I stared at the crowd, trying to find individuals among the weaving bodies. Age, race, gender, socioeconomic background—none of it mattered now that their implants were in control. A little girl shambled past, her mouth hanging slack, a runnel of drool charting a path down her chin to dangle above her chest. I put a hand over my mouth. These were early-stage sleepwalkers, nonviolent, confused but not attacking anyone. That was a good sign. It wasn’t going to last. Not with this many sleepwalkers in one area, and not with the tapeworm brains in the process of building fast, flawed connections to the human minds that they were trying to control. Eventually, higher thought and human instinct would both give out, and tapeworm instincts would take over.
Tapeworm instincts only really came with one command. These people were going to start looking for food, and any unturned or unimplanted humans still in the area were going to be prime targets.
Unimplanted humans meant Nathan, who had never been given an Intestinal Bodyguard. “We have to get out of here,” I said tightly. The sleepwalkers couldn’t possibly hear me through the closed windows, especially not with the sirens going off so close by, but I still felt the urge to whisper. “They’re going to notice us soon. We need to drive.”
“They’re everywhere,” Nathan said, his voice pitched equally low. “Where do you want me to go?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere. Nathan, they’re mobbing. Once they figure out what’s going on, they’re going to turn hungry.”
“Or they’re going to go to sleep. That’s what most of the ones at the hospital did.” He sounded hopeful.
“Only with the ones you found alone. Have any of the mobs stayed calm or gone to sleep of their own accord?”
Nathan hesitated before shaking his head. “No,” he said. “No, that hasn’t happened. But we don’t have that big of a sample set. We’re still finding different forms of interaction. It depends on the strain of D. symbogenesis that’s set up shop inside each of those people’s brains. Some of them are peaceful. Some of them aren’t.”
“Is there anything that could tell us what strain they’re infected with?”
“Then drive.” I actually reached out and shook the wheel with one hand, ignoring the thin jet of panic it sent snaking through my belly. “We need to get the dogs, and we need to get out of this city. If it’s already this bad…”
“Sal, you’re not going to like what I have to do.”
“I know.” I pulled my hand off the wheel, closing my eyes as I shrank back down into my seat. “If I start screaming, just ignore it. Get us home.” I closed my eyes.
“I love you,” said Nathan, and he hit the gas, weaving around the milling bodies as he aimed for the gap in the barricade. He was trying not to hit them. He almost succeeded, although we clipped a few as we passed. I felt bad about that. Not bad enough to ask him to stop. Some of the police yelled and waved their arms, but most of them were too busy with the sleepwalkers to pay attention to the commuters who were just trying to get away. Things were falling apart.
If the screech of tires when the car stopped had seemed loud, the squeal of tires against the pavement as we accelerated was louder than anything else in the universe: louder than the sirens, louder than the drums, even louder than my pained screams. I clapped my hands over my eyes, turning the wash of red inside my eyelids into solid black. Nathan drove, and I screamed. That was how it had to be.
Nathan’s first turn took us hard to the right, toward Market Street. He picked up speed as we drove, until I had no idea how fast we were going or how many turns he had taken. I bent forward, resting my forehead on my knees, and screamed until my throat was raw as sandpaper. It hurt, and I tried to focus on the pain as I continued to scream, choosing that over the frantic, irregular movements of the car. We were going to crash at any moment, I just knew it, and when that happened, we were going to die. We were both going to die.
At least this time, it’s going to be your accident, I thought, a thin line of rationality drawing itself across the black and red landscape of my fear. It wasn’t as reassuring a thought as I had wanted it to be.
“Almost there, honey!” shouted Nathan. The words barely penetrated the fog.
San Francisco is a smaller city than it seems from the outside, miles and miles of streets packed into a relatively narrow stretch of land. It’s possible to walk there for hours without ever seeing its borders. At the same time, if someone knows the territory, knows what they’re doing, and doesn’t mind violating a few traffic laws, it’s possible to drive across the city in less than twenty minutes.
If there was a traffic law that Nathan didn’t break in those twenty minutes, I didn’t know about it, and my terror wouldn’t allow me to open my eyes long enough to find out. The car screeched to a halt, the engine cutting off, only to be replaced by sudden silence. The drums were still pounding in my ears, but the screams had stopped. It took me several seconds to realize that it was because I had stopped screaming.
Cautiously, I removed my hands from my face and opened my eyes, looking around. We were parked behind Nathan’s—behind our apartment building, catty-corner across two spaces in a way that was guaranteed to alienate our neighbors.
“Can you move?” asked Nathan.
I nodded wordlessly.
“Good. Then let’s move.” He opened his door and jumped out of the car before slamming it closed behind him, moving with an urgency that I wasn’t used to seeing from my usually staid, scholarly boyfriend.