“Wait,” I protested. “Didn’t you just say that SymboGen was going to be coming to take me into protective custody soon? Why in the world would I deliver myself to them? And why would SymboGen be coming for me? I’m not at home anymore. They can’t learn anything about what USAMRIID knows by monitoring me.”
Tansy’s smile faded, replaced by a look of profound sympathy. Something about it made me feel almost dirty, like I was being afforded a level of concern I hadn’t done anything to earn. “You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?” she asked. “I mean, I understand sometimes people have to learn things at their own pace, and sometimes people don’t want to learn things, so they don’t allow themselves to learn them, and all that, but there’s sort of a limit, don’t you think? We’ve been giving you all the answers. You’ve even gone digging for a few of them on your own. Shouldn’t you be a little farther along than this?”
“Tansy, back off,” said Nathan.
“What?” Tansy turned to him, opening her eyes in a wide parody of innocence. “She asked.”
“It’s because of my accident, isn’t it?”
They both turned to look at me. Nathan looked worried; Tansy, expectant, like I was finally going to do the marvelous trick she’d been waiting for since we met. Nathan spoke first, asking slowly, “What do you mean, Sal?”
“When I had my accident, I hurt my head. I mean, bad—the doctors said I was legally brain dead, remember?” Nathan didn’t say anything. He just nodded. I continued, “So if SymboGen knows about the implants going wrong—and at this point I’m pretty sure they do; Dr. Banks isn’t stupid, and neither is anyone who works for him—then they have to be looking for ways to stop them. I have brain damage because of that accident. It’s not severe, but there’s scarring. That’s probably the sort of thing that would interfere with the implant taking over, don’t you think? Like a physical barrier against the process. SymboGen probably wants to keep me under observation because they’re trying to figure out how to keep the implants from taking anyone else over. If the implants can’t control their hosts, they’ll just go back to doing what they were designed to do, right?”
“We hope so,” said Nathan. He adjusted his glasses, the gesture seeming oddly relieved somehow, like he had been expecting a different answer. “SymboGen has definitely been tracking you since the accident. I didn’t realize just how dedicated they were to keeping tabs on you until I started talking to Mom, but—”
“Wait,” I said. “Have you been in touch with Dr. Cale since we went to her lab? I mean, other than today, when I called about medical treatment for Joyce. I assumed that was where you went when my father couldn’t find you, but I wasn’t sure.”
“Well, sure,” said Tansy. “I’ve had to let him into the lab twice. Three times, almost, except there was an outbreak and he wound up having to work. I tried to tell him there was no point, since those folks were already symptomatic, but you know Nathan.”
Nathan looked sternly at Tansy. “I don’t care whether you and Mom have written them off as failed integrations. They’re people, and they’re sick. I took an oath to heal the sick when I chose to become a doctor.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” said Tansy. She looked at me. “He’s boring. Was he always boring, or did you suck all the interesting right out of him by being all you all the time?”
“What do you mean, ‘being all me’?” I planted my hands on my hips, frowning at her the way that Tasha frowned at recalcitrant animals at the shelter.
It didn’t seem to have any effect. “You know.” She waved her hands in my general direction. “All comfy jeans and slouchy shirts and boring hair and ‘no I don’t want to go out I don’t want to do anything I just want to stay home and talk and maybe watch a movie.’ You’re like the poster child for dull.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t feel like falling back into old bad habits. I’ve been ‘interesting.’ As far as I can tell, I didn’t like it very much.”
“What?” Tansy looked perplexed. “When the heck were you interesting?”
I didn’t feel like having this fight with her. Even more, I didn’t feel like summoning the ghost of Sally to float around our conversation, judging my every boring thought and action. Because Tansy was right—I might not remember the girl I used to be, but I knew enough about her to know that Sally Mitchell would have taken one look at Sal Mitchell and written me off as too boring to be tolerated. Sally liked action and adventure, fast cars and loud music, and all those other things that I just didn’t have the time for. And me?
I liked not being Sally. “Drop it,” I said shortly. “What did you mean before, when you said you wanted me to go to SymboGen? What can I possibly find out that we don’t already know?”
“Oh!” Tansy beamed, suddenly all business again. “Doctor C prepped this thumb drive for you. If you can just put it in one of their computers, it’ll totally harvest the data we need. Only it has to be inside their firewalls, and it has to be connected to a computer that the network trusts, otherwise it’s a no-go. We’ll get nothing, and then we won’t be able to stop the cousins from trashing the brains of their hosts all willy-nilly and without asking them to dinner first. And let me tell you, a rogue tapeworm chowing down on your cerebellum? Will not respect you in the morning.”