I frowned. “You’re trying to avoid telling me something. You don’t normally try to get me to go away and find juice.”
“Untrue: I gave you juice the very first time you came here,” Dr. Cale replied. “And it’s not like you’ve spent that much time with me. Maybe all of my personal relationships are heavily dependent on juice consumption.”
“You gave me juice that was in the room where we were, and there’s a mini fridge in the corner over there, so if you were that dependent on juice for normal social interaction, you’d be telling me to go and get myself a glass, not telling me to go find Adam.” I folded my arms. “I may not be a human being, but I’m not stupid either. What’s going on? Why do you want me to leave?”
“I told you,” said Nathan, clearly directing his words at Dr. Cale. He was smiling slightly when he turned to face me, although the expression died quickly, replaced by solemnity. Looking at them both, I was struck again by just how much he resembled his mother sometimes. Genetics mattered. “Sal, we’ve been going over the data that you were able to recover from SymboGen. Thank you again for doing that. I didn’t want you to, but I’m coming to understand just how necessary it was.”
I worried my lower lip between my teeth before asking, “How bad?”
“I don’t know. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s there—it’s only been a few hours.” He shrugged, his arms flopping limply, like they belonged to a doll and not to a man. “How does the end of the human race sound to you?”
“Oh,” I said, and looked to Dr. Cale. She nodded. That was all it took: one little nod to confirm the end of humanity. “That’s bad,” I said.
Oh my God, Steven. I always knew that you were a proud man—that your hubris was, in its way, even worse than mine, and I was willing to throw away everything in the pursuit of godhood—but I never thought that you would actually go this far. Or was it you at all? Did you get so caught up in the myth that you forgot to be the man? Was Sherman able to do this all under your nose?
It doesn’t really matter now. What’s done is done.
May God have mercy on us all.
–FROM THE JOURNAL OF DR. SHANTI CALE, SEPTEMBER 21, 2027
Silent house and silent hall,
Room so big, and you so small,
Looking in the closet, looking underneath the stair.
I know just what you hope to find,
But this is all I left behind:
I hope that you can listen to a frightened monster’s prayer.
The broken doors are hidden. You must not wait to be shown.
My darling ones, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
–FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.
The worms being distributed by SymboGen were definitely Dr. Cale’s work: her fingerprints were all over their baseline genetic code, at least according to Nathan, who understood that kind of thing. It looked like a long list of amino acids and DNA chains to me, all of them scrolling by so fast that I wouldn’t have been able to follow them across the screen even if I hadn’t been dyslexic. Still, I had no reason to doubt him when he said that no one but Dr. Cale could have done the core work.
“My original specimens had a very limited amount of human DNA at their disposal, and it was specifically DNA coded to the human immune system,” said Dr. Cale. “It lessened immune response, which made it more likely that the body would view the worm as a friendly guest, and not a hostile interloper. It allowed for a better bond. It was intended to make things… I don’t know. Easier. Better. Between that and toxoplasmosis, there was a very good chance that nothing would be rejected.”
I frowned. “I know all this. Why are you telling me things I already know?”
“Because she doesn’t want to think about the things that you don’t know yet,” said Nathan. “Dr. Banks has been a busy boy.”
“We don’t know that it was Steven,” said Dr. Cale sharply. She turned a glare on Nathan. “The lab protocols at SymboGen have been lax ever since he decided that he’d rather play rock star than stay chained to a desk doing science. There have been a lot of opportunities for unethical people to tamper with our work.”
“And what, Mother? It’s somehow worse if the man who blackmailed you into deserting your family is the one who made the changes to the genome? Is that the piece that finally proves you made the wrong choice? Because I think you of all people should be willing to accept how unethical he is.” Nathan matched her glare for glare before turning his back on her, focusing on me and saying, “The amount of human DNA in the newest generation of worms has more than doubled, and there have been some changes to the toxoplasmosis samples as well, although we haven’t had time to figure out exactly what those changes will mean.”
“It’s worse if this was him, because he knew better,” said Dr. Cale. “Out of everyone in the world, he knew better.”
This felt like the sort of circular conversation that could go on for hours. I interrupted, saying, “We already knew there was human DNA in the tapeworms.”
“Yes, but it was a small enough amount that it should still have been possible to use most common antiparasitics without killing the human host.” Nathan grimaced before continuing, “That’s why you reacted so strongly to the antiparasitics, even though you didn’t die from them. The implants were tailored to break down anthelmintics, to prevent them from being killed by normal medical intervention. If they hadn’t been, the antiparasitics could have…” He trailed off.