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I stared at her. “That’s what I’ve been doing since I called you.”

“No, Sal. You’ve been playing at trust, but what I’m about to ask you to do… you need to be absolutely sure that you believe I have your best interests at heart. Otherwise, we can wait. See if the crisis passes. Those blood vessels should hold for a while longer.” Dr. Cale looked at me, regret fading to leave her face a featureless mask. “I can’t say for how long.”

“Then I guess I have to trust you,” I said, trying to sound more sincere than I felt. I didn’t know if I would ever really trust Dr. Cale, but I didn’t have any options left—not unless I wanted to die. Choosing to live meant choosing to trust her, whether I wanted to or not. “Let’s open the broken doors all the way.”

Dr. Cale nodded. “I’ll set things up,” she said, and turned her wheelchair and rolled away, leaving me alone and wondering what I had just agreed to let her do to me.

Take the bread and take the salt,

Know that this is not your fault;

Take the things you need, for you will not be coming back.

Pause before you shut the door,

Look back once, and never more.

Take a breath and take a step, committed to this track.

The broken doors are kept in places ancient and unknown.

My darling ones, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.


The big question of the hour is pretty obvious: it’s the question we’ve been asking every scientist from Galileo to Oppenheimer, from Frankenstein to Moreau. Do I feel like we at SymboGen are trying to play God?

Well, there’s a reason that two of the scientists I just named don’t really exist. I think that mankind is constantly trying to play God: I would argue that playing God is exactly what God, if He exists, would want us to do. He didn’t create thinking creatures with the intent that we would never think. That would be silly. He didn’t create creatures that were capable of manipulating and remaking our environment with the intent that we would sit idle and never create anything. That would be a waste.

If God exists—and I am reserving my final opinion on the matter until I die and meet Him—then He is a scientist, and by creating man, he was playing at being me for a little while. So I can’t imagine that He would mind if I wanted to try putting the shoe on the other foot, can you?


Chapter 5


The plan was simple enough on paper. Fang and Daisy—another of Dr. Cale’s employees, a parasitologist by trade, before she had left SymboGen to work with Dr. Cale on the D. symbogenesis issue—both had admitting privileges at the nearby John Muir Medical Center, a vast, sprawling hospital complex where no one could be sure of knowing absolutely everyone else. They would sneak me into an unoccupied operating theater, program the machines that handled microsurgery to deal with the weakened blood vessels connecting to my brain, and keep watch while the surgical tools took care of the job. Fang was a licensed neurosurgeon, and both of them were blazingly loyal to Dr. Cale, for reasons I didn’t yet fully understand.

There were a lot of things that could go wrong with this plan, starting when we left the bowling alley and progressing from there. What if someone at the hospital recognized me? What if someone at the hospital recognized Nathan? He’d given speeches on parasitology at hospitals all over Northern California, and he didn’t usually attend random brain surgeries.

Not that there was any chance of his staying behind at the bowling alley. Even if I’d been comfortable with the idea—which I wasn’t—that wasn’t something he was going to agree to. His discussion with his mother had lasted less than five minutes, escalating in volume until everyone in the lab could probably have heard them. Her part of the conversation had consisted of reasonable arguments and rational cost/benefit assessments. His had consisted almost entirely of variations on the word “no.” I had snuggled down in my narrow cot, listening to the soft thudding of the drums in my ears and smiling a little. It was nice that Dr. Cale didn’t get everything she wanted.

I was still in that cot a little over an hour later when the sheet was pulled aside, allowing Nathan into my tiny, semiprivate room. “How’s your head?” he asked.

“Not too bad,” I said. “Did your mom put sedatives in my IV drip? The drums haven’t been as loud since I’ve been here.”

He nodded. “She did. Don’t worry; I’ve looked over your chart, and they won’t interfere with the surgery. We’ll be able to get you put back together tonight, better than new, since this time you won’t have a hidden time bomb in your skull.”

I smiled slightly. “You’re freaking out, huh?”

“Just a little.” He raised his hand, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart. I raised my eyebrows. He spread his fingers farther apart before giving up and spreading his hand wide. “Okay, a lot. It’s been a long night, you know? First we’re fugitives, and then you’re having your arm ripped open, and then you’re passing out again—and suddenly that’s a good thing, since without all the fainting, we might not have looked at your MRIs closely enough to realize what was going on inside that head of yours before it was too late.”