Dr. Banks paused. In that momentary silence, I heard everything I needed to hear: he was testing a line of public spin on me. There were no protozoa, no black market parasite that was creating this sudden health hazard. Given sufficient time, I was sure that SymboGen could synthesize one and introduce it to the water table, thus deflecting suspicion onto whatever underground genetic labs they could find.
Labs like Dr. Cale’s.
Finally, he said, “We don’t know. But we’re going to find out, and as soon as we have concrete proof of our accusations, we’re going to take our findings to USAMRIID and the CDC. You have my word on that.”
I nodded. “Thank you.” Then I sagged forward, covering my face with my hands, and wailed, “But it’ll be too late for Joyce. She’s going to die. She’s going to get sicker and sicker, and forget who she is, and then she’s going to die.”
“Sally…” I heard Dr. Banks get out of his chair. I didn’t lift my head, but listened to the sound of his footsteps coming closer. I managed to brace myself enough so that I didn’t flinch when his heavy hand landed on my shoulder, trying to offer comfort. “I’m so sorry about your sister. There was nothing I could have done to help her. But you should never have been forced to see that. You should never have been forced to see any of this.”
I didn’t say anything. I kept my head down, continuing to make small choking noises, like my air supply had been fatally compromised. Dr. Banks gave my shoulder an awkward pat. I bent further forward and whimpered.
That seemed to be the missing ingredient. “Let me send someone to get you a glass of water.”
“No,” I mumbled, just loudly enough to be heard without my needing to sit up. If I sat up, he’d see that I wasn’t really crying. At that point, he might start wondering why I’d been faking it, and then the jig would most certainly be up. “I don’t… I don’t want to see anyone else.”
“Oh, Sally,” he sighed, and pulled his hand away. “Let me get it for you, then. I don’t mind.”
“Thank you,” I whispered. I kept my head down as I listened to his footsteps retreating across the room, waiting for the sound of the door being opened and closed. I didn’t have much time. I still forced myself to count to five before I raised my head and risked a glance behind me.
Dr. Banks was gone.
Moving as fast as I could without tripping over my own feet, I slid out of the chair and dug the thumb drive out of my pocket at the same time. In five steps I was around his desk, bending to shove the thumb drive into one of the USB ports at the front of his computer. It beeped once, and the little light on top of the thumb drive came on, glowing a steady green. I didn’t know whether that was good or not. What color was a thumb drive supposed to glow? That kind of thing had never been important to me before. Here, now, it seemed like the most important thing in the world.
According to Tansy, I only needed to keep the thumb drive connected for ten seconds. I dropped into Dr. Banks’s chair and dug wildly through my backpack, coming up with the one thing that could potentially explain why I had changed seats: my notebook. I flipped it open to the first empty page, grabbed a pen out of Dr. Banks’s jar, and started scribbling words almost at random. My writing was even more illegible than normal. That was a good thing.
I counted down from ten as I wrote, trying to give the thumb drive time to do its work. I itched to pull it out, choosing safety over giving it time to finish. Quashing the urge took everything I had in me, but I did it, continuing to write as the seconds slipped by.
The doorknob turned while I was still counting. I hunched farther down over my paper, and stayed that way as Dr. Banks stepped into the room. “Sally?” he said, sounding surprised.
I raised my head, hoping he would read my borderline panic as misery, and said, “I needed to write, and I couldn’t get my notebook to balance on my knees. Dr. Morrison says I should write whenever I feel like I need to. You don’t mind, do you?” The drums were suddenly hammering in my ears. I swallowed and forced myself to keep looking at Dr. Banks, reading his expression for any sign that he knew I was lying to him.
Instead, his face softened, and he said, “I don’t mind at all, Sally. You should absolutely do what your therapist recommends. Dr. Morrison is a good man, and I have the utmost faith in his methods.”
“I’m glad you’re not mad,” I said, and sniffled again, wiping my nose on the back of my hand before I went back to writing. Dr. Banks walked over to the desk, putting the paper cup of water he’d gone to fetch down next to me, and lingered just a little too long, clearly trying to make some sense out of the messy loops and swirls of my writing. The joke was on him. While I could write legibly when I tried, I wasn’t trying, and even I wouldn’t have been able to decode some of what I’d written. Dr. Morrison always yelled at me when I did that. I didn’t care.
“What are you writing about, Sally?” he finally asked.
“Joyce. How scared I am about what might happen to her. How much I hope she gets better. How guilty I feel for moving out of my parents’ house.” I looked up, meeting his eyes as I said, “I moved in with Nathan last night.”
“Is your family not reacting well?” He paused, frowning. “Did they release the medical custodianship?”
“Not quite. I don’t care. I couldn’t stay there anymore.” I sniffled, ducking my head to check the thumb drive as I did. The light on top had changed from green to yellow. I hoped that meant it was done, and not that something had gone wrong with the file transfer process. I wasn’t going to be able to do this again.