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“Dad.” I straightened, wiping my eyes. “This isn’t what it looks like.”

“That’s a good thing, since it looks like you told me you were going to be spending the night at your boyfriend’s house, and now you’re sitting on your bed crying on the dog. That’s the sort of thing that makes a father wonder whether he needs to give some lessons on manners to a certain young man.”

I shook my head quickly. “No. Nathan didn’t do anything wrong. I came home because he had to go to the hospital, and he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to make it back. It seemed like a better idea for me to be here.”

“Is everything all right?”

The backlighting made it impossible for me to see the expression on my father’s face, but he sounded sincerely worried. I sighed, wiping my eyes again, and said, “No. Not really.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Maybe.” I sniffled.

My father took that as an invitation. He walked into my room and pulled out the desk chair, sitting on the edge. This close, and without the light shining from directly behind him, I could actually see the concern in his eyes. “What happened?”

“We were asleep when Nathan’s phone rang and woke us both up. His… his research assistant’s wife caught the sleeping sickness. Her name’s Devi. The research assistant, I mean, not the wife. Devi brought her to the hospital for treatment, and the EMTs let them stay together because what would be the harm, you know? The sleeping sickness is pretty passive. Only it wasn’t passive when Chave caught it. She was attacking people.”

“And Devi’s wife did the same thing,” said my father. It wasn’t a question.

I nodded. “She did.” I was crying again. I wiped my cheek and said, “She went for Devi. They didn’t expect it, and Devi didn’t move back in time, and she… and she…” I stopped talking and just cried. It was all I could do. To his credit, my father leaned forward and put his arms around me, holding me until the tears tapered off. When I pulled away, he let me go.

I don’t think I’d ever loved him more than I did in that moment.

“Did Devi die?” he asked, very quietly.

I nodded, biting my lip to keep myself from starting to cry again. That was the last thing I wanted to do.

My father sighed. “You know there are things about my work that I’m not allowed to talk about. It’s always been that way, since before Joyce was born.”

“I know,” I whispered.

“No, you don’t. Because I forget sometimes you don’t have—you don’t remember all those years of being told you couldn’t ask me about my job. You lost those memories in the accident, and we’ve all come to terms with the fact that they’re not coming back, but sometimes I still catch myself treating you like you ought to know when you can’t ask me things. That’s why I was so short with you this morning, and I’m sorry.”

“You’re still not telling me anything.”

“I know.” He shook his head. “It’s difficult, Sal. Heck, even things like this are difficult for me. The Sally Mitchell who grew up in this room would never have let me past the doorway. If she’d been careless enough to get caught crying, she would have locked me right out in the hall when she realized it.”

I frowned. Sometimes hearing about the woman I was before the accident made me want to punch myself in the nose. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. My oldest daughter was a wild girl from day one, and we never did learn how to see eye to eye on much of anything other than how many times I could ground her.” My father shook his head. “As for what you asked yesterday, it’s… complicated. Yes, we know some things that aren’t being discussed with the public, but we’ve been able to share most of that information with the medical community. We have reason to believe that some other people know a great deal more and are sharing a great deal less, which, as you can imagine, is making us all just a little bit unhappy.”

“You’re talking about SymboGen, aren’t you?”

He smiled a little. “You’re a smart girl. A little naïve sometimes, but that’s to be expected with the amount of experience you’ve got to go by. Yes, I’m talking about SymboGen. They aren’t the first corporation to turn public health into a stockholder concern, but they’re definitely the one that’s causing me the most grief right now. And not just because they saved your life, which makes it politically difficult to cut ties with them.”

“But you’re the government. Can’t you make them tell you what you want to know? If people are getting sick, doesn’t that mean SymboGen is doing something wrong?”

To my surprise, he shook his head. “There’s something called ‘burden of proof’ that even the government has to respect. Thus far, we haven’t been able to prove that SymboGen knows anything, or that the current epidemic is in any way related to them or to their business. SymboGen is a very powerful corporation, and if we overstep too soon, we might find ourselves unable to get any answers out of them at all.”

I looked at him blankly. “But you’re the government,” I repeated.

“We’re the government, and you know what the most powerful weapon against the government is? Money. SymboGen has lots and lots of money, and they know how to spend it. Their lobbyists are extremely influential, and if we move against them before we are absolutely sure we have a case, we could find ourselves in a lot of trouble. I could lose my job. We still wouldn’t have any answers. And you…” He stopped, looking uncomfortable.