Wait. Chave and Beverly’s owner had been infected with the same thing. I’d seen both of them succumb, and they had followed the same pattern. “Oh my God, is this my fault?” I whispered. My lips seemed numb, like they were barely attached to my body. “Did I get Chave sick? Did I get her killed?”
“Sal, what are you talking about?”
“Did they tell you anything about what happened inside the quarantine?”
“No, just that it was some kind of lab error, and you’d been exposed.” Nathan was looking at me with blatant worry, not bothering to conceal it. “What do you mean, is this your fault?”
Suddenly, I didn’t want to be explaining this where we were; not on SymboGen property, where someone could realize that they hadn’t forbidden me to tell my boyfriend the truth about what happened. I could ignore my phone if it started ringing—or I would have been able to, if they hadn’t taken it away from me. I couldn’t ignore somebody pounding on the window nearly so easily. “Drive. Please. I’ll explain while you drive.”
“All right, honey. Just take some deep breaths, and tell me what’s going on, okay?”
“Okay,” I said… but I didn’t say anything else until the SymboGen building was one more piece of the skyline receding behind us, and there was no chance that we’d be overheard. “Okay,” I repeated.
“I’m sorry, I just…” I took a breath. “It started out as a pretty normal visit to SymboGen. Lots of tests, Dr. Banks trying to convince me he had my best interests at heart, lots of people running lots of tests on me…” I closed my eyes as I continued talking, recounting the events of the day. I didn’t strictly need to tell Nathan everything—he would probably have been happy with just what happened in the cafeteria and afterward—but I wanted to ease into it, and I wanted to remember Chave and Sherman the way I’d always known them. Chave was never my friend. That didn’t mean she deserved to die the way she did.
Besides, telling him everything meant pointing out Chave’s absolute lack of any symptoms, right up until the moment where she had every symptom and lost herself in whatever strange infection had claimed her mind. There should have been something, some sign to indicate that everything was not okay. There hadn’t been anything at all.
Nathan asked occasional questions, but for the most part, he let me talk. When I came to the part about the cafeteria, he made me repeat the walk from the elevator three times. I didn’t mind. We were both looking for something that could explain what had happened, and neither of us was finding it. Then I reached the worst part of the story, and he stopped asking questions. I spoke, and he drove, and SymboGen fell farther and farther into the distance.
Finally, he said, “Sherman was showing no signs of getting sick when you saw him?”
“No, none. He looked kind of upset, but—we all did.” I opened my eyes, turning to face Nathan. “He was worried about me.”
“He was your friend. Of course he was worried about you.” Nathan tightened his hands on the steering wheel. “I would have been worried about you too, if they hadn’t left me waiting in one of the ninth-floor lobbies for an interview that never came.”
I frowned. SymboGen was the global leader in parasitology, both in research of existing species and in the lucrative development of new strains. Other companies had tried to repeat the success of the Intestinal Bodyguard, but none of them had been able to get their claws into the market. Nathan’s career was never going to move beyond a certain point if he couldn’t get a job at SymboGen—and after my recounting of the day, we both knew why he’d been called in for the interview. It had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with keeping me where Dr. Banks could see me.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Nathan flashed me a very quick smile. He took one hand off the wheel, reaching over to briefly squeeze my knee. “It’s not your fault. I wouldn’t want to work there anyway, if it meant that Dr. Banks had managed to get you under his thumb full-time. I’m pretty sure punching your boss in the throat is an excellent way to get yourself fired.”
“You say the sweetest things.”
“I mean them.”
“That helps.” I sighed, sinking back into my seat. “I can’t stop thinking about Sherman. What if he’s scared? What if they haven’t told him what’s going on?” What if he was dead? But my mind shied away from that thought, refusing to fully process it. Sherman wasn’t my best friend. He wasn’t even someone I saw outside of SymboGen. But he was kind to me, and I didn’t want him to be hurt.
“Sal… it sounds like Chave had the sleeping sickness. If SymboGen has a test for it, they haven’t shared it with the local hospitals yet. I think that if they know Sherman is infected, it’s because he already started showing symptoms.” What Nathan didn’t say was that no one who developed symptoms had yet recovered, or awakened from their disconnected state. Cases were still rare, but there had been enough of them that we were starting to understand a little bit about how the sickness worked. The victims got sick. They didn’t get better.
But still. “I don’t know if SymboGen has a test or not. They didn’t draw blood or anything. Dr. Lo ran a light wand all over me, watching for some sort of reaction from my skin, but—Nathan!” He had suddenly twisted the wheel, sending us skidding into the next lane. Horns blared as he got the car back under control, and kept blaring as I screamed, trying to go fetal despite the seat belt restraining me. I curled tighter, continuing to scream.