I stayed where I was, seated on the bed, and simply looked at him.
Sherman’s smile gradually faded. “You seem to think this is an open-ended offer, Sal. I assure you, it is not. It took a good bit of work to jam their cameras long enough to get to you. If you don’t move your pretty little butt in short order, I’ll have to leave you.”
“Fine,” I said. “Leave me. Let me tell them what you did. I didn’t ask you to save me.”
“No, you didn’t. I did this out of the goodness of my heart—and that’s not a thing I do for just anyone. Hear that? You’re special, Sal Mitchell, you’re the girl of my dreams and I have to save you or I’ll simply die.” He held out his hand, making a beckoning gesture. “That’s what you wanted to hear, isn’t it? Now come along, we really don’t have time for this. And it’s not as if they’d believe you when you blamed me.”
When did I get so blasé about dead bodies? It must have been when I was taken captive by my host’s father, treated like a possession rather than a person. It wasn’t because I was adjusting to the idea of life as a different species. It wasn’t. “It would work better if you didn’t sound so bored while you were saying it,” I replied. “Where are we going? I’m safe here. I don’t think I’ll be safe wherever it is you’re planning to take me.”
“True enough, pet. I’m going to take you someplace where you’ll be poked and prodded and stared at by people who don’t like you very much. But you’ll have opportunities to try and escape, and none of my people will shoot you in the back for running—unlike the people who run this place”—he indicated the warehouse with a sweep of his outstretched hand—“we have respect for our own kind. We don’t kill chimera.”
I glanced again to the body on the floor. “Just humans.” My initial nonreaction was fading, replaced by the coldness and the distant sound of drums. I had never considered panic to be a relief before.
Sherman shrugged broadly. “Can you blame us? They’d mow us down like wheat if they knew that we existed. Now come along, Sal. I’m not going to ask again, and I do have ways of enforcing your cooperation.”
“You mean you’ll drug me.” I finally swung my feet down to the floor and stood. “I’m getting really tired of that, you know.”
“Then you should stop making people feel the need to do it.” Sherman tapped his foot impatiently. “Are you coming, or am I sedating you? I simply need your answer.”
“I’m coming.” My plastic-soled socks made no sound as I walked across the bubble and out through the hole he’d made; I stepped carefully around the blood pooling on the tile floor. “I’d rather be someplace where I won’t be shot if they figure out what I am. But I’m warning you, I am going to try to escape.”
“You wouldn’t be my best girl if you didn’t.” Sherman turned and started walking down the hall, clearly trusting that I would follow him. For a moment, I considered defying his expectations. I could turn and bolt in the other direction: my experience at John Muir had shown me that a stolen lab coat and an “I belong here” attitude could get me a long way. Maybe I’d be able to find the exit. Maybe I’d be able to get away.
And maybe I’d find myself gunned down by some guard with more testosterone than training, and wind up bleeding to death in an unmarked hallway in a building I didn’t know. It wasn’t worth the risk. Sherman was the devil I knew, and I believed him when he said he wouldn’t kill me. He wanted a chimera-dominant future. We were an endangered species, and he wasn’t going to go out of his way to endanger it further.
I followed him.
We walked along the row of bubbles, each with its own sleeping occupant, until we reached a door in the far wall. Sherman entered a code in the key pad and the door swung inward, allowing a rush of cool air to flow over us. The other side was a long tunnel of white, with gently billowing panels of what looked like vinyl sheeting connected by thick plastic joints. It was like a hose that someone had turned into a walkway for some reason. The lights were very bright, especially compared to the dim room where I’d been imprisoned. I glanced at Sherman, suddenly nervous and seeking the reassurance that he had always been so happy to offer me.
“It’s an umbilical,” he said, grabbing my arm and yanking me forward into the open doorway. “It’s what has us connected to the rest of the idiots. Now walk, Sal. I don’t have time for this crap.”
“Where does it go?”
“Away.” He pushed me this time, planting his hand between my shoulders and shoving me hard enough that I stumbled for several steps. That was enough to let him follow me into the umbilical. The door swung shut behind him, sealing with a clang. “Do you have any concept of what I risked to get in here, to get to you? You’re the only shot we have right now. I’m not going to let your neurosis be what stops me. Now move, or I’ll move you.”
His voice was cold, leaving absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would make me do what he wanted if I didn’t go along with it willingly. I started walking, and Sherman paced me, his longer legs eating up the distance with ease.
The air in the umbilical smelled of antiseptic and nothingness. It was the kind of non-scent that could only be achieved by feeding the ventilation system through so many filters that we would probably be safe from virtually any form of biological attack. Some of the rooms at SymboGen had smelled like that, and they had always been the ones that unnerved me the most. Their silence and their cleanliness had seemed oppressive in a way that could never have been achieved by good, honest noise and dirt.