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I glared at him. “I nearly died because of that integration. No thanks to you.”

“Ah, is that what you were doing at the hospital? I had wondered what would possibly have possessed you to go someplace so patently foolish.” Sherman put his hand on the side of my face, trying to turn my head to the side. I struggled against him, and he scowled. “Be still, Sal. I’m not going to hurt you. Whether you believe me or not, I want you on my side, and damaging you now would just convince you never to work with me. I want to check your bandages.”

“How do you know I have bandages?” I demanded.

“You just as good as told me you’d gone to the hospital to have those faulty arteries in your head repaired, and you’re asking how I know you’ve got bandages on? Learn to remember what you said thirty seconds ago, will you? It’ll make a big difference in how the rest of this day goes. Now stop fighting me, or I’ll tell Dr. Huff you need to be sedated again for your own safety.”

I stopped fighting.

Sherman rolled my head to the side, his long, clever fingers probing down through my hair until they found the bandage concealed there. “It’s caught on the small hairs—they should have shaved your neck before they cut you open, the barbarians. Bite your tongue, Sal, this is going to hurt a bit, and I can’t have you making a sound.” That was all the warning he gave before he pulled the bandage loose. It took what felt like half the hair on my head with it, even though I knew that was anatomically impossible. I squeaked but managed not to shout; Sherman’s warning had been sufficient.

His fingers resumed probing almost instantly, not even waiting for the pain to fade. I stared into the dark, eyes watering, and wondered what he was looking for.

I didn’t have to wonder for long. “There’s a little mark, and anyone doing a truly detailed inspection would be able to tell you’d had surgery recently, but as long as you don’t tell anyone to look more closely, you should be all right.” Sherman pulled his hand out of my hair almost reluctantly, pausing at the last moment to swipe his fingers across my cheek. “I’m glad that little problem’s been fixed.”

“You knew, and you didn’t make them put me back together,” I said sullenly, still staring off into the darkness. I didn’t want to look at him. He was a traitor and a turncoat, and worst of all, he was a liar. He’d known my life was in danger, and he’d said nothing. I didn’t matter to him.

“Dr. Banks wouldn’t let me.” He pulled his hand away. “Chave and I both suggested it, on multiple occasions, under the guise of monitoring your well-being. That was part of our job, after all, so we thought we could get away with it. He eventually told us both to stop, and said that we’d be fired if we didn’t. He wanted you to have that inbuilt weakness, and it’s not that easy to perform surgery on someone whose medical power of attorney is controlled by someone else. Plus, any surgeon we could have found who was willing to perform the operation would have discovered your… little condition, and then I would have had to kill them. I’m not fond of killing people, Sal.”

“What?” I finally rolled my head back to its original place, frowning up at him. “You were talking about creating a world without humans. You’re totally okay with killing people.”

“One,” he said, holding up a long finger, “that doesn’t mean I like it. And two, you have perhaps made some mistaken assumptions about my desire for a world without humans. I’m not going to wipe out the species. That would be silly, and wasteful, and nigh impossible.”

I frowned. “Then what do you want to do?”

He smiled. That expression was the same as it had always been, and for just a second, it was like I was looking back through time to a moment when I almost understood things. “I want to round them up and put them in breeding camps, at least until we have enough stable chimera to breed our own babies,” he said. That broke the illusion. Instantly. “Integration is easier with younger subjects. We’ll be able to introduce implant to infant, tapeworm to toddler, and slide ourselves right into their skins without any need for trauma on any side. Imagine, Sal. There won’t be any displacement—you’re not kicking out the original owner if they never had a chance to develop. There won’t be the sort of dysphoria you and I and the others like us have had to live with, because we’ll grow with our bodies. We’ll grow into them, and they’ll be ours.”

I stared at him. “You want to replace humanity by becoming humanity?”

“In a controlled sense, yes.” He kept smiling, his lips tight and his teeth concealed. “We’ll be much better shepherds for this world, and after all, isn’t it the nature of things for children to replace their parents? They made us. We’ll take their place.”

“I don’t…” I stopped. There was no way to make him understand why replacing humanity would be wrong, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to try. It would give him the opening to keep explaining why replacing humanity was exactly right—and I was deeply afraid, on a level I didn’t want to think about too hard, that if he spoke, I would listen. Almost every human I’d known during my short life had lied to me. There were good ones, sure. I loved Nathan more than anything. But was that an argument for an entire species? They had created the sleepwalkers. They had killed their own people because they didn’t want to sneeze anymore. I wasn’t sure that was an endorsement.