Symbiont Page 116

–SAL MITCHELL

Apparently my deft hand with the machinery and my witty, sophisticated sense of humor aren’t as important at the lab as Fang’s ability to bench-press a camel or Daisy’s incredible skill for stepping on sharp things in the middle of her shift, because babysitting duty is on the table, and guess who’s getting tapped again? That’s right, your ever-loving local robotics engineer. I get to escort Freak Of Nature #3 and Biological Son as they—get this—break into the ferry building, steal a boat, and go for a raid of a major biotech company that has mysteriously managed to stay operational as the rest of the state infrastructure crumbles around it. Can you say “boss level”?

Honestly, Laney, I don’t know why all these figments of my imagination keep insisting that this is somehow the real world. It’s the most unrealistic dream I’ve ever had. On the plus side, if I’m heading into the big predestined final battle, I’m probably going to wake up soon. Love you lots, and see you in the morning.

Your loving husband,

Fishy

–FROM THE DIARY OF MATTHEW “FISHY” DOCKREY, NOVEMBER 2027

The cultures are progressing at an admirable rate. I have to give the little bitch this much, loath as I am to grant her much of anything after her betrayal of us and all that we stand for here: she provided genetic material of surprising strength and malleability. As I had hoped, she is perfect for our purposes, and best of all, she does not need to be present for her service to the cause to not only grow, but flourish.

It really is a pity. Maybe after the world has been properly reshaped into the image of its new dominant species, she and I will be able to start again. Or even better—maybe I’ll be able to find a version of her that hasn’t been corrupted with such foolish ideas, and such a dreadfully virulent strain of humanity.

–FROM THE NOTES OF SHERMAN LEWIS (SUBJECT VIII, ITERATION III), NOVEMBER 2027

Chapter 16

NOVEMBER 2027

We couldn’t bring much. Traveling fast meant traveling light, and we were already going to be contending with a burden much larger than either of us would have voluntarily carried: Dr. Banks, who was almost sure to try running as soon as we were away from the factory. On one thing, however, I dug my heels in.

“We have to take her,” I said, gripping Beverly’s leash so tightly that I could feel the leather biting into my hand. Beverly herself sat calmly by my feet, tail thumping and snout canted upward as she gazed adoringly into my face. We were going on an adventure. That was all she knew, and all that she cared about.

Nathan frowned. “She’ll slow us down.”

“She’ll warn us of any sleepwalkers we don’t see,” I countered. “I can’t pick up on their pheromones as well as they can pick up on mine, and I know I smell like something interesting enough to follow. But their pheromones upset the dog. She’ll bark her head off before anything can grab and eat us. That makes her worth however many potty stops she needs to make along the way.”

“Sal—”

“We need weapons, Nathan. Much as I hate to say it, Beverly is a weapon now. She’ll attack anything that wants to hurt us.” And if USAMRIID ambushed us, having a dog along would broadcast, loud and clear, that whatever we were, we weren’t sleepwalkers. It might buy us a few minutes before they shot us in the head.

“Mom’s sending Fishy with us,” said Nathan. “He always carries a gun when he’s in the field, and he doesn’t really believe that any of this is happening. The man has no fear.”

“That’s swell,” I said. “I want more.”

Nathan looked at me for a long moment before he sighed deeply. “We don’t have to do this.”

My eyes widened. “Yes, we do! We need to get Tansy back. I’m taking the dog, but that shouldn’t be enough to make you change your mind. We have to do this.”

“I know. It’s just…” Nathan stopped for a moment before he said, “Look, Sal. I won’t pretend not to worry about you. I worry about everything now. I worry constantly. We’ve been like this little… this little island of science surrounded by a world that’s falling to pieces. It’s like we’re on the Island of Doctor Moreau crossed with ‘Masque of the Red Death’—they’re stories,” he added, seeing my confusion. “One was about a man who made animals into men because he wanted to prove that he could do it, and the other was about a bunch of people who locked themselves away from everything when the plague came to town, and they danced and celebrated and drank while everyone else was dying. But eventually the men turned into monsters, and the plague broke through the walls. Both stories end the same way.”

“Everybody dies?” I guessed.

Nathan nodded. “They’re cautionary tales, I guess. Sometimes I feel like my life is a cautionary tale. So please, forgive me when I seem like I’m being slow to adjust. I’ve adjusted more in the last months than I thought was possible. Bring Beverly if it makes you feel better.”

“It does, and that means we’re bringing the dog,” I said blithely. “I already made sure Adam has Minnie. He’ll take good care of her.”

“Good.” Nathan shouldered his pack, full of equipment I didn’t understand and first aid supplies I was all too familiar with. “Do you have everything you need?”

I turned and looked at the room that hadn’t been home for nearly long enough, and that I was probably never going to see again. Then I shouldered my own pack, looked back to Nathan, and nodded. “I do,” I said.

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