At 8:02 that night, Michelle sat in the lobby of MedicinaTech, looking around the crowds of people in those protective suits walking by and looking indistinguishable from each other except by suit colour. Growing impatient as she hoped to see Peter among them, she wondered if she’d see him without a suit on.
Finally, after about ten minutes of waiting, she saw him walking along, chatting with Wayne Grey. Both were in those suits.
It took a while for her to be sure it was Peter approaching, for his suit obscured his face. But when she saw through his head covering (made more difficult because she, of course, also had a head covering to look through), she breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was finally complying with the safety precautions.
She stood and waved at him. “Peter, over here!” she said.
He and Wayne walked up to her.
“Wayne, this is Michelle, my girlfriend,” he said. “Michelle, this is Wayne Grey, MedicinaTech’s new boss.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she said with a smile while her gloved hand shook his.
“Nice to meet you, too,” he said with what looked to her like a forced, unnatural smile.
She and Peter exchanged glances of suspicion.
“I just want to say again, Wayne, that it does my heart good to hear you say you want to make some more democratic changes in the government of the city,” Peter said with a fake smile of his own, for he doubted the sincerity of such promises.
Michelle remembered similar promises from her mom, and similar smiles. It was hard to know if any of these promises were genuine.
“Well, don’t get your hopes up too high,” Wayne said. “I won’t be able to make a lot of changes right away, what with the stubbornness of all the members of the Board of Directors and their sympathy with your mom’s and dad’s way of doing things; but I do have a plan or two up my sleeve, ideas of how…to persuade them to see things my way.”
“I see,” Peter said, again exchanging doubtful glances with Michelle. Already I hear ready-made excuses for not keeping his promises, he thought. We’ll see.
“How about we go into that room over there,” Wayne said, pointing to Peter’s right. “Since you’re so concerned about finding a cure for The Splits, there’s a computer in there, and with it I can show you in detail all the progress MedicinaTech is making.”
“OK,” Peter said, and he and Michelle followed Wayne into the room, which was a small meeting room with a computer at the far end of a long table surrounded by chairs.
The three of them sat by the computer: Wayne using it, and Peter and Michelle on either side of him.
“I can’t type the keys with these thick gloves on my fingers,” Wayne said. “So I’ll need to take them off. I hope you don’t mind.” He looked at Peter intently, then the same way at Michelle.
Peter and Michelle looked at each other nervously for several seconds of silence.
“I was tested by Dr. Teague this morning,” Wayne tried to reassure them. “I tested negative.”
There was another pause, of five seconds of silence.
Good old, trustworthy Dr. Teague, Peter thought, as did Michelle.
“Have you both been tested?” Wayne asked. “If you keep your suits on, I’ll be safe.”
“Yes, we’ve been tested,” Peter said. “Just today, in fact.”
“I was tested a short while ago, too,” Michelle said. “I’ve been wearing this suit pretty much the whole time since.”
Now Wayne looked at the two of them, his eyes going back and forth from left to right, with some suspicion of his own. Then he took a deep breath and smiled.
“Well, even if you’re lying, I can feel safe as long as you two are both suited up completely,” Wayne said, then he took off his gloves and turned on the computer. “This should take only a minute to get ready.”
When it was ready, he began typing away. As he did, and then found reports and data on the testing of the vaccine MedicinaTech was working on, Peter and Michelle felt their nervousness abate, since no white dots of light were flying from Wayne’s fingers. What’s more, Wayne seemed so caught up in his work that he didn’t look at all nervous about catching anything from the two on either side of him.
It was as if he didn’t care one bit about it.
Now, Peter was feeling an increasing itch to take off his head covering. Actually, Michelle was feeling that way, too, for the suits were just that uncomfortable. And the room, inexplicably, was getting hot.
“As you can see,” Wayne said, pointing to some figures on the computer screen, “we’ve done over a dozen trials with Aziprom, with no outright successes, of course, but with what seem to be some repellent quality that, to a small but notable extent, eases the symptoms. It isn’t ideal, but it is progress.”
“I see,” Peter said, fidgeting and sweating in his suit. How’d it get so hot in here all of a sudden? he wondered. Wayne seems safe and healthy. Nothing’s flying out of his bare hands. If he had The Splits, surely I’d see those tiny stars by now.
“Why is it so hot in here, all of a sudden?” Michelle asked. It was hot like this in the hospital room with Mom and Dad, now that I think of it, she thought.
“You feel hot?” Wayne asked.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Me, too.”
“That’s odd,” Wayne said. “I don’t feel hot at all.”
“Well, you seem safe of The Splits, anyway,” Peter said, putting his hands on his head covering. “I’m taking this off. I can’t take it anymore.” He pulled it off his head.
“Peter, wait!” Michelle yelled. Then, when no little dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands, she calmed down.
Peter put his head covering on the table. Both he and Michelle froze for a moment, looking around for little stars.
Wayne looked at Peter and then at Michelle, sneering at both of them. “I told you,” he said. “I was tested today, and it came out negative. I can see that Peter’s test also turned out negative, which is very gratifying to me. I can trust you; I think you both can trust me. How about it?”
“OK,” Peter said. “Sorry.”
Drops of sweat were running down Michelle’s cheeks.
“Well, if you two can expose your skin, so can I,” she said, then she removed her head covering and put it next to Peter’s. “Oh, that feels so much better.”
Immediately after her sentence, those dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands.
“You lying fucker!” Peter shouted, punching his fist into the plastic face covering on Wayne’s suit, knocking him off his chair and onto the floor. Peter and Michelle reached for their head coverings. They were about to put them on in panicky speed…
…but they noticed something odd about the little lights.
They weren’t entering their heads.
Still with their head coverings off, Peter and Michelle stared at the tiny, glowing stars, which just hovered in the air a few centimetres in front of the vulnerable couple’s faces.
It was as if the little dots of light were staring at Peter and Michelle, observing them, sizing them up.
Their eyes and mouths were wide open; they were shaking all over, but from terror, not from the entry of those floating things.
Wayne got up and removed his head covering. He looked stoically at Peter and Michelle while he rubbed his chin, where Peter’s fist had hit him.
Several more seconds of frozen silence went by.
Those little dots of light just stayed where they were.
“Why aren’t they coming inside us?” she asked. “They don’t even want to make us carriers?”
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Why don’t they want to?”
“Neither of you have anything to fear from them,” Wayne said in perfect calmness.
“You lied to us before,” Peter said. “You’ll lie again. C’mon, Michelle. Let’s get out of here.”
“As you wish,” Wayne said with a shrug.
Peter and Michelle put their head coverings back on, then they ran out of the room and out of the building.
The dots of light flew back into Wayne’s hands and head.