“This is hopeless,” I said to Beverly, who wagged her tail agreeably. If I wanted to tell her a thing was hopeless, why, she’d be happy to agree, because I was her people, and if I thought something was so, then I had to be right. Dogs are good like that. We were reaching the corner that would take us back to where Nathan had parked the car, and so I sighed, raised my voice, and said, “Hey, Nathan, nothing out here—”
I stopped as we came around the corner. The bowling alley door was open, and a man was standing there, aiming what looked like an assault rifle at Nathan’s chest. Minnie was standing stock-still next to Nathan’s right leg, her head up and her ears back as an almost subsonic growl echoed from her chest. It wasn’t her sleepwalker growl, which would have been followed by lunging and attempts to bite: it was just the growl of a good dog whose person was being threatened.
“Don’t move, Sal,” said Nathan, without looking at me. He had his hands up, and his attention remained focused firmly on the man with the gun. That seemed like a good idea. “I was just explaining to Fang here that we’re not trying to break in, we’re just trying to get back to my mother. Dr. Cale. Who runs this lab.” He pronounced “Fang” to rhyme with “long,” rather than like he was talking about a particularly sharp tooth.
He was of clearly Chinese descent, but taller than Nathan, with a shaved head and eyes that were narrowed in concentration. Only the lab coat he was wearing over his shirt and trousers broke the unrelenting blackness of his attire… and he looked familiar.
“You’re, um, on Dr. Cale’s security team, aren’t you? Only you were on assignment until recently, because I know you, don’t I? I’ve seen you at SymboGen.” It was the lab coat that did it. His face was memorable, but I didn’t like making eye contact with people when I didn’t have to. They had an unfortunate tendency to smile at me, and all those teeth made me uncomfortable. But I’d been around doctors and medical technicians for as long as I could remember, and I’d never forget a lab coat. “You worked in the phlebotomy lab, didn’t you? With Dr. Lo?”
The man—Fang—didn’t turn. Keeping his rifle trained on Nathan, he asked, “When would you have seen me there, if I had been there to be seen?”
It took me a moment to puzzle through his grammar, which seemed oddly recursive to me, like it was a snake biting its own tail. Finally, I ventured, “During one of my checkups? Dr. Banks made me come in a lot more often than I probably needed to. I always thought it was because he was worried about my well-being, but I guess now it was because he was monitoring my integration with the human brain, since it sort of sucks when all of your tapeworm-human hybrids just moan and try to bite people all the time. Which, you know, speaking of that, one of them bit me pretty badly.” I held up my bandaged wrist like a macabre exhibit A. “I lost a lot of blood and the world’s still sort of spinny and I just walked all the way around the outside of the bowling alley which wouldn’t be a thing normally, but I haven’t lost a lot of blood normally, and I think I’m going to pass out soon. So I’d appreciate it if you’d put the gun down, or at least stop aiming it at my boyfriend, and go tell Dr. Cale that we’re here. This whole situation is wank.”
“Wack, Sal,” said Nathan, a nervous giggle underscoring his words. “The word you want is ‘wack.’ ”
“Oh,” I said. “So what does ‘wank’ mean?”
“It means ‘to masturbate,’ ” said Fang, adjusting his rifle so that it was pointed at the sky instead of at Nathan. The drums that had been pounding in my ears slacked off slightly, making it easier for me to hear. “Do you have everything you need out of your vehicle?”
The sudden change in topics threw me for a loop. It appeared to do the same to Nathan, because he just blinked at Fang, and for a moment the three of us stood there silently, everyone waiting for someone else to start making sense.
Finally, Fang sighed and explained, “I need to get rid of your car. If you have everything you need, I can do that now. If you don’t, I will escort you inside, come back out with some movers, and do it while you’re undergoing orientation.”
“What do you mean, get rid of my car?” Now Nathan sounded alarmed.
“Dr. Cale told me you’d have this reaction.” Fang smiled thinly. “She said to let you know that we’ll be issuing you a replacement vehicle from our motor pool, but that we can’t risk having a nearly new Prius sitting near what’s supposed to be an abandoned building. She also said to let you know that you’ll be receiving twenty percent of the sale price, so you shouldn’t fuss about it overly much.”
“Twenty percent of—you know what? No. I’m not going to get upset about this. If this is what needs to happen for us to be safe, then fine, so be it.” Nathan shook his head. “Sal and I both have things in the car. She needs medical attention, and that seemed more important than dealing with our suitcases.”
“All right,” said Fang. He held out his hand. “Give me the keys and follow me.”
It seemed like Nathan was going to argue. Then he glanced at me. I must have looked worse than I thought, because he paled, lips pressing tightly together, before digging his keys out of his pocket and slapping them down in Fang’s outstretched palm.
“Thank you,” said Fang, making the keys disappear into his lab coat. “Welcome home.”