Neither did I. I started to turn toward Dr. Banks.
Chave was faster.
Her hands caught my throat in midturn, bringing me to an abrupt halt. I froze, staring into her empty eyes. Behind me, men were shouting, and the Head of the Security Department was barking orders. I couldn’t turn to see whether they were being followed. Chave’s grip on my neck was too tight, and it forced me to keep looking at her.
It was like looking at a dead thing. The comparison had occurred to me before, but I hadn’t realized how apt it was. There was no emotion in her eyes, no animation, nothing but the cloudy blankness of a body that had been abandoned. She was moving, her hands were doing their best to strangle the life out of my body, but Chave—the bitchy, efficient, focused woman who had been a fixture of my visits to SymboGen since the beginning—was no longer living there.
I struggled for air, making a small gasping noise. Chave’s hands tightened. Lifting my own hands, I clawed at her fingers, trying to regain my balance enough to let me kick at her. If she was standing, she could be knocked down. Nothing is immovable, and I only needed a moment if I wanted to run. I should have moved when they told me to, I thought deliriously. I think I’m going to die here. I don’t want to die here. I don’t want to die in the SymboGen cafeteria. My parents would never get my body. Dr. Banks would seize it for research purposes, and I had no doubt that the contracts I’d signed gave him the right to do exactly that. Maybe this was his plan all along. Maybe Chave was just carrying out another one of her orders.
No. That wasn’t possible. While I had no trouble believing that Chave would kill me if she was told to, no one could fake the kind of emptiness I saw in her eyes. She wasn’t pretending. I pulled helplessly at her hands, trying to pry them from my throat.
Dark spots were appearing in front of my eyes when someone behind me shouted, “Sal! Relax!” I heard running footsteps moving toward me, and I went limp, the sudden weight of me nearly pulling me out of Chave’s hands. Only nearly, but Sherman did the rest when he collided with her, slamming one shoulder into her midsection in a move that would have done an offensive lineman proud.
Chave lost her grip as Sherman’s moving tackle yanked her away from me. I fell to the floor, choking and gasping for air. Two of the SymboGen security officers were there almost instantly. They helped me to my feet and herded me toward the wall before I could collect myself enough to protest.
Sherman had stopped running. He shoved Chave away from him harder than should have been necessary, sending the still slack-jawed woman stumbling backward. Then he backpedalled, stopping only when the security officer behind him snapped, “Stop right there, son.” Sherman froze, chest heaving, and glanced toward me, like he was checking to be sure that I was still safe. I flashed him a weak smile and a quick thumbs-up, not sure what else to do. Sherman nodded, seeming relieved.
Chave’s mouth was working soundlessly. It looked like she was trying to say something. The security officers began closing in around her, their weapons now raised and trained firmly on her. She hissed at them, although I couldn’t be sure it was a warning, not just a sound that she had remembered how to make.
“Take her down,” said Dr. Banks implacably.
“Wait—what?” I took a step forward, and was promptly stopped by my own guards. They held me there as the other officers moved closer to Chave. “What’s going on? What’s wrong with her?”
No one answered me. The first of the officers reached Chave. Gun still raised, he pulled a baton from his belt and pressed it against her stomach, pressing a red button on its side at the same time. She shrieked as the baton crackled, forcing electricity into her body. Another officer stepped up behind her, doing the same thing. Chave’s shriek ended in a choking sound, and she began convulsing.
“Stop it! You’re killing her, stop it!” I shouted.
“Sally, you don’t understand,” said Dr. Banks. He must have pushed his way through the crowd to get to us. “I’m sorry. This is the only way.”
I turned to glare at him. “What’s going on?” I demanded. Chave should have collapsed long since, but somehow, she was still standing. Two more officers stepped up, pressing their batons against her side. Electricity crackled.
Chave began to scream.
It wasn’t a human scream; it was more like the sound a wounded animal makes when it hurts beyond its capacity to follow instinct’s instructions and keep silent, keep still. We had a dog left on the front step of the shelter once. His back section had been crushed by a truck, and he was making a sound just like the one Chave was making now, too raw to be considered a howl, but not the sort of sound you ever hear from a thinking creature.
Dr. Banks put his hands on my shoulders, like he was afraid that I might try to break away and run toward Chave. I didn’t try to shrug him off. I couldn’t imagine moving in that moment, not with Chave screaming, and more and more of the guards closing in around her, their stun batons already in their hands. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be happening. This was something out of a horror movie. She’d been talking to me only a few minutes ago, she’d—
Chave stopped screaming and turned toward me, her body still convulsing with the electricity that was arcing through it. She shouldn’t have been standing. She didn’t fall. “Sah-lee,” she said, spitting out the two syllables of my name like they hurt her mouth. Dr. Banks tightened his hands on my shoulders. Someone else gasped. “Sah-lee,” said Chave again.