I didn’t hate myself for what I was, but I knew my birth had been predicated on the death of someone who had existed before me. Dr. Cale was my mother in the sense that she had designed me, building the human DNA into my structure that would one day allow me to bond with Sally Mitchell on a fundamental level. Dr. Banks was my father in the same sense: his incessant tampering with the structure of D. symbogenesis was what enabled it to infest its hosts so flexibly. And yet…
And yet really, Sally Mitchell had been my mother, because her flesh nurtured and supported me until I was large enough to live my own life—a life that began when hers ended. My eyes searched Anna’s face, looking for signs that she had made the same transition, or at least understood what the transition meant.
She stared straight ahead for the entire descent, not meeting my eyes or looking in my direction even once. I glanced down. She was holding Dr. Banks’s hand tightly in hers, her fingers digging so hard into the back of his hand that the flesh there was white and bloodless. Maybe she was nervous after all.
The elevator dinged as it reached the ground floor, and the doors opened to reveal eight more of Dr. Cale’s interns and lab technicians. They were all holding semi-automatic weapons, and had them trained on the open elevator doors. Fishy took a half step to the left, putting his finger on the “door open” button that would keep the elevator locked where it was. To my dismay, one of the technicians tracked his movement with the barrel of her gun, keeping him firmly in her sights.
Dr. Banks stiffened but didn’t say anything. Anna made a small whimpering noise, her hand clamping down even harder on his, and looked down at the floor. Her shoulders were shaking. I felt the powerful urge to put my arms around her and tell her that everything was going to be all right, which was as nonsensical as it was foolish. Everything was not going to be all right. Dr. Cale was holding us at gunpoint, and I knew her well enough to know that I didn’t understand precisely why. Nothing was going to be all right until I knew what was going on.
“Nathan, please push me out into the lab,” said Dr. Cale. “The rest of you, I recommend staying exactly where you are. If you move too much, you may find yourself leaking from a bunch of holes that you didn’t start out with, and our medical facilities still aren’t as advanced as I’d like them to be. We could probably deal with one gunshot wound, but five would be a strain on our resources.”
“I’m not leaving this elevator without Sal,” said Nathan, through gritted teeth.
“I didn’t expect that you would—hence my count. Steven, his little pet, Daisy, Fishy, and Fang. Five. Now be a good son and help your mother.” There was a needle of ice in Dr. Cale’s voice, as sharp and vicious as a hypodermic in the night. “We all know that a woman in a wheelchair can’t be expected to take care of herself.”
“Now Surrey—” said Dr. Banks.
Dr. Cale didn’t turn or look back at him. “Surrey Kim is dead, Steven. You should know that better than anyone: you’re the one who killed her. She had a husband and a son and a career that didn’t involve destroying the world. She had the capacity for compassion toward the human race, even if she had to learn what didn’t come naturally. It’s really a pity that you decided she had to go. I think she might have been a little more understanding about whatever it is you’ve come here for. Nathan?”
“Yes, Mom,” said Nathan, and gripped the handles of her chair, pushing her out of the elevator. He didn’t move much faster than she would have been able to go on her own. She sat with her back perfectly straight, like the mast of one of the ships that used to sail in the San Francisco Harbor, and I followed behind them, fighting the urge to glance back and see how the others were reacting. Fishy, Fang, and Daisy were being left in the line of fire for nothing more than the crime of being in the elevator when Dr. Cale declared it a holding pen. Dr. Banks had to know what he was walking into when he decided to come here—and why would he do that? He knew we weren’t friends. He knew we weren’t even allies. So what would bring him to Dr. Cale?
What, if not Anna?
I could almost feel her behind me, eyes on my back, a soft, warm presence like a beacon that said I should turn around, go back to the elevator, and refuse to leave her alone. It wasn’t an awareness that had anything to do with any of the senses; it was just there, inescapable, like gravity.
I stumbled a little, catching myself on the arm of Dr. Cale’s chair. She cast me a quick, concerned look, lips pursing as if to shush me. I nodded, just a bit, and kept walking, refusing to let my confusion show on my face. I knew Anna was there because I could sense her, a blind, deaf sense that pervaded everything—and I always knew Adam was there, didn’t I? I always knew when he was in the room, even if I didn’t know exactly where he was. It hadn’t been like that at first—he had managed to surprise me more than once in the early days—but the longer I’d been around him, the stronger that sense had become. I hadn’t even noticed it happening. It was just natural, unavoidable, like the tide.
My ability to sense other chimera was growing, and had been since Sherman held me captive in his mall. I didn’t know how far it was going to go. Apparently, it had already gone far enough for Anna to register immediately on my parasite radar.
Dr. Cale gestured for Nathan to stop when we reached the line of interns and assistants, and she gripped her own wheels, turning herself to face our visitors and abandoned associates, now virtual hostages to Dr. Banks’s good behavior. The line broke and re-formed, leaving the three of us strung at the center of it like a pendant on a chain. Dr. Cale refolded her hands in her lap, tilting her head so that her sleek blonde hair brushed against her cheek just so. She looked like a nursery school teacher, someone who could wait patiently forever until they received the answer they were looking for.