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I stomped on his foot again. He stopped laughing.

“That doesn’t hurt me,” he said, sounding suddenly annoyed. “I have nerve damage in my feet. I’m not allowed to go outside when it’s snowing, and I feel no pain when brainless little lab rats decide to step on me. You may as well stop being defiant and give us what we’re asking for, or we’ll just take it, and then you’ll lose the satisfaction of knowing that you cooperated with us. And believe me, Sally, you want that satisfaction. It hurts so much less.”

“I thought you were my friend.” My voice was still little more than a whisper. It was loud enough to be heard, and that was all that mattered.

“I am your friend, Sal, the best one you’ve ever had. I am so much more your friend than the people who want to use you, or experiment on you. Didn’t I teach you things? Didn’t I offer you companionship without ever asking for anything in return? The only reason I’m being unpleasant now is because you’ve managed to wind up in our way. Not even because you meant to be. Because someone else put you there. Doesn’t that make you angry?”

“I agreed to be put where I am right now,” I said, and stepped away from him again. “I never asked for friendship with strings attached. I never asked you to do me any favors.”

“That’s a lie. You practically begged me for my friendship. Poor, confused little Sally Mitchell, running through a maze with walls she couldn’t even see. You’ve been an experiment this whole time, all because you wouldn’t stop lying—not to me, not to the doctors, not to yourself. I know you know. Now isn’t it time that you admitted it, and did something for yourself?”

The drums were pounding in my ears, and there was a catch in my chest that made it hard for me to breathe. I pushed through it, straightening, and looked at him calmly. “I am doing this for myself,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re too… whatever you are… to see that.”

“I believe the word you’re looking for is ‘ruthless,’ ” said Sherman, and sighed. “Where are you going to learn your new vocabulary words without me?”

“I’m pretty good with words,” said a voice from the back of the lab.

All four of us turned in unison to see a woman in a lab coat and slacks standing in the open door to the electrical closet. She had a pistol in each hand, and her short blonde hair was streaked liberally with strawberry pink. She was smiling broadly. On her, the expression looked more like a shark’s threat than a greeting.

“Hi, guys,” said Tansy brightly. “Miss me?”

Sherman was the first to recover. “Not particularly,” he said, producing a smaller handgun from inside his jacket. He closed the distance between us in a single step and looped an arm around my neck, pulling it snug under my chin as he yanked me against him. I squeaked. That was all I had the time to do before the barrel of his gun was pressed to my temple, digging in just enough to act as a silent reminder to keep still.

There are some things even I don’t argue with. I froze.

Tansy yawned. “Really, Shermie? That’s what you’re going to do? You’re going to point a gun at Sal? Because what, that’s going to suddenly make me change sides and go with you if you just promise not to harm a hair on her pwetty widdle head? I’ve got news for you, dumbass: I don’t even like the bitch. She’s annoying, she’s whiny, she has the learning curve of lichen, and I’m tired of everybody acting like she did something all remarkable. Shoot her, slit her throat, whatever you want to do. I don’t give a shit. I’ll shoot you all in the head before she hits the ground, and then, when you come squirming out of the new hole I’ve punched in that thick skull of yours, I’ll squish you to death. I’m wearing my stompy boots and everything.”

I couldn’t see Sherman’s face, but the way his posture shifted broadcast his confusion to me. Then the barrel of his gun dug deeper into the skin of my temple, and he snarled, “I don’t believe you.”

“If you don’t believe me, you’re just as dumb today as you were on the day you left us,” said Tansy. She shifted position slightly, moving her guns to cover Drs. Sanjiv and McGillis. “Don’t even think about it, meatbags. I don’t need you breathing to take care of what I came here to do. No matter what Shermie may have told you, your lives matter about as much to me as a fifty-cent-off coupon for toilet paper.”

“What does that even mean?” asked Dr. McGillis.

“I dunno.” Tansy shrugged. “It sounded good, and that’s what counts, right? I’m the style-over-substance girl. Well. That, and violence.” She returned her attention to Sherman. “Come on, Shermie, you’re not this dumb. You know I’m better than you are. Can you really help your little cause if you’re dead?”

“Can you really look me in the eye and tell me you’d be willing to choose her cause over mine?” Sherman shot back. I had the sudden feeling that I was not the “her” he was talking about. “She’s just using you, Tansy. You have to know that by now. She’s never going to give you the world that you deserve.”

“Oh, and you will? Sorry, Shermie, but I’m not really into wholesale destruction and devastation and all that junk. Besides, killing all the humans will totally trash the cable schedule, and there are some shows I’m really excited to have back on the air.” She said it like that was the most reasonable thing in the world: the human race could not be destroyed because destroying the human race might interfere with her television viewing habits.