I was still laughing when we walked out of the bowling alley and into the parking lot. An ambulance was parked right outside the doors, and a short, solid-looking woman with broad shoulders and buzz-cut brown hair shot through with ribbons of gray was waiting for us, one hand resting on a gurney.
“About time you guys got out here,” she said, casting a nervous look back at the ambulance. Its doors were standing open, revealing the clean white interior. “We have about an hour before someone notices that the GPS chip on this baby’s been jiggered, so let’s get a move on, okay?”
“You must be Daisy,” I said, swallowing the last of my giggles. “I’m Sal.”
“Nice to meet you, Sal,” she said genially. “I need you to lie down on this gurney. Do you think you can do that, or do we need to pick you up?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Honesty seemed like the best policy, at least when it kept me from falling on my face. “I’m a little woozy right now.”
“That’s to be expected.” She looked to my left. “Fang?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He moved faster than I expected, somehow scooping me off my feet without tangling my IV cords, and deposited me on my back on the gurney before I could do more than squeak. I blinked bemusedly up at the starry suburban sky, feeling like I’d just been part of an involuntary magic trick.
“All right, Sal, I’m going to strap you down now,” said Daisy, all efficiency. “I know you probably won’t like that, but it’s necessary if we’re going to keep you from getting knocked around during the ride. Also, if your balance is anything to go by, those sedatives are going to knock you out any minute now, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable this way.”
“I don’t mind being tied down.” My eyelids fluttered shut, seemingly of their own accord, and no amount of coaxing would get them to open again. Maybe they were tired. The rest of me was. “Tight is good. Nathan, you should tie me down sometime. I think I’d like that.”
“We’ll talk about it later, honey.” He sounded oddly strained, like he didn’t want to talk about it at all. Oh, well. I could ask him about that after I’d had my nap.
Daisy started strapping me down with quick efficiency. I lay perfectly still, figuring that was the best thing I could do to help—and besides, moving just seemed like so much work. I dimly realized that I was drifting off to sleep, but staying awake would have been even more work than moving. I was already gone by the time they started loading my gurney into the back of the ambulance; the shaking and thumping that would inevitably accompany that kind of transfer was entirely absent, not even making a dent in my slow fade into unconsciousness.
It was sort of nice to go down like this, falling slowly instead of flipped off like a switch. I settled deeper into my own body, letting the hot warm dark wash over me, and listened to the quiet sound of drums.
The drive to John Muir could have taken thirty seconds or thirty years: I wouldn’t have noticed either way. A few times I was pulled back toward wakefulness by a sudden turn, but those disruptions were brief and quickly obscured by the simple comforts of the dark. My pulse seemed to be radiating from the points of my body, feet, hands, head, and crotch, bouncing in to the center of me and then flowing outward like a wave. It didn’t make a sound, exactly, but I thought that if it did, the sound would have been meditative and sweet, so I tried to listen for it, focusing as best I could through the pounding of the drums and the thumping of my heart.
I don’t like this, thought the small corner of my mind that was still clear and unaffected by whatever Dr. Cale had put in my IV. I want this to be over now. Can this be over now? Please?
My silent pleas didn’t do any good. The tidal motion of my pulse continued, and the darkness deepened, if anything, becoming absolute.
The gurney was lifted down from the ambulance. The wheels thumped hard against the concrete in the hospital parking lot. That did register with me, breaking through the haze for a few seconds. I tried to convince my eyes to open. They didn’t listen, remaining stubbornly closed, and the darkness closed in again.
Motion. The gurney was being pushed somewhere, and I was going with it, helpless to do anything to control my destination. This was what it was like to be just a part of Sally, said the clear corner of my mind, and the part of me that was aware suddenly flooded with both terror and relief. Terror at the accuracy of that comparison, and relief that this wasn’t my existence anymore. This had been me, once, but it wasn’t me now. I was just visiting the land of people who could neither move nor speak. I didn’t have to live there.
Dr. Cale had said the implants weren’t sapient until they integrated with a human brain, that they did all the things they did based on instinct and the desire to control their environments. I was glad for them. Nothing capable of thought should ever be trapped like this, helpless and marooned in the dark. Although I did wonder, just a little, whether she was right: whether they really were just reacting until they latched on to a human mind. Because if they had any shred of intelligence, they were taking over their hosts for two reasons she hadn’t considered: because they were desperate, and because they wanted revenge on the creatures that had given them life and then locked them in the dark.
Something moaned. A voice shouted—Nathan—and then the gurney was moving faster, pushed ahead of some unseen attacker. I struggled to control my body, and failed again. Terror lanced through me, cold and sharp as a razor blade. I didn’t mind going along with the people around me; they often knew more than I did, and I was all too aware that I was still learning to be a person. But the thought of being helpless with a sleepwalker closing in was enough to make my skin grow tight with involuntary terror.