“No, thank you,” I said, and wiped my nose with the side of my hand. “I just want to see Dr. Banks. Thank you for your help.”
“It’s our job, ma’am.”
The return of the first guard had popped the thin bubble of rapport the second guard and I had been starting to craft between us. We stood in awkward silence until a door opened in the bank of elevators and Dr. Banks came striding out, looking in all directions before his eyes settled on us. “Sally!” he called, and started toward us.
Dr. Banks didn’t look quite as perfect as he had on every other visit, although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what had changed. His hair was just a bit less flawlessly combed; his skin was just slightly less ideal. He looked tired, and it carried all the way into his clothing, which was rumpled around the edges, like he’d been sleeping in it.
“Sally,” he said again, once he was close enough that he didn’t need to shout. “How are you? I’ve been so worried…” He didn’t say anything about the bugs in my house, or the fact that they’d stopped working shortly after they were installed. I decided not to say anything either. My father was the local head of USAMRIID; if the bugs didn’t work, Dr. Banks would blame it on Dad, unless I gave him good reason to do otherwise.
“It’s been a hard few days,” I said. I forced myself to think about the scene at the lab, the intern bleeding out her life through the hole in her throat, and was rewarded with fresh tears. The first one slipped free and ran down my cheek as I said, “Joyce is sick.”
“Joyce—you mean your sister, don’t you?” I nodded mutely. Dr. Banks’s face dissolved into a mask of sympathy that might have seemed sincere, if I hadn’t spent so much time with him, observing his reactions through dozens of private interviews. He was surprised to hear that Joyce was sick. But he wasn’t sorry. “Sally, that’s terrible. How are your parents handling the news?”
This was where things were going to get dicey. I glanced toward the two security guards who were still standing patiently by, trying to project reluctance. “I don’t know if I really want to talk about that here in the lobby.”
Dr. Banks was rarely slow on the uptake. He nodded immediately, stepping close and putting his arm around my shoulders. I managed not to recoil away from him. “That’s easily enough fixed, Sally. Thank you, gentlemen, for making sure Miss Mitchell got to me as quickly as possible. You may go about your duties now.”
“Thank you, Dr. Banks,” said the first guard. The second guard didn’t say anything, just offered me a little wave before turning and following his partner back to their posts against the wall.
Dr. Banks tightened his hold on me as he turned back toward the elevators, pulling me unavoidably along. I swallowed and let myself be led, ducking my chin a little so that he would think I was overwhelmed with relief at finally being somewhere safe. In actuality, all I wanted to do was turn and run back outside, to where real safety could be found. And if I did that, hundreds of people would die.
Once we were in the elevator, Dr. Banks let me go, and said, “It’s very good to see you again. I’ve been worried about you. The last time you were here… that didn’t go very well.”
I stared at him. I couldn’t help it. “People died,” I said, unable to keep the shock out of my tone.
“Yes, and you could have been seriously hurt, I know. I am so, so sorry, Sally. This was supposed to be a place where you could always be safe, and instead, it nearly got you killed. I assure you, that won’t happen again. We’ve stepped up security, and we’ve initiated preemptive scanning of all employees on a twice-weekly basis, just to be safe.” He must have mistaken my slowly dawning anger for amazement, because he smiled, adding, “All measures are justified if they allow us to guarantee the safety of our guests.”
“You have a test that’s good enough to catch early infections, and you haven’t been sharing it with the local hospitals.” I didn’t realize that would be my answer until it was already out, hanging in the air between us like a shameful secret. There was no point in trying to take it back, and so I pressed on, demanding, “Why?”
The elevator dinged as it reached its destination. Dr. Banks stepped out, motioning for me to follow. “There are a lot of things to be considered in a situation like this one, Sally. Some of them are admittedly less noble than others.”
“How many of them justify letting people get sick because you’re not sharing the test?” I walked next to him as he led the way down the hall to his office.
“None,” he said, opening the office door. “But how many of them justify giving people a few more days of peace before they become ill? Don’t mistake an early detection system for treatment, Sally. We may have the one, but we’re a long way from the other.”
“So why did you develop a test in the first place?” I looked around as I stepped into the office. His computer was where it always was, displayed prominently on his desk. If he would just leave me alone for a few minutes, I would be able to plug in the thumb drive and accomplish what I’d come here to do. The real trick was going to be getting Dr. Banks to leave me alone.
He sighed as he closed the door and walked around to take a seat at that selfsame desk. “You’re smarter than that question, Sally. We developed a test because the sleepwalking sickness is parasitic in nature. You know that. You’ve known that since you went back to the hospital with your boyfriend.”