Nathan nodded, and together we turned and walked back across the lab, past the empty workstations, toward the place where Dr. Cale was struggling to save the future.
The sound of shouting reached us long before Anna’s bed came into view. I couldn’t make out any words at first, but it sounded like at least three people were yelling at each other, each providing slightly contradictory instructions. We came around the last corner and beheld what looked like a small, tightly controlled riot surrounding Anna, who wasn’t moving. Adam and Fang were both running IV lines, while Daisy was injecting something into Anna’s arm. Two more technicians I didn’t recognize immediately were doing arcane things with beeping machines. Dr. Cale was sitting back from the whole scene, her hands folded in her lap, somehow managing to effortlessly project the impression of absolute control. Not a one of the people in front of her would sneeze without her permission, and she knew it. This was her world.
And I was about to disrupt it. I sped up, moving into her field of vision. She blinked at me, expression turning briefly perplexed. Then she waved for me to come closer. The others kept working, too preoccupied with the effort of keeping Anna alive to pay attention to anything that wasn’t a direct command.
The hot/cold slush in my belly was beginning to melt, becoming a warm, solid mass of resignation. Resignation was the one emotion that could win out over everything else, because once it was fully formed, nothing else could get past it. Not even fear.
“What’s going on, Sal?” she asked.
“Tansy’s still in there.” I had tried to think of ways to soften the news while Nathan and I were walking across the building. I hadn’t managed to find any. This wasn’t the sort of thing that could be broken gently, or explained in a way that didn’t change everything. “Dr. Banks has her body on life support back at SymboGen, and he didn’t remove her primary segment. I want to go get her. Tell me I can go get her.”
Dr. Cale stared at me, so stunned that even the pretense of serenity dropped away, leaving her slack-jawed and bewildered. I looked defiantly back, waiting for her to raise some objection that I could counter.
Sure enough… “It’s too dangerous,” she said. “We don’t know where Sherman and his people are. They could decide to take you back, and we’d have no way of fighting them off. Or the army could step in. Or you could be attacked by sleepwalkers.”
“So I take Fang or Fishy with me,” I said. “I wasn’t suggesting I go alone, just that I go. I don’t think you have anyone who knows SymboGen better than I do at this point. I understand the layout of the building, and I can find her.”
“USAMRIID is there.”
“USAMRIID is a risk to me no matter what we do, or don’t do. Dr. Banks as good as said that they were planning to raid this place. We need to move.” I felt terrible about that, and I was certain everyone else was going to feel even worse. I had been Sherman’s captive while they were turning an abandoned factory into a home, nesting like they were never going to be forced to move again. The gardens, the hydroponics systems, even the catering and food service equipment… we didn’t have the capacity to take all that with us when we left. Wherever we went next, we’d be starting over from scratch.
Dr. Cale looked at me coolly, studying my face as if she could find the key to all her questions hidden there. Then, to my profound disappointment, she shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, Sal. I can’t let you do this.”
“Am I your prisoner now?” The words came out louder than I had intended for them to, but they weren’t as loud as my anguished thoughts. I thought better of you, they screamed, and I thought you loved her. Adam stopped fiddling with Anna’s IV and turned to face me, his eyes wide and liquid in his pale, drawn face. He looked terrified. I understood the sentiment. “Are we back to this again? Are you going to be like Sherman and lock me up for my own good? Or like USAMRIID, putting people in their private zoo? Or maybe like Dr. Banks, doing whatever it is he did to Tansy in order to keep her quiet? You know she didn’t go with him willingly. She kicked and she fought and he took her apart one piece at a time because she wasn’t being convenient. She wasn’t being easy. They both took prisoners. Everyone in this game has taken prisoners, except for you. Am I where you start?”
She stared at me for a moment. I was aware that all activity behind me had stopped, all the workers joining Adam in his silent observation of the scene, but I didn’t dare say anything. I didn’t dare do anything but look at Dr. Cale and wait for her to tell me whether I was about to run away from home.
Tansy had come to save me when I needed her the most. Tansy had been willing to risk and even lose her own life to bring me and the information I carried home. Well, what kind of sister would I have been if I hadn’t been willing to do the same thing for her?
“We don’t have a body currently suitable to play host to a fully mature implant,” said Dr. Cale, her eyes never leaving mine. “If Anna’s host dies, she’s going to die as well, because we can’t transplant her under the current circumstances. We may be able to harvest organs from the local sleepwalker population—assuming we can find a tissue type match and avoid shooting the possible donor in the wrong place in the process—and keep her alive for a while, but the stress of the additional surgeries is going to do her in just as quickly as the organ failure would. She’s dying, Sal. He took my daughter apart, he put her in a new shell like she was… like she was some sort of hermit crab he’d picked up at a pet store, and now she’s dying. Do you honestly believe him when he tells you that the original is still alive? This is a trap.”