It was a pity that I was pretty sure we hadn’t saved her mind.
I’ve never been good at concealing my thoughts. They played out on my face in real time, and Colonel Mitchell had had a lot of practice at reading me. “I doubt she’ll ever wake up,” he said. “The worm that chewed its way into her skull did a lot of damage in the process. The drugs did even more. She’s still on life support while we look for a miracle. Do you have a miracle for me, Sal?” He stressed the single syllable of my name, reminding me of who I was, who we were to each other. I stared at him, mouth falling briefly open in comprehension.
He was hiding me.
He’d known what I was all along, so he had to have known who Nathan’s mother was—he would have investigated Nathan as soon as we started dating. He probably knew we’d been with Dr. Cale, and how much information I had access to. He was hiding me from the rest of USAMRIID because he really hoped I had a miracle, that I could produce some magic equation from Dr. Cale’s lab that would mysteriously allow him to bring Joyce’s mind and body together again. He was a father who had already lost one of his two daughters forever, only to see a stranger put that little girl’s body on and walk it around like a suit. He would do anything to save the daughter he had left.
He was grasping at straws.
“I’m in a bubble, Daddy,” I said. Several of the scientists paused, eyes widening. Apparently, the nature of our biological relationship hadn’t been known to his entire team. Well, if he wanted that cat to stay in the bag, he should have said something sooner. “I don’t think I can produce many miracles from in here.”
“Think harder,” he said. He didn’t say goodbye: he just turned and resumed his walk down the row of bubbles. The scientists chased after him, so many fluttering, white-winged birds trying to keep up with the leader of their flock. I stayed exactly where I was, only turning my head to watch him walking away. The occupants of the other bubbles pressed themselves against the plastic as he passed, waving their arms and shouting to get his attention. The bubbles had to be proximity-permeable somehow, because I didn’t hear any of them.
When Colonel Mitchell and his entourage had passed out of sight I walked back to the bed, crawled onto it, and stretched out on top of the covers. It was time to wait and see what happened next. I had every confidence that it was going to be something interesting.
Solve the puzzle, take your time,
Spurn the reason, shift the rhyme,
Let the shadows guide you through the darkness to the dawn.
Children’s games can break your heart,
We all have to play our part.
Know this world will miss you when it wakes to find you gone.
The broken doors will open for we sinners who atone.
My darling boy, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
–FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.
The subject did not respond well to anesthesia. Normal doses were insufficient to induce lasting unconsciousness, and only when the feed was increased to dangerous levels did subject become fully unconscious. Subject’s vital signs were depressed and subject’s breathing was compromised. It was decided unanimously by the surgical team that further progress would need to be postponed until a viable mechanism of guaranteeing subject’s sedation was found.
Dr. H___ has suggested that pain control and unconsciousness are not ethically required, provided paralysis can be maintained. As subject is not legally “human,” there is no moral or ethical reason to postpone surgery until a viable anesthetic cocktail can be found. This suggestion is being taken under consideration.
We will resume tomorrow.
–FROM THE PRIVATE NOTES OF DR. STEVEN BANKS, SEPTEMBER 21, 2027
I must have fallen asleep at some point. When I opened my eyes, I found myself staring up at a twilit ceiling, all the lights having been turned down sometime in the interim. I sat up, rubbing the back of my neck with one hand as I tried to figure out exactly what had woken me. It couldn’t have been the change in the light; a gradual dimming would have made me sleep more deeply, not wake up. That only left a few possible stimuli.
Something moved in the dim hall in front of my bubble. There was a thick, meaty noise, followed by the sound of something hitting the floor. I sat up straighter, brushing my hair away from my eyes. There was another movement, but I couldn’t quite see what it was; it was like the plastic had gone cloudy, turning everything on the other side into a series of undifferentiated blurs. Then the wall began to melt.
It didn’t happen all at once. Holes appeared in the plastic, seeming almost organic in their progression. It was like watching invisible caterpillars chew their way through a translucent leaf. Once the holes had spread far enough, they joined together, and sheets of gooey bubble wall fell to the floor of my enclosure with wet splattering sounds. I watched them fall, fascinated. They continued to dissolve after they hit the ground.
As the bubble fell away, the body of the guard became visible—slit throat and all. I swallowed hard, watching the sheets of bubble foam and fade. Only when the last of the pieces was gone did I raise my eyes to my murderous savior.
Sherman’s smile was more than halfway to being a smirk. He clipped the spray can of solvent he’d used to melt my bubble to his belt, leaving his hand resting on the spray trigger. “Hello, pet,” he said. His accent was back in full force, which was actually reassuring. He wasn’t pretending with me. I liked that. He was wearing a smoke gray bodysuit that was distinctly not USAMRIID issue, and he had somehow committed murder without getting a drop of blood on him. “Thought you might like an extraction.”