Symbiont Page 97

Chapter 13

NOVEMBER 2027

Dr. Banks was removed to one of the secure holding rooms. Dr. Cale had prepared them knowing that eventually one of her people would go sleepwalker. Everyone who worked for her was supposedly clean, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything—the rules had changed as soon as the tapeworms began migrating through the bodies of their hosts, and we couldn’t count on things like asexuality or built-in obsolescence to keep people safe.

Anyone who wasn’t a chimera like me or free of implants like Nathan was a potential conversion risk. That fact had been driven home a week before Dr. Banks showed up, when one of the techs suddenly started seizing. She’d been infected all along. We just hadn’t known it.

Now she drooled and gnashed her teeth in the room next to the one where they were putting Dr. Banks. I hoped the smell of him kept her snarling the whole time that he was there. He deserved it.

I led Anna through the facility, flanked by two guards who were supposed to make sure she didn’t try anything. If she was plotting against us, it didn’t show. She held my hand, docile and silent, until we reached a small examining theater, two of its four walls made of hanging white linen. When she saw the bed she smiled, the expression lighting up her pale face, and pulled her hand out of mine. She ran to climb up onto the bed with all the joy of a child on Christmas morning. Before any of us could do more than blink, she began shedding clothing, throwing it to the floor until she was stark naked. Then and only then did she lay back on the bed, arms flat at her sides with her wrists turned toward the ceiling, as if she was prepping herself for the inevitable IV.

She didn’t make a sound throughout the entire process. She just stripped and stretched in total silence, somehow managing to even keep the bed linens from rustling.

Nathan, Dr. Cale, Daisy, and I stared at her, equally silent, although our silence was born more of shock than anything else. Then, slowly, the three of them turned to look at me. I put my hands up, as much to ward off the comparisons as to ward off the questions.

“No,” I said. “I remember everything about the period immediately after I woke up, and I was never like that. I was compliant, yes, because I wanted to please the people around me, but I was never… never…” I shuddered, unable to put the wrongness of what I’d just witnessed into words. Finally, unable to think of anything else, I repeated, “No.”

“So we’re either looking at the result of conditioning, or at something that happens naturally in…” Dr. Cale stopped. It was rare to see her silent in the middle of a sentence. Her lips moved for a few seconds, struggling for the next word, before she said, “Involuntary chimera. Oh, God. I never wanted to say those words.”

“I don’t see how you can, Mother,” said Nathan. “This is impossible. He has to be lying.”

“There’s only one way of finding out,” said Dr. Cale. Her gaze went back to Anna, and the rest of us followed it. “She has the answers. They’re locked in her blood, in the protein traces of her spinal column, in a hundred other locations on her body. Getting them out will hurt her. I wish we didn’t have to try.”

“So take him at his word,” I said, the need to protect her looming large once again.

“We can’t, Sal,” said Nathan. I glanced to him, feeling obscurely betrayed. Yes, he frequently sided with his mother in matters of science, but not when it was something like this, not when a woman’s life was on the line. He shook his head. “If she’s a chimera who converted while the original personality was still conscious and aware of her own body, that means there might be a way for sleepwalkers to integrate successfully. You were the first natural chimera, but Sally was already gone when you made the integration. She wasn’t in the body to fight you. Anna…”

“The mind resists that sort of thing, as a general rule; that’s why brainwashing and sleep-learning don’t work,” said Dr. Cale. “We become entirely different people every seven years, and our minds let it happen because it’s slow, it’s graceful, and even then, we cling to childhood pleasures and high school goals like they somehow had more relevance just because they happened earlier in our developmental cycles. Can one of my children rewire a thinking mind completely and successfully without resulting in the sort of traumatic brain damage we see in the sleepwalkers? God help me, but we need to know.”

“Why?” I asked blankly.

“Because if my children can take someone over without unconsciousness or brain damage, they can learn to make the transition almost invisible,” said Dr. Cale. “No real disruption. ‘Bob’s just tired,’ and then the other chimera remove their new brother or sister before anyone notices the change. Oh, all the memory loss will still apply, but it’ll be so much easier to relearn everything when you don’t damage the brain in the process of taking it over.”

“That’s why he brought her here,” I said. “He knew you’d study her. She’s a trap.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Cale. “I’m aware. So let’s set it off, and see what happens.”

“He’ll take everything you learn and run away with it.”

Dr. Cale’s smile was a terrible thing, and filled with teeth. “You’re assuming he’ll still have feet when we get done with him.”

Anna—who had to have heard every word we said, lying there on the bed with her eyes toward the ceiling and her nipples slowly hardening from the chill in the room—didn’t say a word or turn toward us even once. She just held herself perfectly still, a composed expression on her face, like Dr. Banks passed her off to strangers every day.

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