“Should’ve designed dog,” I mumbled, my fully coherent thought—that the Intestinal Bodyguard should have been designed for dogs, which would be much easier things to be than humans—turning into so much gibberish by the time it finished making the journey to my mouth. I sighed and sagged in place, finally allowing my eyes to slide closed. The drums were there, in the silence behind my eyelids, although they were neither as strong nor as steady as they usually were. That was probably a bad thing. Then again, what wasn’t a bad thing, anymore?
I must have blacked out. That shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, considering the combination of shock and blood loss that I was dealing with, but I was still surprised when I opened my eyes and found myself staring up at the living room ceiling, with a pillow supporting my head. I tried to sit up. A wave of dizziness assured me that this was a terrible idea, and that I should stay where I was for as long as possible. Maybe forever.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” said Nathan. He paused. “Are you awake? If you’re not awake, just don’t respond. But I’d really prefer it if you were awake.”
I licked my lips, which were somehow dry and gummy at the same time. “How long was I out?” I managed to croak, and felt ridiculously proud of myself for accomplishing that much. Everything was still a little gray around the edges, but it was no longer in danger of being swallowed up by shadows, and I thought that was probably a good sign.
“Two hours,” said Nathan. I heard him get up. His footsteps moved away, followed by the sound of the fridge door opening and closing. Then the steps returned, moving toward me with purpose. “I’ve been monitoring your vital signs. Your pulse has remained mostly steady, though you should have gone to the hospital, given how much blood I’m guessing you lost.”
“No hospitals,” I whispered, alarmed.
“No, no hospitals,” Nathan agreed. He sat down on the edge of the couch, setting something on the coffee table. There was a smudge of blood on his chin, and his hair was even more disheveled, making him look younger and lost. “It was killing me not to take you there, but given what we’ve seen so far today, I think it would have killed us both if I’d tried getting you to the ER. Not to mention the danger that the police would get involved.”
Possibly forcing him to choose between leaving me there and getting arrested, depending on what story SymboGen was spinning about the break-in and theft of their data. I grimaced. “Thank you.”
“No thanks needed. We’re in this together.” He kissed my forehead tenderly before asking, “Do you think you can sit up if I help you? I want you to drink some juice.”
“I think so.” I took his arm, making note of the clean white dressing on my wrist as I did so, and allowed him to half help, half pull me into a seated position. The room swam briefly out of focus, and then swam back just as quickly. “Oh, wow. Oh, ow.”
“Are you dizzy?”
“A little bit,” I said, starting to nod. I realized at the last moment that it would be a bad idea, and turned the motion into a semi-bob of my chin instead. Even that was enough to make my head spin. “Everything’s a little gray around the outside.”
“As long as it’s just gray and not black, you should be okay.” He picked up a glass of orange juice from the coffee table, offering it to me. “This will help.”
“I’ve given enough blood voluntarily to know that orange juice doesn’t equal instant recovery,” I said, and took the glass. My hand was shaking. I willed it to be still, and once I was sure I wouldn’t spill juice all over the floor, I raised the glass to my lips. Sweetness flooded my mouth, almost strong enough to make me gag. I did choke a little, before forcing myself to keep on drinking.
“The better it tastes, the more you need it,” said Nathan. He grimaced wryly, and added, “Except when it goes too far, and you feel like you’re turning into a hummingbird. And no, orange juice isn’t an instant restorative. But you didn’t lose enough blood to need a transfusion, thank God, or we would have needed to go to the hospital no matter how bad an idea that was. This should give you enough of a boost that we can get back to the car with the dogs.”
“Thank you for not being willing to let me die in our kitchen,” I said, and took another drink of orange juice. “Has anyone noticed the body in the stairwell?”
“Not that I’ve heard. The building’s been pretty quiet since you passed out. As for the rest of the city…” Nathan shook his head. “I turned the news off when I realized that it was just getting worse. We’ve passed some sort of critical mass of sleepwalkers. More and more of the implants are waking up.”
I looked at him solemnly as I sipped the juice, trying to force myself to choke every last drop of it down. There was no way any of this was a coincidence; not with Sherman on the loose, not with his team of doctors dedicated to championing the cause of D. symbogenesis over the cause of the human race.
I was almost relieved to realize that the thought that he was doing this on purpose made me sick to my stomach. I might not be human, but I still knew right from wrong. That was no small accomplishment, given the circumstances.
“Sal? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t think it was just reaching a critical mass that triggered this,” I said, setting the empty juice glass back on the coffee table. Nathan was right about one thing: while I still felt shaky and weak, I no longer felt like I was going to collapse back into unconsciousness at any moment. “This is Sherman. He was so mad, Nathan. I think he really expected me to go with him. To just throw up my hands and say, ‘I understand now, I’m really one of you,’ and let him lead me to his secret lair beneath the city.”