Symbiont Page 125

“No matter how many times you tell me to do something I don’t want to do, I’m not going to do it.”

“Won’t you?” His expression turned conciliatory like he was flipping a switch, eyes suddenly filled with parental concern. “Sally, I know you don’t want to treat me like this. You know I’ve always, always been on your side. Maybe I’m the only person who’s always been on your side. Why don’t you help me? Let me go?”

“I’m not going to let you go.” The drums were pounding harder. My hands were starting to shake. I balled them both into fists, clutching Beverly’s leash until the leather was biting into my palm. They wouldn’t stop shaking. “Stop asking me.”

“I’m not asking you.”

The drums were pounding harder than ever, and my hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“I’m asking Sally.”

It was getting hard to focus on him—to focus on anything beyond the urge to turn and run away, fleeing into the city. Vallejo might be filled with sleepwalkers and armed survivors, but no one there would try to find the strings connecting my psyche to itself and pull on them. No one there would even know how to start.

“I know she can hear me.”

“SHUT UP!” I hadn’t intended to scream. It felt like the words were ripped out of me, louder than I could have imagined them being. They bounced off the buildings and boats around us, fading into the distance. Dr. Banks stared at me, too startled to continue cajoling me to remove his bonds.

The back of my brain felt like it was fizzing. I shunted the feeling to the side, taking a step toward him, so that there was barely any space left between us. Dr. Banks shied back. I reached out and grabbed the front of his shirt, pulling him closer still.

“I am the one who owns and operates this establishment, Dr. Banks, and while I appreciate that you may have some designs on the old owner, she’s not coming back,” I spat. “This body is under new management. My management. I am the only one who decides what I do—not you, not Dr. Cale, and not the ghost of Sally Mitchell. She died, I lived, and you don’t get to call her back because you’ve decided that she’d be more convenient. Do you understand me? She’s not. Coming. Back.”

“I understand you perfectly,” he said. His voice was quavering, just a little—just enough to make me believe that he was listening. Good. He needed to listen.

The fizzing feeling in the back of my mind was getting harder to ignore. I paused, tilting my head down as I tried to focus. As soon as I paid attention to it, it snapped into perfect clarity. My eyes widened as my head swung back up, giving me just a second of staring into Dr. Banks’s terrified eyes.

“Sleepwalkers,” I whispered, and turned to bolt for the ferry launch, his shirt still clutched in my hand. He stumbled to keep up, while Beverly ran ahead, pulling her leash to its absolute limit. I didn’t dare let her go. She might have gone to find Nathan, or she might have doubled back and gone for the hated sleepwalkers, which needed to be destroyed if we were going to ever be safe. She was a good dog. She would protect us if she could, which made it all the more important that I make sure I kept protecting her.

The door was unlocked, and still slightly ajar from where Fishy and Nathan had slipped inside. I hip-checked it open, shoving Dr. Banks through, and paused only long enough to turn and close the door firmly behind me. It wouldn’t slow them down for more than a few minutes if the sleepwalkers knew that we were inside the building: they couldn’t manage doorknobs or anything complicated like that, but they were very good at smashing things, and from the way my head was fizzing, there were at least a dozen on their way to us, maybe more. These were the ones who had managed to eat and survive in an abandoned city. They would be weak and maybe even wounded. They would also be desperate.

The urge to survive is a powerful thing. It can drive even the most primitive of organisms to do things that should have been impossible, because they don’t want to die. If there was any way for the sleepwalkers to get into the ferry launch, they would do it.

Dr. Banks was still standing a few feet away, looking stunned and uneasy. I grabbed his elbow before he could move, pulling him with me deeper into the building. “Come on, we need to find the others,” I said, and for once, he didn’t argue.

The ferry launch was the sort of airy, mostly insubstantial building that always seemed to be cold, even at the height of summer, with large panes of glass set into the roof to compensate for the lack of artificial light. The silence inside seemed absolute, even though Dr. Banks, Beverly, and I weren’t doing anything to stay quiet. Beverly’s claws clacked on the wooden floor with every step she took, and Dr. Banks clomped, his feet slamming down with what felt to me like an unnecessary degree of force.

Empty plastic benches stretched out on either side, some with jackets or backpacks discarded on them, as if their owners were going to be back at any moment. A few vending machines loaded with candy bars or chips lined one wall; a hole was punched in the largest of them, although the machine’s contents remained almost entirely intact. Vandalism, or the aftermath of some fight that hadn’t ended well? There was no blood. I chose to take that as a good sign. It was better than the alternatives.

“Think your boyfriend ditched us here as so much deadweight?” asked Dr. Banks conversationally. “Or maybe that curly-headed fellow decided to put a bullet in his brain and take the boat to San Francisco all by himself. You can’t surround yourself with crazies and expect them to behave like normal people. It’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to them, either. They’re just not wired that way.”

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