Symbiont Page 48

Worst of all, I didn’t even know who had me anymore. It wasn’t Dr. Cale—this was way outside of her budget and available resources, unless things had changed a lot more dramatically than I suspected. Dr. Huff had identified herself as USAMRIID, and Sherman had been wearing a lab coat with a USAMRIID logo on it, but that didn’t mean they were actually the people controlling this facility. Things could change really quickly when you had traitors in your midst, and I couldn’t make myself think of Sherman as anything other than a traitor. Not at this point. Not after the things that he had done.

I was still pacing when I saw movement down the hall to my left. Actual, outside-the-bubble movement, not the milling aimlessness of my fellow prisoners. I ran to what I couldn’t help thinking of as the front of my bubble, pressing my face against the plastic and straining to get a better look.

A tall, weary-looking man in military uniform was walking toward my private prison, surrounded by a flock of people in lab coats. They surged around him like the sea, moving forward to present touchscreens or clipboards, and then falling back as another wave of scientists took their place. I stepped back from the plastic wall, letting my hands fall to my sides. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know how else to react.

The man in the uniform—the man I’d never been expecting to see again—was Colonel Alfred Mitchell. My—I mean, Sally Mitchell’s father. He was where she got her pale skin and middling brown hair. I looked at him and saw the jaw that greeted me every time I looked in a mirror. He was tall, broad in the shoulders and thick in the waist, and he walked like he knew that any obstacle he encountered would be clever enough to get out of his way. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been standing in front of USAMRIID’s San Francisco facility, watching me get into Nathan’s car and drive away. That was when we’d said what I’d thought would be our last goodbyes. What I’d hoped would be our last goodbyes, because I didn’t know how to talk to him anymore.

When I thought I was Sally reborn, memories lost to pay for my recovery, he’d been my father. When I started becoming Sal in thought and action—a new person, not the daughter that he’d lost—he’d still been my father, just a little distant, a little strained, like he didn’t know how to deal with me anymore. And then I’d started learning what I really was, who I really was, and it hadn’t been a surprise to him, because he’d known all along. He’d never been under any misconceptions about my nature. I’d been an in-home science project for him, something to study while he waited to figure out how to get rid of me and my entire species.

Alfred Mitchell had let me think that he loved me, and I didn’t know whether I was ever going to be capable of forgiving him for that. Seeing him again made me realize that I also didn’t know whether I was ever going to be able to stop myself from loving him. He was my daddy. Whatever else he was… he was always, always going to be my daddy.

He stopped outside my bubble, and his swirling array of scientists stopped with him, all of them turning in my direction. One of them read from her touchscreen, “Mitchell, Sally Rae. No traces of the protein that would indicate the presence of Diphyllobothrium symbogenesis were found in her bloodstream, and she came up negative on antigen tests. She’s clean.”

“She was recovered from the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek,” said another scientist, apparently eager to feel like he was contributing to the conversation. “A large mob of infected individuals was in pursuit when she was sedated and taken for further study.”

“General health is good, but it’s unclear what she was doing at the hospital, and her arms showed bruises and recent puncture wounds, in addition to a stitched-up human bite wound,” said the first scientist, slanting a glare at her competition.

I wanted to scream at both of them. I didn’t make a sound. Instead, I folded my arms and just watched them through the thin plastic wall, waiting for Colonel Mitchell to say or do something. At least I’d learned two things for sure: I was being held by USAMRIID, and sound could pass through these bubbles. I still didn’t know what they were made of, but every bit of information was going to be helpful if I was going to figure out a way out of here.

The scientists stopped speaking, leaving me and Colonel Mitchell to stare silently at each other. Even if my file didn’t say Sally was his daughter, there was no way anyone could look at him and then at me without seeing the traces of his paternity. Joyce—his other daughter, Sally’s sister—looked like her mother, and Sally looked like her father.

Finally, Colonel Mitchell said, “Hello, Sally.”

“Hi.” I didn’t call him “Dad,” because he wasn’t my dad, no matter how much part of me still wanted him to be, and I didn’t call him “Colonel,” because I didn’t want the scientists to figure out what I was, if they didn’t know already. They probably did. They might have picked me up thinking I was just another refugee, but he knew, and they worked for him. So they probably knew by now. Still, anything that could keep me off the dissection table for a little bit longer seemed like a good idea.

“You’re looking well.” He sounded uncomfortable. That was good. I didn’t want him to be happy and relaxed, not when I was being held captive in a giant plastic bubble and he was free to walk away at any time.

“I’ve had better days.”

He nodded, like that was an understandable answer. “Where have you been for the last week?”

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