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What was really terrifying was that, for Tansy, that was probably a valid reason to let the world live.

Evidently, it wasn’t good enough for Sherman. He kept his arm locked around my neck and said, “You really don’t care if she lives or dies? I can shoot her right here, right in front of you, and you won’t stop me?”

“No, Sherman, I won’t stop you,” she said calmly. “But just so you’re aware, I will kill you. I will kill the suit you’re wearing, and I will rip you out of its skull and kill you, and then I will proceed to destroy everyone who ever thought your rabid little excuse for a philosophy was a good idea. Believe me. I am not kidding; I am not joking; I am not wearing my cheerful little smiley face that means it’s safe to dismiss what I’m saying. If Sal doesn’t leave this room alive, neither do you.”

“I want the thumb drive,” Sherman said.

“No.” Tansy shrugged a little. “Looks like we’re at another impasse. Isn’t it funny how we always seem to wind up right back here, where you can’t shoot your hostage because I’ll shoot you and you’re so fond of not having holes in that precious, precious skull of yours?”

For the moment, it didn’t seem likely that either of them was going to decide to put a bullet in me. I wasn’t going to get any better chances. I cleared my throat before asking, slowly, “Does one of you want to tell me what’s going on? How do you know each other? What are you even talking about?”

“Wait—you’re threatening to shoot her in the head because I’m crashing your little slumber party, and she doesn’t even know?” Tansy shook her head. “Dude, Shermie, that’s low even for you. I don’t think it’s very nice to threaten a girl without telling her why you’re doing the threatening.”

“Tansy…” he began, in a warning tone of voice.

“Sherman here used to live with us at Doctor C’s place,” said Tansy, ignoring him. “He’s the one we don’t talk about much anymore, on account of he betrayed us and ran away with a bunch of stuff he wasn’t supposed to have.”

“We had a right to that research,” said Sherman stiffly.

“Oh, really? Is that why you asked Doctor C before you took it? Is that why you tied Adam up and shoved him into a closet?” There was a dangerous note in Tansy’s voice. “Is that why you tried to convince me to come with you and start to help laying the groundwork for a beautiful new human-free future?”

“Human-free?” said Dr. McGillis.

“Come with you?” said Dr. Sanjiv.

“You’re a tapeworm?” I said.

There was a moment of silence. Then Sherman dug the muzzle of his gun even harder into my temple, and demanded, “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Yes! Because you’re holding a gun on me! I don’t like people who hold guns on me! It makes me nervous and unhappy!” I squirmed against his arm. He was surprised enough by my sudden movement that I managed to get halfway loose before he grabbed hold of me again. This time he caught my shirt rather than my arm. I kept squirming, preventing him from getting a better grip.

“Don’t think I won’t shoot you, pet,” he said.

I didn’t stop squirming. “I’m done making it easier. Tansy! How the hell is he a tapeworm? I thought it was just Adam and you.”

“Adam was the prototype, and I was a massive success, but that doesn’t mean all the others failed,” said Tansy. She sounded a little bit ashamed. “I was subject eight, iteration two. Sherman came after me. Subject eight, iteration three. Doctor C wanted to see whether my neurological issues were the result of the genetic profile shifts between the private and commercial models.”

“She means Mom wanted to see if I would be f**king insane,” Sherman snapped.

“I’m not insane, I’m neurologically variant,” she snapped back. “Sticks and stones, ass**le.”

His focus on Tansy was distracting him. I wasn’t going to get a better chance. Doing my best not to telegraph what I was about to do, I went abruptly limp and crumpled to the floor, yanking myself out of his grip. Sherman shouted something and ducked to reach for me again. I rolled away, toward Tansy, trusting the woman with the guns over the man I’d considered my friend for almost my entire life. Nothing made sense anymore.

In that moment, if I could have made the choice over again, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the broken doors. Ignorance was so much better than the alternative.

Sherman took a step forward and froze as Tansy did the same, putting herself—and her guns—much closer to him than any reasonable person was going to appreciate, whether they were a tapeworm or not. “Tansy…” he began.

“Is this where you say you still love me, and you only hit me in the head because you cared too much about me to make it look like I’d allowed you to escape?” There was a sharp new bitterness in Tansy’s tone, making her sound more focused—and more human—than she ever had before. “I don’t need to hear it, Sherman. I’ve already run every little bit of your possible dialogue in my head while I was masturbating.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” I mumbled.

“Thing is, I knew I was telling myself lies without ever needing to hear you say them out loud. So don’t start. Don’t lie to me, and I won’t blow your kneecaps off. Bet that would set your little plan back a few years, wouldn’t it?” Tansy didn’t look down. Her focus was too intent. “You okay, Sal? Can you stand on your own?”