“What?” demanded Nathan.
I pushed myself away, smiling up at him. “Just thinking about how we both need another shower.”
He blinked before smiling back. “Doesn’t seem like it happened today, does it?”
Something slammed against the side of the boat. My head whipped around, all traces of levity—and I knew that it had been artificial giddiness, conjured up by our escape and by the potentially false promise of temporary safety—fading. The slam came again before resolving itself into a steady tattoo of concussive bangs.
“Oh, no,” I murmured, and rushed to the side, peering down at the sea of sleepwalkers crushed onto the dock. They were beating their hands against the side of the boat, some of them using their fists, others slapping with open palms. A few were even biting at the metal, their teeth breaking against the implacable steel of the hull. We were moving slowly forward, gathering speed at what felt like an impossibly slow rate. The sleepwalkers were moving with us, and more were pouring through the door into the launch area, drawn by the sound of the boat’s engine as much as by our presence.
“They’re going to be crushed,” said Nathan, sounding horrified. I turned to see him standing next to me at the rail, Beverly sitting by his feet. They looked so normal, like they had no place in this scene. It was hard to believe that any of us did.
“They’re going to drown,” I said, not arguing so much as adding to the risks that the sleepwalkers faced. I turned, trying to get my bearings on the ferry deck. We were standing in an open space, with plastic benches stretching behind us and a metal roof overhead, both providing protection from the elements and creating a secondary seating area. Dr. Banks was sitting on one of the benches, glaring at us like that would somehow change his situation. “Where’s Fishy?”
“The… I don’t know what you call it on a boat. The cockpit is over there.” Nathan gestured toward the front of the ferry.
“Watch Beverly,” I said, and took off running in the direction Nathan had indicated, weaving around benches and a single coil of weathered rope. I quickly ran up against a wall, which wasn’t something I expected to find on a boat. Moving along it brought me to a door, and through the door’s single clear aperture, I saw Fishy, standing behind a bank of controls I didn’t understand. I tried the door handle, and found it locked.
“Fuck,” I muttered, and knocked on the clear opening.
Fishy didn’t turn.
“Double fuck,” I amended. This time I beat both my fists against the actual metal part of the door, setting up a din that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for engine noise. Fishy’s shoulders tensed for a moment before he turned, squinting at me. I waved.
It only took him three steps to cross the small cabin and wrench the door open. He didn’t wait for me to step inside or speak before he was running back to his controls, turning his back to me once more. “What is it, Sal?” he demanded. There was an edge of strain in his voice that was decidedly unusual for the usually laconic technician. “I’m sort of busy getting us out of here alive.”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “The sleepwalkers that followed us here are still trying to attack the boat! They’re going to be killed!”
“How is that my problem?” He glanced over his shoulder only long enough for me to see that he was serious, and then turned his attention back to the water. We were still driving through the shadowed depths of the ferry launch, which seemed unreasonably long for what was essentially a glorified waterfront garage. “I know the mad doctor thinks of those things as her kids, and while she’s welcome to her fucked-up family reunions, I don’t see any need to worry about them. Every sleepwalker that dies now is one that won’t be waiting for us when we get back.”
I stopped. His perspective was callous but accurate in at least one regard: we needed the sleepwalker population to go down if we wanted to come back this way. And I still couldn’t see that as a good enough reason to kill them all. “You’re not going to do anything?”
“What do you want me to do, Sal?” For the first time, he sounded genuinely tired. “I stop the boat, they swarm up here and kill us all. Plus this whole damn suicide mission was for nothing, which would be one hell of a bummer. I don’t have an air horn or anything, and they’re not raccoons; they wouldn’t just scatter even if I did.”
“An air horn,” I said. The words had sparked an idea that was as improbable as it was unlikely to work. It was all that I had. “Thanks, Fishy, you’re the best.”
“Whatever, kid.” He didn’t look around as I ran back out of the room, returning to my place on the deck next to Nathan.
He hadn’t moved while I’d been gone. Neither had Dr. Banks. Beverly was trotting up and down along the rail, tail up in a warning position, pausing only to fire off menacing volleys of barks at the sleepwalkers below.
Running back to the rail, I gripped it with both hands, leaned over as far as I could without getting myself grabbed by a sleepwalker, and shouted, “Go home! All of you! Go back where you were! Leave! Go!”
It felt uncomfortably like yelling at a cloud to stop floating through the sky, and about as likely to work. Most of the sleepwalkers kept attacking the side of the boat, a constant, unyielding assault that sounded like a hundred men with hammers trying to beat their way through the hull. But some—not enough—stopped, tilting their heads back as they looked at me with dead, dull eyes. Anything in them that still understood language was slaved to their parasitic driver, and that parasite was responsive to the pheromones I was putting off. According to Dr. Cale, I was what all the sleepwalkers had been trying to become when they tried to take over their hosts, and that meant that they would listen to me. I’d seen it work at least once. Now I just needed to make it work more.