“I know that.”
“I do love you. No matter what may have happened, or what may happen, I do love you.”
“I know that, too, Dad,” I said—and I did know it, no matter how many problems I had with him. I had questioned a lot of things about my parents. I had never wondered whether they loved me. Something occurred to me then, and I asked, “Can I borrow the car keys? I’ll send them back with whoever walks me out.” Because it wasn’t going to be him, not with Joyce strapped to a cot and being treated to prevent tapeworms from taking over her brain.
My father raised an eyebrow. “What do you need from the car?”
“Can’t I just give it back to you when you come home?”
That would give him time to figure out that the book jammed tracking signals. I didn’t know the answer, but whatever it was, it would probably point him back to Dr. Cale, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides which, I wasn’t going back to SymboGen voluntarily, and having a way to hide from them would be a big help. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I need it now.”
“Fine. But I won’t give you the keys. I’m walking you to the car myself.” My surprise must have shown in my face, because he smiled, and said, “There’s nothing I can do for Joyce right now, and standing here staring at her isn’t going to make her get better any faster. I should make sure you get on your way safely before I do anything else.”
Gratitude swept over me, feeling too big to be put into words. So I just nodded, and stepped off to one side as he turned and muttered instructions to the doctors who would presumably be monitoring Joyce’s condition in his absence. I stole glances at my sister through the window. She was staring up at the ceiling, jaw set in the firm line that meant she was terrified and refusing to let herself cry. Joyce could seem silly sometimes, but she was always stronger than she thought she was. She would come through this.
Assuming the treatments worked. Assuming it wasn’t already too late, and the implant hadn’t already worked too much of itself into her brain. Assuming—
“They were saying her name, Colonel.” The unfamiliar voice dragged my attention back into the present. I turned to see one of the doctors glaring at my father, frustration and confusion writ large across his features. “You can’t pretend this isn’t relevant. The implications—”
“The implications are that these people can mimic sounds, no matter how advanced their illnesses, which tells me there’s still hope to save them,” said my father. “Please continue the treatment, and keep me apprised of any progress. Sal, come with me. You’ll need to change back into your street clothes before you leave here.”
“Coming, Dad,” I said, and followed him as he walked down the hall.
Maybe it was because I didn’t spend enough time at USAMRIID—or any time, really, when I could avoid it—but the layout of the building didn’t make any sense to me. Hallways joined and split according to no logical pattern, sometimes leading into large open spaces that then proceeded to blend seamlessly back into more hallways. I hurried to keep up with my father’s longer steps, unwilling to let myself be separated from him in those endless halls. I would never have been able to find my own way out.
Finally, we reached a somewhat familiar door, which he opened with a swipe of his key card to reveal the antechamber connecting the male and female changing rooms. He walked to the female changing-room door, unlocking it with another swipe. “I’ll wait here for you,” he said.
I ducked straight into the room, quietly unsurprised when I opened the locker holding my clothes and saw that everything had been neatly folded. Someone had been through my things, probably while I was unconscious in the lab. I stripped off my scrubs, trying not to be disturbed by the invasion of my privacy. It wasn’t like there was anything for them to find.
My clothes wouldn’t lead them to Dr. Cale, or tell them about Tansy and Adam. We were still okay. I kept that thought firmly in mind as I got dressed. There was a bruise on the side of my neck, where the needle had been shoved in a bit too hard in the process of sedating me. I touched the spot and hissed between my teeth, wondering why they hadn’t bothered with a gauze pad.
Oh, well. That was the least of my problems. I checked my reflection in the locker’s built-in mirror, making sure that I looked at least halfway presentable. Then I turned to go back to where my father was waiting.
He’d been joined by one of the two soldiers from earlier, who looked up almost guiltily when I emerged. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Miss Mitchell, your ride is here.”
“Oh, good.” I looked to my father. “I just need to get my stuff from the car, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, still sounding like he wasn’t entirely happy about the idea. “Private Dowell, you may return to your post.”
“Sir, yes sir,” said the soldier, saluting him. My father saluted back, and Private Dowell turned to head for the door, his duty discharged.
“Come along, Sal,” said my father, starting for the exit.
I followed him to the front door and out into the dim light of the evening. The sun was setting over the San Francisco Bay, turning everything the same red as the emergency lights in the lab, and Nathan’s car was cozied up to the sidewalk, with Nathan himself standing in front of it.
He started to move when he saw us, and I motioned for him to stay where he was. He stopped, light glinting off his glasses and masking the confusion that I knew was there. I made a “wait” sign with my hand, and followed my father to his car. He unlocked the doors, and I retrieved my bag from under the seat. I didn’t realize until my fingers found the strap just how afraid I’d been that it wasn’t going to be there. The staff at USAMRIID had gone through my locker. There was nothing to stop them from going through the car.