And then I got close enough to see the bright, paternal smile on Dr. Banks’s face, and I was just Sal again, dressed in a paper gown and waiting to be told that it was time for cookies and juice.
“Sally,” he said, and while the name he used wasn’t mine, I couldn’t deny the reality of his relief. He sounded like a man who had just discovered that Christmas wasn’t canceled after all. “You really made it. I’d heard rumors, but I wasn’t sure.”
“No thanks to you,” said Nathan. “What is he doing here, Mother?”
“Manners, Nathan; Dr. Banks is our guest, at least for the moment,” said Dr. Cale. “He may be our prisoner in a little while. I haven’t decided yet. You’ve met my son, haven’t you, Steven? Oh, what was I thinking? You were having him monitored by SymboGen security. Of course you’ve met my son, even if I wasn’t always sure he’d met you.”
“Hello, Dr. Banks,” I said. I kept my eyes on his face, not letting myself look at the interplay between Nathan and Dr. Cale. They didn’t matter as much as he did. Not in this moment. “You made it too. I thought you’d have been arrested for crimes against humanity by now.”
“The United States government and I have an understanding,” he said. “I keep working on a way to help them solve their little tapeworm problem, they don’t arrest me. It works out well for everyone involved.”
“Except the dead people,” said Fishy snidely.
I didn’t say anything. I just looked at Dr. Banks.
Dr. Banks had always been a man who fought to present the illusion of perfection, clinging to it long past the point where anyone else I knew would have abandoned it as a waste of resources. That perfection was gone now. His sandy hair was mussed, graying at the temples, and a little longer than it should have been, showing how long it had been since he’d been to see a barber. He’d lost weight, leaving his carefully sculpted physique less defined than it had been the last time I’d seen him. Most damningly, he was wearing stained brown slacks and the top half of a pair of medical scrubs. The sleeves of his black runner’s top poked out of the shirt, their cuffs a little frayed. If the apocalypse was stripping us of our masks and revealing us for what we really were, what did that say about Dr. Banks? How much of who I’d always assumed him to be was a lie?
“I’ve been working day and night to try to find a solution,” he said, apparently mistaking my silence for awe, or for confusion, or for something easier to explain away than what it really was: understanding. I was starting to understand why it had been so easy for him to lie to me all those years, when he looked into my eyes and called me “Sally” and acted like my accident hadn’t changed anything.
He’d already been lying to everyone else.
“Who’s she?” asked Nathan, breaking the brief quiet. His gaze had gone to the silent girl standing next to Dr. Banks. I followed it, really considering her for the first time.
She was a whisper of a thing, a charcoal sketch that no one had ever bothered to finish filling in. Her skin was almost pale enough to be translucent, a milky white only a few shades darker than the skins of the tapeworms Dr. Cale kept in jars and feeding containers down in her lab. Her hair was black, falling to mid-back, and her eyes were a dark enough brown that I might not have realized they had a color at all if I hadn’t had her hair for contrast. She was maybe twenty years old, and stick-thin. She looked like she was on the verge of collapse, but she met my eyes steadily, and she didn’t flinch away.
Something about her was terribly familiar. I had never seen her before.
“Sal, meet Anna,” said Dr. Banks, placing a proprietary hand on the girl’s shoulder. She turned to look up at him, her dark eyes filled with worshipful adoration. He flashed a smile at her—the same warm, intentionally paternal smile that he used to direct at me.
In that moment I knew what she was, but I didn’t say anything, too filled with disgust and dismay to force my lips to move. The pounding of the drums was back in my ears, brought on by the stress and the realization that Dr. Banks had been doing more independent experimentation than any of us had ever suspected. And why shouldn’t he? He’d been one of the creators of the SymboGen implant. He had as much right as anyone to explore further perversions of science.
Dr. Banks turned that warm, paternal smile on me, and said, “She’s your sister.”
Dr. Cale didn’t wait for the rest of us to react to Dr. Banks’s proclamation before she started rolling herself toward the elevator, signaling for the group to follow her. “We’re moving this to a more secure location,” she called. Fishy trotted ahead of her, pressing the call button for the service elevator that used to transport entire birthday parties and pallets of boxed candy around the factory. Captain Candy had believed firmly in using things for as many purposes as possible. That made him my kind of guy. Too bad he had never really existed.
I was chasing my thoughts down rabbit holes again, a sure sign that I was disturbed by Dr. Banks’s proclamation. I piled into the elevator next to Nathan, sneaking glances around him at the pale, black-haired girl that Dr. Banks called “Anna.” She couldn’t really be my sister, could she? I knew she was a chimera. Nothing could have convinced me otherwise. But how could he have done that to a living human being? How could have done that on purpose? Sherman did the things he did because he didn’t believe that humans had any more right to their bodies than we did. Dr. Banks was human. How could he have done that to one of his own people?