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She looked, briefly, so lost that I wanted to reach for her, take her hand and tell her that everything was going to be okay. That seemed about as smart as hitting her. “So what good does sending me into SymboGen do?”

“If we have the genome of the new cousins, we can figure out how to talk to them. Tell them that they gotta back off, or nobody’s coming out on the winning side. Slavery sucks. Dying is worse.”

I’d never really thought of the SymboGen implants as being slaves to their hosts. Then again, until very recently, I hadn’t thought of them as thinking creatures, even if they didn’t really start to think on a sapient level until they had plugged themselves into a human brain.

“All right,” I said. I didn’t look at Nathan. If I looked at Nathan, I knew that I would lose my cool. “I’ll do it.”

Tansy clapped her hands and beamed. “Oh,” she said, “won’t this be fun?”

No, I thought. It won’t.

But I didn’t say anything at all.

Some people will always be ungrateful. It’s an unfortunate truth of the human race that we see everything as a zero-sum game. For them, if I have happiness, there’s less happiness for you; if I have health, there’s less health for you. When you look at life that way, it’s inevitable that you’ll start looking for the catch in everything. I can’t possibly have pioneered the genetic research that led to the creation of the Intestinal Bodyguard™ because I wanted to help people, or because I wanted to improve the health of the nation. It can’t even be because I understand that a healthier population leads to increased herd immunity, thus benefitting me when my taxes don’t have to pay for pandemic preparedness. No. I have to be doing something sinister. I have to have a hidden agenda.

Some people won’t be happy until they prove that no one means well, no one is trying to serve the greater good, and there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.


Certain lines can’t be uncrossed,

Certain maps will get you lost,

Once you’re past the border, then you’ll have to play the game.

Roll the dice but count the cards,

Break the glass but keep the shards.

The world is out of order. It’s been broken since you came.

The broken doors are hidden in the blood and in the bone.

My darling child, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.


Chapter 18


Tansy left after we finished making plans, pausing only to press the promised thumb drive into my hand. Nathan didn’t say anything as he walked her to the door. Then he walked back to me, took me by the hands, and led me to the bedroom, to the bed that was ours for the very first time, not just his. This was my home, too.

I just had to hope it would be my home for more than a day before I went and got myself killed.

“Sal…” he began. I stopped his mouth with a kiss, and conversation became unimportant for a while, replaced by the twin goals of removing our clothing as fast as possible and keeping our lips on each other at all times. The drums were back in my ears, but softer now, a signal of excitement and not anger or fear. This was where I belonged. This place, this skin, tonight. Everything else was in the future, and the future would have to wait for a few hours. I was doing this because I enjoyed being alive; because I wanted to stay that way. So it was time for me to celebrate my condition, even if it was only for the moment.

When we were done, both of us sweaty and satiated in the way that only accompanies really good sex after emotional turmoil, Beverly stuck her nose into the room and whined, signaling the need to go out. I groaned, starting to push myself up onto my elbows.

“Don’t worry about it.” Nathan pressed a kiss into the crook of my neck, close enough to the bruise from USAMRIID’s sedatives that it made my skin ache with phantom pain. “You’ve had a long day. I’ll take the dogs out.”

He was out of the bed before I could do more than mumble sleepy protests. I watched as he pulled on his pants and grabbed the leashes from the top of the dresser, whistling for Beverly and Minnie to come to him. Then he and the dogs were gone, and I drifted off to sleep by the warm light coming from the terrarium of carnivorous plants.

I didn’t wake up when they came back in. I didn’t wake up until morning.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” said Nathan. We were parked on the street near the SymboGen complex, which loomed larger than ever now that I was thinking of myself as a spy and not as a semi-willing visitor. “We can find another way.”

“How many people will die while we’re looking for another way?” I asked.

He looked away.

“Tansy says there’s a back door. I don’t like trusting her, but we have to trust someone, and I’m okay with it being your mother. Trusting your mother means trusting Tansy. It’s a tautology.”

“You mean it’s a syllogism,” said Nathan, smiling a little.

I blinked at him. “I do?”

“A tautology is a closed loop. ‘The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club.’ A syllogism is a set of presuppositions. ‘Tansy is not trustworthy, I trust Dr. Cale, Dr. Cale trusts Tansy, therefore, I trust Tansy.”