sooner we’re done here the sooner you can go get cleaned up.”
Jack tried to pinpoint any symptoms, but he still felt completely overwhelmed with pain, with noise, with the irritation of the leather restraints, with the rubber taste in his mouth. He couldn’t concentrate.
“I feel like crap,” Jack said.
“Be more specific.”
“My head is killing me.”
“Where does it hurt?” Eastman said. He removed the brace around Jack’s neck.
“All over,” Jack said. “My head and face mostly. And I think I’m going to be sick.”
“That’s fine,” Eastman said with a smile. “We have a mop.”
“I don’t have the virus,” Jack said, closing his eyes again. “I’m hurting because you almost electrocuted me. But I don’t feel like I can do anything else.”
“Oh, you’ve got it,” Eastman said. “They’re tracking it in the other room. You’re manifesting all right.”
“Can you turn off the microphone?” Jack said. “And stop shouting? Seriously, my head is killing me.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you think I mean?” Jack snapped. “You just fried my brain and now you’re yelling at me. Can’t we just have it a little quieter?”
Eastman frowned and then stepped out the door. Jack didn’t see him go into the room behind the mirror, and no one turned off the loudspeaker. Jack could hear the people inside talking about him—something about his brain activity.
Dr. Eastman returned to Jack’s gurney with a book. He opened it, seemingly at random, and held it up.
“Can you read this?” Eastman said. “Army Field Manual. Just start at the top.”
Jack looked at the page for a moment and then began reading. His mouth felt dry and swollen. “An emphasis on asymmetric means to offset United States military capability has emerged as a significant trend among potential threats and become an integral part of—”
Eastman stopped him and then moved across the room, his back against the wall. He turned to a new page. “Now read.”
Jack squinted. “Stability operations in an urban environment require offensive, defensive, and support operations, combined with other tasks unique to each stability operation. Army forces conduct—”
“Extraordinary,” Eastman said, closing the book. “Hold on.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Where else am I going to go?”
A moment later the chatter in the other room stopped and Jack peered over to see Dr. Eastman standing on the other side of the mirror.
“You can see me?” Eastman said.
“Repeat what I say.” He held up the book and read from the table of contents. “Urban Outlook. Urban Environment. Urban Threat. Contemplating Urban Operations.”
Jack closed his eyes. It was all he could do now to not vomit. “Urban Outlook. Urban Environment. Urban Threat. Contemplating Urban Operations.”
Jack cracked one eye open and looked at the doctor, who was grinning broadly.
“You think you don’t have the virus?” Eastman said. “The room you’re in is dark. I can barely see your silhouette. And you’re hearing me through soundproof glass. I’m not using a microphone.”
“Your brain,” he said. “These readings—they’re off the charts. It’s incredible.”
“I’M GOING TO ASK YOU some questions,” the soldier said to Laura. He had a large yellow legal pad on the table in front of him, and was scribbling in handwriting she couldn’t read.
“Sure,” Laura said, keeping her voice calm. She didn’t want to appear overeager. The medicine helped with that—it mellowed her out, but it also dulled her senses. She needed to be on her A-game.
He set down his pen and then looked into her eyes. There was a coldness to him, and it made her want to behave even more warmly. But she held back. Stay calm. Don’t act so quick to please.
“We haven’t been able to contact your parents,” he said.
Of course not, she thought. Her parents had their own jobs to do.
She paused, trying to think of how to respond. They weren’t even her parents. They were more like her caretakers. Her trainers. Her teachers. She’d grown to respect them, but it was never a loving relationship.
“I’m sure they’re okay,” she finally said, doing her best impression of a stiff upper lip.
“Aren’t you concerned?” he asked.
“Sure, I’m concerned,” Laura answered, now going for indignant. “They’re my parents. But my dad is good at hunting, and my mom is from Montana. They probably went north.”
“I got out of Denver to escape the attacks,” she said. “When I left—well, when I left we sort of knew it might be a long time before we saw one another again.”
She wasn’t sounding sympathetic enough. She was too uncaring. Too detached.
“They would just send their daughter off with her friends?”
“I—” she started, and then stopped, trying to bring tears to her eyes. They didn’t come. “I wasn’t the best daughter.”
He picked up his pen, but didn’t write anything—just twirled it slowly in his fingers. “So you left against their permission?”
“It wasn’t like that,” she said, and attempted a weak smile. “I didn’t run away. We . . . Well, we had gotten to the point where they knew that I was going to do what I was going to do.”
This interview wasn’t going how it was supposed to. She was coming across as too hard. Too rebellious. That wasn’t going to help her, and she needed to fix it. She wished she could cry.
He opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted him.
“What’s happened to Denver? Is it safe?”
“You have friends there you’re worried about?”
“Of course I do.”
“Are you enrolled in school?”
“UC–Denver,” Laura said. “First semester. I was only there a week before the attacks started and the campus shut down.”
He tapped the pen on the pad now, but still didn’t write anything. She couldn’t read him. Was this an interrogation? Did they suspect her? Or were they interviewing all the Lambdas?
“Is there any way you can find out if my friends are okay?” she pressed, trying to look hopeful—even desperate. She’d been part of the team that had taken down Mile High Stadium, and she hoped the city was burning. But that couldn’t show on her face. She wasn’t as good as Alec, but she knew how to lie.