“You couldn’t have told us that before?” I demanded.
“Didn’t think of it.” Tansy’s pocket beeped. She produced her phone, bringing it to her ear, and listened for a few seconds before lowering it again. “We have what we came for, and you’re safe now, so I’m out of here before the authorities show up. When the police ask what happened, just say one of the other motorists started shooting when the sleepwalkers flipped out, and you stayed in your car until everything was over. Mostly true is better than totally fake, you know? Makes the story easier to swallow.”
I swallowed hard, and nodded.
“Good. We’ll be in touch with you soon.” Tansy blew Nathan a kiss, winked at me, and went running off into the trees, disappearing quickly from view.
Nathan and I were still sitting there, too stunned to know what to say, when we heard the sound of sirens in the distance. Now that the danger was over, the police were finally on their way. Assuming the danger was ever going to end. Between the sick feeling in my stomach and the constant pounding of drums in my ears, I was afraid that the danger was really just beginning.
Do I have any regrets?
I have saved millions of lives, and improved millions, if not billions, more. I have done more to improve the quality of those lives than any single man since Dr. John Snow, the epidemiological pioneer who first connected water to the transmission of disease. I have changed the course of modern medicine. People are healthier, and by extension, happier, than they’ve ever been before. I did that. Me, and my company. I made that happen.
I have made more money than I can possibly spend, and I have used it to provide a good life for my family, as well as funding hundreds of charities and research projects to further improve the human condition.
Yes, there have been costs. Yes, there have been consequences. But I have no regrets. Regrets would imply I’d done something wrong, and when I look at the legacy I’m leaving for the next generation, I see nothing but rightness.
—FROM “KING OF THE WORMS,” AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BANKS, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ROLLING STONE, FEBRUARY 2027.
Walk the way you think is best,
Solve the riddles, pass the test.
Try to keep your balance when you think all else is lost.
Give it time, but not too much,
Give it space, but keep in touch.
Once you’re past the borders, then you’ll have to pay the cost.
The broken doors are waiting, strong and patient as the stone.
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.
My parents were terrified when they got home to find a note from me on the refrigerator and six messages from SymboGen security on the answering machine, asking with increasing levels of thinly-veiled anxiety if I would please contact the office. Not calling Mom and Dad to tell them about the sleepwalkers in the yard turned out to have been the wrong decision, at least from a “preventing panic” standpoint. Getting the call from the Lafayette Police Department must have been the last straw. They were convinced something had happened to me, and in a way, they were right. It just wasn’t anything I was in a position to talk about.
My parents were waiting when Nathan and I pulled into the driveway, and they were out of the house before we even managed to get out of the car. The first thing I saw when I slid out of the passenger seat was my father’s grim expression. He didn’t say a word as he surveyed the damage the sleepwalker—and Tansy—had done to Nathan’s car. The passenger side window was a spider’s web of cracks, and there were dents in the door, hood, and roof.
Mom was standing next to him. She didn’t look grim, more distraught, like this was something she’d been waiting for since the day I woke up in the hospital.
The sound of drums had never seemed louder, or farther away. “Dad—” I began.
“Nathan, I think it’s time for you to go.” Dad’s voice was very calm. That was a warning sign all by itself. “I’m sure Sally’s had a long day, and we still need to talk to her before she can go to bed.”
I hugged Don’t Go Out Alone to my chest as I looked across the dented roof of the car to Nathan, who was staring at my parents. Finally, he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in a way I would normally have found adorable, and said, “Actually, sir, I think we might all have a few things to discuss.”
“That may be true, but we won’t be discussing them tonight,” said my father implacably. “Go home, Nathan. Sal will call you when she’s free to talk.”
“Um… when will that be?” I asked.
“If you’re lucky, before you’re thirty,” said Mom, speaking up for the first time. “Goodnight, Nathan.”
“Goodnight, Ms. Mitchell,” said Nathan, his shoulders drooping. He knew when he was beaten. “Sal, I’ll talk to you soon. I love you. Don’t go out alone.”
I nodded to show that his message was received, still hugging the book tight against my chest. “You, too,” I said. Then I walked away from his car and past my parents, up the front walkway to the house. I was inside by the time I heard his engine turn over, and I didn’t see him drive away.
I waited in the living room until my parents came inside. The pause gave me time to put my thoughts together, and I thought that I was ready when they arrived. “What happened today—” I began.