“Um… something about maps getting you lost. I didn’t really understand it.”
Nathan paled. “Was it something like ‘certain lines can’t be uncrossed; certain maps will get you lost’?”
“Yes!” I sat up straighter. “How did you know that?”
“It’s from a children’s book. Well, supposedly a children’s book. The older I get, the more I think that it was actually one of those books that’s meant to look like it’s for children but is actually a parody intended for adults. Someone shelved it wrong, it wound up in my library, and my mother read it to me every night before I went to bed from the time I was four until she left us.” Nathan shook his head. “It was called Don’t Go Out Alone. I’ve looked for years, but I’ve never found another copy.”
“That’s… weird,” I said. Nathan didn’t talk about his mother much, beyond saying that they had been close, she had died when he was very young, and it had taken him years of therapy to get even partially over it. He had no pictures of her anywhere; I didn’t even know her name. Maybe that was strange, and maybe it wasn’t. I was never sure what “strange” meant when you applied it to real people, instead of to questions in a sociology textbook. My sample size was too small.
“Definitely weird,” Nathan agreed. “The woman you spoke to was right about one thing: I want to go with you. Whatever this is, you’re not walking into it alone.”
“I don’t want to,” I said, taking my notebook back. “Whatever answers she’s going to give me, I wouldn’t understand them without somebody with a science background there to translate. This woman has already proven that she’s not interested in explaining herself just because I’m not keeping up.”
Nathan smiled, not quite managing to conceal his anxiety. That actually made me feel a little better. I didn’t want to be the only one worrying. “I guess it’s a good thing you have access to a man with a science background.”
“It is,” I agreed. “It indubitably is.”
Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Indubitably?” he asked.
“Did I use it wrong?”
“No. Not at all.” He reached over and tucked my hair back behind my ear.
I put my notebook back into my bag before I scooted across the couch to fold myself against him. Nathan put his arms around me, kissing me slowly, and for a little while—not long enough; it could never have been long enough—we were able to forget about everything but the fact that we were here, alive, and together. Until things changed, that would have to be enough, for both of us.
You know, I’m just going to come out and say what everyone’s been thinking: the complaints about how the Intestinal Bodyguard™ was put through the FDA tests for a human-based drug and was thus never properly reviewed under the xenotransplantation regulations always seem to come from corporations with large biotech divisions of their own. You don’t see the consumer watchdog groups complaining, oh, no. You don’t hear from the parental oversight committees. No, they recognize a good thing when they see it. They see that the Intestinal Bodyguard™ has improved their quality of life tenfold, and they don’t complain that the government wasn’t hard enough on us during testing.
We jumped through every hoop that was put in front of us. We fulfilled every requirement we were given. If some people feel like we cheated by getting there first, well. I’m sorry.
—FROM “KING OF THE WORMS,” AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BANKS, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ROLLING STONE, FEBRUARY 2027.
Shadows dancing all around;
Some things better lost than found.
If you ask the questions, best be sure you want to know.
Some things better left forgot,
Some dreams better left unsought.
Knowing the direction doesn’t mean you have to go.
The broken doors can open if you seek them on your own.
My darling boy, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
—FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.
The sound of Nathan’s phone ringing in the middle of the night pulled me most of the way back to consciousness. I rolled over, burying my face in my pillow as I heard him fumble to pick up. The ringing stopped, followed by Nathan’s bleary, “This is Dr. Kim.” There was a long pause before he demanded, much more loudly—and much more alertly—“What are you talking about?”
I rolled back over, pushing myself up onto my elbows and squinting at him. He was sitting up, his bare back turned toward me. The hand that wasn’t holding the phone was covering half his face, like it was all that was holding him upright.
“I see,” he said, tonelessly. “No, thank you for calling me. I appreciate the notification. I’ll be in within the hour. No, it’s not a problem. Yes, thank you.” He lowered the phone, but didn’t raise his head.
Something about that didn’t seem right. Suddenly, I was afraid. “Nathan?” I almost whispered, sitting all the way up. I gingerly reached out and touched his shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“Devi came into the ER twenty minutes ago with her wife, Katherine. Katherine was nonresponsive when they arrived, and presented in the same fugue state that we’ve observed in other victims of the sleeping sickness. Devi was hysterical, and refused to leave her. The attending doctors were following established protocol for this sort of incident—” He stopped, uneasy laughter bubbling from his lips. “Oh, God, Sal, I just called Kate an ‘incident.’ Devi’s wife. I just called her an incident. Like she didn’t even have a name.”