Symbiont Page 89

I suppose I should have expected that. Dr. Cale’s people were among the best in the world, and had been even before the population of the world started to drop precipitously. But they didn’t all share her “a person’s a person” attitude toward the chimera, or her sympathy toward the sleepwalkers, who had, after all, not asked to be designed with dangerously high levels of human DNA. I was starting to worry that she would have a mutiny on her hands before too much longer. What felt like half her technicians didn’t want to broker a peace between the two sides: they wanted to wipe the other side out completely, sweeping the slate clean and creating a world where allergies and autoimmune disorders would return to their proper place in the human body, rather than being suppressed by tapeworms that could turn traitor at any moment.

It was sort of hard to blame them for that. I probably wouldn’t have been too thrilled at the idea of harboring my own replacement.

The elevator stopped two floors down from our living quarters, and the doors opened on a sugar-scented, candy-colored wonderland. As always, the sight of the party level sent my train of thought spinning out of control, replaced by a strong desire to run laughing through the cookie garden until the Buttercream Fairy appeared and told me to stop. I glanced to the side. Nathan was grinning at me again.

“I just really like it here,” I said defensively.

“I just really like it when you’re happy,” he said, laughing, and stepped out of the elevator, leaving me with little choice but to follow him.

The party level had been designed to be managed by no more than six staff members, but had been subdivided into enough small grottos and private rooms that it was impossible to tell how many people were there at any given time. The elevator opened into the arrival area, which smelled like jelly beans and gumdrops and didn’t have a specific “candy” theme apart from “dentists are the enemy.” The randomly changing candy scents made meals an occasionally interesting experience, since this was also the only place in the building that was properly set up as a dining area. There was a cafeteria, but it was small and gray and depressing, and pretty much all of us preferred to eat in the cookie garden.

The smell of bacon wafted from what used to be the sticky toffee oasis, but had become the main station for fried meats in the morning and hot soup in the afternoon, thanks to its plethora of heat lamps and electrical outlets. According to the flyers in the old manager’s office, the sticky toffee oasis had been the only party destination to offer fondue as an option for the birthday boy or girl. I wasn’t really sure why anyone would want to eat toffee-flavored fondue on the steps of a plywood and plaster pyramid. Clearly, my lack of a human childhood had warped me in some way.

Daisy was on duty at the hot bar when Nathan and I came around the corner. He got a bright smile, which faded somewhat as her eyes focused on me. “Good morning, Nathan,” she said. “Sal.”

“Morning, Daisy.” I picked up a plate. “Nathan said there were waffles?”

“Third tray,” she said, pointing with her tongs before refocusing her smile on Nathan. It got even brighter, if that was possible. “I saved you some ham. It’s from the freezer we found last week, so we know it’s good.”

“Mmm, ham,” said Nathan. “Did you know that most natural tapeworm infections in the United States came from undercooked pork before we started importing our produce from South America? Salad tainted with human feces turned out to be an excellent transmission method for the infection.”

Daisy blanched, looking faintly nauseated. “Is that your way of saying you don’t want any ham?”

“I try to avoid pork as a rule.” Nathan picked up a plate of his own. “Breakfast potatoes?”

“That, I can do,” said Daisy, looking relieved. She opened the second of the silver serving platters and spooned a heaping pile of potatoes onto Nathan’s plate. “The fruit is down at the end.”

“I know my way around the hot bar,” said Nathan, with a smile that came nowhere near hers, for brightness, but was kind, which was really more than I would have given her. “Thanks for breakfast.”

“Thanks for eating,” said Daisy. Her blanch became a blush. “I mean, let me know if you want any orange juice.”

“Okay.”

I took my plate of waffles and previously frozen berries, stopped in front of Daisy long enough to take the ham Nathan had refused—it wasn’t like it could give me a tapeworm, since the chemicals I released into Sally’s body as part of claiming it as my own prevented any other parasitic infection from taking root—and flashed her a toothy smile before I turned and followed Nathan deeper into the party floor, looking for a table.

He finally settled at an empty picnic table that had been painted to look like it contained our recommended daily allowance of chocolate chips. I slid into a seat across from him. The waffles were pretty good, especially considering that it had been made with condensed milk—we had chickens, even a few goats, but no cows. That would have required more arable land than we could create with potting soil and fences.

Captain Candy’s had been designed to serve three disparate purposes: tourism, research, and food production. It still served three purposes. They just weren’t what the original architects had had in mind. The wonderland areas were still mostly intact, used as social space and meeting areas. The research and development labs had been repurposed into living space, with some people choosing to paint the walls white and others—like Nathan and myself—choosing to keep them primary colored and comforting. No one’s ever come up with a universal color scheme for the apocalypse, and if ours wanted to come in neon and peppermint stripe, well. That was okay.

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