It was good not to be scared alone—and it wasn’t over yet. A moment later both Nathan and I screamed in earnest as Tansy’s upside-down head appeared in front of the windshield. One hand clutched the edge of the roof, while the other appeared next to her head, waving merrily. It might have been cute, if she hadn’t still been clutching the gun she’d used to shoot the sleepwalker. There was blood splattered on one of her cheeks. That damaged her potential cuteness even more.
“I’m going to kill her,” muttered Nathan, arms still locked around me.
Somehow the question just popped out: “Does it count as murder if your mom is right and Tansy’s actually a tapeworm?”
Nathan didn’t have an answer for that.
Tansy gave a little “roll down your window” motion with her gun hand and withdrew, disappearing again. The sound of her weight shifting atop the car made it clear that she hadn’t gone far.
“What…” I asked.
“I guess Mom didn’t think it was safe to send us out without a bodyguard.” Nathan let go of me as he leaned away from his window in order to roll it down. My window probably wouldn’t work anymore, given the amount of damage the fallen sleepwalker had managed to do to the glass before Tansy shot him.
Speaking of Tansy, she stuck her head down again, this time so that she could talk through Nathan’s open window. She beamed at us, seeming completely comfortable in her inverted state. “Hi!” she chirped. “Are you two okay in there? Can I get you anything? Did you pee? Sometimes people pee when they see me shoot things right next to them. So I won’t be disappointed in you, you know. If you did.”
“Neither one of us peed, thank you,” said Nathan stiffly. “Are you following us?”
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Did Dr. Cale send you after us?”
“Yes and no and maybe so,” said Tansy. “I’m here with the extraction team, but when the tracer showed that you were stuck in traffic inside the danger zone, Doctor C thought it might be a good idea for me to come and take a little peek at your situation. Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Tracer?” said Nathan.
I felt suddenly tired, a thin coil of exhaustion winding itself through my chest. “It’s in the book,” I said. “She put a tracking device in the book because she knew that one of us would ask for it.”
Tansy’s grin grew even wider. “Okay, wow, you’re way smarter than you look when you’re passed out and drooling on yourself. Doctor C just wanted to keep an eye on you guys, that’s all. You should feel super-flattered. It’s not like she has the time to go around bugging just anybody.”
“She could have asked,” I said. My voice sounded weak, even to my own ears.
“No, she couldn’t have,” said Tansy. “You would have told her ‘no,’ because you’re both being stupid and stubborn about admitting what’s really going on. And then you’d be stuck out here, with sleepwalkers trying to get into the car, and nobody would be coming to save you. Besides, the tracer also scrambles SymboGen bugs. They think that it’s normal cellular interference, if they’ve even noticed, but it means that no one’s listening in right now.” She frowned, taking in the looks on our faces. “You weren’t even thinking about that, were you? You people. How have you been the dominant species for so long? Sure, you’ve got sweet bodies with thumbs and shit, but it’s like you don’t have any sense of self-preservation.”
“You’re the one hanging upside down from a car in a place you called ‘the danger zone,’ ” snapped Nathan. “I don’t think you get to lecture us about common sense.”
“Don’t I?” In one smooth motion, Tansy swung down from the car, landing solidly on the flats of her feet with her knees bent to absorb the impact. She straightened, looking coldly down her nose at us. “I’m also the one with the gun, who came here with backup, and with a plan, and who didn’t start acting like everything was hunky-dory as soon as I drove away from the secret mad-science lair of mad-science… ness.” She paused. “That sentence sort of got away from me.”
“That happens to you a lot,” said Nathan.
“Don’t change the subject, meat-car,” said Tansy. “My point is valid: you didn’t have a plan, and I did. Also, I have a gun. That puts me in a superior bargaining position, no matter how you want to look at things.”
“Wait,” I said. “What do you mean, SymboGen bugs? Is Nathan’s car bugged?”
“Of course it is, silly-billy. So are you—or at least, so’s your stuff.” Tansy pointed her gun at my shoulder bag, lying discarded in the passenger side footwell. I had to fight the urge to grab my bag and shield it from her with my body. If she was going to shoot it, let her. I could get a new bag more easily than I could get a new body. “The people in charge of SymboGen security never miss the chance to slip a bug into something.” She giggled. “I guess it’s just a continuation of the overall corporate philosophy, right? Their whole business model was built on slipping bugs into people.”
“Tapeworms aren’t bugs,” said Nathan. He sounded like he was grasping at taxonomical straws, like the only way he could stay afloat in the increasingly turbulent waters of this conversation was through falling back on pedanticism.
Tansy saw it, too. She smiled at him, lowering her gun back to her side. “You are so much like your mother that it’s annoying,” she said. “So anyway, yeah, SymboGen’s bugging you, but the book should block their signal, so please try to only talk about certain stuff when you’re near the book.”