Dr. Banks smirked. “Ah, but all three of your subjects started in a vegetative coma. Anna didn’t.”
My stomach clenched even harder, becoming a knot of ice in my abdomen. The sound of drums was suddenly deafening, pounding in my ears until it became the entire universe, until there was nothing but the drums and no need for there to be anything else, ever again. “What did you just say?” I whispered. I wanted to shout. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t make my lips or throat obey me.
Luckily, Nathan was close enough to hear what I had said. “What did you just say, Dr. Banks?” he asked, and the sudden chill in his own voice told me that he had looked at the situation and reached the same conclusions that I had.
“I said that Anna—not her original name, you understand—did not begin her transition in a vegetative state. She was alert and aware through the bulk of her crossover. I have the data.” He held up his hard drive again, as if reminding us of its existence. “I can help you, and all I’m asking is that you give me a little help in return.”
“Help is commonly reciprocal between equals, a matter of duty from inferiors, and a matter of obligation from superiors,” said Anna, in the same calm, barely inflected tone that she had used before. Her gaze didn’t waver, continuing to stare off into the middle distance like she was looking at something the rest of us couldn’t see.
All the cold in my body consolidated into a single freezing point. I strode forward, toward Dr. Banks, ignoring the guns that were now pointed at my back. I dimly heard Dr. Cale bark an order, but as it didn’t contain my name, I neither stopped nor slowed. All my attention was fixed on the man in front of me, who smiled that old paternal smile at my approach, seeming pleased to see me walking toward him willingly.
“Sally, my dear, I knew that you would under—” he said, before my fist collided with his jaw and he stopped talking. He staggered backward, eyes wide and wounded, like a feral animal’s. The shell of cold around me shattered with the blow, but I still raised my hand, getting ready to hit him again. He deserved it.
At the last moment, I changed my mind, and snatched the hard drive from his hand instead. He stared at me, too stunned to react, which just made me want to go back to punching him. Anna, who had in her own way been a motivating factor in the chaos, said and did nothing. She just stood there, staring blankly ahead, her hand still curved like she was holding on to Dr. Banks.
“I’m tired of this,” said Dr. Cale wearily, her words audible now that the icy shell was gone. “Take them.”
Instantly, Fishy and Fang began to move, Fishy getting Dr. Banks into a headlock while Fang produced a syringe from inside his jacket and drove it into the side of Dr. Banks’s neck. Daisy stepped forward, reaching for Anna.
A wave of panicked protectiveness swept over me. I grabbed Anna’s slightly curved hand in my free one, relieved when she allowed her fingers to part long enough for me to get a good grip, and tugged her forward. She stumbled a little, but she came willingly enough.
“No,” I said, putting my free arm around Anna’s chest, so that I was holding her against me. She still put up no resistance, moving with me as malleably as a doll. “Don’t touch her. She doesn’t understand—she’s still so—don’t touch her. You need to leave her alone.”
“Sal, sweetheart, you’re going to have to let go of the new girl eventually,” said Dr. Cale. “She needs a full exam.”
“No,” I said again, turning to face her. Anna turned with me. If I hadn’t been able to feel her chest rising and falling with her breath, I would have suspected her of being a large, elaborate decoy—but no, that wasn’t possible, was it? I could feel her, a presence that had suddenly joined my overall map of the universe in an undeniably permanent way. Adam had done the same thing. He’d just taken longer, maybe because he was the first, and those channels in my mind hadn’t been open yet when he and I met.
Well, they were open now.
Dr. Cale looked at me thoughtfully, frowning. Her expression didn’t change when we heard the dull thud of Dr. Banks’s body hitting the elevator floor. Finally, she asked, “What if I let you come with her while we set her up for an examination, so that you can see that she’s safe, and then afterward we can talk about this like adults?”
It was the best that I was likely to get. It meant that I wouldn’t be leaving her alone; I could get her settled, and then go find Adam. I nodded. “Okay,” I said. “Anna? Is that okay with you?”
Anna didn’t say anything at all.
Sell your face to buy your mask,
It will serve you in this task,
And masks can see us better than the mirror ever could.
Closer now, but still so far,
Lose your grip on who you are.
The next time that you see me, you will be with me for good.
The broken doors are kept for those the light has never known.
My darling girl, 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.
I know what he did. I know how he did it. I know why he did it.
The only thing I don’t understand is why he would come here, to me, to flaunt this monstrosity. And until I know why, I can’t take steps to get rid of him.
Oh, my poor girl. I am so sorry.
–FROM THE JOURNAL OF DR. SHANTI CALE, NOVEMBER 15, 2027