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“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said. “What happens after I get the information? How am I supposed to get it out of SymboGen? From the way you two were talking, they’re not just going to let me walk back out with it. They’re not going to let me walk back out at all.”

“Let us worry about that,” said Tansy, with a dismissive wave of her hand.

The drums were suddenly pounding in my ears again, as loud and undeniable as they had ever been. “No,” I snapped. She hadn’t been expecting that tone from me; she dropped her hand and stared, looking utterly bemused. Even kittens have claws. Someone should probably have told her that before they sent her to talk to me. “I’m not going to let you worry about that. If you want me to walk into danger because you’re hoping it’ll get you something you need, I’m damn well going to worry about it myself. I’m the one whose neck is on the line in this little plan of yours. So don’t tell me not to worry. Tell me what you think is going to happen if I do what you want me to do.”

“Whoa.” Tansy turned to Nathan, pointed to me, and asked, “Where did that come from? I like it!”

“Do you and my mother both have so little faith in my taste in women that you assumed I’d date a pushover?” Nathan smiled, amusement lurking under his obvious unease. “Sal doesn’t wear her aggression on her sleeve the way you do, but she’s quite capable of taking care of herself when the need arises. You’re telling us that the need has arisen. That means she gets to ask you questions that you don’t want to answer.”

“Well?” I said.

Tansy sighed. “Okay, fine,” she said. “Maybe we better sit down.”

Nathan didn’t have any fruit punch, but he did have some lemonade mix in the back of the cereal cupboard, which Tansy allowed was an acceptable substitute, after he allowed her to add a cup of sugar and a disturbing amount of red food coloring. She claimed that she could taste it. I wasn’t going to argue with her.

While Nathan was getting Tansy settled in the small dining area, I went back to the bedroom and let the dogs out. It was, in its own way, a test. If my dog didn’t trust Tansy, I wasn’t going to let her send me to my possible doom. The opinions of a Labrador retriever might seem less than relevant, but Beverly had already saved my life once before. She didn’t like people who were out to hurt me. Hopefully, that dislike would extend to situations where the danger was less immediate.

It wasn’t until the door was open that I remembered Beverly’s reaction to her original owner when he first started getting sick. If she could detect the implants taking over, how was she going to react to Tansy? And what about Minnie—would she respond the same way, once she realized what was going on?

It was too late to stop them from getting to the kitchen: Beverly was already running full-tilt down the hall with Minnie close at her heels, the duo lured by the seductive sounds of company and dishes rattling. Maybe there would be food. Maybe the food would be given to them. I ran after the dogs, hoping that I could somehow hold them both back long enough to stop them from tearing Tansy’s throat out with their teeth if things went badly—

—and stopped when I reached the kitchen just in time to hear Tansy’s ecstatic cry of “Doggies!” It was followed by her sliding out of her chair, dropping to her knees on the hardwood, and throwing her arms around Beverly’s neck. For her part, Beverly bore the embrace with her usual stoic good cheer, only the thumping of her tail against the floor betraying her ongoing interest in treats. Minnie ignored her, choosing to head for Nathan instead, sitting down at his feet and looking adoringly up at him.

“Sal,” said Nathan, sounding surprised. “You let the dogs out.”

“I didn’t want Beverly to get upset and start shredding your pillows,” I said. “Minnie just sort of came along for the ride.”

“Oh, is the black one’s name Beverly? What a good name for a doggy! Are you a good doggy? Yes, you are a good doggy, you are.” Tansy kept hugging Beverly’s neck as she spoke. “Where did she come from?”

“Her owner was taken over by his implant while we were walking in the park,” said Nathan. “Sal works at an animal shelter. She couldn’t just leave Beverly running wild. Somehow, that turned into ‘we have a dog now.’ ”

I couldn’t help noticing the “we” in his statement, and I approved. “She seems to like you. I was a little worried about that.”

“Oh, animals totally like me. They like Adam, too. It’s only people who are in transition that they don’t like. They can smell the way the body gets all confused, and it freaks them right the f**k out.” Tansy gave Beverly one more squeeze before rising from the floor. “Funny story: when I was first staggering around trying to figure out how my legs worked, I totally got swarmed by bats. Like, little tiny Dracula-style bats. I’m not sure what they thought they were going to do, but wow, were they gonna do it as hard as they could.” She chuckled. “Little idiots.”

“So animals only react negatively to people in the process of getting sick?” I asked, giving Beverly a pat on the head as I walked past her to take a seat at the table. “What about sleepwalkers?”

“They’re still all scrambled. It’s like somebody’s running a big blender in the chemicals that live inside the brain. It’s not until that settles down that animals are going to be cool with them again.” Tansy sipped her bloody-looking, over-sugared lemonade before adding casually, “Not that it matters for most people. I mean, they’re never going to get better, so who cares if the dog doesn’t like them anymore, you know? They’ve got bigger problems.”