“I would never use a hacksaw on you, Steven,” said Dr. Cale sweetly. “Too much chance you’d bleed out, and I wouldn’t want that. It would be over too fast.”
“If Dr. Cale isn’t mad at you, it’s not dangerous here,” I said hurriedly. “Why did you come? Why did you bring A… Anna here if you knew it was dangerous?” I had to force myself to say the name of his pet chimera. I wanted to call her “Tansy.” I didn’t want to call her anything at all.
“Anna’s why I came here,” he said, his gaze swinging back to Dr. Cale. “She’s not doing so good. We need your help.”
“You hurt my daughter—you may have killed her,” said Dr. Cale coldly. “Why should I help you?”
“You should help Anna because part of your ‘daughter’ ”—he scowled in obvious distaste—“lives inside her. If you really care about your little science experiment, you’ll keep my girl alive. And if that’s not enough for you, well…” Slowly, he began to smile. He didn’t bother keeping his lips closed, and both Adam and I flinched away from the glossy white display of his teeth. “I’m assuming Anna passed my message along, or you wouldn’t have come to see me so quickly. You want the girl back. I understand that. You put a lot of work into her, and it would be a shame to lose it like this. I can help you. I can get you into SymboGen. I can make sure you walk away with everything your heart desires, and all you have to do is help me.”
“Why do you make a face like it’s bad when you call Tansy my sister, but let Anna call you her father?” asked Adam. He was scowling, an uncharacteristically fierce look on his face. “It’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not, you little abomination,” said Dr. Banks. His tone didn’t change at all, remaining calm and even somewhat smug, like he thought he had somehow managed to get the upper hand on all of us. “I let Anna call me her father because it’s easier to control something that thinks it belongs to you. Surrey calls you her children because she’s sick in the head.” His gaze flickered to Nathan. “If I was her biological child, I think I’d be pretty damn disgusted by that, personally.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re not my brother,” said Nathan coldly.
Dr. Banks looked briefly surprised. He covered it quickly, but the flicker of confusion had been evident to all of us. When he came here, he hadn’t been expecting to find us working together in relative harmony. Whatever information USAMRIID had on the place, it wasn’t enough to give him a full picture. That was a good thing. We might still have a chance.
“Why would I want her body back?” asked Dr. Cale.
“Because she’s brain dead but on life support, and I know how much you love your vegetables,” said Dr. Banks. “Maybe you could cultivate yourself a replacement.”
I balled my free hand into a slow fist. I had hated people before—had even hated him before—but until that moment, I hadn’t known what it was to hate someone so much that I wanted to scratch their eyes out just for the pleasure of watching them stumble blindly through the rest of their life.
Luckily, Dr. Cale had more experience than I did at talking through her hate. She snapped her finger. Fang seemed to materialize out of the shadows behind her. He was carrying a portable, battery-operated bone saw, and it said something about how good a job Dr. Banks was doing of upsetting me that I didn’t bat an eye. If Dr. Cale wanted a bone saw, well. The only person she was likely to use it on definitely deserved it.
Dr. Banks did not share my serenity. He jumped to his feet, pressing himself against the wall of his cell like he thought it was going to do him any good at all. “Now Surrey—”
“Two questions, Steven,” she said, sounding absolutely calm. I suppose she had reason to be. After all, she was the one who controlled the man holding the bone saw. “If you answer them both honestly and to my satisfaction, I promise not to cut off any of your fingers, or the hands those fingers are attached to. Lie to me, withhold information from me, and that promise goes away. Do you understand?”
Dr. Banks hesitated. Nathan sighed.
“My mother, whatever you want to call her, doesn’t fuck around,” he said. “She doesn’t make threats, because threats are meaningless. She makes promises, if you’ll forgive the cliché. Please, either tell her what she wants to know or tell her that you’re not going to, so that I can take Sal out of here before the fingers start flying.”
“Still protecting that girl’s delicate sensibilities? You’re going to have to stop one day.” There was no venom left in Dr. Banks’s voice: he sounded like a man who had looked into the depths of his own soul and found nothing there but dark inevitability. His gaze slithered back to Dr. Cale. He squared his shoulders, sitting up a little straighter, as if posture alone could somehow turn him into a noble, tragic figure. “What do you want to know?”
“What’s the plan that required you to make a chimera of your own? You can’t sell them. We don’t have enough people on life support to make them a viable consumer product, and it’s not like anyone is going to be buying anything from you in the near future anyway. The country’s on the verge of collapse.”
“It’s not as far gone as you might think, thanks to some fast thinking in the Midwest and on the East Coast. They dumped antiparasitics in the water, did some surgical interventions—fun times. It wasn’t enough. It could never have been enough. The country is falling to pieces. It’s just slow, and it’s leaving smart men with resources the time to regroup, pull back, stay standing. Maybe we’ll bring America back someday, maybe not, but for now, the fall of this nation is not an issue and won’t cause us any problems,” said Dr. Banks. A thin runnel of satisfaction laced his smile. “Best of all, we’ve managed to convince the remaining government that the original implant design would never have done this. We have years of data to support our claim.”