“Yes,” I said, and closed my eyes, sagging into my seat. “That’s okay. Thank you.”
Nathan didn’t say anything. He just drove on.
Part of me had been hoping, no matter how foolish it was, that we’d pull into the bowling alley parking lot and find Tansy waiting, her ass parked on somebody else’s car as she counted down the minutes to our arrival. Instead, all that greeted us were shadows, and the dead, leafless trees.
Nathan pulled out a key as we walked toward the bowling alley door. I blinked. He glanced my way and said, almost apologetically, “I’ve been here a lot lately.”
“I guessed,” I said. Anything else I might have had to say was lost as he opened the door and I was swarmed by Beverly and Minnie, both wagging their tails in frantic delight. Minnie’s delight seemed based more on Beverly’s than on actually being happy to see me, but that didn’t matter: energetic dogs are their own reward.
By the time I pushed the dogs off, Nathan was already past the threshold. I sighed and straightened, whistling to bring Beverly to heel. Minnie followed her, and both dogs followed me as I made my way inside. I closed the door behind me.
Nathan waited until we were both safely in the bowling alley before turning and pulling me into a tight embrace, burying his face against my shoulder. “Oh my God, I was so worried about you,” he said, words only somewhat blurred by my skin.
I took a shuddering breath, locking my arms around him. Then I took another, and another, and before I knew what was happening, I was crying against him, all the terror and tension of the day leaking out through my eyes. He held me tighter as his own tears dampened my shoulder, and the dogs twined around our ankles, whining anxiously.
Finally, we let each other go. Nathan looked at me gravely. “Never do that again. Please. I don’t think my heart could take it.”
“I’m not planning to,” I promised him.
“Good.” He took my hand, and we walked, together, into Dr. Cale’s lab.
Dr. Cale herself was parked at one of the lab benches, flipping through a file of pictures that I didn’t quite see before she snapped the folder shut. I was glad of that. What little I had seen gave the impression of red, raw muscles, and I didn’t really want to be looking at autopsy photos just at the moment. She turned toward us, relief lighting her face. “You’re both all right,” she said. Then the relief slipped, replaced by puzzlement. “Where’s Tansy?”
“We ran into a mob of sleepwalkers,” I said. “She threw herself at them as a distraction.”
“Oh, that girl. Will she never learn?” Dr. Cale shook her head. “Well, it’s not the first time. I’m sure she’ll be fine. Did you get it?”
I produced the thumb drive from my pocket, holding it solemnly up for her to see. “I have a few questions before I hand it over.”
“Anything.” Dr. Cale spread her hands. “I am an open book.”
She grimaced. “Ah.”
Nathan, meanwhile, frowned at me. “Your friend from SymboGen?”
“He was a tapeworm,” I said. “Dr. Cale, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Honestly, Sal, it didn’t seem to matter, and I didn’t want to upset you more than I already had. Everything is going to come out in its own time. It seemed like a bad idea to drop it all on you at once.”
“Is there anything else you’re not telling me?”
“A great deal,” said Dr. Cale easily. “But you’re learning more all the time.”
The drums were pounding in my ears. “Why do you get to decide what I should and shouldn’t know?”
“There are a lot of reasons, Sal.”
Nathan took my hand, distracting me before I could say anything that I would regret. “Let’s do those blood draws while it’s still early enough to process them.”
“Blood draws?” asked Dr. Cale.
“Sal wants a course of antiparasitics,” said Nathan. “We’re going to check for implant protein levels in her blood first. Just so we don’t get the dose wrong.”
“Ah,” said Dr. Cale. She looked at me with sympathy. “Well. I’m sure it’ll all be taken care of by morning.”
“It will be,” I said. I touched my stomach again. “This thing isn’t staying in me any longer than I have to let it.”
She was still looking at me silently when Nathan led me away from her, toward the phlebotomy supplies.
The blood draw took five minutes; the analysis for site-specific parasite proteins took a little more than twenty. I hovered behind Nathan the whole time, trying to see what he was doing. Finally, he turned away from the computer, where a series of lines and graphs I couldn’t decode had been holding his attention.
“Well?” I demanded.
“You don’t need antiparasitics,” he said.
I stared at him. “Have you not been listening to me? I said—”
“You don’t need antiparasitics because there’s no sign of a tapeworm, bioengineered or otherwise, in your system. The implant isn’t there, Sal. Maybe it died. That happens, you know.”
He was right: it was rare, but it did happen, and inevitably resulted in a lawsuit against SymboGen when someone figured out that they had been essentially unprotected for however long. “That’s impossible.”
“But it’s true.”