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“I had been a bit wild in my youth,” said Dr. Cale, as calmly as she had offered us something to drink. “I didn’t always follow lab protocols, I didn’t always check my math before I moved forward, and some people got hurt. I thought that all of that was behind me, but when SymboGen wanted me onboard for the D. symbogenesis project, I found out my tracks hadn’t been covered quite as well as I always assumed.”

My eyes widened and I glanced to Nathan, alarmed. How would he be taking this?

With absolute calm, apparently. He was leaning against the counter, sipping his tumbler of grape juice. He smiled a little when he caught my look, a wry twist to his lips. “I knew she wasn’t dead,” he said. “I even knew she was Shanti Cale, and that she’d disappeared after leaving SymboGen. When she didn’t get into contact with either me or Dad, I figured it was because she knew something we didn’t.”

“I knew it still wasn’t safe,” said Dr. Cale. “I always wanted to reach out to you, but there wasn’t a way to do it without endangering you.”

“Aren’t you endangering him now?” I asked, looking back to her. “And me? If being around you endangers people, aren’t you endangering me?”

“You’re part of what made it so dangerous to contact Nathan,” said Dr. Cale. “SymboGen was watching you, and that meant I couldn’t reach out to him until I knew whether you could be trusted. And before you ask the next question, no. No, Nathan didn’t know I was watching you; no, he didn’t get involved with you because I asked him to. He did it because he is a man, and you’re a very pretty girl. I like you. I’ve seen a great deal of security footage, and I approve of the way you treat my son.”

There was a clank behind me. I turned to see that Nathan had set his tumbler on the counter and was covering his face with his hand. “Mom,” he said, sounding embarrassed.

“What? I’m still your mother. I get to pass judgment on your dates. I admit, getting involved with an amnesiac is a little unorthodox, but your father was a teaching assistant in one of my math classes while I was in school, so I suppose being a little unorthodox runs in the family.” Dr. Cale’s resemblance to Nathan was much more pronounced when she grinned.

“Can we get back to the point, please?” asked Nathan, sounding put-upon.

“Where were we? Oh, yes—SymboGen was blackmailing me to get me to join their big secret project. More precisely, Steven was blackmailing me, and if I’m being entirely honest, he didn’t have to blackmail very hard. I loved my husband very much. I loved my son. But they were offering me the chance to do the research I’d been dreaming of for my entire life, and in the end, I wasn’t strong enough to refuse. Maybe that makes me a bad person. It certainly made me a bad mother. But I was always the woman who said, ‘Yes, I’ll go.’ I was always the one who went out alone, no matter how many warnings I got. No matter how many people reminded me that I couldn’t necessarily go back again.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. “This is all really interesting, and sort of weird, since we’re in an old bowling alley in the middle of nowhere and everything, but what does this have to do with you calling me here? What is it you know that we need to know?”

“ ‘If you ask the questions…’ ” quoted Dr. Cale, a warning note in her voice.

“We want to know,” said Nathan.

She nodded. “All right. If you’re sure. Follow me, both of you.” She gripped the wheels of her chair, turning herself around before rolling toward the door. We followed Dr. Cale out of the office and back into the makeshift lab filling the bowling alley.

She talked as we made our way across the main room, explaining what the various lab stations were for and what the various lab-coated people were doing there. Some were technicians, working to keep other people’s research from collapsing in their absence. Others were doing research of their own, so caught up in their little worlds that they barely noticed us passing. One woman was milking a large brown snake into a jar, cooing sweet nothings at it as she pressed down on the top of its triangular head.

Dr. Cale caught me looking at the snake handler and said, “That’s Dr. Hoffman. She’s a herpetologist, specializing in reptile parasites. She’s been with me for about seven years now. The snake’s name is Kyle. He’s an Australian coastal taipan. She’s been doing some really remarkable things with his venom recently…” She began rambling again, talking about the neurotoxic properties of taipan venom and its effects on various types of tapeworm. I didn’t tune her out—I was listening as hard as I could—but it was like the days right after I first woke up in the hospital, when everyone around me was talking, and I couldn’t understand a word.

Dr. Cale led us to the far lane, where a light box the length of the wall had been set up, allowing for the display of a variety of X-ray films. She stopped near the middle of the lane. There was nowhere for Nathan and me to sit, so we stood, looking at her expectantly.

“I was, in a very real way, the reason the Intestinal Bodyguard was able to succeed. Steven was smart and ambitious, but he was looking in the wrong direction. The official literature says that he started work on Diphyllobothrium yonagoensis, a species of tapeworm that preferentially parasitizes fish.”

“But the Intestinal Bodyguard is based off… what you just said,” I protested. I recognized the name from the lectures I’d been forced to sit through, even if I couldn’t pronounce it correctly. “They used a fish tapeworm.”