That line of thought would lead me nowhere good, and it wasn’t like I’d have to wait long to learn the answer: we were about to go into a clean area. Once we were there, I’d show him how the UV light tests worked, and I could use that as an excuse to check him for signs of infection. After that was done… well, we’d see what happened after that. If nothing else, if I knew he was infected before he did, I could run like hell.
I bit my lip. “I’ll be right back,” I said.
“Good,” he replied. “You wouldn’t want to go wandering off in here. There are some very dangerous things in this facility.”
I nodded quickly before I turned to head through the door he had indicated before. Dangerous things. Yes. They were all around me.
The problem was, I was starting to wonder if he might be one of them.
The women’s changing room was lined entirely with pea-green lockers. Some of them had combination locks on them, keeping their contents secret. The three nearest the door were marked VISITOR. I opened one of those, pulling out the pale blue medical scrubs inside. There were even slippers, and a plastic cap for my hair. Reduce the risk as much as possible. Not to zero—never to zero; the only thing that’s at absolutely zero risk is something dead, or that was never at risk at all—but to as close as science can manage.
I stripped to my bra and underpants before stopping to wonder whether they might have cameras in the room. Modesty was one of the more difficult lessons they’d tried to drill into me, and I was still trying to get the more subtle details down. Were cameras supposed to be one of the things I couldn’t let see me naked, or could I relax around them?
Sherman would know.
That thought sent the cold dread roiling in my stomach once again. I’d almost forgotten about Sherman, and how very personal this infection could be. If Dad was sick…
He wasn’t showing any of the signs of the sleepwalking sickness. He was still calm, and coherent, and aware of his surroundings. He’d driven me to USAMRIID. The sleepwalkers weren’t capable of operating a car. That level of fine motor control was long gone by the time they started rambling. So why couldn’t I shake the feeling that I was missing something?
I dressed quickly, tying my hair into a ponytail before tucking it into the plastic cap. I stuffed my clothes into the locker. I didn’t have a lock. That wasn’t a problem, since the only things that really mattered—my notebook and Nathan’s copy of Don’t Go Out Alone—were still in my bag and safely hidden under the passenger seat in Dad’s car. If someone wanted to wander away with my clothes, I’d be annoyed, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
The pass was a flexible piece of memory plastic with my name and basic description printed on it, along with my picture. It softened when I pressed it against the breast of my scrubs, bonding with the fabric. I didn’t know how they were going to get it off again, and I didn’t care.
Dad was waiting when I emerged from the changing room, and he had changed his own clothes for blue scrubs identical to mine. The feeling that something was wrong just got stronger when I saw the look on his face, a grim mix of determination and unhappiness. I forced a smile before handing back the key card.
“All ready,” I said.
“There’s been another mob of sleepwalkers,” he replied. “This one formed in downtown Walnut Creek. They attacked the outdoor shopping center. Casualties are still being tabulated. It’s spreading—and it’s not staying off the news this time. We’re already getting reports of runs on water and canned goods at the local grocery stores.”
I glanced at the guard at the reception desk, who gave no sign of having heard, before turning back to my father. “I… Dad, why are you telling me this?”
“Because if there is anything, anything, you know about this disease, and you don’t share that information today, I don’t know how I’ll be able to justify letting you leave without arresting you for treason.” He shook his head. Something behind his eyes was hard and unfamiliar. The dread in my stomach wound itself even tighter. “I’ve tried to be patient. I’ve tried to wait for you to come around. I’ve tried, God knows, to understand how difficult this is for you—how hard it’s been for someone with your limited exposure to the world to understand the severity of our current situation. I’ve defended my actions to my superiors several times already. I don’t know how much longer I can do that.”
I stared at him. It was the only thing I could do. What he was saying… “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“If that’s true, then we’re both in a great deal of trouble. Come along.” He turned his back on me again, this time as he walked to the next sealed door and swiped his key card across the lock. The door swung open. He stepped through, and I followed him.
The main room of the USAMRIID L4 lab looked so much like Dr. Cale’s makeshift bowling alley laboratory that I actually caught myself glancing around, hoping to spot a blonde woman in a wheelchair. I might not entirely trust her, but at least if she were here, I wouldn’t be so torn about how much I could or couldn’t tell my father.
Instead of Dr. Cale, I saw military doctors and scientists in scrubs very much like mine, albeit accessorized with lab coats and identification, working at their individual stations and ignoring the two of us completely. The walls were lined with supply shelves and light boxes, continuing the similarity to the bowling alley, but the space not taken up by equipment was filled with cautionary signs. Most of them were too far away for me to even attempt reading, assuming I could convince my eyes to focus. That didn’t matter, since they had handy symbols to make sure I couldn’t miss the meanings. Do not touch, do not ingest, do not remove from the lab. There were so many rules that it was dizzying.