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Chapter 19


I don’t know who you’re talking about,” I said. My voice was level and calm. I was proud of myself for that. Really, I wanted to throw up.

“I think you do, Sally; after all, you mentioned her yourself not all that long ago,” said Dr. Banks. “Think hard. Blonde woman, curvy, fondness for lab coats and genetic engineering? Oh, and she’s your boyfriend’s mother, mustn’t forget that. Do you think he knows where she is, if you’re insisting you don’t? Do you think he’d tell me if we asked him?”

“Leave Nathan out of this,” I said, finding more strength now that I had something to defend. I sat straighter in my pilfered chair, trying to glare at him. It wasn’t working as well as I wanted it to. I was too terrified for that. “He has nothing to do with whatever you want from me.”

“Oh, no, believe me, he does. It was a stroke of amazing luck when you met up with him. I knew all along that he was Shanti’s son. She always forgot that I was the one who had recruited her in the first place—just one more blind spot in a series stretching all the way back to the lab. It’s a good thing she’s so brilliant. If she weren’t, her tendency to focus on the science at the expense of the human element would have gotten her killed years ago. We’ve been trying to hire Dr. Kim for years. If he would just consent to an implant… we couldn’t change the rules without tipping him off. Ah, well. Water under the bridge. Where is she?”

“Couldn’t you just have changed the rules if you wanted him that bad?” I asked, dodging the question.

Dr. Banks laughed. “Oh, Sally. I do love your sense of humor. Rules are rules. If I’d changed them, everyone would have known something was up. But oh, I’ve wanted to know what my old friend was doing, and that meant keeping tabs on her son. There was always the chance that she might decide to make contact sometime in the future—which she did, through you. You’re apparently more important to her than her own son. Interesting implications, don’t you think?” He tried that old paternal smile again. It wasn’t working as well as it usually did. “His interest in you was something we couldn’t have predicted, but I’ll admit, we did nothing to discourage it. Keeping the two of you in one place—a package deal, so to speak—made surveillance so much easier.”

I stared at him. “But why…?”

“Your father is the head of USAMRIID’s San Francisco office. We needed a way to watch him without it being suspicious. You were the perfect entry into his home.” Dr. Banks looked briefly apologetic. “We’re sorry to have disrupted your life as much as we did. If it makes you feel any better, we wouldn’t have done it if there had been any other way.”

“But…” I shook my head. “You couldn’t have planned this. I had an accident.” An accident I remembered absolutely nothing about. I’d never even spoken to any of the witnesses. By the time I was out of recovery and able to really wonder about what had happened to me, they had already put the incident behind them, vanishing into the general population without a thought for the girl whose car kissed a bus.

“I admit, Sally, I’d hoped we could convince you to join our SymboGen family,” said Dr. Banks. “I wanted to be able to protect you. You’re a special girl, and you deserve better than the world outside these doors. But if we’d accomplished that, Shanti probably wouldn’t have contacted you. She’s always been canny. While she might have smelled ‘trap’ on your skin, she was willing to take the risk, and I doubt that would have been the case if you’d been on the payroll.”

“I had an accident,” I repeated, with less certainty.

“I was also a little disappointed when you decided to shut us out, rather than coming to me and asking who this woman was, slipping notes into your things and trying to lure you into the path of danger. She’s the real reason you were in Lafayette, isn’t she? That’s why you nearly got hurt in that mob of sleepwalkers. Because Shanti was careless with the lives of others once again.”

I looked at him solemnly, seeing the entire situation play out from that single-pointed comment. Dr. Banks was looking for a scapegoat. Whether it was nonexistent protozoa or the woman who’d helped to design the Intestinal Bodyguard didn’t matter: all he needed was someone or something to pin the sleepwalking sickness on, and he and SymboGen could walk away scot-free. All it would take was a story that people would believe—and which was more attractive, really? The idea that a trusted corporation responsible for the health and happiness of millions had made a huge research error, or the idea that one woman, embittered over her own relative obscurity, had done something to change that company’s good works?

He would turn Dr. Cale into a criminal. I might not object to that as stridently as he’d expect me to—she was Nathan’s mother, and she meant well, but she’d created the implants and she valued the well-being of tapeworms as much as, if not more than, she valued the well-being of humans. I’d still object. If this was SymboGen’s fault, then SymboGen needed to pay for it. And that included the man who’d turned Dr. Surrey Kim into Dr. Shanti Cale in the first place.

“We went for ice cream.” My voice didn’t shake at all. I sounded utterly reasonable to my own ears. I hugged my backpack against my chest, still staring at him. “Nathan knew I was upset about that weird phone call from that… that woman, and so we went for ice cream. She never told me her name.”