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Chapter 7


Sherman passed me off to Chave, who dragged me to the accounting department to be grilled about my receipts, which looked exactly like every other batch of receipts I’d ever brought in for them to review. Medications, vitamins, physical therapy sessions, the usual. The only thing that actually should have caught their attention was the bill for a new grain heating pad—technically a “household item,” and thus a questionable expense—but they waved it off without comment, choosing to focus instead on the number of times I’d been to see the chiropractor since my last visit.

Eventually, they freed me back into the halls of SymboGen, and Chave delivered me back to Sherman, who was flirting with a receptionist I didn’t recognize. The receptionist pouted when Chave called Sherman away, but hid the expression quickly. Smart. I wouldn’t have wanted to attract Chave’s attention when I didn’t have to.

“She’s all yours,” said Chave, waving me toward Sherman. “Get her an ultrasound and make sure she’s in the cafeteria at one. Beyond that, I don’t care what you do.” Then she turned and stalked away.

Sherman watched her leave, waiting until she was out of earshot before sighing longingly. “That, my darling Sal, is a woman who needs an infusion of fun in her life. Possibly accompanied by a pitcher or two of strawberry mojitos.” He clucked his tongue. “Anyone that tightly wound is going to be a tornado when they finally let go. Imagine being the lucky bloke—or bird—on the receiving end of that storm warning.”

“I think we have very different ideas of what makes a fun evening,” I said.

“Probably so,” Sherman agreed, and turned to lead me back toward the elevator. “Have a good day so far?”

“No worse than usual, and I guess I’ll call that a win.” I sighed. “I just keep reminding myself that I don’t have to do this again for six months. It helps me get through the day.”

“That’s good.” The elevator doors slid open. Sherman waited until they closed again before saying, casually, “Word is that Banks is trying to hire you on for the research department. Can’t imagine you’d be too thrilled about that.”

I stared at him. “Just how good is the rumor mill around here? We only talked about that a few hours ago.”

“Nothing happens in a vacuum, especially not when you’re talking about a company this size.” Sherman looked at me thoughtfully. “Are you going to take it? You’d be around here a good bit more. But you wouldn’t have to worry anymore about whether you’d have another emergency. It might take a bit of the edge off.”

“Yeah, and I’d be on site when I cracked from the pressure of all those eyes looking at me all the time. That would make it so much easier for them to get me into a nice padded room.” The elevator dinged, signaling our safe return to the subterranean domain of the scientists. “I’d rather worry a little now than freak out a lot later on.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” said Sherman, and stepped out of the elevator. I followed him, and together we made our way to the dressing room outside the ultrasound lab. “You get changed; I’ll go make sure the science mooks are ready for us.”

“You got it,” I said, and slipped inside.

The ultrasound machine surrounded me like a huge, comforting hand, holding just tightly enough that I didn’t need to be afraid that I would somehow lose my grip on the surface of the world—that gravity would fail or an earthquake would mysteriously flip the building upside down and send me plummeting into empty space. I could move, to a degree, crossing or uncrossing my arms and ankles, but for the most part, I was safely confined. I raised one hand to check that my rebreather was solidly in place, and closed my eyes.

Some people apparently found full-body ultrasounds invasive and claustrophobic, and would go to any lengths to avoid them. I had the opposite response. If I’d been able to trade all my other tests for additional time in the ultrasound chamber, I would happily have done so. According to Sherman, that was one more reason for the company technicians to view me as a freak of nature.

The full-body imaging department at SymboGen consisted of two different sections: the MRI room and the gel ultrasound room. I had undergone both at one time or another during my visits to SymboGen, and the gel ultrasound was definitely my favorite of the two. MRIs meant lying on my back for up to an hour while the machine took its snapshot images of my body, trying not to move as my weight seemed to press me deeper and deeper into the metal bed. There was no padding in an MRI tube; that might interfere with the readings.

People who found MRIs claustrophobic apparently freaked out completely during gel ultrasounds, which required a rebreather and that the subject’s eyes remain closed for the duration. The techs would even glue them shut for you if you asked them to, to make sure you wouldn’t give in to the urge to look around and see what was happening. After you were fully prepped and inside the tube, it was flooded with a bioresponsive plastic gel modeled off the biological structure of slime mold. It was hypoallergenic, nontoxic, and as harmless as possible.

Gel ultrasounds were infinitely more comforting than MRIs. I relaxed, slowing my breathing as I allowed myself to go totally limp.

There was a clicking noise in my left ear just before the head technician’s voice came through the side of my rebreather: “You ready for us, Sally? Clench your left hand for ‘yes.’ ”