I turned to look at him, frowning slowly. “You keep trying to convince me that I’m still Sally,” I said. “Why is that so important to you? You never tried to do that before.”
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything.
“Colonel Mitchell. Is he still in charge of the local branch of USAMRIID? You know, big guy, thinning hair, sort of old around the eyes—and oh, yeah, Sally’s father. Is he still the one calling the shots? How much oversight does he have at this point? He used to tell me his men would follow him to the end of the world. Was that more than just hyperbole?”
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything.
San Francisco continued to roll by outside our windows, broken windows, empty doorways, and the constant, distant smell of rot accompanying us across the city. I unfolded my legs, trying to make myself look a little bit less childish as I leaned closer, invading Dr. Banks’s personal space, and asked, “Are you trying to make me be Sally because you promised her father that you could bring her back to him?”
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything… but his eyes cheated away and to the left, the same way Beverly’s did when I caught her digging in the laundry, and I knew that I had found my answer.
“We should leave you on a corner for the sleepwalkers,” I said, disgusted. “You didn’t come to us because you needed to know how to stabilize Anna. You came because you wanted me.”
“You think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” Dr. Banks’s voice was dull, like he couldn’t even find it in himself to sneer anymore. “I came for the reasons I gave. Anna won’t stabilize, and the ‘chimera’ ”—he made the word sound dirty—“market is going to be huge over the next few years. With as many people as have died in this little public relations nightmare, SymboGen will need a new product—a new name to go with it, of course, but no one’s going to shut us down. We have too much money, too much power…”
“And you’ve shifted too much of the blame,” I interjected.
Dr. Banks glared at me, but his heart wasn’t in it. “Your kind are as good a cash cow as any. The goodwill I might be able to gain with Colonel Mitchell by handing you back to him is a minor concern. Not nearly as important as stabilizing that little girl.”
“But you told him you could bring Sally back, didn’t you?” Nathan kept his eyes on the road. I wanted to hug him, to chase the bitterness from his voice. “I know what it’s like to pursue your funding, Dr. Banks. I was just a kid when Mom was really dealing with the hard-core academia, but I’ll never forget the way she promised those men the moon and the stars if they’d just put their money in her hands, rather than in the hands of her competitors. You told him that because of the way Sal converted, you could bring back the original personality, even though that would normally be impossible—and of course, no one but you could ever manage such a feat of scientific glory. He needed you if he wanted his daughter back.”
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything. But he didn’t deny it either, and under the circumstances, that was just as damning as a confession would have been.
San Francisco was a city riddled with makeshift blockades, roadblocks, and destruction. For every open street there were three more that had somehow been stopped up by either the police or the locals, before they went off to meet whatever fate was waiting for them in the foggy hills. I hoped that whatever had happened to them—and even in a situation like this one, where the end seemed virtually preordained, there were still so many things that could have happened—it had been quick, and had left them with little time to suffer.
Maybe that was the most terrifying thing about Dr. Banks’s attempts to convince me that Sally was still in my head, buried under trauma and scar tissue. The idea of being a prisoner in my own body, unable to change anything, but able to see and understand everything that happened, was horrifying. At least when I’d been an implant, I hadn’t really understood what was happening to me, or to the body I inhabited. The cousins were just tapeworms driving broken minds around the world. They weren’t jailers for the humans whose bodies they had taken over. To think anything else was to invite madness.
We stopped on the Presidio to let Nathan get out and Fishy get behind the wheel. Nathan transferred an uncharacteristically silent Dr. Banks to the front passenger seat and got in next to me, putting a hand on my knee without saying a word about why he thought I might need the comfort. I sighed, shifting to rest my head against his shoulder. Beverly mirrored the sound a moment later, and I had to clap my hand over my mouth to smother my giggles. For better or for worse, we were driving into the unknown. Yes, it was a trap, but wasn’t everything a trap these days? I couldn’t think of the last time I’d experienced something that wasn’t a trap in some way. Even Nathan and my dogs were traps. They made me want a life I probably wasn’t going to ever have, and a world that had been buried because of the circumstances of my birth.
“Sleepwalkers at three o’clock,” reported Fishy. “They don’t seem to realize we’re here, but I’m going to take the next few blocks a little faster. You kids may want to hang on.”
“Okay,” said Nathan. Fishy accelerated. I felt, rather than saw, Nathan twist around to peer down at me. He asked, “Are you sure that you’re okay?”
“I’m pretty sure, and that’s better than I was expecting,” I said. “I feel numb, more than anything else. I don’t think I have the energy to be scared anymore. Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll have some screaming nightmares about this later.” If there was a later.