“She was probably worried about a biochemical attack on the mall,” said my father.
I blinked. Joyce had mentioned something in the air vents… “Dad? Is there something I should know?”
My father—Colonel Alfred Mitchell, United States Army, former director at USAMRIID and current director-slash-lab manager of their San Francisco research center, which is how my entire family wound up with the earliest specialized versions of the SymboGen implant—looked at me for a long moment without saying anything. Finally, he sighed, and said, “We didn’t want to worry you.”
“You know, that’s one of the most worrying things anyone ever says.”
“I know.” He paused before saying, “There have been a few isolated events recently. Unique pathogens showing up in inhabited areas. Nothing we can solidly say points to terrorist activity, but…”
“Enough that when we see people sleepwalking in broad daylight, you jump to bad conclusions,” I said. “How long have you known about this?” I paused, and added, “How long has Joyce known?”
“Didn’t you think this might be something I’d want to know about, too?”
“It’s not public knowledge, and given your current condition, it seemed best not to upset you,” Dad said.
I stared at him. “It’s been six years since the accident. How long does this get to be my ‘current condition’ before it becomes just the way I am? I mean, really, I’d like to know, since I guess I’m going to have to wait until we hit that day before you’re going to start treating me like an adult, instead of like a child you have to protect.”
“Sal, that isn’t fair,” said Mom.
“I didn’t mean your memory loss, Sal,” said my father. I frowned. He shook his head. “I meant SymboGen.”
Understanding came suddenly. It did not come kindly. “You think SymboGen is involved in this?”
“Honey, I don’t know what I think. What I do know is that it’s a big, scary world out there, and I can’t protect you from it.” He looked toward Joyce’s room. “I need to go check on your sister.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You do that.”
Mom took my arm as Dad walked down the hall. “Let’s go make some tea.”
I thought about shaking off her hand, but experience told me that would be a bad idea. If I started acting like a child, she’d just work harder to treat me like one. “I’m not so delicate that you have to hide things from me,” I said.
“I know. It’s just your father’s way. You were used to it before… before.” She stumbled a little, sidestepping the issue of my memory loss with her usual awkwardness. Even after six years, it hadn’t gotten any easier. “He needs to be sure of the facts before he really starts frightening people.”
“He told Joyce.”
“Joyce works in his lab. I’m not sure he could avoid telling her.”
“She’s just an intern.”
“Even interns have to understand what they’re doing.” Mom let go of my arm, pushing me gently toward the kitchen table. I sat down. “I’m pretty sure we have some rosemary shortbread left over from last night. It’s always better on the second day, don’t you think?”
That was her way of saying that the conversation was over. I wasn’t quite ready to let it go. “Mom, should I be scared right now?”
“I don’t think it would do any good, and that means it’s not worth wasting the energy.” Mom got down the cookie jar and a tin of loose-leaf tea. “Now why don’t you tell me how the trip to the mall went, up until those people showed up?”
I sighed. There was no way I was getting anything else out of her. “Well, first Joyce dragged me through every shoe store in the place…” I began.
Reciting the minutiae of our trip to the mall took very little of my attention. Mom fixed tea, and I kept talking. I couldn’t stop thinking about the look on that little girl’s face, the dead-eyed blankness that still projected a type of unwavering determination, like all that mattered in the world was getting to that door. The man had looked the same way, and they’d known each other through the fog.
Whatever was going on, it was bigger than Dad was admitting, maybe big enough to justify Joyce’s panic. It was definitely a hell of a lot more important than shoe stores and shopping. Mom put the shortbread in front of me, and the summer afternoon ticked inexorably by, like so many others before it, like so many more that hadn’t arrived yet.
I don’t remember what we talked about. None of it mattered, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the little girl.
It wasn’t until I went to bed that night that I realized I’d been hearing the drums all day.
… in biotech news, a patent for a lab-created organism has been filed by genetic research leader SymboGen. The patented organism, dubbed “Diphyllobothrium symbogenesis,” is a form of modified tapeworm hybrid. The representatives from SymboGen, led by Dr. Steven Banks, have successfully demonstrated that this hybrid cannot arise in nature, and more, that the modifications to its genome have resulted in several medically and scientifically useful changes to the overall organism.
Rumors that SymboGen is already petitioning the FDA for permission to begin human testing of the D. symbogenesis organism have yet to be confirmed. This would represent a dramatic escalation of the normal timeline for research of this type. Sources inside the company say…