Symbiont Page 104

“Did you honestly think you could keep an operation of this size completely concealed? In a dead city, no less? No insult intended, Surrey, but maybe you should think about getting more sleep. Your judgment is slipping.”

Dr. Cale raised one shoulder in a half shrug. “We didn’t know we were being monitored. How did you know where we were?”

“Everyone is being monitored.”

Dr. Cale sighed. “I see you’re not going to make this easy on me. I have a full surgical theater here. It’s primitive, yes, and we do have to contend with a lot of little inconveniences—we can’t do laser work, which means sutures and stitches and the threat of infection, although we’ve gotten surprisingly good at cauterizing wounds. It’s really remarkable, especially when you consider that nothing in this building started out intended to be used like this.”

“Your point would be…?” asked Dr. Banks. He was still trying to sound polite—I could hear it—but his irritation was overwhelming his good sense. He sounded impatient. Never a good idea when talking to Dr. Cale.

“My point would be, I can amputate a limb without breaking a sweat or endangering your life to an unreasonable degree.” Dr. Cale didn’t sound impatient. She was perfectly serene, like this was what she had been dreaming of for years. Given the situation, maybe she had been. “Shock is still a risk, naturally, but I think I can minimize it with the appropriate drugs.”

Dr. Banks had gone pale. “Now Surrey—”

“I know what you’re about to say. You’re going to remind me that you’re a powerful man, and then you’re going to tell me that people—powerful people—know you’re here. You’re going to tell me that killing you would be a terrible idea, one that would lead to the destruction of everything I’ve built, even though your presence has basically informed me that we’re going to have to tear it all down. You’re overlooking the fact that I’m not going to kill you.” Dr. Cale smiled, still serene. “That would be, if you’ll forgive me, far too easy. Now. Assuming you’d rather keep things friendly, how did you know we were here, Steven?”

The color did not return to Dr. Banks’s cheeks. He stared at Dr. Cale. For her part, and more terrifyingly than anything she could have said, Dr. Cale just kept smiling. She actually looked interested in his inner turmoil, like no matter what his answer was, she would find a way to enjoy it. I’d almost managed to convince myself that I understood the woman who made me. Looking at her now, smiling and calm, I realized she was more alien to me than any other member of her species.

“USAMRIID has been monitoring you,” said Dr. Banks finally, looking away. “Don’t ask me how they got you under surveillance, because I don’t know. As for why they haven’t taken you, well. We both know that you don’t work well when someone else is telling you what to do. You’re better left to your own devices and kept under close watch, and you’re not making things any worse. Those little videos you keep releasing have even been useful, on occasion. USAMRIID wanted you to keep working without knowing that you were being watched.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that the United States government has allowed me to keep working without interference because they don’t think I’d perform well in captivity?” asked Dr. Cale.

Dr. Banks shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

“Sorry, Steven, but I don’t really trust you when you’re not lying to me.”

Dr. Banks continued as if she hadn’t spoken: “I told the higher-ups at USAMRIID that I needed to contact your organization if I was going to continue my own work, and I managed to convince them it was worth the risk that you’d cut your losses and run. They helped me get here from San Francisco. Dropped me—with Anna, and a security team—about a mile away. Your boys have done an excellent job of clearing out the local sleepwalkers, you know. We didn’t encounter any resistance on the walk.”

“That’s good to know.” Dr. Cale’s tone could have been used to freeze water. “Where did you leave your security team? How many people? Two? Four? You can’t have brought the army; if you had, they would have marched you right up to my gates and taken what you wanted. The nonintervention policy is still in place, and it’s not benefiting you. I suppose that means that of the two of us, I’m still doing the better work.”

Dr. Banks was silent.

“Setting aside the fact that you carved up my daughter for parts—although if I were you, I wouldn’t expect that to be set aside for long—what makes you think I don’t already have teams out there combing the area for your people? You said this was too large of an operation to be kept hidden. Do you know just how large of an operation we have here?”

Dr. Banks was silent.

“I will find the team that got you this far, Steven. And since I won’t know how many of them there are, or where they’ve taken cover, when my people find them and call me for directions, I’ll give the order to take no prisoners. I already have you. Why would I need anyone else?”

Dr. Banks was silent, but sweat was beginning to bead at his temples, betraying his growing unease. His heart had to be pounding so loudly that he could feel it, even if his human physiology meant that he would never hear it like I did.

“How many of them did you get from USAMRIID?” Dr. Cale leaned forward in her chair, her smile fading into an expression of almost feral interest. “How well do you think your new allies will respond when you come back empty-handed, no soldiers, no chimera, no answer to whatever mystery you came here expecting to solve?”

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