This can’t be how it ends, I thought. This isn’t fair.
Fair didn’t seem to be playing any part in things.
Footsteps approached from my right. I opened my eyes and rolled my head in that direction, calling, “Hello? My name is Sal Mitchell. I’m not sick. Can you unstrap me, please?” It was a long shot, especially considering that the stranger in the dark could easily have been Dr. Huff, but it was better than lying here, waiting to be moved.
“Is that your legal name?” asked a cool male voice that I didn’t recognize—not quite—although there was something halfway familiar about it. Like Fang. Whoever this was, I knew him in some other context.
“Not quite,” I admitted. “My legal name is Sally Rae Mitchell.” That was the name my body’s parents gave to it at birth, and the original Sally had never wanted to change it. The “Rae” was after some aunt I’d never met. Maybe changing my name legally to just plain “Sal” would be the honest thing to do, but I was starting to suspect it was already too late for that. We were standing on the razor edge of a national emergency. The department that handled name changes probably wasn’t going to be taking appointments for a while.
“Subject is confused about her identity,” said the man, his words accompanied by the sound of fingertips drubbing softly against a touchscreen.
“What? No! I’m not confused! I know who I am, I just never use the name ‘Sally.’ I don’t like it. It’s—” I was going to say “not me,” but I caught myself at the last second, twisting the rest of the sentence into “—it doesn’t suit me very well. I like ‘Sal’ better, so that’s what I always call myself. I’m not confused, I swear.”
“Subject is defensive,” said the man, accompanying his words with more taps.
“I’m not defensive!” I protested. “You try giving calm answers when you’re strapped to a table and nobody’s willing to tell you what’s going on! It’s not that easy. I don’t think you could do it.” Inspiration struck. “Unless you do think you could do it. Let’s trade places. You come strap yourself down and I’ll ask you questions, and we’ll see how calm you sound.”
The man chuckled. “Oh, pet. You always did like your little jokes, didn’t you?”
The man with the touchscreen stepped out of the shadows and into my field of vision. He was tall and gangly, with limbs that seemed a little too long for his body, yet nonetheless moved with artful grace, like he had spent his time learning exactly how to present himself to best advantage. The heavy artificial tan he’d worked so hard to cultivate was gone, as were the neatly tailored clothes; he was wearing off-the-rack tan slacks and a blue button-down shirt under a lab coat with the USAMRIID logo on the breast. He’d even added black-framed glasses to his ensemble, completing the illusion that he belonged here. His hair was still cut in the latest style, brown with bleached tips and a spiky outline that could only be achieved through pomade and care, but it seemed less natural and more like an affectation when set against the rest of him. Whatever game he was playing, he had taken the time and put in the effort to play it well.
Sherman Lewis smiled at me coolly. I stared at him, unsure of what else I could do. He had been my handler for years, taking care of moving me around the building and keeping me out of trouble during my periodic visits to SymboGen. He had also been a chimera the whole time, another product of Dr. Cale’s lab. He was like Adam and Tansy, surgically created, rather than being natural like me, and the last time I’d seen him, he’d been in the basement at SymboGen, and I’d been running for my life.
“This is a fun situation, don’t you think? I always hoped you’d see the light and leave your stupid boyfriend so that you and I could get to know each other better, but I’ll admit, I never thought I’d convince you to try bondage.” Sherman leaned over me, invading the fragile bubble of my personal space.
“Your accent’s gone.” It was a stupid thing to say. I couldn’t think of anything better, and besides, it seemed important. Sherman had always had a thick British accent, even though he came from a California lab. That was why I hadn’t recognized his voice sooner, not until he called me “pet”: without the accent, he didn’t really sound like himself.
“Oh, you mean this?” Sherman’s voice was suddenly plummy and thick again, full of subtly twisted vowels and lilting consonants. “I can suppress it if I need to, like when I’m working a different undercover identity. Never did figure out why I sounded British. Just woke up this way. Mom always said it was a sign that something interesting had happened during my integration, but she couldn’t say precisely what it was, and she had other things to worry about most of the time. Keeping Tansy out of trouble, keeping Adam from seeing anything that might upset his precious sensibilities—and you, of course. She would probably have come looking for me before too much longer, if you hadn’t decided that you were tired of living in this pretty little body’s gut, and moved on up to the big leagues.”
He put his touchscreen down on my stomach, where the weight of it was an unpleasant reminder that I was trapped. Leaning forward, he traced a finger along my clavicle and smiled. I squirmed. That just made him smile more.
“You really did get lucky. You’re nicely symmetrical, and you’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Don’t laugh. The shape of the skull probably makes a large difference in the integration.”