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“Oh,” I said faintly. It was something about people still being aware, even if they weren’t awake… “So do you, uh, live here? In the bowling alley, I mean?”

“What? No.” Tansy’s expression turned instantly cold, her amiable lean becoming the crouch of a wary predator as she stiffened. “Are you trying to find out where we live? Who are you working for? Did SymboGen send you?”

“No!” I leaned away from Tansy, pulling back until I was in danger of toppling over the other side of the cot. Tansy in alert mode was a lot more terrifying than Tansy in calm mode, and that had been bad enough. “I was trying to make polite conversation! You know, the way you do when you meet somebody for the first time? I ask where you live, then you ask where I live, then we talk about hobbies and jobs and boyfriends…” Speaking of boyfriends, where the hell was mine? If Tansy broke me while Nathan was off arguing with his mother about her crimes against God, nature, and the FDA, I was going to be really unhappy with him.

“Oh, is that all? Okay.” The menace left Tansy’s face, and she relaxed back into her previous position. That made one of us. I couldn’t relax with her looking at me like that. I was too aware of just how quickly she could turn on me. “It’s sort of silly for us to have polite conversation, though. I already know all that stuff, so it’s not like you could say anything interesting. We’d just wind up talking about stuff I’m not supposed to talk about, and then I’d have to bury your body up on Cardboard Hill. Do you like sledding?”

The change in topics was fast enough to make me feel like I’d missed something. I blinked. Tansy beamed at me innocently, and I realized that no, I hadn’t missed anything; it’s just that she wasn’t making any sense.

That probably should have been a relief. Given the situation, it didn’t help. “I’ve never been sledding,” I said. “What do you mean, you already know all that stuff?”

“Oh, we’ve been monitoring you for ages and ages,” said Tansy blithely. “I know where you live and which window is yours and what route you usually take when you have to go to work. You know, the polite conversation stuff. And I can’t tell you most of what you don’t know about me, because I don’t have permission from Doctor C yet. So that means there’s no reason to bother with the polite conversation, right? Do you want to go sledding? We don’t have snow, but that’s okay. We can slide down the hill on pieces of cardboard, and the dirt is really slippery.”

The thought of Tansy knowing not only where I lived but where I slept was enough to make my stomach do a lazy flip. “Where’s Nathan?” I asked. “I shouldn’t… he’ll probably be worried about me by now, don’t you think?” I looked around our dark little corner of the bowling alley. There were people in lab coats moving around the distant workstations, but none of them were Nathan, or his mother. “What are we doing over here?”

“Oh, you had a simple vasovagal attack and lost consciousness following a stress-induced drop in your blood pressure,” said Tansy. Hearing the technical language from her just increased the surrealistic quality of the scene. “So Doctor C said you should probably go lay down for a little while—or is that supposed to be ‘lie down’? Why are there so many words that sound almost exactly the same only one of them is right and one of them is wrong and if you use the wrong one everyone looks at you like you’re stupid and then you need to stab somebody to make the point that there are a lot of different types of intelligence and anyway English is hard?” She crossed her arms and glared at me sulkily, like she was daring me to explain it all.

“I got lost somewhere in the middle of that sentence,” I said. “Do you mean I fainted?”

“Duh, that’s what I said. You had a simple vasovagal attack. What else could that mean?”

I stared at Tansy. Finally, I said, “I honestly do not know how I’m supposed to respond. I mean, I have genuinely no idea what I’m supposed to say. Can you please pretend I said the right thing, and tell me where Nathan is?”

She sighed, pushing herself to her feet. “I really hoped you’d be fun, you know,” she said. “Stay where you are. Don’t touch anything. I’ll be right back with your stupid Nathan.” Spinning on her heel, she stalked away toward the front of the bowling alley.

I sank back on the cot, pulling the lab coat up around me like a blanket. I wasn’t cold, exactly, but I still felt like I needed the warmth.

“She doesn’t mean to be spooky,” said an apologetic male voice from behind me. I gave a little shriek and spun around, nearly falling off the cot again. It wasn’t my best day for staying upright, apparently.

Adam was standing in the corner, hands twitching against his thighs, a solemn expression on his face. “She can’t really help it. She knows that she upsets people, but she doesn’t know how to stop doing it. Mom says it’s because Tansy’s body’s brain was dead for too long before she could get Tansy in there, but we don’t really know for sure. It’s hard to know what’s normal for us and what isn’t. The sample size is too small.”

“I… you… what…” I managed.

Adam’s eyes widened. “Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”

I took a deep breath, waiting for my heart to stop trying to pound its way straight out of my chest. Finally, I asked, “How long have you been standing there?”