Symbiont Page 109

I am so sorry.

–FROM THE JOURNAL OF DR. SHANTI CALE, NOVEMBER 15, 2027

Sal is strangely serene about this whole situation. I can’t tell whether it’s because she trusts Mother to fix things, or whether it’s because she’s holding her honest response in, waiting to see how the rest of us react before she allows herself to display any true emotion. I’m starting to worry about her. She’s trying so hard to be controlled that I’m afraid she’s not allowing herself to feel things the way she wants to. That’s dangerous. Too much repression leads to self-harm, either emotional or—on occasion—physical.

I should know.

Anna remains stable but sedated. Tox screens performed after Dr. Banks shared more details on her condition have shown signs of sedatives and anticonvulsants. We are continuing with both drugs, in the absence of a better course of treatment. If a better course of treatment does not present itself soon, I am not sure that she will survive. Her organs are struggling, and failure is a risk.

How many more of these deaths will we be forced to witness? Because I’m just about done.

—FROM THE NOTES OF DR. NATHAN KIM, NOVEMBER 2027

Chapter 15

NOVEMBER 2027

Adam was a trained lab technician, thanks to maturing at Dr. Cale’s hip; he’d been setting up IVs and mixing pharmaceutical compounds since he learned to walk. He, Dr. Cale, Daisy, and Fishy got to work stabilizing Anna, while I was shooed politely away to find something that would keep me occupied and out from underfoot. Nathan glanced from his mother and the chaos surrounding Anna to me, and then—to my relief and exhausted delight—he bent, murmured something in his mother’s ear, and followed me.

We walked back to the elevator lobby in silence. Nathan didn’t even ask where we were going; he just stood there, letting me pick the floor we were going to, waiting until I was ready to speak.

“Knowing the directions doesn’t mean you ought to go,” I murmured, and pressed the button for the roof.

Nathan put his hand on my shoulder, and didn’t say anything.

Cold rage and hot misery mixed in my stomach, forming a substance that felt like ice and lava at the same time. It made it difficult to think or swallow, but I forced myself to keep breathing, and said, “He always acted like he loved me, you know? Or like he at least cared about me. And I knew he was lying—even when I thought I was human I knew he was lying—but I didn’t mind so much, because it was better than having him act like I didn’t matter.” Lots of people had pretended to care about me, Sally’s father and Sherman among them. I was getting awfully tired of men who didn’t give a damn about me as me coming back into my life.

“He knew what you were from the first time he laid eyes on you,” said Nathan. “Maybe neither one of us could see it at the time, but it’s clear in retrospect. He was using you.”

“He was using me,” I agreed, feeling the hot/cold mass in my stomach give another lurch. “He couldn’t have done what he did to Tansy if he hadn’t been able to get so much information about me first. I taught him how to take her apart. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I did. I taught him how to kill my sister.”

Nathan’s reflection in the elevator wall winced in time with the real thing, whose hand clenched down on my shoulder in sympathetic misery. “You were working almost entirely with scientists who thought of you as nothing more than a test subject,” he said, voice pitched low. “Dr. Banks did terrible things to you even if you didn’t realize they were happening. But this is not your fault. Tansy is not your fault.”

“How is this not my fault?” The elevator slowed, stopped; the doors slid open, revealing the carefully tended vegetable beds that covered the roof. The morning shift had already come and gone, and the automatic hydroponic systems were keeping the beds irrigated. I stepped out of the elevator, pausing long enough for Nathan to pace me, and then started across the roof toward the nearest canvas cabana tent. About a dozen of them had been liberated from the local Target shops, and they dotted the roof like so many garishly colored oases. Sunstroke was a real concern when you insisted on taking dark-adapted lab rats and putting them to work on a private farm.

“You didn’t know,” Nathan said. “Everyone around you was working very hard to make sure you didn’t know.”

I all but threw myself into a wicker couch designed for outdoor use. Nathan sat down next to me, a little more decorously. He did most things a little more decorously than I did, really. “You figured it out,” I said accusingly.

“My mother told me.” He paused and then laughed unsteadily. “You know, I still haven’t had a chance to really think about those words? ‘My mother.’ She was my best friend, she was everything I had in the world, and then she was gone and everyone told me she was never coming back. I mourned her. I buried her. I was never going to see her again. And then my weird, wonderful girlfriend asked me to go on a road trip with her, and started quoting bits of a book I hadn’t seen in years.”

I sat up and scooted over to rest my head against his shoulder. Nathan stroked my hair with one hand.

“I think I realized, you know,” he said. “When you started quoting Don’t Go Out Alone, I think I realized. I just didn’t… I didn’t want to realize, because I didn’t want to live in a world where my mother would have chosen science over me. She was my mom. I wanted her to stay with me forever, not go running off as soon as she found a better experiment.”

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