“I am different from you,” snapped Nathan. “I didn’t cut somebody’s head open and shove a worm inside to get the look I wanted. I fell for a miracle, not a science project.”
“Just keep telling yourself that,” said Dr. Banks, and he stepped inside.
The lobby was empty: they must have been running on a skeleton staff. That, too, made me feel a little better. Anyone who wasn’t here was probably either dead or in the quarantine facilities that Dr. Banks was using to keep his remaining staff in line. Either way, they would probably have been happy to return to work if it meant that their lives would also return to normal.
Dr. Banks stopped when we were halfway across the lobby. “Now’s when you untie me,” he said, a new serenity in his tone. “I’m home.”
“I’m not seeing where this changes anything,” said Fishy.
“Then you’re a fool,” said Dr. Banks. “I still haven’t decided whether I’ll let you have your girl. You’ll be pleased to know that I’m leaning toward ‘yes,’ since she’s useless to me now and you’ve given me something much better.” The smile he slanted in my direction stopped just short of becoming a leer. I managed, barely, to suppress my shudder. “That does lead to the greater question of whether I’m intending to let any of you leave here alive.”
“Dr. Cale thought of that,” said Fishy mildly. “Or did you genuinely think she just went ‘sure, I’ll let my son and his girlfriend and my favorite handsome, dashing, suave assistant go off with the man who killed humanity’ and pushed us out the door? I knew you were arrogant. I didn’t know you were stupid.”
For the first time since we’d arrived at the SymboGen gates, Dr. Banks looked uncomfortable. “What are you talking about?”
“Get us to the elevator and I’ll explain.” Fishy nudged his elbow. “Unless you’d rather stand right here until the timer runs out?”
“Timer? What timer?” Dr. Banks started walking again. He was virtually stomping as we crossed the floor, but no one came rushing to his rescue.
I wasn’t the only one to notice that. “Huh,” said Nathan. “No one’s coming to find out who we are or why we have you in handcuffs. I wonder why that is? I mean, everyone enjoys working for a heartless despot who treats human lives like tissue paper, right?”
“The timer I started when we left the boat,” said Fishy calmly. He gave Dr. Banks another nudge. “It’s amazing what you can do with C-4.”
“You can’t really expect me to believe that Surrey would let you blow yourselves up just to spite me.”
“Not us: me, and you,” said Fishy. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not inner circle. That’s cool with me, because I don’t feel like taking on that kind of responsibility. But I’m totally down with grabbing hold of you while Nate and worm-girl run for the hills, and letting my explosive buddy”—he patted his pocket—“do the talking for me. I’m tired of this game, Doctor. I’m ready to log off and go home. I don’t suggest you push me.”
Dr. Banks gave him a startled look before pressing the call button for the elevator. “Son, I have serious concerns about your mental health.”
“Suits me,” said Fishy amiably.
I hung back, leaning close to murmur to Nathan, “Does he really have a bomb?”
“Not that I know of,” replied Nathan, equally quietly. “He was originally planning to stay on the boat. But I honestly can’t be sure.”
“Swell,” I said.
The elevator doors opened. The four of us got inside. As soon as the doors closed, Fishy undid the handcuffs holding Dr. Banks’s arms. The handcuffs promptly disappeared into Fishy’s pocket, where they would wait until they were needed again.
“About damn time,” sniffed Dr. Banks.
If there is anything in the world more awkward than sharing an elevator with someone who hates you and considers you to be less than human, I don’t know what it is. Dr. Banks initially reached for the button that would have taken us to his office. I reached out and grabbed his wrist before I could think better of it, stopping him mid-motion.
“Tansy’s not going to be in your office,” I said. “She’s down in the lab, isn’t she? Take us there. That was the deal.”
“That was the blackmail arrangement,” said Dr. Banks. He yanked his wrist from my grasp and pressed the button for the lowest level of the labs. “Happy now?”
“No,” I said. “I’m here. I’ll be happy when I’m not here anymore.”
Dr. Banks shook his head. “You’d think that after all this time, you might have finally learned how to be grateful.”
“I don’t think you’re the man who’s going to teach me that.”
The floors slowly counted down as we descended. Beverly kept her nose pressed against the base of the door. She growled occasionally, not on every level, but on enough that I had a strong suspicion I knew which floors were being used for sleepwalker resource.
I tensed as we started to slow. Finally, the elevator stopped and the doors slid open, revealing the empty hallway. The drums in my head pounded harder than ever. The hall should have been packed with technicians bustling to and fro, their hands full of lab equipment and clipboards, while Sherman—the old Sherman, with his tailored suits and ready smile—waited for me to come into his care. This was supposed to be my home away from home, and instead it was just one more place that was never going to be the same again.