I took a deep breath, trying to force my frantically beating heart to calm down. It was funny; at moments like this, my heartbeat didn’t sound like drums at all. It just sounded like being afraid of the world.
Once I was sure I could talk again without throwing up, I said, “Don’t do that in the car, okay? If you do that in the car again, I’m going to have to get out.” I wasn’t sure I didn’t need to do that anyway. This was the second time in the same week that Nathan had taken his hands off the wheel, and that was something I couldn’t handle. I could walk from here to the nearest BART station. It couldn’t possibly be more dangerous than staying in the car if he was going to drive like that.
“I won’t,” he said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “I’m sorry.”
“Okay. Just… okay.” I took a breath. The book was still in my lap. I looked down at it, tracing the outline of the girl’s face with my index finger. She looked terrified. I understood how she felt. “How long was I out?” Why did you leave me alone when I couldn’t defend myself?
“A little over an hour. You sort of scared me when you just toppled over like that, but your vital signs were steady, and you’d already had a hell of a day… it seemed like a good idea to let you sleep while we did all the crazy science shit that you wouldn’t have understood anyway.”
“Yeah. I guess that was smart.”
Nathan gave me a sidelong look, but out of deference to my discomfort, he kept his attention mainly on the road. I could have kissed him for that, if there wasn’t a good chance that it would have distracted him. That was the last thing I wanted to do. “Mom told Tansy to watch you, and make sure you didn’t get scared when you woke up without me.”
“Considering that Tansy is the scariest thing in that lab, I’m not sure you made the right call, there,” I said.
He laughed a little, sounding unsteady. “You may be right about that. Did she stay until you woke up?”
“Yeah, and I woke up to find her staring at me all creepy-time, like I was some sort of zoo animal. It was definitely not my idea of a good way to end an unplanned nap. Let’s never do that again, okay?” I considered telling him that Adam had been there, too, but that would have taken too long, and it wasn’t like he’d done anything. I wanted Nathan to move on to telling me about his mother’s work. “What did you do while I was sleeping?”
“Reviewed Mom’s notes, looked at some samples she had prepared for when we showed up. She’s been expecting us for a while, apparently.” He smiled thinly, eyes staying on the road this time. “She kept clippings on your accident. SymboGen getting involved the way that they did triggered a lot of warning bells with her.”
My heart started pounding again. This time it sounded less like panic and more like the increasingly familiar drums. I just wished I knew what made the difference between the two. “What… what did she say about me?”
“That SymboGen knew they were going to need a poster child for the good side of the implants, because the bad side—the sleeping sickness—was already getting started. The first cases appeared shortly before your crash. They were just a lot more isolated than what we’re seeing right now. SymboGen was able to hush them up. They aren’t able to hush things up anymore. They—”
Whatever he was planning to say was interrupted by the man who came running out of the woods to the side of our car, his eyes dead and staring like the eyes of the woman who had been on my back porch only a few hours before. He raced to the side of the car, slamming his palms flat against the glass of my window. I screamed, too surprised to do anything else. Nathan shouted something that was half profanity and half raw, wordless surprise. The car locks snapped home as he hit the button on the control panel.
Not that the sleepwalker tried the handles. The man—who was wearing what looked like it had been a very nice business suit, before he got taken over by a tapeworm and wore it out into the Lafayette woods—kept slamming his hands against the window, right up on the glass, so close that I could see the glassy emptiness of his eyes in perfect, horrifying detail. His mouth was open, but with the window closed, I couldn’t tell if he was making any sound. That was the one good thing about our current situation.
If he was trying to talk to us, I didn’t want to know about it.
Horns blared around us as the other motorists in the traffic jam realized what was going on. The sleepwalker kept slamming his hands against our window, ignoring them. A few drivers tried to pull out of the throng and drive away, but succeeded only in making things worse as they got stuck on the shoulder or ran into the ditch next to the freeway. The sound of blaring horns spread as panic leapt like a disease from car to car.
And then people started opening their doors and running away from the sleepwalker. Running away from us, since we were the ones he had pinned. He slapped the glass again. I shrank back against Nathan, who put his arms around me and held me tight. We were both breathing hard, enough that the glass was starting to fog.
Then someone outside the car screamed. I whipped around and saw that more sleepwalkers were emerging from the trees, and that these seemed to be falling into the same camp as Devi’s wife: they weren’t docile. They were violent. One of them had grabbed a woman by the hair and seemed to be trying to wrench her head off. Another was dragging a man by the leg back into the woods. I didn’t know what they were going to do with those people. I didn’t need to think about it very hard to know that I didn’t want to.