Symbiont Page 139

Nathan chuckled, reaching up to stroke my hair with one hand. “I’ll look forward to it.”

“You’re never having another nightmare,” said Dr. Banks. “Things in jars don’t have nightmares.”

“You’re such a charmer, I totally understand why people let you talk them into swallowing live worms,” said Fishy calmly. “Now shut the fuck up, or I’ll dump your useless ass on the street corner.”

“You can’t keep threatening me forever, boy,” said Dr. Banks. “Eventually, you’ll have to either act on your words or admit that you still need me too much to waste me on a bit of petty revenge.”

“I know which one I’d prefer,” said Fishy. The van sped up a little more, the soft whir of the engine filling the cab.

I sighed and closed my eyes. I could feel the faint buzz that notified me of sleepwalker presence at the back of my head, like the blood there was carbonated and fizzing against my skull. It was almost comforting, now that I knew what it was and what it really meant. The sleepwalkers would have a harder time sneaking up on us now, at least while I was awake—and I had Dr. Banks to thank. It wasn’t until he’d brought Anna into the building that I’d really begun to understand what I felt around Adam, and around Sherman and the others.

Sherman had to know that we could detect each other. Maybe that was the real reason he’d kept me isolated from his people the way he had: he hadn’t wanted me to develop this little party trick any faster than I was going to on my own. I didn’t know what useful applications it would have had back in his mall, but there must have been something I could have done with it, if I’d understood what those occasional flashes of disorientation and awareness really meant.

“You’ll never lie to me, will you, Nathan?” I asked, quietly, trying to keep the pair in the front seat from overhearing.

“I promise I’ll do my best not to,” he said, and that was somehow better than an outright pledge to never do it, ever, under any circumstances would have been: he was human, and fallible, just like all of us. He could make mistakes. Pretending that was never going to happen wouldn’t do anybody any good, but it could leave us unprepared for what was yet to come.

In the front seat, Dr. Banks made a small noise that was neither scoff nor snort. I lifted my head to see what he was looking at, and stiffened, the drums suddenly beating loud and angry in my ears. All the fear I hadn’t been feeling flooded into me at once, leaving the small boat of my courage floundering on the tide.

SymboGen was directly in front of us, standing like a shining beacon of enduring civilization among the ruined and smoking wreckage of the city. It looked… it looked like nothing at all had changed, like everything was business as usual and anyone who claimed that there was an emergency going on was just crying wolf. The late afternoon sun gleamed off the unbroken windows of the high-rise, and the gated parking lot was filled with cars. That was the only thing that broke the illusion of perfect normalcy: there were several olive drab army convoys parked in among the hybrids and electric cars, which looked like candy-colored jewels next to their larger, more functional cousins. From what I could see, even the exterior landscaping was still perfectly maintained.

“You couldn’t even let the gardeners go home to their families, could you?” The question seemed nonsensical, but it was the only thing I could think of to say. Nothing would have put the sheer incongruity of the scene into words, and so I didn’t even bother to try.

“They were safer staying with us, and they recognized that.” There was a shifty note to his voice that made me suspect he wasn’t telling the full truth, that there’d been a lockdown or something that kept those low-level employees on the grounds until it was too late, and there was nowhere else for them to go. I didn’t bother calling him on it. When had he ever told us the full truth, about anything? Even when his own life was on the line, Dr. Steven Banks was still trying to play the angles.

“That’s why I chose Dr. Cale’s brand of monster over yours, you know,” I said quietly. “At least she was always honest about what she was.”

Nathan’s hand tightened on my knee, but he didn’t contradict my assessment of his mother. I think we both knew her too well for that.

Dr. Banks stiffened but didn’t say anything.

Fishy broke the silence. “Gee, will I be glad to go back to crazy science land, and no longer be sharing a van with the issues party,” he said, amiably, and started down the hill toward SymboGen.

The buildings around us seemed cleaner somehow, like they had been cleared out before they could take anything more than superficial damage. I kept a tight hold on Beverly’s leash, watching warily for signs of ambush. It wasn’t until we were almost to the front gates that I realized the fizzing sensation in my head was gone. There were no sleepwalkers nearby, unless Dr. Banks was holding some inside the building for further study. If they were in airtight rooms—and they would have to be, to keep them from upsetting each other—I wouldn’t be able to pick up on them. The thought was sobering. If he got me into one of those rooms, no one would ever find me.

I didn’t have time to dwell on that new and disturbing idea. Fishy pulled up in front of the security gate. I was somehow unsurprised to see that it was still manned, although the two men who were waiting to check our IDs were wearing full SWAT gear and carrying assault rifles—a far cry from their careful inoffensiveness of days past. Fishy rolled down the window.

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