Symbiont Page 105

“At least you’re implying that he’ll still have hands,” said Adam. He was trying to be helpful, I could tell, and in a way, he was: the beads of sweat on Dr. Banks’s temples doubled in size, now accompanied by a red flush around the base of his jaw.

“Hands, yes,” said Dr. Cale. “I make no promises as to fingers.”

“This isn’t you, Surrey,” said Dr. Banks quietly. He didn’t turn back toward us. Maybe he was afraid to.

“You’re right,” said Dr. Cale. She leaned back in her chair, getting comfortable. “Surrey Kim would never have sat here threatening her valued friend, Steven Banks, the man who was going to change the world. Surrey had other things to worry about. How she was going to fund her research, for example, or what she was going to pack in her son’s lunches for the week. She had a life to plan. Surrey would find what I’m doing abhorrent, on all sorts of levels, because Surrey worked very hard to keep herself tied to human standards of morality, human ideals of right and wrong. Surrey would never have wanted her son to look at her the way Nathan is looking at me right now.”

I blinked, glancing toward Nathan. He looked almost as unsettled as Dr. Banks did. The muscle at the base of his jaw was twitching, making a small fluttering motion against his skin. I reached for his hand. He jumped, eyes wide as he looked in my direction, before lacing his fingers through mine and hanging on for dear life.

Dr. Cale continued: “But here’s the thing, Steven. Surrey Kim doesn’t get to have an opinion here. Surrey wouldn’t have done these things to you. I can. Do you know why?”

Dr. Banks didn’t say anything. I think he knew that there was nothing he could say at this point. He had dug his own grave, and he had dug it very well indeed.

“Surrey Kim is dead.” Dr. Cale sounded utterly calm. She was overseeing the exhumation of a cold case, not surveying an active murder scene: the reality of her original identity’s death was years behind her, taking most of the anger with it. But not, I realized, the rage. They were two different beasts, close enough to seem identical when seen together, but unique enough that one could endure without the other. Her anger had faded as her old life became more of a memory and less of a loss. Her rage at the man who had started all of this had never wavered.

How long had she been waiting for this very moment? How many years had she spent dreaming of the day when Steven Banks would be captive before her, stripped of power and position, unable to stop her from doing anything she wanted?

I suspected that it was far, far too many, and I was afraid.

“Dr. Banks, why did you come here?” My voice sounded thin and unsure, even to me. Maybe that was a good thing. He had always wanted to be a father figure to me, and little girls often sounded unsure when they spoke to their fathers. I swallowed and pressed on: “You knew this would happen. You had to know this would happen. So why did you do it?”

“I didn’t know everything that would happen,” he said, and finally turned, his eyes focusing on me. “I thought it would take you a bit longer to figure out where I got the materials for my new girl. She took a lot of work, you know. You should be impressed.”

My stomach gave a lurch. Nathan squeezed my hand, lending what strength he could. I took a deep breath to stop my head from spinning, and said, “I am impressed. I don’t know many people who could do something like that.” Sherman and his army of chimera; Dr. Cale and her assistants. I knew way too many people who could do exactly what he’d done. “That still doesn’t explain why you came. It’s dangerous for you to be here.”

Dr. Banks laughed. It was a brief, sharp sound, and it made me flinch, because he shouldn’t have been laughing. Laughter was dangerous with Dr. Cale sitting right there, doing a slow burn as she watched the conversation slip away from her. Please, trust me, I begged silently, wishing she shared the pheromone connection I had with Adam. He would have understood, somehow. He would have picked up on my silent, primitive prayers. He’ll tell me, but he’ll never tell you, not even when you’re taking parts of him away. Dr. Banks was the monster, and would remain the monster no matter what was done to him.

The trick was not becoming monsters in the process of learning what we needed to know.

Maybe Dr. Cale had some connection to us through our shared DNA—or maybe she was just learning to trust me. Either way, she didn’t say anything as I kept staring at Dr. Banks, willing him to speak, willing him to believe that I was still the innocent, sheltered creature he’d worked so hard to create.

“It’s dangerous to be anywhere right now, honeybunch,” he said finally. “There’s sleepwalkers all over the Bay Area, all over the state, all over the country. We’re losing ground faster than we can take it back. Pleasant Hill is completely deserted, except for a nest of sleepwalkers that we can’t quite seem to nail down. USAMRIID’s had to completely close off the city. You’re lucky you’re on the other side of the water. I might not have been able to reach you if you’d been near the compromised area.”

Pleasant Hill must have been the location of Sherman’s mall. I worried my lower lip between my teeth before saying, “It doesn’t seem very dangerous here.”

“You’re standing next to a woman who was just threatening to take my limbs off with a hacksaw,” said Dr. Banks. “I think your definition of ‘dangerous’ may need to be reconsidered.”

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