The drums that normally accompanied me on any tense occasion were silent, which only made the tension worse. Crows cawed from overhead or strutted through the broken bits of glass littering the street, picking up the ones they liked best and flapping off into the distance. We passed an office building with broken windows on the third floor, and a whole army of crows lined up on the windowsills, watching us walk by with their beady, judgmental eyes.
“I don’t know how the crow population around here will fare after the first winter without people,” said Nathan, in the neutral “science voice” he always used when he wanted to impart something he thought was interesting. “They’re scavengers. They’re smart, but it’s no question that they’ve benefited from the corpses and unprotected Dumpsters since the epidemic began. Their normal food sources are going to drop off, and they’re not going to be renewed.”
“See, there’s a great reason to save the world,” I said. “Save the human race, save the crows.”
Nathan smiled a little. I couldn’t see his eyes—the sunlight glinting off his glasses was making that impossible—but he seemed strangely relaxed, considering the circumstances.
Then again, some of our best times had been like this. Just him and me and the world around us, and whatever was going to come would come. I reached over and slipped my free hand into his, squeezing lightly. Nathan cast another smile in my direction.
“About that wedding—” he began.
Beverly started to growl.
It was a small, constrained sound at first, pitching forward from the back of her throat into the resonating chamber of her mouth. Then her lips drew back, exposing her teeth, while the growl grew steadily louder, becoming impossible to ignore. Even Fishy heard it. He stopped, pulling Dr. Banks to a halt alongside him, and turned to look quizzically back at us.
“What’s up with the dog?” he asked.
“Sleepwalkers,” I said curtly, trying to scan the street around us without losing any forward momentum. Beverly was continuing to growl, making it difficult to focus.
Fishy’s sudden grin didn’t help. “Excellent,” he said, and let Dr. Banks go completely as he raised his rifle into position.
“Remember the mission,” snapped Nathan. “We need to get to the ferry.”
“Nothing says I can’t have a little fun first,” countered Fishy, and began to move again.
The street around us remained mercifully deserted. If it stayed that way, Fishy might not need to pull the trigger; we might make it to the ferry without killing anyone. Please stay that way, I silently prayed, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to start peering through the darkened, frequently broken windows around us. Looking would only terrify me more when I failed to find any sign of what we might be dealing with. So I didn’t look. I clutched Beverly’s leash and I watched the street, and I waited for all hell to break loose.
It wasn’t like we could just explain what we were doing here and expect to be allowed to go on our way: there was no reasoning with sleepwalkers. All we could do was kill them, and then tell their corpses that we were sorry. I was willing to bet that for Fishy and Dr. Banks—maybe even for Nathan—the tragedy would be in killing something that used to be a human being. The tapeworms didn’t even come into the equation.
It must have been nice to only have to worry about one-half of the being you were killing. When I had to kill a sleepwalker—something I’d only been forced to do twice so far, and that was twice too many as far as I was concerned—I wasn’t just killing a husked-out human being. I was killing one of my own siblings, one that hadn’t been as lucky as I was. Sally Mitchell had provided me with the perfect host in which to grow and thrive. Without her, and without the life support that had sustained her body while I acclimated myself to what I had become, I would have been just like them. Just another sleepwalker, shambling aimlessly until someone like Fishy came along and put a bullet in my head.
Beverly’s growl grew deeper without getting any louder, until it seemed to be coming from her entire body at once. The four of us pressed closer together without discussing it, using one another for cover and support at the same time. I peered around Nathan’s shoulder, looking for any signs of motion, anything that might tell me whether an attack was actually coming.
Then, with as little fanfare as a radio coming on, the silence in my head changed forms, going from a simple absence of drums to the soft, warm buzz of someone there. It was the same feeling I had when Adam was in the room with me—the feeling that I used to get, if a little weaker and harder to identify, when Sherman or Ronnie was nearby. The part of me that was tapeworm enough to be wired for receipt of pheromones was picking up on the presence of my cousins, identifying them for what they were without bothering to consult the bigger, slower monkey-mind that controlled the basic functions of the body.
“There are two groups of them,” I said dazedly, distracted by the threads of data that were slithering their way through my conscious mind. “The bigger group is up ahead, and the smaller group is coming in from the west. They all know that we’re here, but they’re still moving slowly—more slowly than they should be, when there’s prey available.” I paused, understanding dawning, and said, “I think they know we might be dangerous. I think that means they might be learning.”
“That’s not something to sound happy about,” snarled Dr. Banks.