The donor lost consciousness for the first time at 9:01 p.m. on October 18, 2027. She regained consciousness once, for approximately three minutes. Consciousness was lost for the final time at 11:57 p.m. The subject awoke the following morning at 5:13 a.m., seeming fully integrated with the nervous system and mind of its new host. All medical readings and records have been attached.
Things are going to be different now.
–FROM THE NOTES OF DR. STEVEN BANKS, SYMBOGEN, OCTOBER 2027
>> Yes, I can hear you, Dr. Banks. Thank you. I’m very comfortable. Thank you. I believe the drugs are working. I feel… light. Like there’s nothing holding me down. Is something holding me down?
>> I can hear the bone saw. It’s very loud. Bone conduction is funny.
>> Did you put something inside the incision? I think you may have left something inside the incision. It feels like something is pushing on me. Like there’s pressure where pressure isn’t supposed to… isn’t supposed to… oh.
>> My mother took me to the carnival once. It was in a field. Just a field. Most of the time it was full of cows and grass and now it was full of magic. Everything was magic. I said I wanted to be a carnival girl. She said no, be a scientist, make something of yourself… I’m cold. I’m cold.
>> It hurts.
>> It hurts.
>> [screams continue]
>> I don’t… I don’t… I can’t… I’m not…
>> Where am I let me out I want to go home I can’t—
>> [barely audible] I’m still in here. Let me out. I’m still here.
–THE FINAL WORDS OF CLAUDIA ANDERSON, AS TRANSCRIBED BY DR. MICHAEL KWAN, SYMBOGEN, OCTOBER 18, 2027
Daisy fidgeted as the elevator slid down into the bowels of the factory, plucking at the hems on her sleeves and casting sidelong glances at me and at Nathan, like she thought we had somehow been struck blind by the discovery that Dr. Banks had managed to find us. It wasn’t like Captain Candy’s was a natural place to conceal an underground biotech lab. If he’d located us here, he must have spent quite a lot of time and effort on looking. He had to have a reason.
I leaned against Nathan’s side, trying to calm my breathing, or at least get the frantic pounding of my heart under control. In that moment, I would almost have welcomed Sherman and his weird biomechanical control. At least then I wouldn’t have felt so much like I was on the verge of losing consciousness.
The elevator dinged as it reached the ground floor lobby. I stepped forward, almost bopping my nose on the opening doors in my eagerness to get out of that small, tight space full of questions and uncertainties. I wasn’t in a hurry to see Dr. Banks—I was never going to be in a hurry to see him—but in that moment, anything would have been better than staying where I was and trying to figure out how this was making me feel. I didn’t know how it was making me feel. No, that wasn’t right: it made me angry. All of this made me angry, and that was what I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to deal with the anger. I didn’t know how to handle the sheer feeling of betrayal that came with the thought of seeing him again.
I was going to need to figure things out, and fast. There were five figures waiting for us at the front of the Captain Candy Chocolate Factory lobby, outlined by the early morning sun that slanted in through the big glass windows. The boards nailed up to protect us from sleepwalkers only extended about eight feet up from the floor; there was plenty of light. People moved outside the glass, nailing the boards back into place. There must have been another attack while we were sleeping.
That got more common every day.
Even with them reduced to nothing more than silhouettes, I could tell who four of the five people in the lobby were. The low-slung figure in the wheelchair was Dr. Cale, and the two men who flanked her were Fishy and Fang, recognizable by outline alone. One of the figures, a willowy female, was unfamiliar to me. And the fifth…
The fifth was one of the first people I remembered, one of the first humans to sit down with me and tell me I didn’t have to be defined by my accident and my memory loss, that I could learn to be a full, productive member of society despite the way my life had changed. He’d been lying all along, of course—he’d known exactly what I was, and that each of the skills I learned would be learned for the very first time—but he’d always known what to say to get me to come around. Even later, when I’d started to chafe against SymboGen’s pseudo-parental treatment of me almost as much as I’d been chafing against Sally’s parents, he’d always known what to say. After all, he was one of the people who had created me.
But he couldn’t talk me into taking a job at SymboGen, even when he tried his best, and he hadn’t convinced me not to steal the data Dr. Cale had asked me to get for her. Maybe he didn’t know me as well as I thought he did.
I wondered what he thought as he saw me walking slowly across the lobby toward him, with Nathan by my side. Did he look at me and see a woman, stronger than she used to be and only a little weaker than she had the potential to become, who had survived the apocalypse and the discovery that she wasn’t even the species she’d always believed herself to be? Or did he see the broken girl he’d worked so hard to keep under his control, the experiment gone horribly right and taking its first steps out into the world? And did it matter? Sally Mitchell was gone. This body was mine. Not hers, not anyone else’s, not ever again. I was even suddenly grateful for Sherman’s unasked-for haircut, because it was something Sally would never have done to herself. I looked like someone else. I was someone else.