I’d seen pictures before. We’d never been in the same room. Dr. C had always said it was too dangerous, and also that there was a pretty good chance I’d kill him if I got the opportunity, so it was better not to let me have the opportunity. Dr. C was pretty smart that way.
“Hello, Tansy,” said Dr. Banks, his smile never wavering. “I’m your father, and it’s time we got to know each other a little bit better.”
STAGE I: INTERPHASE
Hasn’t everyone done something that they probably shouldn’t have done, just to see what would happen?
–DR. STEVEN BANKS
I’m not sure what I am. I’m not sure why I’m here. But I’m sure of one thing. I don’t want to die.
My head hurts something awful, and I know from watching the news and reading the Internet that this means I’m probably going to die soon. Maybe not my body, but my mind; the parts of me that matter. The parts of me that love you more than anything.
That’s why I’m leaving. I love you, honey, and if I did anything to hurt you or the kids, I don’t think I could live with myself. Even if it was just my body, I know my soul would be watching.
I’ll see you when you get to Heaven, baby. I know we’re both of us going to make it there.
–LETTER LEFT BY MOE RICHARDS OF REDDING, CA, OCTOBER 27, 2027
According to my mother’s notes on the original D. symbogenesis project, there should be no more than three percent human DNA in any individual worm, with variance for developmental age and individual tailoring (worms intended to secrete specific medications, etc.). The most that should be found in any single worm, even one specifically designed to fit the needs of its host, is three point two percent human DNA.
Some of the samples we’re finding in the sleepwalker population imply as much as eleven percent human DNA, without any visible change to the morphology of the D. symbogenesis worm.
What this means, I do not know. I cannot imagine it means anything remotely good.
–FROM THE NOTES OF DR. NATHAN KIM, OCTOBER 2027
The car pulling to a stop woke me, if “woke” is the correct word: I wasn’t sleeping in the traditional sense, just so deep in the hot warm dark that I had ceased to be aware of distance. I opened my eyes on a world without sunlight, the car lit only by the dim glow from the instrument panel. We were pulled off to the side of the road somewhere in the rolling hills that seemed to cover a third of the Bay Area. I blinked, trying to get my bearings, and then twisted in my seat to look at Nathan.
“Why are we stopped?” I asked.
“The dogs need a bathroom break, and according to the traffic reports, we’re in the clear from here on out,” he said, unfastening his seat belt as he spoke. “We made it over the bridge. No incidents. If the quarantine on San Francisco has been declared, no one’s told anyone this far from the city yet.”
“Anything on the news?” I sat up, rumpling my hair with one hand and yawning. I felt, if anything, even more limp and wrung-out than I had before we left the apartment. However much energy I’d been able to gain from the cookies and juice, it wasn’t going to last forever.
“They’re reporting fires in San Francisco, and advising travelers to either stay in their hotels or cars and await evacuation, if they’re already in the city, or stay at home, and as far from San Francisco as possible. There hasn’t been anything about a bridge closure yet. That may just be a media effort to keep people from rushing to see what’s going on. People love to gawk at accidents. They’re not quite as fond of being set on fire.”
“Right.” I reached for my seat belt. Nathan’s hand on my shoulder stopped me. I turned to face him, blinking. “What?”
“I want you to stay in the car,” he said.
“Because your hands are shaking. They’ve been shaking since you woke up.” He pulled his hand away. “You need medical attention. I’m not going to risk you collapsing by the side of the road because you didn’t want me to walk the dogs by myself.”
Much as I hated to admit it, Nathan had a point. I sighed, sagging back in my seat. “Okay, but leave the keys? I want to listen to the radio.”
“You’ve got it.” He leaned over and kissed my temple before turning the key in the ignition, reactivating the car’s electrical systems. I reached for the radio and was starting to scan through the local stations when he got out of the car, slamming the door behind himself, and let the dogs out of the back. I was alone.
The first three stations were generic classic rock, all power ballads and songs about how awesome it was to be young forever. I skipped past them, looking for the news. I was so focused that I scanned right past a familiar voice, only realizing what I’d done two stations later. The drums beginning to hammer in my ears again, I rolled the scanner carefully back.
“—during a tragic break-in at our offices earlier today. I knew our competition was capable of a lot of things, but I had no idea they would stoop to corporate espionage, or that they’d be willing to involve someone who couldn’t understand what she was doing.” Dr. Banks sounded solemn and upset, like he was barely keeping himself under control. I’d always known he was an excellent liar, but as I listened to him talk, I started to understand how good he really was. “Sally Mitchell is a wonderful girl. I’ve enjoyed our time together immensely, and I think of her as a daughter, but it’s no secret that she’s not… well. She suffered some fairly severe brain damage in her accident, and she’s never fully recovered. She never will. Her family has been holding her in custodianship for the last several years, and she and I had been speaking about the virtues of transferring that custody to me. I think of her as a daughter, and her biological parents, well, they could never look at her without seeing everything she had lost. I love her. I know she’d never have done anything like this of her own initiative. Someone put her up to this. Someone exploited a poor, mentally handicapped girl for their own ends, and when I find out who did this, I swear, I am going to come down on them with the full force of the law.”