The condition of the three sleepwalkers we’d seen so far explained why we weren’t being rushed: they had been malnourished and coping with injuries even before they got to us. The human body is exquisitely adapted to its environment. It has hands to grasp and eyes to see. It is capable of communication and complicated thought. But it’s not very well designed for roaming naked through the ashes of a city, walking barefoot on broken glass because it no longer understands shoes, eating whatever rotten, stinking things it can find because it no longer understands the concepts of “food poisoning” or “indigestible.” The sleepwalkers had been monsters when they first awoke, ripping apart people who didn’t have implants, and people whose implants hadn’t managed to awaken yet, with their bare hands. Now they were just… sad. They were sad, broken things that had once been people and were never going to be people again. Even the ones like the woman, who had still possessed a glimmer of cunning and coherent thought—enough to plan, enough to hang back and assess the situation reasonably—were too broken to be fixed.
Beverly tugged on her leash as we walked, clearly uneasy and eager to be someplace safer. Things rustled and moved in the shadows, making my nerves even worse, but the small, strange part of my mind that said “sleepwalkers here” was quiescent. We were safe, for now. That didn’t mean we could stop moving.
“There should be a restroom or staff break room at the ferry launch,” said Nathan. He pitched his voice as low as he could, trying to keep it from echoing through the empty streets and notifying the local sleepwalkers as to our location. “We can get you cleaned up before we head for San Francisco.”
I grimaced. The blood had dried on my cheeks and throat; it cracked and pulled whenever I moved my head. “We can’t afford to waste the time. I’ll be fine. I’m trying to pretend that it’s just pasta sauce, but that’s sort of hard,” I murmured. “It sure doesn’t smell like pasta sauce. It smells more like dog food. That doesn’t make things better, you know?”
“I know,” said Nathan. He glanced around us, assessing the nearby buildings. It was almost automatic now, for both of us, and that hurt my heart a little. We used to be able to go for walks because we wanted to be together, we wanted to relax and enjoy each other’s company, we wanted to move. Now we spent all our time out in the open looking for cover and planning escape routes, like a failure to know exactly how to get out of every situation could be fatal.
To be fair, it probably could.
At least Dr. Banks was staying quiet. I turned my attention briefly to him, since Nathan was checking the buildings around us and I knew that there were no sleepwalkers close enough to worry about. I’d been afraid that Dr. Banks would blow our position just for the sake of screwing us over, but he was moving as carefully as the rest of us, and his cheeks were pale and tight with strain. It looked almost like he was having an epiphany of some kind, something deep and slow and moving entirely beneath the surface. A subclinical understanding.
And then I realized what it had to be. “You’ve been in your lab this whole time, haven’t you?” I asked, pitching my voice just loud enough for him to hear me. “All of this has been academic. Like Fishy pretending that it’s all a video game so he doesn’t have to deal with how real it is.”
“I’m not pretending anything,” said Fishy.
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything.
Beverly started to growl.
All heads swung toward the dog, and Nathan asked, cautiously, “Sal…?”
“I’m not picking up on any sleepwalkers, but I’m not radar,” I said, panic spiking in my throat, still unaccompanied by the sound of drums. Their absence was making the world seem terrifyingly quiet, like it had been stripped of its sound track for the first time in my life. “They could be all around us and if the wind was blowing the wrong way, I might not know.”
“We’re going to die,” moaned Dr. Banks.
The sound of a gun going off was amplified by the buildings around us, which turned it from a simple boom into a long, echoing crack that bounced off walls and vibrated against windows until it seemed to have no single direction; it came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The same couldn’t be said of the bullet, which slammed down into the pavement in front of Fishy’s feet with the accuracy of a sharpshooter—or maybe the blind luck of someone who was firing wildly at the intruders in their dangerous, postapocalyptic world.
“Shit,” snarled Fishy. “It’s not sleepwalkers, it’s survivors. Run!” And with that, he was in motion, his grip on Dr. Banks’s elbow never slackening. Dr. Banks had no choice but to keep up, and that meant that Nathan and I had to do the same, or risk being left alone and unarmed in the streets of Vallejo.
My time with Sherman had actually done me some good, unbelievable as those words sounded even inside my own head: before he’d taken me captive, I would never have been able to handle a dead sprint down a deserted, debris-cluttered road. Now I kept up with ease, running alongside Beverly rather than being towed along in her wake. It was Nathan who fell slightly behind, forcing me to shorten my steps rather than leave him alone in the street.
There were two more gunshots, as omnidirectional as the first, their echoes rolling down the avenue like thunder. We kept running, and when Fishy shouted, “Left!” we turned, pounding down a smaller alley without losing more than the barest shreds of speed.