Apparently, some of the sleepwalkers agreed. The ones closest to my open window slowed, their heads tilting at an alien angle as they canted their eyes upward, looking for the source of the pheromone trail. I kept breathing, trying to spread the command to calm down as far as I could.
One of the nearest sleepwalkers opened his mouth, not to moan, but to shape a word. The sleepwalkers around him did the same, and bit by bit, the stillness spread, replaced by dozens of sleepwalkers exhaling a single syllable:
“Because that’s not creepy,” snapped Fishy. He didn’t roll the windows back up. That was something. “Nathan, I think you can go a little faster. They’re not attacking us right now. Take advantage of that.”
“We can’t drop you off, you realize,” said Nathan. The van sped up a bit, nudging sleepwalkers out of the way. Most of them were clustering around the sides of the vehicle now, shoving at each other as they tried to get closer to the windows. If I’d been claustrophobic, I would probably have been climbing the walls. As it was, I was sort of amazed that the humans weren’t. I guess the need to stay alive was taking priority over the need to freak out completely.
“I know,” said Fishy. “We’ll have to find another way to refuel the boat, assuming we can even get back to it with this mob here.” He sounded surprisingly calm for someone who was riding through a mob of angry trans-human attackers. I guess believing that nothing around us was real was helping him in at least that one regard.
“You people are an affront to the human race,” snarled Dr. Banks.
I turned away from the window to look at him, eyes narrowed. “We only need you for a little while longer, you know,” I said. “It’s up to you whether we let you go after your people give us Tansy, or whether we take you with us when we leave so that we can throw you to the hungry cousins out there. You made them. Maybe you should have the opportunity to really get to know them.”
Dr. Banks paled, his eyes going wide. He didn’t say anything else, and so neither did I. I just turned back to the window and resumed breathing through the crack in the glass, trying to keep the sleepwalkers calm long enough for us to escape the garage and drive onward into a bigger, more dangerous future.
The sleepwalkers clogged the Presidio, but forming the mob that had rushed the garage seemed to have denuded their numbers: once we were away from the water the streets were empty and motionless, filled with abandoned cars and the occasional desiccated corpse. Most of the bodies we passed looked like they’d been partially eaten before decay reached a stage that left the meat useless. Pigeons scattered in front of us, and I saw what looked like a pack of wild dogs disappearing down an alley, there and gone too fast for me to be sure of what I’d seen. I left the windows cracked, listening for the sound of moans. Depending on the wind, it might well reach me before the sleepwalker pheromones did.
The buzzing in my head had stopped. That was nice. The smell of decay from outside the van hadn’t abated, although it was more distant now, diluted with salt and with the undefinable, stony smell of San Francisco itself. I settled cross-legged on my seat, watching out the window and waiting for our next obstacle to present itself.
“Sal, are you all right back there?” Nathan raised his head as he spoke, his eyes seeking mine in the rearview mirror. There was an air freshener shaped like a dolphin hanging there, and I felt a brief pang of sorrow for the person who had hung it, who had never come back to get their van and drive it safely home. “I’m sorry we had to drive out of there like that. I know I didn’t give you enough notice.”
“It’s all right,” I said, offering what I hoped was an earnest smile. “I barely noticed. I was busy trying to keep the cousins from shredding the van and us with it.”
Now Nathan blinked, his eyes widening a little in the mirror. “Sal… you’re not wearing your seat belt.”
“What?” I looked down at my unrestrained middle, belatedly realizing just how accurate my words had been: I had barely noticed when we started to move, and I was barely noticing it now. Apparently, the life-threatening reality outside the vehicle was bad enough to keep me focused on the things that actually mattered, and prevent me from having another of my attacks. “Oh.” I buckled my seat belt before looking up again and meeting Nathan’s eyes in the mirror. He looked concerned.
He had every right to be. Things were moving fast now, and with Dr. Banks in the mix, any deviation from the norm was cause to worry.
Dr. Banks himself still had not received the memo about behaving decently if he wanted to stay alive. He sneered first at me and then at the front of the van, apparently directing his disgust at Fishy and Nathan combined. “We’re almost to SymboGen,” he said. “That means we’re on my turf now, and you’re going to be sorry that you decided to start this with me.”
“You’re the one who came to us, Doctor,” said Fishy languidly. “That was a stupid choice and you knew it was a stupid choice, which means it must have been the only choice you had. You could have sent your USAMRIID buddies in to snatch Dr. Cale or Sal or even Adam if you just needed data. You could have carted us back to your precious company for disassembly on your own terms. You didn’t do that. Either you couldn’t do it, or your relationship with the United States military isn’t as cuddly as you want us to believe it is.”
Dr. Banks didn’t say anything.