I could only look at the man without speaking to him for so long. I lifted one hand and slapped it flat against the plastic. Dr. Banks jumped, his head snapping up. There was genuine terror in his expression, like I had somehow become the most frightening thing in his universe. I couldn’t decide how that made me feel.
The terror cleared, replaced first by confusion and then by paternal warmth, the old, familiar masks sliding back into place and locking away whatever he was really feeling. “Sally,” he said, starting to smile. “I knew you wouldn’t turn against me. You’re a good girl. You always have been. You—”
“Is Tansy really alive?”
My question sliced across whatever he was saying and rendered him temporarily mute, capable of nothing more complex than staring at me. His smile twisted, turning into even more of a mockery than it normally was. Then it died completely, leaving him as blank-faced as one of the sleepwalkers he had helped to create.
“I don’t see why you’re coming in here and interrogating me,” he said. “The woman who runs this place has already made it quite clear that she’s not willing to negotiate in good faith. I have to say, Sally, I thought better of you.”
“Are you where she gets it?” I asked.
He blinked at me, expression flickering again. He wasn’t adjusting well to my changes of topic. Good. I wasn’t here to make him comfortable. “I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”
“Dr. Cale does that—she uses people’s names a lot, like she’s afraid that they’re going to forget who they are. I didn’t think about the way you always used to do that to me, but you did, and you still do. Are you where she gets that? Or did you get it from her?” They were like engineered organisms themselves, weren’t they? Every human was the result of social and cultural recombination, picking up a turn of phrase here, an idea or a preconception there, the same way bacteria picked up and traded genes. Nothing was purely its own self. Nothing would ever want to be.
“I got it from her,” he said, still sounding wary, still examining the topic for signs that it was a trick. “Surrey used to have difficulty with names. She could identify a species of slime mold from a single cell, but damned if she could remember which of our TAs was Paul and which was Jeffrey. Someone told her that she could reinforce names in her head if she said them at least three times a conversation—said it would make people trust her more, too, since it came off as a personal touch. Like she actually gave a damn about them. She started doing it, and damned if it didn’t work. Everyone loved her. Sweet little Surrey, overcoming her difficulties to become the darling of the genetics department.”
“So you started doing it because you wanted them to trust you,” I said.
He grinned, showing me his teeth. I managed not to flinch. “I did, and damned if it didn’t work again. People like it when you seem to take an interest in them. All sorts of people. Powerful people. I could get anything I wanted, and all I had to do was remember names and children and anniversaries. You should have seen me in my element. You would have, eventually, if things hadn’t gotten bad on us. I was going to really enjoy showing you to the world, Sally.”
Showing me to the world, not showing the world to me: I was an experiment to him, and I always would be, no matter how much I grew or how much my understanding of the world improved. I could save the human race and I would still be nothing more than a freak of science to the man who made me.
“It might have worked on me, too, if you hadn’t messed it up,” I said. I couldn’t make this too easy. He wouldn’t believe it if it was too easy. “You’re not as good at this as you think you are.”
Dr. Banks blinked at me. He looked briefly, utterly baffled, and I would have felt bad for him if I hadn’t known him so well. He deserved a lot of things from me. None of them were my sympathy. “What do you mean?”
“My name isn’t ‘Sally.’ It’s never been Sally. She died. She was… she was like a canary in a coal mine. She died because if she hadn’t, I would never have been able to live.” Sally’s death had been as inevitable as my birth. Dr. Banks had known what I was from the beginning. He should have been sending up the alarm the day I opened my eyes. Instead, he stood by and let me make myself into an individual. Because of him, everybody applauded me, rather than recognizing me as the symptom that I was. They should have begun shoring their defenses the moment that I woke up. They should have been building dams and laying in supplies by the time I learned to walk. And they hadn’t done any of those things. Because of him.
“Now you and I both know that’s not true.” His smile had too many teeth. “Do you really think that just because you’ve shut off all the pieces of you that remember who you were, that you’re not that girl anymore? You can’t buy a used pair of shoes and announce that they’re new just because you want them to be. They’ll always be used shoes. You’ll always be a girl playing at being something different, at least until you admit who and what you are.”
I gawped at him for a few seconds, unable to formulate words, before I managed to stammer, “That—that’s not true! You know that’s not true! None of the doctors ever found any trace of Sally in my head. She flatlined, she’s gone.”
“Coma patients still hear. People in clinical brain death still wake up. The human brain is a big, complicated thing, Sally, and one day you’re going to flip the wrong switch or press the wrong button and hand the whole thing back over to the girl you used to be. When that day comes, who do you think she’s going to trust? The people who loved a tapeworm wearing her skin like a suit, or the man who kept trying to reach her—the man who kept using her name?” His smile dimmed a bit, lips closing, and I was relieved. There was only so much I could handle. “I call you Sally because it’s your name. It may not make you trust me now, but it’s going to let me own you later.”