Six years into the development cycle, they came to me. I gave up everything to be a part of the project. They never looked back, and neither did I.
—FROM CAN OF WORMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SHANTI CALE, PHD. AS YET UNPUBLISHED.
Shanti and Steve have told their sides of the story, Steve in public, Shanti mostly behind closed doors. I know she’s planning to publish a book as soon as her NDA runs out. Steve can’t keep paying her off forever. He’s too arrogant to really think that he has to. That’s the real problem. He’s too arrogant, and she’s too insane, and they’re the ones with their fingers on the trigger of this whole damn mess.
Ask Steve and he’ll say we filled a need.
Ask Shanti and she’ll say science finds a way.
Don’t bother asking me anything. I have committed my crimes. I have endured my penance for as long as I could. After tomorrow, I will not be available for you to ask.
—FROM THE JOURNAL OF DR. RICHARD JABLONSKY, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. DATED JULY 10, 2027.
You’re sure that you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Dad.” I looked out the car window at the glass-fronted building in front of us, trying to ignore the itching in my fingers. I wanted out of the car, away from his endless attempts to be a caring parent. All he was doing was making me more nervous than I already was… but not quite nervous enough to undo my seat belt while the car was still in motion. “This isn’t my first checkup.”
“Still. I could go in with you.” The car finally stopped moving, pulled up snug against the curb.
“No,” I said, and unfastened my seat belt. In the back, Beverly sat up, ears pricked, as she waited to see whether I’d be taking her with me. “Sorry, girl. You’re going to the office with Dad today, and I’m going to the vet.”
Dad snorted, amusement briefly overwhelming his concern.
I leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks for taking Beverly. See you when I get home?”
“I’d be happy to come and pick you up,” Dad said, and hugged me awkwardly, around his seat belt.
“I like taking the bus; it gives me time to think,” I said gently as I retrieved my messenger bag from the footwell and slid out of the car. I shut the door before he could object. He shot me a look through the window, half-annoyed, half-amused. Then he waved. I waved back, and turned away from the car, facing the SymboGen building.
It looked as pastoral and welcoming as it always did, thanks to hundreds of architects and public relations designers, and part of me—the part that had come first, during my endless hours of physical therapy and laborious progress—still thought of it as home. I knew that years of work had gone into creating that facade, the perfect blend of glass and stainless steel, representing scientific futurism, with growing plants and artificial waterfalls, representing a connection to the natural world. The original architect wrote a book about the process of building SymboGen HQ. It says something about the size and strength of the company that he was able to have it published.
And no matter how false it was, it was still the first home that I remembered having, and the one that my heart never really seemed to leave. I took a breath, squared my shoulders, and walked toward the sliding glass doors at the front of the building.
They opened silently at my approach, the first strains of Muzak drifting out into the morning air. It sounded classical, but I knew if I pulled out my phone and triggered the app that was supposed to help me identify songs off the radio, it would come up as a generic pop song, slowed down, sweetened, and stripped of whatever raw power it might have had when it was new. No matter how comfortable I felt at SymboGen, I needed to remember how good they were at taking things and reducing them to their lowest common denominators.
I took a deep breath as I stepped over the threshold into SymboGen proper, shutting out the music in favor of savoring the carefully balanced perfume suffusing the lobby. The scent was a custom blend, according to Joyce: a mixture of apple, orange blossoms, and fresh corn. It was supposed to make people think of health and vitality. It made me think that everything was going to be all right, and at the same time, that nothing was ever going to be all right again. It was the smell of home. Home isn’t always a good place to be.
“Ms. Mitchell. We’re so glad you could join us today.” The voice was as smooth and soulless as the music drifting from overhead.
“Hi, Chave,” I said, turning to face the speaker.
She was beautiful: she had to be, to be one of the public faces of SymboGen. As always, she was sleekly groomed, not a hair out of place. She was wearing a dove-gray suit, and her dark skin practically glowed against its pale backdrop, making her look like the pinnacle of health. I was gripped with the sudden, almost undeniable urge to ask her whether SymboGen employed a fashion consultant to make sure their employees only went out in public wearing colors that were guaranteed to make them look like they were ready to run a marathon.
“You’re right on time. That’s wonderful.” Chave’s smile was as artificial as the rest of her, but I didn’t hold it against her. “Did you remember your paperwork?”
“It’s all right here, same as always.” I held up my bag, wondering if this was the way kids in school felt when they were asked if they’d remembered to do their homework. One more piece of missing emotional memory, clicking into place. “Do you know where I’m supposed to drop it off?”