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“Thank you for trying.” He reached across the table to take my free hand. “Even a little supportive is good enough for me.”

“Don’t say that. I’m still learning social norms, remember? You tell me I don’t have to support you to the best of my ability, next thing you know, I’m not showing up for dates anymore, and I keep asking you to do my laundry.”

A small smile creased the corners of his mouth. “I think that’s kids coming home from college.”

“Or working as biotech interns. I have just described my sister, only substitute ‘dinner’ for ‘dates.’ ”

“Good, because I don’t want to date your sister, and I don’t want to think about you dating your sister, either.”

I burst out laughing, earning myself a startled glance from the people at the next table over. “Now that would definitely be going against social norms.”

“Very true.” Nathan released my hand and looked at the remains of our lunch. Neither of us had cleaned our plates. “Are you going to eat anything else?”

With how upset my stomach was, I wasn’t sure I was going to keep down what I’d already eaten. “No,” I said. “Can we go for a walk?”

“Sure,” he said, and signaled for the check.

I leaned back in my chair and tried to smile, despite the fact that I really felt like I was going to throw up at any moment. The check came quickly, and Nathan paid. Pushing the feeling of roiling unease aside, I took Nathan’s hand, and we walked together out into the early afternoon sun.

Every six months or so, some conspiracy nut starts in with “what they aren’t telling you” and “these are the things they don’t want you to know,” and you know what? Not one of them has produced verifiable scientific evidence that the Intestinal Bodyguard™ is harmful in humans. Not one! Don’t you think that if there were some kind of negative side effect, we’d have seen it by now? I don’t mean to sound like I’m claiming nothing can ever go wrong—we’re all human at SymboGen, we make mistakes—but even if you’re into conspiracy theories, you’ve got to admit that it’s pretty far-fetched to believe that we could somehow suppress every possible bad effect of the Intestinal Bodyguard™. Millions of people have our implants. Millions. That’s not a small number, and those people talk. We couldn’t keep them all quiet if we wanted to.

And why would we want to? Look at the blogs, look at the social media updates! No more allergies, no more missed medication—heck, some people even claim their Intestinal Bodyguards™ guard against hangovers. Now, that’s not a feature that we were necessarily aiming for, and it’s not in the brochure, but if your implant wants to help you have a little more fun, I say go right ahead. What’s the harm?


Steve’s initial proposal was as fascinating as it was flawed. He wanted to take D. yonagoensis—a type of tapeworm that parasitizes fish in its natural environment, using small crustaceans as a secondary host—and use it to design a sort of “super tapeworm,” a specially crafted hybrid that would enhance the human immune system, protect against allergies and autoimmune conditions, and die every two years. That way, it would be the perfect pharmaceutical tool, but it wouldn’t put the entire pharmaceutical industry out of business. I won’t pretend that he wasn’t thinking about the profits. We all were. Money makes the world go ’round.

It’s a pity, really, that the design for his D. yonagoensis was never going to be viable. He used too many genetic strains, blending them without a cohesive core. The entire plan was flawed from the start. It couldn’t have worked.

That’s where I came in.


Chapter 5


The Embarcadero encompasses a series of grassy lawns and jogging paths along the San Francisco Bay. It’s one of the most scenic places in an already beautiful city, and even on a workday afternoon, it was decently crowded with a mix of tourists and natives. The sky was a flawless blue, the color of surgical gloves, which probably had something to do with the size of the crowd. There’s something about a beautiful day that just encourages trips to the seaside, even when the seaside is only a few blocks from your office. Maybe especially when the seaside is something you can see from your window while you’re pretending to care about work.

Nathan and I walked along a stretch of grass near the street, close enough to each other that we didn’t feel like we were in danger of getting separated by random joggers, far enough apart that we could enjoy the day on our own terms. Nathan liked to look at the ground as he walked, watching for interesting plants and examples of the increasingly rare local wildlife. I preferred looking at the sky. Somehow, the endless blueness of it all never stopped amazing me.

A man jogged by with a black Lab at the end of a nylon leash. The dog looked miserable, dragging her feet and carrying her tail tucked low between her legs. I stopped walking to watch them go by. “That’s weird…”

“What?” Nathan stopped in turn, turning to face me. “Sal?”

“Did you see that dog? The black Lab?” I pointed after the man and his dog. Well, presumably his dog. A dognapping could explain the animal’s distress, which was only growing as the pair moved on. Now she was visibly pulling against the leash, trying to get away. “You never see a Lab that unhappy. They’re the best-natured dogs in the world. That’s why they wind up being used as service animals so often.”