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I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “What would I do without you?”

“Speak a version of English that no one had ever heard before, probably.” Nathan smiled briefly before sobering. “Sal…”

“Someone has to, Nathan. My sister is sick. My sister.” No one from my family had gotten in contact with me over the night. I was trying to make myself see that as a good thing. “Everyone who’s getting attacked by the implants is someone’s sister, or brother, or parent. If there’s something we can do, we have to do it. Anything else would be… it would be inhuman.”

Nathan sighed. “I love you,” he said. “Please try not to get hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” I lied. “I’ll contact Tansy as soon as I’ve got the information your mother needs, and they’ll extract me.” After that… we were less clear on what would happen after that. We knew SymboGen couldn’t arrest me if they couldn’t prove something had been done, but they could potentially make my life difficult.

Or they could just decide that they were never going to let me leave.

“Okay,” said Nathan.

There was nothing left for us to say after that, and the longer I lingered, the harder it was going to be for me to get out of the car. I leaned over and kissed him again, this time on the lips, lingering just long enough to be sure he understood how much I loved him. Then I grabbed my backpack from the footwell, slipped it on, and got out of the car, beginning to walk slowly toward SymboGen.

It was time to go inside.

There were guards at the edge of the parking lot, watching the cars as they came and went. They greeted me with nothing more than a quick glance and a curt nod, apparently unable to see me as any kind of a threat. I was an empty-handed woman, one that they’d seen before, and ID wasn’t required until I got to the actual building. I ducked my head and hurried on, glad of my relative anonymity. I didn’t want to deal with answering questions until I had to.

The brave front I’d been putting on for Nathan aside, I was terrified. My stomach was a roiling knot of pain, and the sound of drums was low and constant in my ears, like something out of an old King Kong movie. They pounded in time with my footsteps, accompanying me all the way to the sliding glass doors into the lobby.

As always, a rush of chilled air and bland, overprocessed music rushed out to greet me when the doors swept open. The twin feelings of coming home and wanting to run away again swept over me at the same time. I’d barely taken two steps into the lobby when a pair of security guards appeared as if by magic, moving toward me with a tight economy of purpose that was all it took for them to be terrifying. I stopped where I was, trying to ignore the panic building in my gut as I raised my chin and waited for them to come to me. I had every right to be here. I was a patient of SymboGen’s. I was Dr. Banks’s pet project.

“Can we help you?” asked the first guard, once they were close enough that they wouldn’t need to do anything uncouth, like shouting.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call ahead, but I didn’t know where else to go,” I said, trying to make my eyes believably wide and glossy. To my surprise, tears actually started to form as I continued, “I can’t go home. I just can’t. Can—can you tell Dr. Banks that Sally Mitchell is here to see him?” Now that the tears had started, they simply refused to stop. The past few days had been even more traumatic than I realized.

The guards exchanged a glance, looking as disturbed by my tears as I was. “Do you have ID?” asked the second.

Nodding, I dug my ID card out of the front pocket of my backpack and held it out to them. My hand was shaking. I didn’t try to stop it. It would only help with the image I was trying to project… and I didn’t want to know how I would react if it turned out I was unable to make the shaking stop.

The guard took my card, turning it over in his fingers like he wanted to be certain that it was legitimate. It must have passed whatever unknown test he was putting it through, because he looked to his partner and said, “Wait here with her,” before turning and walking toward the reception counter.

The remaining security guard offered me an earnest smile and said, “It’s all right, Miss Mitchell. We’re just going to call up to Dr. Banks and see if he’s free to see you.” I looked at him blankly, and he continued, “We’ve met before. You probably don’t remember me, but I was in the cafeteria the last time you came to visit us. So I know this is just a formality.”

“Oh.” I hadn’t really been looking at the faces of the guards who came to save me that day in the cafeteria. Too much of my focus had been on Chave and her hopeless battle against the parasite that was in the process of consuming her thinking mind. Still, he looked so hopeful that I found I couldn’t tell him that. “Thank you. I really appreciate what you did that day. I’m sorry. I’m just… really shaken.”

Now concern washed his smile away. “What happened?”

I could either try to make myself an ally inside SymboGen, or I could avoid the need to tell my carefully crafted sob story twice. I decided to aim for something in the middle as I said, “I went to see where my father works, and there was… someone got sick. Again.” I sniffled. “I’m so tired of seeing people get sick all around me.”

“I’m sorry,” said the guard.

“Me, too.”

“Miss Mitchell?” We both turned to see the first guard returning. He held out my ID card. I took it, tucking it into my backpack as he said, “We’ve been instructed to stay here with you. Dr. Banks will be right down. Can we get you anything? A glass of water? A chair?”