Page 43

Dropping my arms to my sides, I turned to face the biohazard suit. It nodded. “Thank you,” it said. “Now please stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your arms to shoulder level. This will be a visual examination only. I will not touch you. Do you understand?”

“What’s your name?” I countered.

The biohazard suit sighed. I wouldn’t have thought the filters would let the sound escape, but they did, and it carried a level of human frustration that all the words hadn’t been able to convey. “It’s Dr. Lo, Sally. Now please, will you do as I am asking?”

“You could have said that before, you know.” I moved as I spoke, getting into the position she had requested. It felt less strange now that I knew she was someone familiar and not just a faceless automaton from the depths of SymboGen. At the same time, the fact that Dr. Lo was treating me as a threat—not just furniture, but something dangerous—worried me. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

“Because I was more concerned with your health than with observing social pleasantries. Hold still.” Dr. Lo reached into a pocket on the leg of her biohazard suit, producing a long tube that looked like it had been detached from the overhead lights. She flicked a switch at its base, and it came on, glowing a deep shade of purple. Dr. Lo began running it through the air a few inches away from me, watching the way the purple light reflected off my skin.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Don’t move, Sally,” she said, crouching to run the light along my stomach and legs. She was quick, and thorough: not an inch of me was left unexamined. True to her word, she didn’t touch me. That didn’t stop me from feeling like there was something deeply inappropriate about having her looking at me that closely, especially with the protective suit between us. Whatever she was looking for, it wasn’t anything good.

Finally, she straightened, clicking off her wand. “You can put the scrubs on now,” she said, as she returned it to her pocket. “You’re clean.”

“Clean of what?” I asked, dropping my arms back to my sides before turning to reach for the scrubs.

“That’s a discussion for you to have with Dr. Banks, not with me. I’m just here to make sure you don’t present a danger to yourself or others.” Dr. Lo turned away from me and knocked twice on the door. After a moment, one of the security officers opened it. This one hadn’t been present in the cafeteria. I was starting to think that SymboGen had its own private police force, and that wasn’t a comforting thought. The line between “police force” and “army” is narrow under the best of circumstances, and we were no longer operating under the best of circumstances.

“Yes?” asked the officer.

“She’s clean,” replied Dr. Lo. “I need to go to decontamination.” Even clean, I was apparently enough of a risk to require cleaning a biohazard safety suit. I shrank back from the door, suddenly terrified of my own skin. What kind of contagion had we been exposed to? Was I going to go like Chave, normal one minute, empty-eyed and absent the next?

My motion must have caught Dr. Lo’s eye, somehow; I had no idea what the peripheral vision was like in a biohazard suit, but she turned back toward me, and asked, “Now you’re afraid? After the worst parts are over, now you’re afraid? I know we’ve given you a clean bill of health, Sally, but you may want to consider therapy.”

I glared at her. She left the room, and the officer stepped into the doorway, preventing me from following her out. At least he wasn’t wearing a mask. I felt less like a risk to the health of everyone around me when I looked at another face without a piece of plastic in the way.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Ms. Mitchell,” he said politely.

“I want to speak to Dr. Banks,” I said, and stepped into the slippers.

“He’s still undergoing examination, but I’m sure he’ll be happy to speak with you once he’s free,” said the officer.

Still undergoing… I stiffened. “Sherman.” What was his last name? Shit. “Sherman Lewis. He’s one of Dr. Banks’s assistants. He was brought down here with the rest of us. Is he all right? Have they finished examining him?”

“I can’t discuss the health of other patients, Ms. Mitchell,” said the officer.

“We’re not patients, we’re people who didn’t get to finish having lunch,” I shot back.

Laughter came from the hall behind him. Weary laughter, but laughter, and that was better than anyone was going to get out of me. “It’s all right, Floyd, you can stand down,” said Dr. Banks, moving into view behind the officer. “Once Sally gets an idea in her head, there’s not room for too much else in there.”

“Yes, sir,” said the officer, and stepped aside.

Dr. Banks was wearing the same blue scrubs I was. Somehow, he managed not to look ridiculous in them—a feat I was sure I wasn’t matching. He stepped into the officer’s place, looking at me with a small, paternal smile. “I’m sorry if our security drill frightened you, Sally. It wasn’t the intention.”

“Where’s Sherman? What happened to Chave?”

“That’s one of the things I like about you. You care about people. That’s a rare quality, and it’s one I think we should be focusing on more.”

“And you’re deflecting,” I said. “Where is Sherman Lewis? What happened to Chave?”