Symbiont Page 21

The corner of Nathan’s mouth that I could see twisted downward in obvious displeasure. “If you really need to, okay. Just, I may wake you up if your breathing seems shallow, all right? I don’t know how much blood you lost back there, but between that and the shocks you’ve had today, I want to keep an eye on you.”

“All right,” I agreed, and closed my eyes.

The San Francisco Bay Area sounds like it should be small, cozy even, the sort of place you can see in a day if you really enjoy spending time in a car. But just like San Francisco itself is deceptively small, the Bay Area is deceptively large. It’s too big for any one transit system, bridge, or highway to accommodate, and the only way someone could see the whole thing in a single day would be to start at midnight and never stop the car. Twenty-four hours might be enough time to drive through all the major cities, as long as you were quick and not overly concerned with actually seeing anything.

My car issues and reliance on buses and BART trains meant I was mostly familiar with San Francisco proper, and some parts of the East Bay—the ones with good farmer’s markets or interesting local attractions, like Solano Avenue and their annual street fair, or the big animal shelter out in Oakland. Caltrain ran between San Francisco and the South Bay, but since I’d never had a pressing reason to spend time down there, I really didn’t know much about the geography beyond “every time they try to put in a BART extension, San Jose comes up with another way to block it.” I got the feeling the residents of Silicon Valley didn’t like being lumped into the San Francisco family of cities, and the feeling was pretty much mutual.

Most California biotech had started in Silicon Valley, eschewing San Francisco’s high rents and prohibitive restrictions on keeping livestock. But money, as they say, talks, and the biotech industry didn’t want to spend forever in the shadow of the computer revolution. Bit by bit the big firms had oozed their way into the seaside communities, setting up shop in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and yes, San Francisco, home of SymboGen, the biggest biotech monster of them all. Dr. Banks had tried to explain the reasoning to me a few times, focusing on the substantial hydroelectric potential of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the availability of marine biomass. He’d dodged my questions about overfishing and conservation, responding to them with one of those warm, paternal smiles that always sent shivers running up and down my spine.

“Besides, Sally, an ocean view says you’ve got the money to afford it, and that makes investors feel better about opening their wallets for you. The more money we have, the better the care we’ll be able to provide—now, and for the rest of your life. It’s a win-win situation, don’t you think?”

Those had been his exact words. As I sank down into the darkness behind my eyelids, trying to focus on the drums pounding in my ears, I wondered what he was saying now. Did he still think the ocean view was worth it when it came with geographic isolation and possible captivity in a city that was about to become a living hell?

I didn’t know, and there was no way for me to ask him.

The drums were erratic at first—soothing, but irregular, thanks to my lingering upset over Nathan’s driving. They smoothed out as I sank deeper into my own mind, retreating down into the hot warm dark that was the first thing I remembered. My old therapist, Dr. Morrison, used to tell me that the hot warm dark was a representation of the womb, a result of my damaged psyche trying to regress to a time when it experienced absolute safety. He’d been very, very wrong, but he’d been right in a way, too, because he’d been claiming that I was trying to go back to a simpler time, and well…

I was pretty sure the hot warm dark was my only real memory of my time before I joined with Sally Mitchell’s unused brain. A time when all I needed to do was eat, and occasionally shift positions in her digestive system, aligning my spreading flower of a mouth with another rich source of the nutrients I needed to survive. I wouldn’t have gone back to that state of being for anything—sapience is addictive—but it had been good while it lasted, hadn’t it? All my memories of the hot warm dark told me it had been. It made so much more sense now.

San Francisco was fading into memory and shadow behind us, surrendered to the sleepwalkers and the grasp of the coming crisis. I didn’t know if we were ever going to go back to our lives; I didn’t know how bad things were going to get. Being inhuman didn’t give me the ability to see what was coming. Too bad. We could have really used a little foresight right about then. We needed to stop Sherman. It was too late to save the sleepwalkers, but maybe Nathan and Dr. Cale could find a way to make the implants stop waking up, or at least stop them from accidentally hurting their hosts. Maybe we could figure out how to make that information public without bringing USAMRIID and SymboGen down on our heads, and maybe we could save the rest of the people, both human and chimera, who still needed saving.

It was a lot of “maybe,” but I wasn’t done yet. I thought of Tansy. My sister. Maybe she’d managed to fight off the sleepwalkers and hide somewhere, injured but alive. Maybe she’d come home, make a joke about zombie brains, and ask me to go sledding. Maybe…

“Maybe” was becoming addictive. I was so tired. I breathed in, letting the embrace of the hot warm dark draw me further down, and Nathan drove on, carrying us into the uncertain future.

INTERLUDE I: SENESCENCE

Sometimes I wonder if this is how God felt. And then I wonder why He didn’t just let us all burn.

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