Fishy, Daisy, and Fang were still in their original positions, looking remarkably relaxed for people who might be shot at any moment. Then again, they were also all armed, and they knew that the folks with the rifles would be shooting at Dr. Banks and Anna, not at them.
“I really think you’re overreacting here, Shanti,” said Dr. Banks, stressing Dr. Cale’s chosen name. “I’m here as a friend, and as someone who needs your help. I don’t see any reason for you to have your people treat me like a common criminal.”
“Really? How many times did you try to have me killed, Steven? Two? Three? Oh, wait, there was that incident with the gas leak back at my first private lab—we never did figure out how that happened, but as there were no cameras on the location, we couldn’t rule out industrial espionage. That one almost succeeded, you know. I was still getting used to my wheelchair back then. So I’d say that ‘four’ is a low estimate, wouldn’t you?” Dr. Cale’s folded hands tensed and relaxed to a rhythm I understood: she was hearing her own version of the drums that followed me through my life.
Nathan kept his hands on the chair, more I think so that he wouldn’t have to decide what to do with them than anything else. Dr. Banks was the man who’d first conceived of the project that would lead to D. symbogenesis, the downfall of the human race, and the end of the world as we knew it. But he hadn’t done any of that on his own. When he needed help, he’d gone looking for the smartest, most ethically flexible genetic engineer he knew: Dr. Surrey Blackburn-Kim, Nathan’s mother. Dr. Kim had known that this path would lead them through the broken doors at last, and she’d tried to refuse—not too hard, I was sure; she’d been the same person then, even if she’d gone by a different name—and when Dr. Banks had produced information that he could use to force her to work on his project, she’d agreed, on one condition. Dr. Kim had to die.
There was a boating accident. Nathan buried his mother. Nathan’s father buried his wife. And Dr. Shanti Cale hung her newly minted degrees on the wall of a private lab in a San Francisco biotech firm, where she was going to change the world.
I couldn’t really say whether she’d done the right thing. All I knew about the blackmail material Dr. Banks had on her was that it was bad enough to make her walk away from her entire life… and that he had played on her ingrained desire to break the laws of nature without getting caught. “Every mad scientist secretly dreams of playing God,” was something she had said to me on several occasions, and from the way she and Dr. Banks were looking at each other now, I guessed that was true. He was trying to project a veneer of smug confidence over a thick inner layer of exhaustion. Dr. Cale was ice. She looked like she had never thawed, and never would.
“Now, Shanti,” said Dr. Banks. “Are we really going to let the past keep us from collaborating here and now, when we have a chance to save the future? We work well together. You know we do.”
“How many times?” she asked coolly.
“Eight,” he admitted, after a long silence. “Your little odd-eyed girl stopped two of my men before they could get anywhere near you, and you dropped off the grid not long after that. Where is she, by the way? I didn’t expect to be able to walk right up to your headquarters.”
“You shouldn’t have been able to,” said Dr. Cale, her glare briefly flickering to the other three people who shared the elevator with Dr. Banks and Anna. Well, that explained why she’d left them in there: they were all involved with our operational security, and the fact that he was in the building at all meant that they had failed, to some degree, at their jobs. “As for Tansy, she is on an extended leave of absence. We hope to have her back with us soon.”
“That means you lost her, doesn’t it?” Dr. Banks shook his head. There was a slight upward tilt to the corners of his mouth, like he was fighting not to smile. “You should be more careful with your human resources, Shanti. It’s getting harder to replace them.”
“It’s getting harder to replace biotech firms, too, but you’ve apparently allowed yours to be commandeered by the U.S. government,” said Dr. Cale mildly. “Do we really want to start playing the game of ‘who paid more to arrive at this point in time’? Because I’ll note that you’re standing there trying to make me feel sorry for you, and I’m sitting here wishing more than anything that I could walk over and knee you in the balls.”
I blinked. Dr. Cale’s paraplegia was a fact of life, something that the lab and her living quarters had been designed to accommodate. Sometimes I forgot that it was the result of her implanting the tapeworm that would eventually mature to become Adam in her own body, where it had compromised her spine to such a degree that she had been judged unlikely to ever recover, even back when she had access to better medical care than we could supply in a repurposed candy factory. The thought of her walking was surreal.
From the brief look of regret that flashed over Dr. Banks’s face, I was the only one who felt that way. “I didn’t ‘allow’ the government to commandeer my resources. They take what they want. And I never did tell you how sorry I was when I received the news of your injury.”
“Really, Steven? You were sorry? Because here I thought you’d take it as proof that you’d been right when you decided to sideline me.”
“You didn’t stay long enough to be sidelined.”