Symbiont Page 17

“If his secret lair is under San Francisco, the first big earthquake will solve this problem for us,” said Nathan. There was a brittle edge to his voice, like he was joking because he didn’t know what else to do. “Do you really think Sherman could do this?”

“I think Sherman doesn’t consider himself human, and he doesn’t see dead humans as dead people,” I said. “He was pretty clear on that point when we were at SymboGen. He wants to be the dominant species. He wants us to be the only things that live here. And we know that sleepwalkers trigger other sleepwalkers. If you wanted to spread them through the city like… like a real disease, all you’d need is a few index cases to scatter around the streets. They’d go wandering and anyone they encountered who was on the verge of going over would succumb.” It was so simple, so elegant, and so horrible that I could barely believe that Sherman, who had always been kind to me, could possibly be behind it.

But then, I’d thought we were both human in those days, and he’d been playing along with my assumptions, hadn’t he? It was easy to pretend to follow social rules when you didn’t really believe that they applied to you.

“God.” Nathan got up again. This time the dogs followed him into the kitchen. He returned with the bottle of orange juice, refilling my glass before he set the bottle down on the table. He also had a package of Fig Newtons, which he held out to me. “Eat as many of these as you think you can stomach. If you’re right, and Sherman is doing this, we need to get the hell out of this city.”

“He doesn’t know where we live,” I protested, taking the cookies.

“No. But USAMRIID knows that there’s an outbreak in San Francisco, and they don’t know yet exactly how the sleepwalking sickness is being spread. They don’t know that lockdown is already a lost cause. If they decide to quarantine the city…”

I blanched. My father—Sally Mitchell’s father—was a career army man. He had reached the rank of colonel before he retired from active duty and took over the local branch of USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been releasing me from his custody in exchange for a possible cure for his daughter, Joyce. His only surviving daughter, I realized with a pang. She wasn’t really my sister. Somehow that was worse than knowing that he wasn’t really my father. Unlike Joyce, he had always held himself a little bit apart from me, and now I knew the reason why: he had known all along that Sally was dead, and he had been monitoring me to see how the tapeworm in my driver’s seat reacted. He’d turned his little girl’s corpse into a science project for his country.

The only real family I was ever going to have was the one in Dr. Cale’s lab. We had to get Tansy back.

“We have to get out of here,” I said, before pulling open the package of cookies and cramming two of them into my mouth, effectively ending my part in the conversation while I chewed and swallowed.

“Yes,” said Nathan, looking relieved. “We’ll need to take the elevator down—I don’t think we can deal with both dogs and our suitcases on the stairs. Not with your wrist and a dead body in the way.”

“What if the power goes out?”

His expression turned grim. “Let’s just not think about that, okay? You eat. I’m going to finish packing.”

I wanted to argue with him, to point out that being trapped in an elevator during a major outbreak would be a stupid, pointless, horror movie way to die. I didn’t say anything, because he was right. He couldn’t handle going up and down the stairs repeatedly, and that’s what he’d have to do if we wanted to get the two dogs and their things to the car. Adding our possessions—and while I didn’t have many, I had to admit to being somewhat attached to the ones I did have—to the mix took things to a whole other level. We needed that elevator. And we needed one hell of a lucky break.

Nathan vanished into the bedroom while I sat on the couch inhaling cookies. Beverly and Minnie stayed with me, their liquid brown eyes hopefully tracking every little motion that I made. They knew a sucker when they saw one. I gave each of them a cookie and took advantage of their distraction to shove three more into my mouth, nearly choking myself in the process. I washed down the sticky mass with a long drink of orange juice. The resulting combination wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever put into my mouth, but it certainly wasn’t among the best.

I was trying to cover the taste with the last of the Fig Newtons when Nathan emerged from the bedroom. He had a suitcase in one hand, and was dragging my roller bag with the other. He walked over and deposited them both next to the coffee table before saying, “One second,” and darting back into the bedroom.

This time when he emerged, he was carrying the small plastic terrarium that we used to transport plants between home and his office. About half of our shared collection of sundews, pitcher plants, and Venus flytraps was crammed inside, their root systems dangerously overcrowded by what had clearly been a very hasty transplant.

“I hate to leave the others, but this was the best I could do,” said Nathan, pushing his glasses nervously up the bridge of his nose as he walked over and set the terrarium down next to my orange juice. “I grabbed some of your clothes, basic toiletries, and your journals. Was there anything else you wanted me to bring? I’m afraid we don’t have much room, but we could probably get a few more things into the suitcases if we really shoved.”

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