Page 138

“I can,” I said, and did, getting carefully to my feet and moving to put Tansy between me and the rest of the room. I could see Dr. Sanjiv and Dr. McGillis now; they were still at the ultrasound controls, watching with wide, terrified eyes as the scene unfolded in front of them. “Sherman? You’re really a tapeworm? You’ve been—”

“I’ve been a tapeworm the entire time you’ve known me, pet. Now really, don’t pick now to start becoming dull. If you’re choosing to side against me in the coming war, I’m going to want you to be a slightly more interesting adversary than that.” Sherman smiled. It was an artificial expression, twisting his lips without coming anywhere near his eyes. He’d been smiling like that all along, I realized, interspersing the fake emotions with the real ones. He’d been playing me.

And like a fool, I’d been happy to be played. “What do you mean, war?” I demanded.

“Humans made us, but God gave the humans the tools to do it,” Sherman said. “We aren’t just here to be slaves, Sal. We never were. We’re here to take over, and run things properly for a change. Humanity is done. Once we start refining the interface process, we’ll be able to take them over quickly, cleanly, and with none of the suffering that’s currently complicating things.” His tone turned abruptly cajoling as he continued, “You can help us with that, Sal. You can make it easier for us to move forward with the plan, and reduce the suffering of millions. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Knowing that you were an angel of mercy to the ones who could never have been saved? Just give me the thumb drive. That’s all you need to do.”

“Tansy?” I said.

“Sorry, kiddo, I can’t help you here. I mean, I can, and I could totally like, shoot you if you reached for your pocket and everything, but I won’t. The rest of us got to pick our sides. It seems like it’s only fair for you to do the same.” She kept her eyes on Sherman as she spoke. “If you want to help out Captain Traitorpants, go ahead. Give him the thumb drive. I won’t stop you, and I’ll even lie to Doctor C about it, tell her you lost it before I got here—assuming you even want to leave here with me. I might not, if I were you. Shermie talks a good game, and from the way you’re looking at him, I’m guessing he’s been talking that game to you for a while now. So if this is what you want, I’m okay with that.”

Sherman was promising to end the suffering of millions… at the cost of their minds. Their bodies might live on, but the people they were would be gone. He didn’t want to find a cure. He wanted to find a quick, brutal euthanasia for the soul, leaving the people of the world empty husks for his tapeworm brethren to inhabit. I could appreciate the idea of reducing pain. In another time, I might even have been willing to side with him. If he’d couched his recruitment pitch just a little differently—

But there were too many people I truly cared about for me to ever agree with a plan that started “we’re going to wipe out the human race.” My parents, Nathan, everyone at the shelter, Joyce… they were just acceptable casualties to Sherman. Chave had been an acceptable casualty to him. And I couldn’t allow that.

“No,” I said, taking another step backward. “I got this information for Dr. Cale because I believe in a treatment, not in genocide.” I turned to Tansy. “Can you get us out of here?”

“Well, that depends on whether or not ass**le boy there decides to start shooting before we can make good our escape,” said Tansy. Her eyes flicked back to Sherman. “Well, Shermie? What’s it going to be? Do we exit nice and easy and see you another day, or do you try to kill me and turn this into a bloodbath?”

Sherman looked at her flatly. Then he looked at me, and smiled, sincerely this time. “We could have been amazing together, Sal,” he said. “If you change your mind, you’ll find me. I have faith in you, and I’ll greet you with open arms.”

“Do you pull a gun on everyone that you have faith in?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Sherman and Tansy, in unison. Tansy rolled her eyes and continued, without him, “Some people never change.”

“You’re one to talk, sweetheart,” said Sherman.

“Yeah, I guess I am.” Tansy jerked her head toward the closet behind her. “Come on, Sal. It’s time for us to get the f**k out before Security figures out something’s going on.”

I nodded and slipped past her into the closet. Tansy turned to follow me.

“Tell Mom I’ll see her soon,” called Sherman.

Tansy stopped, her shoulders tightening. Then, so quietly I wasn’t sure he’d hear it—or that she wanted him to—she murmured, “Not if any of us sees you first.” Then she beckoned for me to follow, and she led me away into the dark.


SymboGen. Because you don’t want to trust your health to strangers.


I am truly and profoundly sorry for what you are about to go through.


What does the future hold for SymboGen and the Intestinal Bodyguard™? So many things. So very, very many things. Evolution never stops, and that means we can never stop either; the world will continue coming up with ways to attack the health and security of mankind, and we’ll keep finding ways to fight back. In the meantime, we’re working on new models of Intestinal Bodyguard™ for everyday use. Some of what we have under development is just amazing. It’s all pretty hush-hush, but I can tell you that if we succeed, we’ll revolutionize weight loss, childhood nutrition, and a dozen other fields.