I looked at him steadily, searching his face for signs of panic. “How are you so calm?” I asked. “I mean, I’m a tapeworm. I’ve been a tapeworm the whole time we’ve been dating. You’ve been having sex with a tapeworm. Your mother has been making more tapeworm-people just like me. Other tapeworms are eating the brains out of their hosts, and you’re still so calm.”
“I could ask you the same question, you know,” he said. “I’ve had days to come to terms with what you are and what that means about our future together. I already decided that it doesn’t matter, and that I want to marry you and be with you forever, no matter what species you technically are. You just found out tonight, and you’re already playing action girl across the Bay Area. It’s not a normal reaction.”
“Tapeworm,” I said, trying to keep my tone light. I failed. “We don’t know much about invertebrate psychology. Maybe what would be a normal reaction in a human isn’t a normal reaction coming from me.”
“Maybe,” he allowed. “But you’ve always seemed to be following a human template to me. It’s been a slightly odd one—more than a little weird at times—but it was recognizably human. I think that once you became fully bonded to Sally Mitchell’s brain, a certain amount of normal human response became inevitable. It’s the form defining the function, as much as the function defining the form.”
I had to laugh at that, a tight, gasping series of sounds that made Beverly push her head back into the front seat again, concerned and checking to see what was wrong. I put a hand on her muzzle, pushing her back, and said, “So you love me even though I’m not human, because I seem human because I’m living in a human body?”
“No. I love you because you’re you. The rest is all details.”
“Scientist,” I accused fondly.
Nathan smiled, the expression visible in the light coming off the dash. “Guilty as charged,” he said, and drove on.
The parking lot outside the abandoned bowling alley that Dr. Cale had converted into a lab was dark and empty, looking more like the setting of a murder mystery than a sanctuary. It was at least partially an illusion: I knew she and her team had security cameras hidden all over the place, making it virtually impossible for anyone to sneak up on the lab. That was good. We were going to need that kind of security if we were going to be staying here for a while.
Nathan parked behind the bowling alley, where his virtually new Prius stuck out like a sore thumb among the battered, rust-covered cars favored by the staff. Most of them looked newer than they seemed when I took a second glance; one more bit of visual chicanery to keep the local authorities from looking twice at the place.
“You get Minnie, I’ll get Beverly, and I’ll come back for the suitcases,” said Nathan, handing me a leash.
I nodded. “It’s a deal.”
Leashing two excited dogs who had been cramped up in the backseat of a car for the better part of an hour and a half wasn’t easy, but I’d been working at an animal shelter for years, and I’d never met the dog I couldn’t get onto a lead. Nathan struggled to get the leash on Beverly for a while before just handing it to me and letting me do it. I grinned to myself as I passed Minnie’s leash to him. It was nice to know that there was still something I could contribute to our partnership, even if it was as small and silly a thing as putting leashes on dogs. Everyone has their talents.
Nothing moved but us as we made our way across the parking lot to the bowling alley, which looked as locked and abandoned as it had the first time we had come here. All that was missing was Tansy, Dr. Cale’s bodyguard and effective head of security, sitting on the hood of a car and getting ready to shoot us if we looked at her funny. A knot formed in my throat. I never would have thought I could miss that little disaster waiting to happen, but it was wrong for her not to be here. She was supposed to be here, and she wasn’t, and that was because of me.
Nathan stepped in front of me when we got to the door, raising his hand and knocking briskly. Only silence answered.
“Do you think they left without us?” I asked anxiously.
“Not if Mom’s still in charge,” he said, and knocked again. When there was still no answer he started looking around, scanning the edge of the roof and door frame. “See if you can find a security camera.”
“I don’t know what your mother’s security cameras look like,” I protested. “It’s dark and I’m woozy and shouldn’t she have let us in by now?”
“Not if whoever’s manning the door is waiting for a sign that we’re actually us, and that we haven’t led half the police in the Bay Area back here,” he said. “Look for something that looks completely unlike what you’d expect from a security camera, and assume that’s probably what Mom’s security cameras look like. She’s been doing this for a long time.”
“Right. So I should go and start trying to attract a pigeon’s attention. Got it.” I turned and let Beverly start pulling me along the side of the building. She had her nose glued to the ground, taking in a whole new world of smells. I kept my eyes equally glued to the slight overhang of the roof, looking for something that didn’t look like a security camera.
It turns out there are a lot of things that don’t look like security cameras. Rocks, for example. Wasps’ nests. Pieces of the roof. I kept letting Beverly pull me along, and while I didn’t see anything that looked like a camera, I saw plenty of things that absolutely were not cameras. We went around a corner, and saw more of the same. The next two sides of the building didn’t yield anything new.