Symbiont Page 130

Soon enough, we’d be in San Francisco. Soon enough, we’d be past the point of no return, barreling into the future with no way back to the past we’d left behind us. But for right now, we could breathe.

Nathan sat down beside me, announcing his presence by resting his hand between my shoulder blades and saying, “Fishy confirmed that we have a full tank of diesel. We should be able to make it to the shore without any problem.”

“It’s a good thing Fishy knows how to drive a boat.” I lifted my head just enough to turn and peer up at Nathan through the fringe of my hair. “I guess we’d still be trying to figure out how to get across the water if he didn’t.”

Nathan grimaced. “As it turns out… this was his first time.”

I sat bolt upright. “What?” The motion disturbed Beverly. She scrambled to her feet, ready to run or stay as I commanded.

“He just told me. He’s never actually operated a real boat before, but he assumed the controls couldn’t be too difficult compared to piloting a remote drone around the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, so he didn’t bother to provide that little bit of data until after we had left the dock.” Nathan’s grimace deepened. “I would talk to Mom about her hiring practices, but since they basically boil down to ‘are you human, implant-free, and/or not actively trying to murder us, great, here’s your lab coat,’ I don’t think it would do very much good.”

“Neither do I,” I said gravely. With no more fanfare than that, I burst out laughing. Nathan blinked at me, his expression slowly fading into a look of profound confusion.

“I thought you’d be more stressed-out right now,” he said. “The water’s pretty rough.”

“Yeah, but this isn’t like being in a car,” I said. “We’re on a boat. If we hit something or flip over or whatever, I can just swim away.” There were almost certainly safety concerns I wasn’t thinking about, because I didn’t know what they were. The simple fact of the matter was that being on the water didn’t frighten me the way that being on the road did. The phobia I had been given as my penalty for taking Sally’s place only seemed to hold sway on land.

That thought was sobering in at least one regard: we were almost certainly going to need to steal a car or van in order to move through the remains of San Francisco, which had been hit even harder than Vallejo by the sleepwalker plague. Sherman had triggered at least one outbreak there that I knew of, and the nature of the implants meant that that initial outbreak would have had a domino effect throughout the city, impacting thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. We’d never make it to SymboGen on foot. One way or another, I was going to be in another car today, probably being driven by Fishy.

“I guess that’s true,” said Nathan. He glanced back over his shoulder. I knew that he was checking on Dr. Banks, who had been sitting as far from us as the layout of the deck allowed ever since we left Vallejo. “I don’t trust him.”

“Neither do I.” This was it: this was the moment where I could tell Nathan what Dr. Banks had said about me still being Sally on some level, just repressed and locked away by trauma and socialization. I took a breath. “Nathan, I—”

“Sorry to disturb you kids, but you may want to move to the front of the boat.” Fishy’s voice blared from the speakers set in all four corners of the overhang that sheltered us from the sky. It was warped and distorted, becoming almost more crackle than words. “I look forward to your helpful contributions.”

Nathan and I exchanged a look. Then, without a word, we got up and made our way to the front of the boat as fast as seemed safe. The ferry bucked and rolled with the waves, making our footing less certain than it could have been. Still, we made decent time to the front of the boat, and stopped there, both of us frozen by the reality of what we were seeing.

The Bay Bridge was straight ahead, and it was packed with sleepwalkers. They jammed the lower deck, crushed up against the pylons that held the span in place. The fence designed to keep people from toppling off the bike path had been broken in several places, and sleepwalkers fell in an almost steady stream, vanishing with neither sound nor trace into the black waters below. There was always another sleepwalker jockeying to take their place, hands outstretched in angry need. It took me a moment to realize what they were trying to accomplish. I clapped my hands over my mouth, torn between pained laughter and angry tears.

The cables that supported the bulk of the bridge were alive with crows. I had never seen so many of the scavenger birds in one place. They were packed together until their bodies were almost indistinguishable from one another, ruffling their feathers and occasionally taking off in brief flurries of wings that were almost negative reliefs of the waves below. Black water and white foam met empty air and black bodies, flashing from place to place with arrogant slowness. They were taunting the sleepwalkers, driving them to unthinking suicide.

“Why are the crows doing that, and why aren’t the sleepwalkers eating each other?” I asked, baffled.

Nathan might not have heard me—between the roar of the engines and the crash of the waves, it would have been easy for my small voice to go overlooked—but he was asking himself the same question, because he said, loudly enough for me to hear, “The pheromone tags must keep the sleepwalkers from recognizing each other as food. The current will carry the bodies back to the beach. Maybe in San Francisco, maybe the surrounding islands. Either way, they’ll wash up, and there won’t be any fight left in them. Easy pickings for an enterprising crow.”

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