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“Yes, Miss Mitchell,” said one of them—I didn’t know which one was Private Dowell and which one was Private Fabris, and I didn’t really care. I was never going to see these men again. That wasn’t how things like this worked out.

I followed them out of the office.

Not one of us paused to turn out the light. After everything that had happened that day, somehow the shadows had lost their appeal.

The soldiers led me to a hallway where my father stood talking to a small cluster of men in lab coats with an oddly military cut. USAMRIID doctors, the real kind, not the interns from the containment lab or the enlisted men who sometimes served as security. There were three of them, all looking very serious, like this was an exam that they were afraid of failing.

Through the window behind them, I could see Joyce and three other people, all still awake and clearly alert, watching the nurses who adjusted their IV drips with trained hands. Joyce glanced in my direction and froze, eyes widening. Her mouth moved. I shook my head. I could barely read words on a page. Reading lips was a bit beyond me.

“Colonel Mitchell,” said one of my escorts. “Do you have any further instructions, sir?”

My father turned to face us. He looked tired, but he didn’t scowl when he saw me. That was something, anyway. “My daughter’s boyfriend should be arriving in the visitors’ lot soon,” he said. “His name is Dr. Nathan Kim. Please escort him to the main entry and wait there for my word.”

“Yes, sir,” said the two men, and saluted before turning and heading back the way we’d come. They didn’t say goodbye to me. I guess I didn’t matter anymore, now that I was no longer their assignment.

“Sally.” My father gestured for me to come closer to the glass. Unsure of what else to do, I came. He pointed to where Joyce was lying strapped to her own cot, watching us. She hadn’t taken her eyes off me since I arrived. “Her symptoms haven’t progressed, but they haven’t improved. Are you sure there’s nothing you aren’t telling us?”

There was so much I wasn’t telling them that I wasn’t sure where I would begin to explain. The one thing I could think of that might be relevant was one that hopefully they already knew, and so I said, in a halting voice, “You know the implants have some human DNA in them, don’t you…?”

“Yes.” His expression hardened as he stole a glance of his own toward Joyce. “That’s part of what makes treatment so difficult. Most of the things that we know would kill the SymboGen implant have to reach it first, which means injection. But if you inject something that attacks human DNA into a human, you stand a very good chance of killing the patient along with the parasite.” And he didn’t want to kill Joyce, or even risk it.

I couldn’t blame him. I didn’t want to kill Joyce, either. “Dad…” I said, and paused before continuing, forcing the words out one by one: “If this is in the brain, is there any point in treating people that are already all the way gone? Aren’t they just going to… well, aren’t they just going to die if you take away the thing that’s keeping them alive?”

“First you tell me the SymboGen implants are somehow infiltrating human brains, and then you ask me whether we can let those implants keep the brains they’ve taken over.” His attention swung back to me. “I can’t believe you’d even say that. Of course we’ll treat those people. They deserve the dignity of a peaceful death, rather than living on under the control of some inhuman thing.”

His glare was hot enough to make my skin crawl. I took a step backward, once again wishing for the comforting pounding of the drums. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

Dad paused. Then he sighed, rubbing one hand across his face, and said, “I’m sorry, too, Sal. I don’t mean to take things out on you. I know none of this is your fault.”

“Colonel—” began one of the doctors. My father shot him a look, and he quieted, lowering the hand he’d been about to gesture with.

My father turned his attention back to me. “Are you sure you want to go off with Nathan? Your mother won’t be very happy to have one daughter in the hospital and the other with her boyfriend.”

“I’m sure,” I said. “If SymboGen is trying to bug the house because I’m in it, it’s best if I’m not there while Joyce is recovering. That would just make things worse. And I have some things I need to get straightened out in my head. I should be away until I can finish doing that.”

“If this is about our grounding you…” He looked briefly, profoundly uncomfortable. It made me want to hug him and scream at him at the same time. What else could it possibly be about?

And I was tired, and I was done. “It is, yes,” I said. “It’s also about everything else. It’s about you lying to me, and scaring me, and deciding that you don’t have to treat me like an adult when it’s not convenient for you. None of that was fair, and I don’t want to risk you deciding to do it again. This is something I have to do. I’d like it if you would understand that.” Because I’m doing it either way. “And when all this is over, we’re dissolving your guardianship.”

“All right, Sal. All right.” He sighed, looking toward Joyce one more time. “I’ll let you know how her recovery goes. Hopefully, she’ll start responding to the treatment that you and Nathan have recommended. I wouldn’t be taking those suggestions if we weren’t so desperate.”