“It could’ve been them,” I said quietly. “If one of them had had an implant, and been in that car accident…”
Adam’s head whipped around to stare at me, his eyes wide and somehow affronted, like I had just insulted us both. “It could not!” he said. “Both parts of you had to be strong, and had to be clever in just the right ways, or you could never have become one person. You did it without any help, and that’s more than me or Tansy or even…” He stopped, affronted expression melting into guilt.
“I know about Sherman,” I said, the taste of his name on my tongue setting my stomach roiling again. I was starting to feel numb all the way down to my toes. Too many revelations at once will do that to a girl, I guess. “I get what you’re saying, Adam. I’m just… I’m like the people here, a little. I’m still shaky, too.”
“You be as shaky as you want,” he said. “I’ll be here to help you when you’re done.” He smiled at me.
I smiled back. I couldn’t help it.
We had walked maybe half the length of the bowling alley while we were talking and had stopped just outside a curtain of sliced plastic, cut lengthwise, like the screen on a butterfly aviary or a grocery store produce department’s storage area. I looked at it and swallowed hard. There was something impersonal and medicinal about those dangly strips of waxy plastic, like nothing I was on this side would really matter once I was on that side.
“The broken doors are open,” I murmured.
“That’s my favorite book,” said Adam.
“Of course it’s your favorite book,” I said. Don’t Go Out Alone had been written by a good friend of Dr. Cale. It had been a key part of Nathan’s childhood. It was only natural that it would be a key part of Adam’s as well. I was starting to be a little jealous. I was the only member of our family who hadn’t grown up with that book.
Adam let go of my hand. “If you’re still shaky, I think you’ll feel better talking to Mom and Nathan without me. It’ll be easier to pretend that you’re all humans, and not just all people.”
I wanted to tell him that he was wrong, and that his absence wouldn’t make anything easier at all—that no one ever made anything easier by walking away from it. I couldn’t. When I tried to form the words my lips shaped only silence, and in the end I had to force myself to smile, nod, and say, “I think that might be a good idea. I’ll come find you, though, when we’re done. I think I’m…” I faltered, and then continued, “I think I’m going to need you to teach me a lot of things about the way life is now.”
“Always,” said Adam. Before I could react, he hugged me, let me go, and trotted off into the lab, moving with a lanky sureness that somehow broadcast how comfortable he was in the shape of his own skin.
It seemed indecent, almost: he was a worm wearing a boy like a suit. Shouldn’t he have seemed awkward, or shambled like the sleepwalkers, even? Something—anything—to betray the fact that he wasn’t what he seemed to be. I hadn’t felt that way about him before. I considered the emotion for a moment, spinning it around in my head as I tried to find the angle that would tell me where it was coming from. In the end, though, the answer was so simple that I almost missed it:
Guilt. I hadn’t been guilty when I’d seen Adam before; I hadn’t been allowing myself to understand my own origins, and so I’d assumed I was my body’s original owner. Now I was a stranger in my own skin, and if I couldn’t make myself move awkwardly or look visibly like an intruder—like a thief—I’d think those horrible things at Adam—at my brother.
“No, I won’t,” I ordered myself sternly, and stepped through the plastic sheeting, into the small, white-walled lab beyond.
It was maybe eight feet to a side, creating a space that would have been borderline claustrophobic if that sort of thing had bothered me at all. As it was, it struck me as nicely snug, which meant that it probably made most people uncomfortable. Like the majority of the lab spaces in the bowling alley, this one was isolated only in the most technical sense of the word. The walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, and powerful, if quiet fans were occupied in sucking air up from the floor and spitting it over the top of those three-quarter walls, creating a sort of poor man’s negative pressure zone. It wasn’t quite enough to qualify as a “clean room,” and wouldn’t even have necessarily worked as a quarantine zone back at the shelter, but it was clearly enough for Dr. Cale to feel comfortable setting up some serious hardware. An array of computer towers occupied one wall, their constant buzz setting up a low thrumming sound that vibrated through the soles of my bare feet. Nathan and Dr. Cale were both there already, their attention focused on the same monitor.
“I’m awake,” I announced. They both turned toward me, Nathan with naked relief, Dr. Cale with clinical interest that was so closely akin to the way that Dr. Banks used to look at me that I quailed slightly, shrinking in on myself. “I mean, if it matters. I woke up,” I finished awkwardly.
“How do you feel?” asked Nathan, starting to take a step toward me.
Dr. Cale caught his arm, stopping him before he could fully commit to the motion. “I’m sure we’re both very interested in how Sal is feeling, but we need to finish this, Nathan.” She flashed me a quick, strained smile. “I’m glad to see you up and about. Do you need something to drink? You hit your head pretty hard when you fell, and you’d just given blood. Some orange juice would probably do you a lot of good. Go find Adam, he can take you to get some juice.”