I might not understand politics, but I understood that expression. “I could find myself needing to choose between SymboGen and my family. But I pretty much have a clean bill of health at this point, don’t I? It’s been over a year since my last incident…”
“And what happens if you have another one? SymboGen is the only reason you’ve survived the last two.”
“Maybe they’re over.” Maybe. Or maybe they’d started before my accident. I’d seen the traffic camera footage of the crash: one second, normal girl driving; the next, spasms and a total loss of control. It was terrifying, especially because I couldn’t remember it at all. “They’ve been tapering off.”
“Have they? You could have been having attacks for months before your accident. You weren’t always open with us… before. You could have been very sick and still decided not to say anything, because you didn’t want us to know.”
I took a deep breath, but I didn’t object. Everything I knew about Sally Mitchell told me that he was right. There was no point in arguing with the truth.
“Apart from that… we still haven’t found a medical cause for your attacks.” He glanced away. I frowned. He kept talking: “So there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again, and given the amount of damage the first one did—damage we’re still finding out about, and that you’re still recovering from—we have no way of knowing what the next one would do to you.”
“So it’s my fault you can’t move against SymboGen,” I said. The bitterness in my voice surprised even me.
Dad blinked. Then he shook his head, and said, “No. You’re a part of the greater whole, but it’s not entirely on you.”
“I know, but…”
“This morning you asked me whether I knew anything that I wasn’t sharing with you. There isn’t much. But one of the things I do know is that the behavior of the afflicted is starting to change. They’re starting to become aggressive. Your friend… this is the first I’ve heard of someone actually dying because they’d been attacked by someone who was sick. It may be because she didn’t try to step away. We very rarely react defensively to the people we love.”
The first person I’d seen with the sleeping sickness had been a little girl, pursued by her mother. “Are we just hoping that no one else who gets sick has anybody around who cares about them?”
My father grimaced. “No. But Sal, we don’t know enough to know what’s happening. Most of the people who get sick don’t turn violent. We don’t want people to start turning on their family members because they’re frightened—and this is already a terrifying illness. People you know and love seem to disappear before your eyes. It would be irresponsible of us to make that even more frightening.”
“So you’re just going to say nothing, and let people like Devi keep getting hurt?”
“We’re not suppressing any information. I’m sure the news will pick this up and start telling the world very soon, if they haven’t done so already. But we’re not going to make any official statements until we know more than we know right now.” He stood. “It’s a horrible solution. There are no good solutions left.”
My father paused in the process of leaving the room. He looked back over his shoulder at me and said, quietly, “You know, Sal, I’m very glad I’ve had the chance to know you. You’re a good person, and you still surprise me.”
I blinked at him, not sure what I could say to that. He took advantage of my brief silence and made his escape. I stared after him. Finally, I turned to Beverly, and asked, “Any thoughts?”
She wagged her tail.
Eventually, I got up and closed my bedroom door, and sometime after that, I managed to fall asleep. Sleep didn’t come easily, and once I found it, my dreams were full of darkness. Darkness, and the drums.
I knew I was alone in the house as soon as I opened my eyes. There was a quality to the silence that spoke of emptiness, not stillness. Even Beverly was gone, although that might just mean that she was out in the backyard rather than warming my feet. I rolled over and squinted at the clock. It was almost ten. No wonder I was by myself. Everyone with a more respectable job had long since taken off.
The stillness endured while I rolled out of bed and found my robe. I went padding out into the hall and toward the kitchen. Maybe there would be some leftovers from the previous day’s SymboGen-sponsored breakfast. It hadn’t poisoned any of us the day before. It wasn’t going to poison me now.
The sliding glass door to the backyard was open, and there was a note on the fridge, where I would be sure to see it. It was held in place with a magnet shaped like a slice of watermelon, and was written in my mother’s characteristically careful print:
Your father told me what happened. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I hope you managed to get enough sleep, and that you’re feeling better today. Please just leave a note if you need to go and be with Nathan today. We’ll understand.
Beverly is in the backyard, and I made sure that we left you some of yesterday’s goodies for your breakfast. You have to remember to eat. Your implant needs food as much as you do.
Feel better, and call if there’s anything that you need.
I smiled as I finished puzzling through the note. Then I took it off the fridge, folded it, and placed it in my pocket. It was good to know that I had family on my side, no matter what else might be going on in the world.