Symbiont Page 5

I cocked my head, studying him. “You knew as soon as you met me that I was like you, didn’t you?” I asked. “That’s why you’re trying so hard to convince me that life is wonderful. Because you want me to love it the way you do.”

“You already do,” he said earnestly. “You wouldn’t have come looking for the broken doors if you didn’t love life. Curiosity is what it looks like when you’re in love with the world.”

“Did Dr. Cale teach you that?” I asked.

Adam nodded. “Mom says you know someone is getting tired of living when they stop asking questions.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“I know.” He looked down at his hands. “I knew before you came here. Mom told me and Tansy all about you—Tansy so she’d know who she was supposed to be keeping track of, and me because she wanted me to know about both my—” Adam cut himself off midsentence, glancing up almost guiltily.

I offered him a wan smile. “Both your sisters,” I said. “She wanted you to know about both your sisters.”

“Yeah.” Adam’s relief was palpable. “She said you’d come find us one day, because you were her daughter, and her daughters were always going to be curious. It’s in the way we’re made.”

“I guess I have a lot to learn. You’re going to have to teach me, you know. I don’t really know much.”

Adam abruptly spread his arms and lunged forward, moving so fast that I didn’t have a chance to react before he was hugging me hard, his head resting on my shoulder and his arms locked around my chest. I stiffened until I realized what was going on, and then I relaxed, bit by bit, and even raised my own hands to return the hug as best I could.

“I’m going to be the best brother, you’ll see,” he said. “I’m going to teach you everything, and we’ll both be here when Tansy comes home, and then she’ll like you, because you’ll be with us, not living all by yourself. We’ve both been so worried about you!”

The funny thing was, I believed him… and I wanted him to be the best brother. I wanted a family, a family that was mine, not Sally’s castoffs and hand-me-downs. I breathed in and he breathed out, until bit by bit our breathing synchronized, and the pounding of the drums in my ears quieted, becoming nothing but the distant thudding of my heart. Adam let go, sitting back on his haunches. I dropped my hands back to the cot, just looking at him. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it; there were no words.

“Are you okay?” he asked solemnly.

“I don’t know,” I said. “This morning, I thought I was a human being, and I thought my friend Sherman was dead, and I thought… I thought a lot of things. Now everything is changing, and it’s changing so fast that I can’t really keep up. So I don’t know if I’m okay.” I paused. “But I think I’m going to be.”

Adam nodded. “Going to be is almost as good as is,” he said. “I’ll be here. I’ll help as much as I can.”

I smiled. “See, that right there makes me closer to okay. I’m glad I don’t have to do this alone.”

“Me, too.” He climbed off the cot, bare feet slapping the tile floor. “I need to go tell Mom you’re awake—she asked me to let her know as soon as you woke up, but I thought it was more important that we talk a little bit first. That was right, wasn’t it?”

“Right as rain,” I assured him. I peeled back the blanket, finding that I was as barefoot as Adam, although someone had dressed me in my shirt and jeans while I was unconscious. I stuck the fingers of one hand under my waistband, and decided that Nathan had dressed me. I couldn’t see Dr. Cale remembering to tell her interns to put my underwear back on. “Why don’t I come with you?”

This time Adam’s smile was almost bright enough to light the room.

There were more technicians around than I had seen on previous visits to Dr. Cale’s lab. They swarmed around the equipment like ants, some of them checking cultures or typing at workstations, while right next to them others broke down shelves and packed glassware with an eerily silent efficiency. Adam led me unflinchingly through their midst, his hand clasped tightly around mine, like he had absolute faith that nothing here could hurt either one of us. A few of the technicians turned as we passed, and while they seemed perfectly comfortable with looking directly at Adam, their eyes skittered off me like I’d been Teflon-coated while I was asleep.

Seeing my confusion, Adam said, “It’s because Mom finally told them you were my sister, and they’re all getting used to the idea. They knew there was a control subject in the wild, and I think a few people—like Daisy, maybe—sort of suspected that it was you, but suspecting isn’t the same as knowing, you know?”

Did I ever. “They know I’m really a tapeworm? And who’s Daisy?”

“She works for Mom, and everybody knows.” Adam nodded, seeming to think that this was perfectly normal. For him, it sort of was. SymboGen had dedicated years of therapy and education to making me into a perfect human being; all Dr. Cale had ever forced Adam to learn was how to be a decent person. Maybe those two things weren’t as closely related as I had always automatically assumed. “They don’t care. Or they won’t care, once they get over the shock of meeting the control subject without realizing it. I think some of them are just a little shaky about it, you know?”

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