"You wanted to speak to me," I echoed softly, aware of a slight pain in my stomach, an acidic burn. "About what? The same thing you spoke to Branton about? You wanted to talk me into incriminating an innocent man?"
Traves' reaction was nonexistent. He simply shook his gray head and sighed sadly. "Coby... there's really no reason for you to feel any special loyalty towards Braum."
The acid in my gut burned stronger now. How badly I had wanted Traves to reject my accusation, to throw some miraculous new evidence in my face or apologize for the terrible mistake and put my doubts to rest. But he was going to do no such thing, because my suspicions were correct. "Why not? Because he was a foreigner? I don't care which lines on the map he called home; he saved our lives. He saved my life. If he hadn't acted, all of us would have been infected, and I'd have had even more blood on my hands."
Traves raised his thin, almost elegant eyebrows in practiced confusion. "Your hands? Why yours?"
"I should have been the one to seal off the sample," I explained, aware that Traves was trying to draw me away from the subject of Erik Braum but unable to help myself. "It my responsibility. Paviale was already incapacitated at that point; that put me in charge. I should have done it, but instead I froze."
"No one blames you for that," Traves pointed out.
"Of course not!" The acid churned and I resisted the urge to laugh. It would have been hysterical laughter. "Of course they don't. They're too busy blaming Erik. Tell me something, Director, and stop patronizing me for a moment. Is it really that hard to admit that one of our guys just screwed up? And is it really that easy to blame one dead man over another because of where he was born?" I shook my head in disgust, continuing before Traves had a chance to respond. "But you're not here to answer those questions, are you? The only reason you're here is to get me to take part is this... character assassination."
Traves hesitated for a moment, emotions warring on his face. Finally he settled with grim indifference, shrugging one gray-clad shoulder. "It's not a choice, Coby. It's what we're making the truth. And please don't think that this was done lightly. It wasn't."
"I don't believe you," I said sullenly. "What could be easier than blaming someone who isn't alive to defend himself?"
"We're taking this very seriously," said Traves, as though he hadn't heard me.
Again, acid gave rise to the urge to burst into laughter... sick, humorous laughter. "You're taking it seriously? You're taking it seriously? How can you possibly-- You don't know-- Traves, you weren't there, you didn't see..."
My stomach suddenly settled. What had been churning, bubbling, corrosive acid was suddenly a cold, heavy, immovable stone. "Oh. Oh."
A hint of nervousness flickered across Traves' face for the first time. "Is there a problem?"