Symbiont Page 69

I thought about Dr. Cale’s lab, and her small army of assistants and unpaid interns, most of whom probably didn’t know how to organize a siege. With Tansy gone, the security was reduced by at least half. Fang could probably take Ronnie in a fair fight. I didn’t believe Ronnie was a fan of fair fights. And yet lying to Ronnie didn’t seem like a good way to get off this roof alive—assuming there was any good way.

“Probably,” I said. “I’d at least tell Dr. Cale where to find you. She’s going to want to know. I think she feels responsible for Sherman. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to wipe out the human race. So probably.”

“That’s what I thought.” He pulled his hand out from behind his back, aiming the gun at me. “You’re a wimp, but you managed to outsmart me once. I didn’t even think to check the vents. That won’t happen again.”

I started to raise my hands in protest, but I was too slow. Ronnie pulled the trigger, and a small fletched dart appeared on the right side of my chest, followed almost instantly by the feeling of being stabbed. I grabbed it and yanked it loose, for all that it wasn’t going to do me a lick of good: I had enough experience with tranquilizers to know that the dart’s contents had already done their work.

“Please don’t take me back,” I whispered.

“I’m not going to.”

“Why…?”

“Because you’re the only person here who used the pronouns I asked them to use,” said Ronnie. He put the pistol away. “That buys you one ‘get out of jail free’ card from me. If you need another one, you’re going to be on your own.”

I took a step toward the edge of the roof, feeling a strange languor starting to seep through my limbs. Most tranquilizers don’t work instantly, but they don’t have to, because they’ll stop you before you have the chance to get away. Every step seemed to take twice as long as the one before, until finally my knees buckled and I pitched forward, my cheek hitting the roof for the second time. There was no pain. Unconsciousness closed over me like a Venus flytrap closing on its prey, and there was nothing left to hurt.

The sun was fully down when I woke up. I was lying on a couch in a living room I didn’t recognize. All the lights were out, and the air smelled stale, like the occupants hadn’t been around to move it in quite some time. I jerked upright and winced as the incision in my head reminded me that I had recently had surgery.

In a weird way, the persistence of pain was a relief. I didn’t know how much time had passed since Ronnie shot me with the tranquilizer dart—hours? Days? But the incision still felt raw enough that it probably hadn’t been that long. It could even have been the same night. I stayed where I was for a few minutes, listening for any signs that I wasn’t alone in the house and waiting for my head to stop its spinning. Once I felt like I could stand without vomiting on the floor, I did, and promptly collapsed back onto the couch as my abused legs refused to hold my weight.

The first giggle escaped before I knew it was coming. I clapped my hands over my mouth, trying to keep any additional giggles from breaking free, but I might as well have been trying to dam a river with Popsicle sticks. The giggles came in a wave before giving way to full-out laughter, leaving me doubled over and clutching my stomach in an effort to keep from hurting myself. I was a captive, and then I wasn’t! I was someone else’s captive, and then I got away! Only now I was alone in an abandoned house where the air smelled like dust and mold, and my legs hurt so much from my escape that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do anything useful with them ever again. My choices were laughter or tears, and laughter at least felt a little bit better.

Once I had laughed myself out I cautiously tried standing again, this time gripping the arm of the couch for balance. My legs wobbled but didn’t drop me on my ass a second time. They ached like they had never ached before, and my arms weren’t much better, all courtesy of my foolhardy ascent of the ventilation system.

“But it worked, didn’t it?” I said aloud, and giggled again—nervously this time—at the sound of my own voice. It seemed too big in this empty, dusty room. Big sounds were dangerous. I knew that instinctively, just like I knew that I needed to get out of here as soon as I feasibly could.

The living room boasted a large picture window covered only by gauzy curtains, and the clearly artificial glare from the streetlights outside came in through the sheer fabric, giving me enough light to see by, if not clearly or well. I peered around in the gloom, making note of the major articles of furniture and the two exits. One appeared to lead deeper into the house, while the other was close enough to the picture window that I was willing to bet it would lead me to an entryway and then to the front door. I wasn’t ready to go outside—not when I was this weak and this unsure of where I was—so I turned and shuffled deeper into the house, moving slowly to keep myself from falling down again.

The hardest part was crossing the wide-open center of the living room. Once I had reached the far wall and had something to brace myself against, things got easier, if not exactly pleasant. I shuffled along until my hand dipped into another room, one that both felt and sounded smaller than the first one. I felt around, my fingers finally brushing the cool edge of what felt like a sink. The bathroom. Good. I stepped fully inside, feeling blindly around until I hit a light switch.

This was it: the moment of truth. Turning on a light in the living room would have been like sending up a flare to notify anyone nearby that someone was in a house that was supposed to be empty, but the bathroom window wasn’t likely to be visible from the street. Now all I had to do was pray that the place hadn’t been empty for so long that the power had been cut.

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