“How are you supposed to be a good mother if you’re choosing to be a jailer instead?” asked Nathan.
Dr. Cale didn’t have an answer for that. She just looked away, and said nothing at all.
Half an hour later, Nathan and I were in the front seat of his car, driving toward San Francisco faster than I liked, with strict instructions to turn around and return to the lab if we encountered anything that seemed threatening or out of place. “I can’t lose you,” was what Dr. Cale had said, as she watched us head for the bowling alley door. Adam was nowhere to be seen. I had felt—and still felt—guilty and glad at the same time. I didn’t want him to see me go. Not with Tansy missing, not when there was so much reason for him to question whether I would ever be coming back.
I really hoped we’d be coming back.
Nathan’s attention was fixed almost completely on the road, and my attention was focused on keeping my eyes closed and my shoulders relaxed. If I allowed myself to think too hard about how fast we were going, I would lose my nerve and start screaming for him to slow down, slow down before he got us both killed. It was sort of funny, in an awful kind of way: I existed because Sally Mitchell had suffered a seizure and lost control of her car, freeing the way for me to colonize her brain. But the therapy—or I guess the experiment in psychological conditioning pretending to be therapy—that I’d been required to go through as part of my “recovery” had left me with a phobia of cars and car crashes that bordered on crippling. Had Sally been the one left in our shared body when all was said and done, she would probably have gotten her license back by now. I’d been essentially an infant, and any infant barraged with an unending stream of automotive horror stories would have developed a phobia just like mine.
Thinking about that made it even harder not to be angry with Dr. Cale, and with SymboGen, for the way they’d allowed me to be handled. I wasn’t a control group. I wasn’t an experiment. I was a person, and they shouldn’t have psychologically damaged me just to see what would happen if they did. Dr. Cale knew what I was from the moment I opened my eyes. She shouldn’t have allowed me to be twisted into something that I was never going to be.
She shouldn’t have let them try so hard to turn me into a human.
“We’re approaching the end of the bridge, Sal,” said Nathan, using the light, almost aggressively conversational tone he always affected when he was trying to keep me from panicking during a stressful car ride. I was grateful for that consideration, even as I resented it. My boyfriend shouldn’t have been forced to speak to me like I was a child because someone else had taken it upon themselves to give me a phobia I didn’t need to have.
The resentment helped a little. It enabled me to focus as I forced myself to nod, keeping my eyes closed. The car was curving slightly to the left, navigating the bend in the exit from the freeway. We’d be on city streets soon. That would mean more traffic, more drivers to work around, but no big blue ocean underneath us; no threat of sinking to the bottom of the Bay and being lost forever if we took one wrong turn. The change would help. The change always helped.
Then I heard the sirens up ahead. That was all the warning I got before the car came screeching to a halt, the tires squealing against the surface of the road. The seat belt drew suddenly tight, the momentum of the car throwing me forward before flinging me hard back into the seat again. I shrieked, a high, panicky sound that seemed to steal all the air from my lungs. The drums were suddenly loud, not just beating in my ears, but pounding, thudding until they drowned out the world. I sank down into them, letting the sound wash over me until it felt like the panic was starting to leach away, dissolving into the sound and the thin red screen that suddenly blurred my vision, turning everything carmine and bloody-bright.
There was a hand on my shoulder. I didn’t want to think about it. Thinking about it would have meant admitting that I had a shoulder, and that it existed in a physical place where people could reach out and take hold of it. It would mean letting the world back in. I wasn’t ready for that. Panic had its claws in me, and there wasn’t room in the world for anything else.
“—please, Sal, you need to snap out of it. Please.” Nathan gave my shoulder another shake, digging his fingers in harder this time, until I had no choice but to acknowledge his reality. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I can’t wait. You have to open your eyes. Please.”
I took a breath, the red scrim over my vision receding slightly. As it did, it was replaced by blackness, and I realized that my eyes were still closed. Once I realized that, it was hard but not impossible to force my eyes to open. First a crack—barely a sliver, barely enough to let the light come flooding in—and then all the way, blinking against the glare, the world resolving into a blurry photograph, splashes of color on a black and white background. I blinked again. The color came back. The blurs became people…
… and the people were sleepwalkers. An ocean of sleepwalkers, hundreds of bodies thronging in the streets of San Francisco. They hadn’t reached the bridge yet, but they were close; the exit was clogged with them, some shambling by almost close enough for me to roll down my window and touch. The sirens came from the police vehicles and fire trucks that blocked the intersection just off the bridge, their lights flashing and their doors standing open as the rescue personnel tried to do their jobs against impossible odds. They were trying to rescue the people. The people were no longer really present anymore.