Angelina, Sam, and Jen spoke almost all at once.
“So do you remember Lachlan dying?” said Angelina.
“This place is changing our DNA?” said Sam. “Is that dangerous?”
“Why don’t me and Angelina have cool powers?” said Jen. “Why do only you and Sam get them?”
Mrs. Sharma sighed.
“I don’t have the answers to all your questions. I can’t even be completely sure what I’m telling you about is the reason we’ve all changed,” she said. “But what else could it be?”
“Is there like, a test for this weird DNA thingy?” said Jen.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Sharma. “There is ‘like, a test for this weird DNA thingy,’ as you so articulately phrased it. You and Sam are CPSI employees, correct?”
“Yuppers,” said Jen.
“Okay.” said Mrs. Sharma, “and did you both receive a blood test after your interview?”
“Yeah…” said Sam. “I thought that was pretty weird.”
“I thought so too,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I found a lot of things weird about my interview, like how I was being interviewed by the CEO himself. Or how he got strangely excited when I mentioned I was from Jaipur. He wasn’t familiar with the city; he didn’t even know how to pronounce it. But he kept asking questions. He kept asking me about the Jal Mahal, saying he wanted to visit it. Asking if I saw it a lot as a child, trying to figure out how close to it I lived. I didn’t understand it at the time.”
“What’s the Jal Mahal?” said Jen.
“A palace,” said Lachlan.
He hadn’t actually heard of it, but based on its name, he could still answer the question confidently and look smart.
“Yes, but what kind of palace?” said Mrs. Sharma.
Oh. He hadn’t expected follow-up questions.
“A… palatial one?” he said.
So much for looking smart.
“I’ll give you a hint since you clearly need it. ‘Jal’ means water.”
“A palace in the water?” said Sam.
“How did they get the palace into the water?” said Angelina.
“I’m not dignifying that with an answer,” said Mrs. Sharma. “but it’s not in just any water. A manmade lake.”
“Ohhhh,” said Jen.
“Yeah,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Oh.”
“So Mr. Clyde is specifically looking for employees with this altered DNA?” said Sam.
“It seems that way,” said Mrs. Sharma. “Especially when you look at the major CPSI offices around the world. Charlotte, Danjiangkou, Borgo San Severino. They all correspond to the hotspots.”
“But why would he do that?” said Angelina.
“So we can be studied.” There was a flash of bitterness in Mrs. Sharma’s eyes. “I didn’t realize I’d signed up as a lab rat until it was too late. At least I was lucky enough to be one of the lab rats who knew what was going on. I guess that’s more than I can say for both of you.”
Sam and Jen exchanged a look, eyes wide.
“They’re studying our DNA?” said Sam. “Why would a packaging company want to study people’s DNA?”
“It’s not a packaging company,” muttered Jen.
“What?” said Sam.
“That’s what Mr. Clyde said, remember?” said Jen. “When I asked my question about the future of the packaging industry in that meeting. He said it wasn’t a packaging company. It’s a company about people.”