Skin Deep Page 29

I held up a menu, fingers sticking to syrup on one side, but didn’t read. Instead, I tried to calm my breathing. Sandra hadn’t prepared me for this. The family members of aspects appearing suddenly, without research being done?

“You’re crazy,” a voice whispered across from me. “Like . . . actually crazy.”

I lowered my menu which—I only now realized—I’d been holding upside down. The kid hadn’t touched his.

“No I’m not,” I said. “I’ll give you, I might be a touch insane. But I’m not crazy.”

“They’re the same thing.”

“From your perspective, perhaps,” I said. “I see it differently—but even if we admit that the word applies to me, it applies to you too. The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized everyone is neurotic in their own individual way. I have control of my psychoses. How about you?”

Beside me, Ivy sniffed at my use of the word “control.”

Dion chewed on this, leaning back in his chair. “What do they say my brother did?”

“He claims to have released something. A virus or bacteria of some sort.”

“He wouldn’t have done that,” Dion said immediately. “He wanted to help people. It was the others that were dangerous. They wanted to make weapons.”

“He told you this?”

“Well, no,” Dion admitted. “But, I mean, why else would they try to force him to give up his projects? Why would they watch him so closely? You should be investigating them, not my brother. Their secrets are the dangerous ones.”

“Typical pseudo-intellectual teen liberal prattle,” J.C. said from my right, looking over his menu. “I’ll have the steak and eggs. Rare and runny.”

I nodded absently as the others spoke up. At the very least, the server wouldn’t have reason to complain about us taking up so many seats—seeing as how I’d be ordering five meals. Part of me wished I could have them give the meals to others after I was done imagining my aspects cleaning their plates.

I turned my attention to the menu, and found I wasn’t that hungry. I ordered an omelet anyway, talking to the waitress as the kid dug in his pocket, obviously determined not to let me pay for him. He came out with a few wadded-up bills and ordered a breakfast burrito.

I kept waiting for a beep from my phone, telling me that Wilson had followed my instructions. Nothing came, and I felt myself growing increasingly anxious; I wiped the sweat from my temples with my napkin. My aspects tried to relax me, Tobias chatting about the origin of the pancake as a food, Ivy engaging him and acting very interested.

“What’s that?” I asked, nodding at Dion, who was staring at a little slip of paper he’d found among the wadded-up bills.

He blushed immediately, moving to tuck it away.

I snatched his hand, moving with reflexes I didn’t know I had. Beside me, J.C. nodded appreciatively.

“It’s nothing,” Dion snapped, opening his hand. “Fine. Take it. Idiot.”

I suddenly felt foolish. Panos’s data key wouldn’t be a slip of paper; it would have to be on a flash drive or some other electronic storage medium. I pulled my hand back, reading the piece of paper. 1 Esd 4:41, it read.

“Mom slips them into my pockets when she’s folding laundry,” Dion explained. “Reminders to give up my heathen ways.”

I showed it to the others, frowning. “I don’t recognize that scripture.”

“First Esdras,” Ivy said. “From the Orthodox Bible—it’s a book of Apocrypha that most other sects don’t use. I don’t know that particular verse offhand.”

I looked it up on my phone. “Great is truth,” I read, “and strongest of all.”

Dion shrugged. “I suppose I can agree with that. Even if Mom won’t accept what the truth really is . . .”

I tapped my finger on the table. I felt as if I was close to something. An answer? Or maybe just the right questions to be asking? “Your brother had a data key,” I said, “which would unlock the information stored in his body. Would he have given it to your mother, do you think?”

Ivy watched Dion carefully to see if he reacted to mention of the key. He didn’t have any reaction I could see, and Ivy shook her head. If he was surprised we knew about the key, he was hiding it very well.

“A data key?” Dion asked. “Like what?”

“A thumb drive or something similar.”

“I doubt he’d give anything like that to Mom,” Dion said as our food arrived. “She hates technology and everything to do with it, particularly if she thinks it came from I3. If he’d handed her something like that, she’d have just destroyed it.”

“She gave me quite the cold reception.”

“Well, what did you expect? You’re employed by the company that turned her son away from God.” Dion shook his head. “Mom’s a good person—solid, salt-of-the-earth, Old World stock. But she doesn’t trust technology. To her, work is something you do with your hands. Not this idle staring at computer screens.” He looked away. “I think Panos did what he did to prove something to her, you know?”

“Turning people into mass storage devices?” I asked.

Dion blushed. “That’s just the setup, the work he had to do in order to do the work he wanted.”

“Which was?”

“I . . .”

“Yeah,” Ivy said. “He knows something here. Man, this kid is not good at lying. Take a dominant position, Steve. Push him.”

“Might as well tell me,” I said. “Someone needs to know, Dion. You don’t know that you can trust me, but you have to tell someone. What was your brother trying to do?”

“Disease,” Dion said, looking at his burrito. “He wanted to cure it.”

“Which one?”

“All of it.”

“Lofty goal.”

“Yeah, Panos admitted as much to me. The actual curing wasn’t his job; he saw the delivery method as his part.”

“Delivery method?” I asked, frowning. “Of the disease.”

“No. Of the cure.”

“Ahhh . . .” Tobias said, nodding as he sipped his coffee.

“Think about it,” Dion said, gesturing to the sides, animated. “Infectious disease is pretty awesome. Imagine if we could design a fast-spreading virus which, in turn, immunized people from another disease? You catch the common cold, and suddenly you can never get smallpox, AIDS, polio . . . Why spend billions immunizing, trying to reach people? Nature itself could do all the work for us, if we cracked the method.”

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