I have regrets. I would have to be a monster not to. But I am not sorry.
—FROM CAN OF WORMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SHANTI CALE, PHD. AS YET UNPUBLISHED.
I wondered when you were going to reach the falling-out questions. It always seems to wind up here, like this is the true north of every interview’s course. All right, here it is:
Shanti Cale and I parted ways over ethical differences. She was responsible for certain early development phases of the Intestinal Bodyguard™, and she made the decision to cut certain corners that could have resulted in some very bad things happening. Luckily, we were able to catch and solve those issues before they ever made it out of the lab. That was still the beginning of the end for me and Shanti, as a partnership, and as friends. I couldn’t trust her after that. I really view that as the greatest tragedy of my success. Richard’s resignation was heartbreaking, but he’d been having emotional problems for years. We all saw the writing on that wall. Shanti…
I loved her very much, as a friend and as a colleague. I never really believed she’d betray me. I still can’t understand how I could have been so wrong.
—FROM “KING OF THE WORMS,” AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BANKS, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ROLLING STONE, FEBRUARY 2027.
I was dressed and ready to go when Nathan pulled up in front of the house. Beverly’s dish was full, and there was a note on the refrigerator to keep my parents from getting worried if they got home before I did. I didn’t say anything about Mr. Carson and the others, or about the visit from SymboGen security. I felt funny about that, but if I started going into details, I’d wind up writing everything down, and there wasn’t time. I could explain when we were all together again.
Nathan honked the horn. When I’d called to ask him if we could go, I’d told him not to bother getting out of the car. The sound still made me jump a little, my stomach squeezing like a fist. Were we making the right decision? Should we really be running around with people who used quotes from obscure children’s books in casual conversation, and played cloak-and-dagger games for no good reason?
Did we have a choice?
Nathan honked again. No, we didn’t have a choice. Devi was dead. If we wanted answers, we’d have to take them wherever we could find them.
I locked the door behind me as I left the house, slinging my messenger bag over my shoulder one-handed. I was dressed for a clandestine meeting, in jeans, a dark blue hoodie, and running shoes—in case we found a reason to run—with my hair pulled into a ponytail.
Nathan looked over as I practically threw myself into the passenger seat. He blinked. “Sal? Are you okay?”
“Not really,” I said. “I’ll explain on the drive.”
“Okay.” Nathan reached for the GPS. “What’s the address?”
I read it off for the system. “There’s also another quote that sounds like it’s from that book you were talking about.”
“Don’t Go Out Alone?”
“Yeah, that one.” I held up the card, and recited more than read, “ ‘The broken doors are open. Come and enter and be home.’ ”
Nathan started the car. He didn’t say a word as he pulled out of the driveway. I slowly lowered the card, blinking at him. He wasn’t looking at me; he was staring at the windshield, where the glowing red printout from the GPS displayed at eye level.
I frowned, not sure what I was supposed to say, or what—if anything—I’d done to upset him. I wasn’t the one who wrote the note. I wasn’t the one quoting the book.
Finally, Nathan sighed, and said, “ ‘Some lies better left untold; some dreams better left unsold. The broken doors are open. Come and enter, and be home. My darling girl, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.’ ” He glanced my way. “It’s from the middle of the book, where the boy and girl who’ve gone out alone together—don’t ask me how that works, I was a kid, I believed it completely—have reached the broken doors, and everything is about to get bad. It’s sort of a welcome. And it’s sort of a warning.”
“I’m a little disturbed that our secret source for secret things is communicating with us via quotes from a children’s book that no one but you has ever heard of,” I said. “It’s weird and I don’t like it.”
“I really expected you to go with ‘secret source for secret secrets’ there, and I don’t like it either, but I don’t see what choice we have,” said Nathan. “She’s the only person who seems to know what’s going on.”
“Yeah.” I studied him sidelong. The dark circles under his eyes didn’t surprise me, but I didn’t like them, either. Not sure what else to say, I asked, “Is someone taking care of Minneapolis? I was worried about her this morning.”
“I’ve contacted Devi’s family, since they’re local. They’re considering their options.” The bitter way he said that made it plain he didn’t expect them to come for Devi and Katherine’s bulldog. “In the meantime, Minnie is with me. My building manager says she can stay for a little while, given the circumstances, even though I’m not supposed to have pets.”
“I think… I think that’s a good thing. I’ll feel safer knowing you have a dog with you,” I said slowly. “Given the circumstances and all.”