The chill of the night air prickled my skin as Not-Exactly-Lila sauntered us down the street, my brain whirling with the new sensations and neural connections. An hour ago, I had been terrified shitless. And now, my entire body seethed with this rush of power, a knowing that I could make myself anything. Anything!
Caleb was weak, a mess of anxiety and grief. He’d let all of this horror just happen to him, had caressed his dead girlfriend’s hair and given up. The rush of bio-nanites soothed the pain, made me feel as if it had all happened to someone else. In a way, it had. The truth was, I didn’t refuse to change back because of any practical need to disguise myself. I refused to change back because I didn’t ever want to be Caleb again.
The bio-nanites… could they possibly be manipulated further? Could I become something even more? This was intoxicating as it was, alien thoughts and impulses marching through my body, making me better, stronger, than I ever was.
Not-Exactly-Lila shifted and breathed inside of me like I was the world’s best-fitting jacket. It was… an odd feeling. I could smell her perfume—don’t ask me how, my body was still surprising me. The fact that she wore perfume during situations like this was both bizarre and intriguing.
This woman wasn’t Lila, but she was still so like her…
“What’s your name?” I asked, her throat making my voice heard.
“Oh? You wait until someone’s inside you to bother asking their name?” She brushed me off with a chuckle.
“I just think I’d like to know what kind of woman can take all of this in stride and barely blink. I know you’re trained, but still.”
“The kind of woman that can focus on the mission. Stop with the chit-chat.”
And, just like that, I felt like Caleb again, kind of small and awkward. It didn’t last. There was too much of me now for Caleb to stay for long. Besides, I realized I knew her name, anyway. It was LI57, sometimes called Julie, the way the French breathe it. The bio-nanites had seeped into her, connected with her neurons too. “Then we should hurry to that safehouse in Langstrasse, get that case.”
“Agreed,” she muttered, and I knew she didn’t wonder how I knew where the doctor and Genevieve were. I’d asked her mind not to wonder.
Together we hailed a taxi, and as one we rode through the darkness. The driver’s dash said it was midnight. I wasn’t tired at all. I wondered if I ever would be again.
It wasn’t a long drive, though the moment I stepped out on the waterfront, Julie’s instincts told me something was wrong. I didn’t know Zurich, but her mind did. Cities don’t sleep the way humans do. It was late, but there was always someone out here, a late-night jogger or a homeless vagrant.
I could hear a rustle of paper blowing across the street. There was no one.
The safehouse apartment was unassuming for this area of town, and that was part of what made it safe. The other part was a steel door disguised under a façade of wood, bulletproof windows and reinforced walls. A hatch in the floor provided an escape route. I knew all of this because Julie knew it.
I felt her warrior’s heart quicken when she saw the steel door hanging open on its hinge. That would have scared Caleb most of all… but not the man I was becoming.
As one being, we stepped inside.