I paused. “But… you can do that to anyone, can’t you?” Sherman’s startled, guilty expression was all the answer I needed. “Ronnie asked if you’d kissed me, and then she called you an asshole. What is it, some sort of biofeedback loop? Can you do that to all chimera, or am I just in a lucky subset of the population?”
“Sal…” He started to reach out, like he was going to caress my cheek. I slapped his hand away. His expression hardened. “Yes, if that’s what you wanted to hear: yes, I can do that to any chimera, and to any of the charmingly named ‘sleepwalkers,’ if the need strikes me. It’s a matter of controlling the pheromones I’m giving off. They tell you what to do on a level you simply weren’t engineered to fight. I could teach you to do the same thing, but why would I put such a useful weapon in the hands of a child? Because don’t misunderstand me, Sal: you are a child in this fight. I am romantically interested in you despite my better judgment, but that isn’t going to buy you the sort of lazy disregard that you’re accustomed to. You are a child and you are a weapon, and as we don’t let children play with weapons, I’ll be the one deciding how you are aimed and fired.”
I glared at him. “You can’t make me do anything.”
“Oh, but darling, as you’ve already seen, I can.” He smirked. “All I need to do is get skin-to-skin with you, and you’ll dance to any tune I play. Now make yourself comfortable: find something to wear, find a bed in housewares. I’ve got cameras on this whole place, and the front of the building is sealed off, so you’ll not be escaping. Aside from that, feel free to do as you like.”
“Where are you going?”
“Didn’t you hear me before?” This time when he smiled, he showed all of his teeth. I quailed away. “I’m going to go start a war.”
That’s enough science for today. I can’t really focus on it anyway: it’s all just facts and figures and not enough answers. I need answers. I’m not going to find them in a Petri dish or a simulation, but those are the only places that I’m being allowed to look.
Sal has been missing for almost a month. Those words are still so hard for me to type, because they don’t make any sense. We were home free. We were safe. All we had to do was make it across a parking lot and we could get back to the lab, back to the safety of Mom’s defenses. There was no way anything could go wrong, and I guess maybe I thought that too loudly, because the universe decided to make sure I knew just how wrong I really was.
There hasn’t been a sign of her since USAMRIID grabbed her out of that parking lot. I know she’s not dead. I can feel it. I also know that I’m probably lying to myself, because psychic powers don’t exist. She could be rotting in a freezer by now, and I would still swear she was alive. I’m going to keep swearing she’s alive until we find her, and then I’m never, never letting her go again.
Please, Sal. Please come back to me.
–FROM THE JOURNAL OF DR. NATHAN KIM, OCTOBER 2027.
This is Private Arlen West with the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. I have been stationed in the San Francisco base for the past year. I have gone AWOL. I am releasing this recording without consent from my commanding officers. I understand that there will be consequences for this action. I also understand that those consequences cannot be carried out before I am able to insert the muzzle of my service pistol into my mouth, make my peace with God, and pull the trigger. I am doing a service to my country with this announcement. I am fulfilling my duty to the American people.
The sleepwalking sickness has not been contained. It is not a new form of the swine flu. It is not airborne. There is no vaccine. I repeat, there is no vaccine. The vaccinations you are receiving are standard flu shots, and will not protect you from the sleepwalking sickness. You are already infected. You have become infected of your own free—
They’re trying to break the door down. I guess I don’t have as much time as I thought. Take antiparasitic drugs. Take them now. Your life depends on it.
–TRANSMISSION INTERCEPTED FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO USAMRIID BASE, SEPTEMBER 29, 2027
It was hard to keep track of time in Sherman’s converted mall. There were no windows in the department store that was my home and my prison, and the metal plates that sealed the doors to the outside world were snug with the ground, preventing me from even figuring out whether it was day or night outside. I guessed at the time by how many people walked freely in the mall outside my cage, and tried to measure the days by the delivery of my meals. It was harder than I’d expected it to be. Every time I felt sure I’d cracked the code, the meal I thought of as dinner would be pancakes and sliced fruit, or the mall would empty out completely during what I’d assumed was the middle of the day. Before long, I was completely disoriented.
That was bad. I needed to know how long it had been. Shelter animals became dispirited and withdrawn after six weeks in cages. Sherman seemed to think I was too weak to stand up against him, and that meant he was probably waiting for that magic mark before he did anything he couldn’t take back. I just wanted to figure out their routines, and find the hole that would allow me to get away.
It would have been easier if anyone had been willing to talk to me, but no one was. They walked past the grill that kept me from getting out into the mall, chattering with one another or silently bustling from chore to chore, and the few people who even glanced in my direction did so with an odd mixture of contempt and pity that I couldn’t begin to decode. I still watched them, hungry for even the illusion of contact.