“Organ snatching was the big hospital bogeyman twenty, thirty years ago, before we had implants that could secrete anti-rejection drugs,” said Dr. Cale. She made the sentence sound almost upbeat, like the thought of someone cracking open her chest and scooping out her lungs was too funny to take seriously. “Now, of course, the rejection risk is lower if you have the right kind of implant readied. There are some people who have been using the anti-rejection implants as a form of preventative medicine—when their hearts finally give out from all their abuse, they already have the medication in place. It’s a terrible idea, of course, but I never thought that the implants should have been used for that purpose in the first place. Why—”
“Mom.” Nathan sounded more impatient this time. His interruption was accompanied by a glance at the old analog clock on the wall, where the second hand was busily ticking off our window of opportunity.
“Sorry,” said Dr. Cale again. “As I was getting around to saying, Sal, people today carry expensive pieces of medical equipment with them at all times, and there’s a black market for that sort of thing. It’s rare, but not unheard-of, for someone to go in for a minor surgical process and wake up with their implant missing—especially if they have one of the extremely tailored varieties. SymboGen has done an excellent job of controlling supply and demand, making sure supply never manages to outstrip demand. Unfortunately, that means that if you need a new insulin source right this minute, or a worm that supplies anti-rejection medication, theft may start looking like your best option.”
I stared at her. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
“Thanks for freaking out my girlfriend, Mom, that was swell of you,” said Nathan. He stood, offering me his arm. “Come on, Sal. Let’s get you to the ambulance.”
“I don’t have any clothes,” I protested. Pushing away the covers had revealed that I was wearing nothing but a plain white hospital gown, the kind that tied in the back and left virtually nothing to the imagination. I didn’t mind that much—I’ve never been shy about nudity—but I had been told over and over that it wasn’t socially acceptable to run around half clothed in front of strangers. Fang and Daisy counted.
“We’re going to a hospital,” said Nathan. “Not having any clothes is a good thing.”
“You’ll be fine,” said Dr. Cale. “Just tell anyone who asks you that you have problems with the veins in your head, and that Dr. Chu and Dr. Lee are going to fix it for you. If they press, tell them you don’t know how to pronounce what’s wrong. Daisy or Fang can take things from there.”
“What’s Nathan going to do?”
“Stand there being quiet and trying not to be recognized, while he remembers that I didn’t want him to go with you in the first place,” said Dr. Cale coolly, shooting a look at Nathan.
Nathan ignored her. “All right, Sal. Time for us to go.” He took hold of my IVs, wheeling them along. I was glad he was taking charge of that part of the trip. I would have snarled the tubes on something before we’d gone more than five feet.
Dr. Cale didn’t say anything as we walked away. She just watched us go, expression unreadable, hands still knotted white-knuckled in her lap. Then the curtain fell closed again behind us, and she was gone.
I leaned heavily on Nathan’s arm as we walked out of the semiprivate room and back into the main bowling alley. Most of the terminals were abandoned at this hour—it had to be almost midnight, and I wondered briefly whether that would make our “borrow a hospital operating theater” plan more dangerous. Probably not. My condition wasn’t immediately life-threatening, and if Dr. Cale was sending us to the hospital now, she had to have a reason. Maybe it was just “we’ll have more luck finding an empty room at this hour of the night.” Whatever her logic, I had made the decision to trust her, and now it was the only thing I could do.
Fang was waiting just outside the interior door, in the dark room where I had lost consciousness before. He looked me thoughtfully up and down, from my bare feet to my tousled hair, and finally said, “You’d look good as a redhead. Consider that for when we’re done at the hospital.” He had a faint accent, although I couldn’t have said from where. “Come on, both of you. Daisy is outside with the ambulance, and we should move before someone stops to make sure that she’s all right. This would be like Al Capone being busted for tax evasion.” His smile was swift and tight, like he had just made a very funny joke but didn’t want to be the first one to laugh.
“You never talked this much at SymboGen,” I said. Now that I was up and moving, the sedatives in my IV were starting to hit me harder, making the world seem just a little out of focus, like a movie played on late night TV.
Fang smiled. “I needed to keep a low profile. Not so much an issue, now that I’ve been extracted.” He turned and walked toward the door to the outside, clearly expecting that we would follow. Nathan still had my arm, and Nathan did follow, leaving me with no choice but to do the same.
Normally I would have objected to being pulled toward a destination I had little to no say in, but normally I wasn’t under the influence of a really impressive assortment of pharmaceuticals. “Your mom is good at drugging people,” I said dreamily. My lips felt numb. That was sort of funny. They weren’t my lips—I’d stolen them from Sally Mitchell—so why could I feel them? I giggled. That was even funnier; it required the use of so many purloined body parts that I couldn’t even name them all.