Please understand, Nathan, I thought, and wished that there was some way I could explain to him what I was doing, and why I was doing it. It was the only option I had left, but that didn’t make it any easier, and that didn’t make it right. It didn’t make it not hurt.
I dropped Beverly’s leash, pasting what I hoped would look like a sincere smile across my face in the same moment. Taking a half step forward—which was harder than I expected, thanks to all the damn guns aimed at me—I swallowed hard, and asked, “Daddy?”
Everything seemed to stand still. Then, smugly, Dr. Banks said, “I told you I could do it. It was simple, really.”
“Sally?” Colonel Mitchell sounded like he was afraid of his own question, like he was afraid of asking it where anyone else could hear. “Is that really you?”
“My head hurts,” I said, which wasn’t an answer. That made it the perfect reply. I took another step forward, and still the men with guns didn’t fire on me. “Where’s Mom?”
The Colonel’s shoulders sagged—in relief or sorrow, I didn’t know, and my genuine fear that something had happened to Sally’s mother informed my performance, making it easy to take another two steps with stumbling quickness, one hand half reaching for him. The guns didn’t track me.
“Are you here for me?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, eyes flicking first to my outstretched hand, and then to the people still standing behind me in the elevator. I heard Beverly whine. Taking Colonel Mitchell’s gaze as an excuse, I twisted to look back over my shoulder.
Nathan was holding Beverly’s leash. He looked resigned, like he hated this as much as I did, but understood its necessity. That made my heart hurt, in ways I couldn’t entirely name. I was hurting him, and he was letting me go, because we would never be able to fight our way out of here together. Somewhere along the line, I had managed to teach him—unintentionally—that it was all right to let me go. That was a lesson I had never wanted him to learn.
If Nathan was resigned, Fishy and Beverly were confused. My dog was straining against her leash, struggling to get to me, while Fishy was shaking his head slowly from side to side, a scowl on his face. He was smart enough not to argue when there were that many guns pointed at him, but that wasn’t making him any happier with the situation. And as for Dr. Banks…
Dr. Banks looked proud of himself. That was the worst part of all.
I turned back to Colonel Mitchell. “You need to let them go,” I said.
His eyes snapped to me. “What?”
“These people brought me here because they wanted to get that girl back; she’s theirs, and Dr. Banks took her without permission. He came so that we could get me here safe. They don’t have any part in this. Let them go.” I took a deep breath. “And they have a bomb. They’ll kill us all if you don’t let them leave.”
“It’s true,” said Fishy. “Boom, baby, boom.”
Colonel Mitchell frowned slowly, and with every part of his face, eyes hardening and brows drawing downward until he was nothing but suspicion. I felt suddenly unsure, and wanted to run back to the elevator, where I would be safe, where I wouldn’t have to pretend to be someone I’d never met. Would Sally have requested the freedom of a bunch of people she didn’t care about? Joyce hadn’t liked her very much. She hadn’t been a very nice person.
I forced myself to keep looking at Colonel Mitchell. If I looked away, we were lost. “You have to let them go,” I said, slowly and clearly. “I’m very fragile right now. Any shock could cause me to go away again. Getting blown up would be a big shock.”
He narrowed his eyes. I held my breath. If he called my bluff…
But this was a man who had been willing to get into bed with the enemy on the barest chance of getting his daughter back. He wasn’t going to let me slip away again. Colonel Mitchell looked away first, then said, “Your friends are free to go. Steven, you’re with me.”
Dr. Banks didn’t try to argue. He was as trapped as the rest of us, even if he was the one who had originally built the cage. He crossed the floor to stand beside me, and we fell into step with Colonel Mitchell as he turned and led us away. I didn’t look back.
It’s all right, Nathan, I thought. I’ll find my way home. I always do.
The broken doors were open. We had so far left to go.
INTERLUDE IV: ANAPHASE
I am so sorry.
This is how it begins.
–SHERMAN LEWIS (SUBJECT VIII, ITERATION III)
November 2027: Ronnie
It had been surprisingly easy for Ronnie to reach the reservoir. It was still under guard, of course; the soldiers supplied by USAMRIID and sent in with the doctors from FEMA were patrolling the borders of the area, rifles in hand and nervous sweat on their throats and temples. But Ronnie was quick, and lithe, and had nothing to fear from the sleepwalkers; they had long since learned what her (his) pheromone trail meant, and they stayed away, like worker ants avoiding the territory of a greater colony.
The water had been capped, of course, to keep seagulls from shitting in it and—more important now—to keep people from drowning and polluting the water supply of an entire region. This was the reservoir that fed the largest of the quarantine settlements. Some people drank bottled water, of course, but they were all higher-ups, people who could afford the luxury of worrying about contamination. For the average man on the street, crammed six to a bedroom in their shantytown containment, what came out of the faucet was the only option.