The soldiers were standing down. Some of them even seemed to be snickering, trying to hide their amusement behind their hands. I looked from them to Joyce, my confusion growing by the second. The sound of drums was getting louder, now fueled by anger instead of by fear.
“Joyce?” I said, trying to keep my voice measured. “What’s going on here?”
“Daddy thought you might be holding out on us, since you went and disappeared for hours right after a bunch of sleepers showed up in the yard.”
He managed to gasp out something that might have been “I still think that,” or might have simply been a request for an ice pack. I ignored him either way, focusing my attention on Joyce instead. If I looked at him, I was going to be too tempted to give him another kick. The military police might think it was funny for me to attack my father when he was playing sleepwalker, but kicking him while he was down was likely to get a less positive reaction.
“So you’re saying he faked this?” I asked. My voice was sounding a lot less measured. I took a step away from my father. “He set this up to—what, scare me into giving away secrets?”
“It… worked,” gasped my father, finally pulling himself to his feet. “Why did you start asking for antiparasitics?”
“That was pretty specific,” said Joyce. She walked toward us, primly stepping around the objects I’d knocked over during my flight. I noticed that she didn’t bother picking anything up. That was apparently below her pay grade. “What would make you decide to ask for antiparasitics?”
I looked from Dad, who was still white-faced and grasping his crotch, to Joyce, who looked utterly calm. The technicians were moving back to their stations, and although security was still in the room, none of them looked like they were planning to do anything to secure anyone. It had all been a sham. It was a play to see what I would do, and while that spoke to the level of their desperation, it still infuriated me in ways I didn’t really have the words for.
“Is this why you locked me in the house and wouldn’t let me talk to Nathan for five days?” I asked. “Because you wanted me to be scared?”
“The things I said to you on the way here were true,” said my father. He was starting to sound less winded, which made me want to kick him again. “I really did want time to check for bugs, and there really were things about the news that would have made you ask questions.”
“They made Nathan ask questions,” said Joyce. “He showed up here yesterday, demanding to know if you were all right.”
I blinked. “Why would he come here?”
“Because we told him you weren’t at home, and this was the only other place you could logically be,” said my father. I turned to stare at him. He continued, “We tried telling him you’d become symptomatic, to see what he would say. He said we were lying. We’ve been trying to find him since then.”
“He vanished, Sal,” said Joyce. “Do you know where he would go?”
Yes; back to his mother, who had answers, and who would be able to tell him whether it was possible for me to have become symptomatic so quickly, when there had been no signs that my resident implant was planning to migrate from my digestive system to my brain. Dr. Cale could hide him, keep him off the grid and keep him safe, while they figured out where I was and how to get me out. I glanced toward the security guards, wondering how many of them might be working for her, playing both sides against the middle. It was a paranoid thought, but given that my father and sister had just staged some kind of horror movie dumbshow for my benefit, paranoid didn’t seem so strange anymore.
“No,” I said, and was surprised by how sincere I sounded. “I don’t have any idea where Nathan would go, and I don’t think I want to talk to either one of you right now. I asked Dad to bring me here because I was tired of being locked in the house, and because I wanted to help. After what you did, I don’t feel like helping anymore. Being locked up is better than being here with you.”
“I’m afraid I can’t take you home until you demonstrate that test you promised to show us,” said my father. All traces of weakness were gone from his voice, and he was once again standing up straight. The jangling feeling of wrongness was still coming off him like a wave, but that might just have been my nerves reacting to the overall mood in the room.
Might. “Then I’ll call Tasha or Will to come and get me,” I said, raising my chin defiantly. My coworkers at the shelter hadn’t seen me in days. They’d be annoyed by my suddenly calling and asking for favors. They’d also be more than willing to get in the car and pick me up. They both understood why I didn’t drive, and respected it. I sometimes suspected I was just another abandoned animal to them, but in moments like this, I didn’t mind.
“No, you won’t.” My father’s voice was almost gentle, for all that it was still firm. “You won’t be able to get a cell phone signal inside here, and I’m not going to let you leave this building until you show me what you promised.”
I stared at him. “I made that promise before you pretended to be a sleepwalker and tried to strangle me,” I said.
“Desperate times can lead us to do things we’re not proud of,” he said. Joyce was a silent statue next to him, her gaze cast slightly off to one side, so that she wouldn’t have to meet my eyes.
“I want to go home.”