“Dad?” I said, craning my neck to peer into the blackness. I couldn’t see anything. That didn’t stop me from looking. “Where are you? Why am I strapped down?”
“It was a precaution in case you woke disoriented,” he said. He made it sound like it was a perfectly reasonable step to take. “Can you please say your full name?”
“Sally Mitchell. Can you untie me now?”
“Your full name.” His tone was gentle, like he was trying to prompt a recalcitrant child.
Anger began to gather in my chest, overwhelming the lingering nausea. “That is my full name,” I half said, half snapped. “I go by ‘Sal.’ Remember?”
“What’s your middle name, Sally?”
My middle name? My mind went blank. I didn’t remember having a middle name, much less being told what it was. No, wait—that wasn’t right. I had a middle initial. It appeared on all the official paperwork that SymboGen sent to the house. “It starts with ‘R’,” I said, slowly. “I know that. Is it Rebecca? Rachel?” I paused, trying to think of other names that started with the letter “R.” Finally, I ventured, “Rose?”
“Your middle name is Rae, Sally. Sally Rae Mitchell.”
I considered his words. Nothing about them was familiar. Still, it seemed best not to argue with him, not if I wanted to get out of here. “Fine, my middle name is Rae,” I said. “Now will you untie me?”
“What day is it?”
That was the last straw. The anger that had been gathering in my chest blossomed like a poisonous flower, and I was suddenly shouting at the darkness, hoping my words were at least somewhat aimed at the father I couldn’t see. “I don’t know, Dad, because I don’t know how long it’s been since you sedated me! And before that, I had sort of stopped paying attention, since you had me under house arrest! Now will you stop asking me stupid questions and let me out of here? I’m not sick, I’m not a lab experiment, and I’m not happy about the way you keep treating me!”
There was a click. An intercom had just been turned off somewhere in the room. My anger withered as quickly as it had bloomed, replaced by the sudden fear that my rant had been the last piece needed to convince them there was something seriously wrong with me. I couldn’t remember my middle name; I shouted at my own father. Clearly, I had to be sick.
Except that I wasn’t sick. I felt perfectly fine. And I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to convince anyone else of that.
A door opened in the far wall of what was suddenly revealed to be a small room, much like the changing room that I’d used when we first arrived at the facility. A broad-shouldered silhouette appeared in the light. My father. I couldn’t let myself be relieved—not quite yet, no matter how much I wanted to—and so I just squinted at him, refusing to allow myself to speak until I had some idea of what he was going to do next.
“I need you to close your eyes for a moment,” he said. “I’m turning on the lights, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
“Dad—” I couldn’t help myself. The word just slipped out, all fear and longing hanging in the air between us.
He sighed. “Just trust me, all right? Just for a few more minutes. Please.”
It wasn’t easy. It wouldn’t have been easy before he pretended to be a sleepwalker just to see what I would do. I still forced myself to squeeze my eyes shut, turning my head to the side in case the lights were bright enough to shine through my eyelids.
Instead of the expected brilliance, what I got was heat, shining on me from either side of the room. Startled, I turned back toward the door and opened my eyes, finding that my father was only slightly more visible than he’d been before. The room was still in almost total darkness, illuminated only by the two banks of UV lights positioned to either side of my cot. They were glowing a soft purple, turning the small hairs on my arms and the pops of cotton on the front of my scrubs an ethereal shade of raver-girl blue white.
“What?” I said.
“She’s clean,” called a voice from the hall, and the UV lights flicked off. The darkness seemed even deeper this time, despite the open door.
“Close your eyes again, Sally,” said my father, and stepped into the room.
I obliged, not wanting to do anything to delay his releasing me. A few seconds later, white light flooded my eyelids, making every vein in the thin skin perfectly visible. I waited a few seconds more before squinting through my lashes, watching my father as he approached.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“You showed us the test,” he said, beginning to unbuckle the strap that was holding my chest and arms to the cot. “We simply put it into a more immediately implementable form.”
I didn’t ask why USAMRIID just happened to have banks of UV lights around their facility, waiting to be used as an early parasite-detection system. They were a major military research center. If something had a potential medical application, I was sure it was somewhere in the building. Instead, I waited for my father to finish undoing the straps, then sat up, watching him warily. He took a step back from the cot, spreading his hands as if to show me they were empty. I appreciated the gesture more than I wanted to.
“Well?” I asked. “Did you find what you were looking for?”
He sighed. “Sally, I know you’re angry, but—”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”