“Fishy’s the best urban driver we have,” he said. “I’m sorry, Sal. I’d do it if it wouldn’t slow us down.”
“Don’t worry your head, pretty little tapeworm girl,” said Fishy blithely as he reached up to adjust the mirror. He was short enough that everything had to be shifted a little, creating a complex chain of minor changes that took him long enough that I was able to talk myself into getting in and buckling my belt. He cast an encouraging smile in my direction. “I’m a great driver. I almost never crash into anything I wasn’t aiming for.”
I made a small, involuntary squeaking noise.
From the back of the van, Dr. Banks’s voice slithered forth, venomous and beguiling: “You may be scared of something as simple as a little car ride, but Sally wouldn’t even have noticed that she was moving. You should really try to get in touch with your inner human, Sal, if you want to survive this brave new world.”
“Shut up,” said Nathan. His command was followed by the sound of a body being shoved back against the seat.
“There’s no need to get rough, boy,” said Dr. Banks. “I’m just trying to help the little lady, that’s all. Since none of you can be bothered to do anything of the sort, it seems like it’s my fatherly duty.”
“The fucked-up road show is now prepared to get rolling,” said Fishy blithely, seemingly immune to the tension that was thrumming through the air. “Please keep your hands, arms, heads, and children inside the ride at all times. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to get bumpy out there.” He hit the gas like it had personally offended him, and we went peeling out of the garage at a speed that sent my heart into my throat, where it anchored, still pounding. The drums seemed louder than they had ever been, so loud that they threatened to rupture my eardrums from the inside out.
I closed my eyes and reached for the hot warm dark, seeking the safety and serenity that would allow me to make it to the waterfront with my sanity intact. But the dark wasn’t there. All I found was the inside of my own eyelids, a plain, undifferentiated darkness that offered neither safety nor isolation. I reached again, trying to find the one thing that had always been there for me, since even before I woke up in the hospital. I was born in the hot warm dark. I existed in its embrace, and it kept me from the things that wanted to hurt me. So how was it possible that I couldn’t find it now?
Calm down, Sal, I told myself. This is what he wants. And that was true, wasn’t it? Dr. Banks didn’t want me to have anything that he couldn’t manipulate or control. He was trying to make me lose touch with myself with his lies about Sally still being locked somewhere in my mind. It was my mind. Not hers. Not now, and not ever again.
The third time I reached out, the dark reached back to greet me. I tangled the idea of fingers into the idea of hands, and then I was plummeting down, down, down into the hot warm dark, where it didn’t matter how fast we were moving or how dangerous the things we were doing were, because I was safe and home and far away from everything but the drums that were my own pounding heart. I was alone. I was safe, because I was alone.
Sally? It was a stupid question to ask, even if I was only asking it of the silence at the center of myself—and the silence wasn’t really silent, was it? The drums were always there, so constant and so unvarying that they might as well have been silent. It was hard to put words on the things I saw when my eyes were closed. They were built into my DNA, never intended to be expressed in things as limitless or as limited as words. Are you there?
There was no reply from the hot warm dark. I was alone there, like I had always been alone there, and there could be no answers unless I gave them to myself.
A hand touched my shoulder, pulling me back up out of the darkness and into the frame of flesh and bone and sinew that I had stolen for my own. I sat up a little straighter as my skin settled around me, and I opened my eyes, expecting to see the waterfront stretching outside the van like a watery promise.
Instead, what I saw was an intersection packed with the smashed remains of a six-car pileup. There were no sleepwalkers—at least not at the moment—but there was also no way for us to get the van through. I blinked, and then twisted to look behind me. Nathan looked grimly back, his hand still resting on my shoulder.
“I waited as long as possible to wake you,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to abandon the van.”
“I’m not getting out of this seat,” said Dr. Banks mulishly. I got the distinct impression that he’d already made this statement several times while I was down in the hot warm dark, and that he hadn’t budged since the crisis began. That was almost reassuring. Even when things were at their worst, some people could be counted on to be absolutely terrible.
“Then you’re going to be the delicious filling in a big metal bonbon,” said Fishy cheerfully. His words were accompanied by the sound of a rifle slide slotting into place. I glanced at him and grimaced when I saw the assault rifle in his hands, held as casually as a child’s toy. He grinned at my grimace. “Don’t worry. I have plenty of ammo, and if I start running out, we can always smash vases and jars until we find more.”
“Life isn’t a video game,” I said. It seemed like such a logical thing, but from the look on Fishy’s face, it was anything but. I bit my lip and turned back to Nathan, asking, “There’s really no way around?”
He shook his head. “We’re about a mile from the ferry launch, and all the roads are like this. I think a lot of people tried to get out of Vallejo this way. The quarantine must have stopped them.” He left two things unsaid: that the quarantine’s efforts to keep the infected contained could easily have included sinking the boats, and that if this many people had been here at one time, there was no real way of guessing how many sleepwalkers were still around, hungry and hiding from the hottest point in the day. They didn’t care for direct sunlight much, probably because it made it harder to sort their pheromone instructions from the things their eyes were telling them. It was harder to avoid hunting your own kind in daylight.