Symbiont Page 126

“Shut up,” I said tonelessly. I knew he was just trying to get under my skin, and I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. I couldn’t. If I did, I was going to lose the thin string of composure that I had remaining, and then things were going to get ugly. “Places like this usually have separate rooms for staff and maintenance, to keep from freaking out the passengers. We just need to find them.”

“Listen to you, sounding all logical and reasonable. It’s almost like you think you’re really a person.”

“Oh, good, we’ve moved on to nastiness and spite. That’s so much easier to deal with than smarm.”

Dr. Banks glared at me, but before he could come up with a response, there was a loud banging noise from behind us. I whipped around, just in time to see the door shudder inward as it was hit again from the outside. The fizzing feeling in my head was gone, replaced by a constant bubbling roar. The sleepwalkers were here.

“Run,” I whispered, and let go of his arm, and took my own advice.

Leaving him to run on his own might have been cruel, but for the first time, I wasn’t worried about him trying to escape. I was worried about whether we could get to our people alive, and whether the boat would be ready, and I wasn’t going to let him slow me down. Neither was Beverly. The airflow wasn’t good enough to have started her barking yet, but she could tell that I was worried, and she was a good dog; she was responding to my fear by putting everything she had into the run, heading down the length of the dock.

The banging continued behind me, as did Dr. Banks’s labored footsteps and occasional gasps for air. The end of the building was looming. I angled myself toward the single door in the wall, putting my hand out so that I could hit it without slowing down. Like the entrance, it was slightly ajar. I hoped that was a good sign.

Fishy and Nathan looked up from their examination of a large, white-sided boat when I came bursting through the door from the ferry launch. They had opened a hatch in the hull, revealing a rusty but sound-looking engine on the other side. Fishy blinked. Nathan frowned.

“Sal, what in the—”

Dr. Banks ran through the door three steps behind me. He whirled as if to close it, only to realize that his hands were still tied. With one vicious kick, he banged the door back into place. The slam shuddered the frame. Eyes wild, Dr. Banks turned to the rest of us and spat, “They’re everywhere. They couldn’t get the door down, so one of them punched through the fucking wall.”

“Sleepwalkers,” I added, not quite needlessly. Sleepwalkers were bad, but they didn’t have guns, which meant they weren’t quite as bad as survivors would have been.

“Shit.” Fishy shut the hatch in the side of the boat, latching it with a quick, clever twist of his fingers. “We have fuel and the engine looks good, but I’m worried about our rudders. We don’t have any way of testing them to see if anything’s jammed down in there. They could blow halfway across the water, and where would we be then?”

“Less dead than if we stay in a building that’s about to be flooded with sleepwalkers,” I said. “How do we get onto this damn boat?”

“Follow me,” said Fishy. He picked up his rifle from where it had been leaning against the hull and took off at a loping run, heading for the front of the boat. The rest of us followed, even Dr. Banks. Under the circumstances, it was the only sensible thing we could have done.

Access to the ferry when it wasn’t prepared for loading passengers was through a narrow door near the front of the boat, leading to an even narrower set of steps that connected the dock to the deck. When the ferry was loading passengers the whole back end opened like some strange metal flower, but that process took time, and time was something we no longer had.

Fishy was the first up the narrow steps, calling back, “I’m going to get the engine started! Nate, worm-girl, make sure we’re not tied down!” And then he was gone, following whatever interior blueprint he had to the captain’s chair.

Nathan went up second, and crouched down to pat his knees and cajole, “Come on, Beverly, there’s a good girl,” as our dog hunched and whined, unwilling to climb such a steep, unfamiliar stairway.

“Leave the damn dog,” snarled Dr. Banks. “Let me up.”

“We’ll leave you before we leave her,” said Nathan. He patted his knees again. “Come on, Beverly. Heel!”

She looked back at me and whined. Then she stiffened, sniffing the air, and growled—a long, low sound that seemed to have too many edges. I winced.

“Not now, Beverly, please. Just go. Go, so we can get out of here.”

Dogs are smart, in their own unique canine way. She heard the panic in my voice and reacted the way she always had: by trying to take away whatever was causing it. Since Nathan was high and I was low, clearly our separation was the problem. She scrambled up the steps, rudderlike tail slapping against the plating on either side. When she was halfway up I let go of the leash. She slammed into Nathan, not expecting her own acceleration, and twisted to give me a bewildered, slightly betrayed look. I was supposed to be holding on to her. That was the way this worked.

Not this time. I stepped to the side, allowing Dr. Banks to rush into the channel, and gave him a shove when his lack of hands seemed to be leading to a fall. He didn’t thank me. He just kept running, knocking Nathan and Beverly aside as he sprinted onto the deck. I turned to look back toward the door. It was shuddering on its hinges, and this time the sleepwalkers weren’t going to be able to break through the wall; there was only one way they were coming at us.

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