Symbiont Page 43

“It’s not a table, it’s a cot, but apart from that, I am very pleased by the recovery it took for you to recognize that you were strapped down,” said Dr. Huff, sounding pleased. “You’re strapped down for your own safety. We had to move you while you were unconscious, and we didn’t want you waking up with any injuries, now, did we? It took a lot of work for us to find you. We don’t want you getting hurt.”

I stared at her. Finally, when I was sure that I wouldn’t yell, I tried again. “Why am I strapped to this cot? I’m awake now. You know I’m awake now. Shouldn’t you be letting me up? I want to get up.”

Dr. Huff’s artificial smile dropped away. “Sally, I’m sorry, but you don’t seem to fully understand the situation. Now maybe that’s my fault—maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough when you first woke up—but we didn’t expect you to regain consciousness quite this quickly. Everyone reacts differently to the sedatives we’re using. You should have been out for at least another thirty minutes. So I’m very sorry that I was not prepared for you to start questioning me.”

“You’re not ready to start answering me either, I guess, because you’re not,” I said, giving another experimental tug against the straps. “Can you let me up? You just said that I wasn’t sick. I want to get up.” It was a funny twist of the infection: a sleepwalker would show parasitic “tendrils” throughout their bodies, lines drawn and held by the toxoplasmosis DNA that had been used to help the implants integrate with the human body. A chimera—like Adam, like me—wouldn’t show any of those traces. Our implants had relocated completely to our brains, abandoning the parts of themselves that would normally have been used to latch on to the body. A recent chimera might have shown up on an infection sweep, but not one that had been given the time to finish integration.

They could test and test, and they’d find the violent ones, the ones who were incapable of concealing themselves, and the ones who were too deep in comas to pose a threat. But they’d never find the ones like me without doing MRIs and lumbar punctures. They’d never find the ones who’d learned how to make themselves look human.

“No, I can’t,” said Dr. Huff. “You’re being relocated to a secure facility, and I’m afraid that patients can’t be allowed to move freely around the transport.”

I blinked at her. I hadn’t realized we were moving, and no matter how much I tried to focus, I couldn’t detect any motion.

She must have seen my confusion, because she said, “We’re waiting for the trucks to arrive. It will be easier to keep the afflicted and the unafflicted separate if everyone remains in their assigned place.”

“What?” I didn’t know which part of that upset me the most. I strained against the straps that held me down again. “No, no, you can’t put me with people who’ve started going sleepwalker. I don’t even want to be in a carrier with them. You don’t understand how easy it is for them to escape. You don’t understand—”

“We have taken every precaution,” she said crisply. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other patients to attend to.” She straightened up, her expression going blank and cold, and stalked out of my field of vision.

Sleepwalkers had cold, dead eyes, but they weren’t thinking creatures: they hurt you because they didn’t know how to do anything else, not because they harbored any malice or desire to harm the people around them. Dr. Huff… her eyes were the eyes of a sapient being, and when she hurt me—and I had every confidence that it was a “when,” not an “if,” given the circumstances that I had found myself in—it would be the full understanding of what she was doing. Dr. Banks had eyes like that. Dr. Banks never hurt me when he wasn’t trying to.

I relaxed as much as I could, trying to find signs of slack in the straps. There didn’t seem to be any: they were drawn as tight as they could possibly have been without hurting me, and even breathing all the way out and holding my breath did nothing to let me move. I could squirm down a few inches, and that was all. I was trapped.

The drums were starting to pound in my ears, a sure sign that I was panicking. I couldn’t tell whether they were louder than they should have been, and that just made them pound faster. Was it safe for me to experience this much excitement right after surgery? Was I going to have an aneurism on this cot and die never knowing what had happened to my friends?

No. No, I was not. I forced myself to breathe slowly, trying to bring my heart rate back down to something less alarming. Nathan and the others had reached the car: I knew that from the sounds of tires I’d heard behind me in the parking lot. They wouldn’t have been vulnerable the same way that I had been. They got away. They had to have gotten away. They would go back to Dr. Cale and tell her that USAMRIID had me, and she…

She would say she was very sorry, and that it sucked to lose such a valuable research subject. And then she would tell them to start packing, because if USAMRIID was in the area, she could no longer stay there. None of us was more important than the entire human race. Not one. It didn’t matter how much Nathan disagreed. Dr. Cale would make him go along with her. She was the one with the paid security, after all. All Nathan had was a pair of dogs. He didn’t even have the Prius anymore.

I closed my eyes. It was better than staring at the distant ceiling, waiting for the moment when someone would come and load me onto a transport. Maybe they’d put me in a room with a bunch of people who didn’t know what was going on, and I’d be able to escape. Or maybe they’d put me in with the sleepwalkers, and I’d wind up ripped to pieces before I had a chance to defend myself.

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