“I hardly think you’re one to lecture me about proper medical technique,” said Dr. Banks. His tone was stiff, and his gaze flicked to her legs again, making sure she knew what he was implying. “I did my tissue typing. I did the things I’ve always done when preparing an implant for its new host. As for anything else, I didn’t know what tests were necessary. It’s not as if you ever sent me anything detailing your research.”
“You kept trying to kill me. Forgive me if I didn’t feel much like sharing with you.”
I frowned slowly. “Rejection means Tansy’s new host doesn’t want to accept her, right? What does that mean for her? Is she going to be okay?”
“It means that the host is experiencing some fairly severe immune responses,” said Dr. Banks. As I had hoped, he once again fell into the gently parental “I am teaching you things you need to know, and you should listen, because I am smarter than you are” tone he had used with me so many times before. “The most distressing is swelling of the brain, and clouding of the spinal fluid. There’s a protein buildup going on there that I can’t quite source. It’s inflaming her nerves. She’s been in a lot of pain, almost constantly.”
“You mean she’s drugged?” I asked. “You made her walk across Vallejo drugged, while her brain was swelling? She could have collapsed! She would have been helpless!” The image of Tansy as she had been rose unbidden in my mind—the wild grin, the mismatched eyes, the casual willingness to throw herself into the path of danger, because she knew that whatever happened to her, it would be interesting. Anna had none of those traits. Anna was a flat surface on which nothing had been painted. The drugs would explain at least a little of that, and I felt a traitorous worm of relief uncurl in my belly. Maybe Anna was more like Tansy than we thought she was. Maybe there were epigenetic tags for violence and randomness and sliding down hills on pieces of cardboard, just like Ronnie had the epigenetic tag for knowing that he was really supposed to be a boy, and when the drugs worked their way out of Anna’s system, she’d still be somehow Tansy. Just a little bit. Just enough that we could love her.
“Well, Sally, it was that or deal with her having seizures every hundred yards, and that would have been more of a problem.” Dr. Banks returned his attention to Dr. Cale. “Here’s my proposal, Surrey, and you’ll want to listen nice and close, because I’m only going to make it once: you help me stabilize my Anna so that I can take her back to the United States government as proof of concept. I give her to them, and they see that the chimera can be useful things—they already know they can be taught, thanks to Sally here, but now they’ll know they can be controlled. That we can have our useful biological machines without giving up anything that hasn’t already been lost. And I tell them you were able to get the drop on me after we’d finished stabilizing her, and you run off to safer pastures.”
“What’s to stop you from double-crossing us? Or me from killing you?” asked Dr. Cale.
“Nothing.” Dr. Banks spread his hands. “You trust me, I trust you, and we see who’s making the bigger mistake.”
Dr. Cale looked at him silently for a moment. Then she turned to Nathan and said, “Push me out of here.”
Nathan blinked. “What?”
“We’re leaving. Push me out of here.” She folded her hands in her lap, leaning back in her chair.
Nathan dutifully moved to stand behind her, wheeling her back, away from Dr. Banks. Adam and I moved to flank them. We didn’t need to be told; we knew what was expected of us in a moment like this. A unified front would count for so much more than divisiveness, at least in this moment.
Dr. Banks jumped to his feet when he realized what we were doing. “Hey!” he shouted, suddenly enraged. “Don’t you turn your backs on me! Don’t you understand what I can do to you? Don’t you understand your position here?”
“Yes, Steven,” said Dr. Cale, with the utmost calm. “I don’t think you do, however. Nathan?”
“Yes, Mother,” said Nathan, and turned her chair around and walked away, pushing her in front of him. Adam and I followed. Dr. Banks kept shouting behind us, his words of protest quickly devolving into a muddled stream of fury and profanity that didn’t mean anything coherent.
Then we stepped out of the room, and the door swung shut behind us, cutting him off in mid-tirade. Nathan kept pushing Dr. Cale forward. I glanced at her face.
She was crying.
I didn’t know how to respond to that, and so I didn’t say anything as the four of us kept on walking, back toward the place where Anna was waiting, back into the light.
And now I know.
It’s funny, honestly: I have spent my whole life in the pursuit of knowledge, sometimes—often—when it would have been better to back away and leave my questions unanswered; there are things that man was not meant to know, and woman is not exempt from that prohibition. I’ve seen things, done things, that should never have been seen or experienced by a living human, and I’ve always come out the other side saying “what I paid to do that was worth it.” It’s always been worth it, because it’s always resulted in more knowledge, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Forgive me, Nathan, if you’re ever unlucky enough to be reading this, but it’s the truth. Knowledge was worth anything to me. Even you.
But sometime between the start of my exile and the day that my son came back into my life with his girlfriend—my creation—in tow, things changed. I began to realize that some things mattered more than knowledge. Family matters more than knowledge. He knew that. Oh, my poor girl. That’s why he used you against me.