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Soap and shampoo were not provided. They also weren’t needed. I had never encountered any substance that got a body as intimately clean as the goo in the SymboGen ultrasound chambers. Something about the way it combined with the vibration of the machine just shook the dirt and dead skin loose. All I had to do was grab a washcloth and wipe the muck away. It ran down the drain in a purple-gel-colored swirl, disappearing into the pipes below.

At home, I can shower for an hour or more, staying in the water long after it’s out of heat, and my skin has started wrinkling up like a bulldog’s neck. At SymboGen, I was in and out in under ten minutes, staying in the stall only long enough to be sure that all of the gunk had been wiped away. They promised me they didn’t have cameras in the restroom, but I wasn’t sure I trusted them. I was almost certain that they collected the things that swirled down the shower drain, taking them off for some analysis I didn’t know about, and didn’t want to know about. All I wanted was to get out of there.

A plush towel almost large enough to be considered a blanket was draped over the bench in front of the locker that held my clothes. I dried quickly, slicking my hair back and tying it into a dripping ponytail before putting my clothes back on. I dropped the towel into the laundry chute, and then I was done; the only thing left on my agenda as I understood it was a trip to the cafeteria to eat with the executives.

Sherman was waiting in the hall. It was his job—he’d be in serious trouble if he left me and anyone found out about it—but I still felt a pang of relief when I saw his smiling face. After the ultrasound technicians ran away the way they did, I’d almost expected Sherman to do the same.

“I’d like to say that you clean up good, pet, but the truth is, you clean up just this side of a drowned rat,” he said, pushing away from the wall. “I’m not sure it’s the good side of the drowned rat, either. Could be you should have taken things the other way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time,” I said gravely.

“See to it you do, and come along.” Sherman started toward the elevator. “We’ll get some lunch into you, and then you’ll be about finished for the day. You can head for home and do whatever it is you do when you’re not here hobnobbing with your betters.”

“You mean having a life, doing things I actually want to do, and not being endlessly jabbed by people with needles? Yeah, I’m pretty fond of that.” I sighed, sticking my still-damp hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Really, I’ll just be happy when I’m out of here. You’re nice and all, but…”

“But you’re worried about losing your freedom. I get that.” The elevator doors opened with a ding, and we both stepped inside. “You’re in an interesting position, Sal. I don’t envy you it at all. You’re a bit of a celebrity, a bit of an experiment, and a bit of a cautionary tale, all at the same time. Maybe you lived because of your implant. Maybe you lost your memory because of the implant. Everyone wants to know what’s going on in that head of yours, and no one’s sure they’re going to like the answers.”

“You really know how to make a girl feel good about herself, you know.”

“I try.” The elevator doors closed again. We began to ascend. “Have you thought more about that job offer?”

“I have.”

“And?”

“I’m not going to take it. I just… I can’t.” I shook my head. “I need to be able to go home and not think about this. I’m not defined by the accident. It was six years ago. How long do I have to keep being the girl who had the accident? When do I start getting to be Sal?”

“Think about it this way,” Sherman suggested. “Most of us spend a bunch of years as children. We do what our parents tell us, we live by their rules, and we never feel like we’re setting our own courses. Only then, given time, we grow up. We get to move out and be the people we want to be, not the people our parents want us to be.”

“Most people are children for eighteen years,” I said. “I don’t want to spend eighteen years living like this.”

Sherman sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you, Sal. You didn’t do anything wrong—not the person that you are now, anyway. You woke up in a hospital room, you got a clean slate, and you thought you ought to be allowed to go with that. The trouble is, you still have to live with the mistakes that Sally made. She may have given up on living when she drove her car into that bus, but that doesn’t mean you get to be free of her.”

I closed my eyes briefly. “I hate her.”

“You’re not the only one, pet.” The elevator slid to a stop. I opened my eyes to see the doors standing open, and Sherman gesturing toward the plushly carpeted hallway outside. Chave was waiting there, a sour expression on her face. “Out you get. Enjoy your decadent luncheon, and I’ll see you next time you come by for a visit, all right?”

“Thanks, Sherman.” I darted in and hugged him quickly. He made a startled sound before closing his arms around me and giving me a squeeze.

“Always welcome, Sal,” he said. His voice was warm. It was good to know that someone in this building genuinely gave a damn about me. “Now shoo. Wouldn’t do to keep your corporate masters waiting.”

“I’ll see you next time,” I said. Letting go, I stepped out of the elevator and started toward Chave. Her sour expression had turned outright disapproving, a deep furrow appearing between her eyebrows.

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