Something occurred to me as I looked at the picture. “Dr. Cale?”
I turned. Nathan and Dr. Cale were no longer hugging, although he was still standing next to her chair. “Why did you call her ‘Tansy’? Isn’t it usually Adam and Eve, not, well, Adam and Tansy?”
“Oh, that’s an easy one to answer,” said Dr. Cale. “Tapeworms are naturally hermaphroditic; they only acquire gender if they take over something that has biological gender, like humans. I named him Adam because he took over the first male human body prepared for habitation. I named her Tansy because it was a good name… and she wasn’t the first.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, and so I didn’t say anything at all. I just hugged the book to my chest, staring at her.
Nathan found his voice before I did. Sounding half-fascinated, half-horrified, he began, “Are you saying that there’s more than just the two—”
“Doctor C! Doctor C!” Tansy burst into the office without knocking, shoving the door open so hard that it actually slammed against the wall. “There’s a bunch of sleepwalkers in Lafayette! The local police are talking about shutting the freeways to try and maintain a temporary quarantine until they can divert the mob!” She was covered in dust, and had a new rip in the knee of her overalls. Blood was soaking slowly into the denim. It was hard not to stare at it, even with her shouting and waving her hands around. People were sick; the SymboGen implant was causing it; Tansy was bleeding. In that moment, all these things seemed to be of equal importance to me.
Dr. Cale remained perfectly calm. “How do you know, dear?”
“I took the police scanner sledding with me.” Tansy made the statement in a matter-of-fact tone, like it was entirely reasonable for her to have taken a police scanner out to play.
Dr. Cale nodded. “All right, Tansy. Thank you for letting me know. I hate to cut our farewell short, Nathan, but you need to take Sal and get out of here, now.” She gripped the wheels of her chair, starting to roll herself toward the door. Tansy stepped into position when Dr. Cale was halfway there, grabbing hold of the handles on the back of the chair. Dr. Cale stopped pushing as Tansy took over. “I need to scramble an extraction team and get them to Lafayette before the CDC seizes all the available subjects. You need to make sure that you’re not trapped here.”
“Don’t ‘Mom’ me, Nathan! Not right now. You and Sal need to be safe.” She looked fiercely between us. “You don’t understand yet how important you are, but you will. In the meantime, be careful who you trust, and remember, there’s such a thing as knowing without understanding. You need to think carefully before you start sharing the information I’ve given to you.”
“Wait,” I said. “Subjects? Are you talking about sick people?”
“Nathan…” Dr. Cale gave him a pleading look.
“I’ll explain in the car, Sal,” he said, and took my arm.
I wasn’t happy about leaving without getting my question answered—but in a way, it didn’t need to be, because her refusal to say anything was answer enough. We were getting out of the bowling alley alive, and we had more information than we’d had when we came. That was going to have to be good enough. “Okay,” I said.
“I’ll contact you as soon as I can,” said Dr. Cale.
Tansy pushed her out of the room. Nathan and I followed. And finally, after some of the most confusing hours of my life, we went our separate ways.
The threatened roadblock between Lafayette and everywhere else didn’t materialize, but the California Highway Patrol did shut down all but one lane going in either direction, forcing all the normal traffic to slow to a crawl. Nathan and I found ourselves sitting in what was essentially a mile-long parking lot. Several of the local deer had nonchalantly emerged from the edges of the forest that lined the freeway on either side and were chewing on the median grass, all but ignoring the cars around them. Horns honked from all sides, having absolutely no effect on the cars around them.
Don’t Go Out Alone rested on my knees. I looked down at it, studying the black and blue forest on the cover. Then I glanced at Nathan, who was staring fixedly out the window at the road. He hadn’t really spoken since we left the bowling alley. I’d been okay with that—anything that means the driver is less distracted is okay with me—but if we weren’t going to move, we might as well talk. “Are you okay?” I asked.
My voice came out softer than I intended it to. That turned out not to matter; Nathan had apparently been waiting for me to say something, because his answer was out almost before I finished the question. “I don’t know,” he said. “I never thought that I was going to see her again. I thought… I thought she loved me enough to come back, if she could. She could have died, Sal. For real. She swallowed that stupid worm, and she… and she…” Words failed him. After a moment of staring soundlessly out the windshield, he slammed his fists into the steering wheel.
It was such an abrupt motion that I didn’t see it coming. I shrieked, flattening myself against the car door. If we’d been moving at all, I probably would have fainted again. As it was, the traffic was at a standstill, and I was able to keep myself awake.
Nathan looked instantly contrite as he realized what he had done. Wincing, he said, “I’m sorry, Sal. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just… she… fuck.”