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As fascinating as I found the discussion of animal reactions to the sleepwalkers, it was clear that we were going to get utterly derailed if we didn’t get back on topic soon. “What is the plan for getting me out of SymboGen?” I asked.

Tansy blinked, trying to look guileless. It didn’t work. I raised both eyebrows, and waited until she sighed and said, “Oh, fine. You know, you’re boring even when you’re not being boring. It’s like a gift. So here’s the deal: we have some back doors into SymboGen. If you get in, we can use them to get you out.”

I blinked. “If you have back doors into SymboGen, why do you need me to go in at all? Can’t you just use your back doors for, you know, door purposes? Like, accessing a place through the door?” I paused, grimacing. “Great, now I’m starting to talk like you. What I’m asking is this: If you have a way of getting into SymboGen, what do you need me for? Can’t you do this more safely if I don’t get involved?”

“Sure, if all we want to do is fiddle around on the lab levels and not get anything useful,” said Tansy. “We’ve been in and out of there a hundred times. The genomes aren’t being stored in the general labs, and we don’t have anybody who can access the private levels anymore. Not since our last spy went and got herself all sick. I swear, if the cousins understood English, I’d give them a piece of my mind for eating a piece of hers…”

“You lost a spy to the sleepwalking sickness?” I was scrambling to keep things straight. This was all starting to feel like some big action movie, and I didn’t have a copy of the cast list. Or the script.

“Yeah, but she didn’t have access to anything anyway, so it’s not like it matters.” Tansy waved a hand, dismissing their lost spy as an inconvenience. “Just about the only thing she ever did right was keep an eye on you, and she wasn’t the only route we had to that, so it’s not like—”

“Wait,” I said, cutting her off before she could say “not like it matters” again. If I had to hear her say that one more time, she might wind up wearing her fruit punch. “Are you telling me Chave was working for you?”

“Well, yeah.” Tansy frowned at me. “What, you hadn’t figured that out yet?”

“Sal, I know it’s tempting, but please don’t kill her,” said Nathan. “I don’t want to lose my security deposit on your first night here.”

“How long were you expecting it to take?” I asked.

“It would be nice if we could hold out for at least a week without any major stains or structural damage.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I focused back on Tansy. “How long was Chave working for you?”

“We got her hired.” Tansy ignored my stare as she continued, “We just need you to get in, get into Dr. Banks’s office—or to a computer that’s connected to his computer, it’s not really important which one you use, although you might have better luck if you use his actual personal machine—and plug in the thumb drive. Wait about ten seconds, and then head for the labs. We’ll be able to evacuate you.”

“And if you fail?” I asked, as mildly as I could.

“Try to throw the thumb drive under something before they take you down. We’ll find a way to get it back later.”

I stared at her. So did Nathan. Tansy looked between us, brows furrowing in frustration.

“What, did you think this was some kind of game?” she asked. “That you could open the broken doors, look through, and decide that this wasn’t for you, so sorry, you were just going to go home and have a nice cup of hot cocoa and not think about it? Puh-leeze. This isn’t that kind of picture book, and once you’ve opened the doors, you’re sort of required to step through them. Doctor C warned you when she first made contact. You knew what you were getting into.”

“I wasn’t aware that you and my mother were going to begin treating Sal like she was somehow expendable,” said Nathan stiffly.

“Your mother swallowed a genetically modified organism that hadn’t been cleared for human use because she thought it was important she continue with her work,” said Tansy. Her voice was surprisingly level, all the good cheer and manic instability suddenly gone. It was like she’d flipped a switch, turning off the chipper-but-strange persona she usually projected in favor of something substantially darker. “What in the world would make you look at a woman who was willing to do that and think ‘she won’t send me or my little girlfriend into danger’? This is so much bigger than you are, for all of us.”

“What do you mean, it’s bigger than we are?” I asked, before Nathan could say something we’d regret later. His mouth was pressed into a hard line, and he looked like he was on the verge of punching Tansy—something that would probably get us both killed.

“How do you think people will react when they find out the implants are definitely behind the sleepwalking sickness?” asked Tansy. “They’re not going to be happy. They’re going to start fighting back.”

“Well… what’s the problem with that? Those people had their bodies first. They’re not like the girl who used to own your body. She moved out.”

Tansy smiled bitterly. “Yes, thank you, I’m aware that I was a rental property. But here’s the thing, genius girl: the treatment to remove a motivated implant from its host might work. Might. It also might kill the host, and the implant, and then nobody wins. There has to be a solution that makes the cousins go back to sleep unless the conditions are right. There just has to be.”