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After what felt like a hundred years, but was really slightly under an hour, Dr. Banks glanced ostentatiously at his watch, and stood. “I’ve enjoyed our time together, Sally, but I’m afraid I have a meeting I can’t reschedule. Do you know what the rest of your day with us will look like?”

“Not yet,” I said, taking the hint and getting out of my own chair. I’d been sitting still for too long; my legs felt like jelly. “Chave brought me straight up to see you.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve got some exciting adventures ahead of you.” Dr. Banks started walking toward the door. He didn’t gesture for me to follow him. He knew that I was going to do it, just like he knew that he would eventually be able to convince me to accede to the interview with Rolling Stone. Being his kind of rich made it easy to shape the world to suit your standards. “I’ll check with my secretary. Maybe we can have lunch together. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“Sure,” I said. For a change, I meant it, at least a little. Eating lunch at SymboGen was part of the visitation process; they probably observed me for some set of symptoms I didn’t even know I was supposed to be expressing. The company’s main cafeteria was excellent, but the executive cafeteria—where I’d eaten every chance I got since remembering, or maybe learning, that food could get better than macaroni and cheese with applesauce on the side—was something special. They hired five-star chefs, and their menu was never the same two days in a row.

“There’s something you’ll have to do for me, of course.”

I paused, giving him a wary look. “What?”

“What’s the newest piece of slang you’ve learned?”

Fortunately, this wasn’t one of the insulting ones. “Taking the Mickey,” I said. “It means making fun of somebody by telling them a fib. I think it has something to do with Mickey Mouse, but I’m not quite sure.”

Now he laughed, a big, bold sound that filled the room like the drumming filled the darkness in my dreams. I flinched, barely stopping myself from clutching at my ears. “Mickey Mouse, huh? Truly, Sally, you are an endless delight.”

“Thank you, Dr. Banks,” I said.

“And like all endless delights, you have other lives to brighten.” He pushed open the door, revealing Chave standing still as a statue on the other side. She looked monumentally bored, and a little bit annoyed. For her, that was the equivalent of kicking her feet and screaming. “Are you here to take Miss Mitchell to her next meeting?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Chave, in her usual cool tone. “We’re already twenty minutes overdue for her appointment in the blood lab. Did you feed her?”

“Not a crumb,” said Dr. Banks.

Chave nodded curtly and looked to me, as if for confirmation.

“He didn’t feed me,” I said.

“Good. Come along.” With that, she turned her back and stalked toward the elevator, her shoulders locked into a tight, unhappy line. I glanced back at Dr. Banks, who still hadn’t formally dismissed me. Then I ran after her, clutching my bag to my chest like a lifeline.

It said something about how little I enjoyed my time with Dr. Banks that being locked in an elevator with an unhappy personal assistant who clearly blamed me for disrupting her entire day was better than spending another minute alone with him. I stood as far away from her as the tiny elevator allowed, watching as the numbers on the display counted down to the first floor, and then farther down, into the basement levels.

Maybe it’s crazy to build a high-rise with multiple subterranean floors in the state of California, earthquake capital of the United States, but that didn’t stop the founders of SymboGen. When Drs. Banks and Jablonsky decided to build a state-of-the-art research facility, they didn’t let silly things like logic and geography stop them. SymboGen was cut deep into the bedrock of South San Francisco, and the only reason it wasn’t closer to the water was that no amount of money or hubris could deny the ocean. The building would have flooded long since if it had been as close to the coast as they originally wanted it to be. SymboGen: the castle that worms built.

We finally stopped on subbasement level three. I found myself relaxing when the elevator doors opened to reveal a generic hospital hallway, the kind that could be in any public research facility or university in the world. Home.

Men and women in white lab coats and sensible slacks walked past, some of them pausing to wave or smile in my direction. I beamed back at them, my smile widening as my eyes found the one person who was wearing a tailored suit. He stuck out like a sore thumb amongst all their practical, functional clothing. It didn’t help that he was tall, gangly, and sporting an artificial tan that clashed with the laboratory pallor of the people around him.

I stepped into the hall, still clutching my bag as I walked toward Sherman. I was moving too fast, and nearly collided with one of the researchers. He swerved at the last moment, and we both regained our balance as the elevator doors slid closed behind me.

The change in Sherman once Chave was out of sight was instant. He relaxed from his ramrod-straight attention, suddenly grinning. Even his artfully spiked hair somehow seemed less “the latest style,” and more “I couldn’t be bothered to do anything but chop it off and rub some gel into it.” “Come here, you bloody twit,” he said, his heavy British accent twisting the words until the mockery seemed almost friendly, like a more personal way of saying hello. “Can you manage it, do you think, without sending half the research staff sprawling? I ask out of personal interest, and because if you’re going to treat them like bowling pins, I want to take a moment to place a bet with the staff in the radiology lab.”