“He dropped a jarful of leeches once,” announced Tansy blithely as she walked back out of the shadows. I managed not to jump. Barely. “It exploded, ker-smash, and then there were leeches everywhere. It was like Leech-a-palooza in the lab that day. This one tech got a leech inside her nose.”
“By ‘got’ do you mean you put it there?” I asked.
Tansy grinned. “You’re starting to catch on. So, like, can you walk and stuff? Because Doctor C says if you can walk, I should bring you over to her private lab. That’s where she’s got Nathan. She’s showing him a bunch of old slides and stuff, totally boring. I said you might want to go sledding with me instead.” She gave me a hopeful look.
Sledding on a dirt hill with the resident socially maladjusted possibly-a-tapeworm? I could think of a lot of things I’d rather do, including making a return trip to SymboGen. “I really need to talk to Nathan,” I said, standing.
“Whatever. Suit yourself.” Tansy rolled her eyes in exaggerated disgust. “Adam, Doctor C says to tell you it’s time for your pills, and you need to go to your room so you can take them.”
“Yes, Tansy,” said Adam. He looked at me shyly as he stood. “It’s really nice to finally meet you, Sal. I hope you like it here enough that you’ll come back sometime. I think Mom would like that, too.” He turned before I could say anything, walking quickly into the shadows.
“I guess he’s sweet on you, too,” said Tansy. She sounded faintly disgusted. “Like you’re all that just because you’re all living in the world, doing stuff without supervision. Whatever. Like that’s so impressive. Come on, I’ll take you to Doctor C.”
“Thank you,” I said—both because it was the right thing to say and because I was a little bit afraid that if Tansy thought I was being rude to her, she’d stab me with a scalpel. She seemed like the kind of girl who regularly carried scalpels around just for stabbing people. “I’m sorry I’m taking up so much of your time.”
“Whatever,” she said, for the third time in as many minutes. “It’s not like I’d be doing anything important if you weren’t here.”
“Sure you would,” I said. “You’d be sledding.”
Tansy blinked at that. Then, slowly, she grinned. She never seemed to smile; it was always grinning with her, big, wide grins that showed off all her teeth at once. “Hey, that’s right. I’d totally be sledding if you weren’t here. You’re pretty smart to have figured that out, you know?”
“If you say so,” I hedged.
“That, or I told you, and you’re trying to play smart.” Her expression turned suspicious. “Are you trying to mess with me?”
“Honestly, I just want to get to Nathan.” Before you stab me with something, I added silently. Of all the unnerving things I’d encountered since arriving at Dr. Cale’s lab, Tansy was definitely the most upsetting.
“Fine.” She started walking. I followed.
We were about halfway across the bowling alley before she said, “You better not be here to try and talk Doctor C into running away with you. We need her here. You can stay if you want—she’d probably like it if you stayed, because then her son would stay, and they could be all ‘rar, we fight the medical establishment and their dangerously lax and corrupt distribution channels’ together—but you can’t take her.”
“I don’t want to,” I said. “We just came here to get some answers. That’s all. Once we have them, we can go.” Assuming Nathan was willing to leave his newly rediscovered mother. Tansy might be kidding when she said that we could stay, but I was starting to be afraid that Dr. Cale wasn’t going to let us leave. Even if she did, we could still wind up remaining here with her for as long as Nathan wanted to talk to her.
Tansy looked back over her shoulder at me. The look on her face was actually serious for the first time since I’d turned to find her sitting on the hood of Nathan’s car. “Didn’t Doctor C warn you about what happens when you ask questions?”
It took me a second to realize that she was talking about that children’s book again. I was going to need to find a copy. “I’m sure I want to know,” I said.
“Okay,” said Tansy, with a very small shrug. That seemed to exhaust her available conversation. She was silent as she led me onward, into the dark.
Dr. Cale’s private lab was a small room—even smaller than the office where we’d first gone to speak—with hand-drawn charts and black-and-white photographs of tapeworms covering the walls so completely that I wasn’t even sure what color the paint was. Since this looked like it was one of the original parts of the bowling alley and not a room that had been constructed by walling off a piece of the larger spaces, they were probably something eye-searing, green or purple or another bowling-related color. As I thought that, I realized that I didn’t really know very much about bowling alleys. It had never seemed important to me before.
A low counter split the room in half, and more counters lined the walls, covered in lab equipment and manila folders. Nathan was sitting on a stool at the central counter when Tansy led me into the room. He was bent over a microscope—a position I’d seen him in a hundred times before—and was so focused on whatever was on the other side of his lens that he didn’t even look up when Tansy pushed me toward him and announced, loudly, “I am going to go throw myself down the side of a large hill multiple times.”