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“But… Nathan, that’s impossible.”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean I’m allergic to dogs.” I shook my head. “It’s in my medical file. Before I got my first implant, my family couldn’t have pets. My allergies made it impossible. Nathan, Minnie, and Beverly slept on the bed last night. I have to have an implant, or I wouldn’t have been able to breathe. So where did it go? Why isn’t it shedding marker proteins? Nathan, where is my implant?”

A throat was cleared behind us. We both turned to see Dr. Cale sitting there, patiently waiting to be noticed. “Take her to the MRI scanner,” she said quietly.

Nathan and I exchanged a look. It felt like a hand was squeezing my heart. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to know…

We went.

It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to discover that Dr. Cale’s lab was outfitted with a state-of-the-art MRI scanner. I still tried to focus on my amazement, rather than anything else, as Nathan helped me into the machine. It fired to life around me, all clangs and thrumming noises, and I closed my eyes, holding perfectly still.

The noise of the machine blended into the sound of drums, becoming a backbeat that filled the world. Please, I thought. Please, it’s something else. Please, it’s not what I think it is. Please, there’s another answer…

The machine shut off around me, and the automated bed slid back out into the open. I slid back to my feet and walked over to where Nathan was pulling up the first images of my insides.

In my abdomen, where the white mass of the SymboGen implant should have been, there was nothing; just normal organs and the residual scarring from my accident. I was clean. The blood tests had been truthful. I did not have a D. symbogenesis living in my digestive system. Or in my lungs. Or in my spinal cord.

It almost wasn’t a shock when Nathan pulled up the images of my head, where white spools of tapeworm wrapped themselves around the brightly colored spots representing the regions of my brain. The worm was deeply integrated. It had clearly been there for quite some time. And I’d already known, hadn’t I? I’d figured it out when I met Adam and Tansy. I simply hadn’t wanted to remember.

I’d never seen a picture of myself before.

“The protein markers couldn’t cross the blood-brain barrier in a detectable form,” said Nathan quietly. “It’s why we couldn’t detect…” He stopped, obviously unsure how to finish the sentence. I suppose saying “you” would have been a little too on the nose.

“Mom was right,” I whispered. Her daughter—Sally Mitchell—really did die in that accident. I really was a stranger. I was a stranger to the entire human race. “Oh, my God. Nathan. Do you see…?”

“It doesn’t change anything,” he said, a sudden sharp fierceness in his voice. He stood, taking me in his arms, and held me so tightly I was afraid one or both of us might be crushed. In that moment, I wouldn’t have minded. “Do you understand me? It doesn’t change anything.”

I looked over his shoulder to where Dr. Cale sat in her wheelchair, watching us. So much made sense now. So much still had to be made sense of. “No,” I whispered. “It changes everything.”

The broken doors were open.

We had so far left to go.