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“ ‘I like it when you lose consciousness’ is just what every girl likes to hear,” I said blandly.

“Hey.” Nathan walked across the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Try ‘I like it when you survive’ on for size, okay? We’ve come too far for this to be what ends things. Mom’s people are good. You know Fang from SymboGen, and I know Daisy.”

I blinked. “You do?”

“I do.” He nodded. “She went to grad school with me, believe it or not. I had an enormous crush on her for about a year, before I met her boyfriend, who is basically what you would get if you gave a grizzly bear a shave and a Brooks Brothers suit. But he’s a very nice man, and they got married a few years ago. I sent them a toaster for their wedding. I don’t know why people always put toasters on their registries, but they do, and I just wanted to buy one for a change.” He sounded oddly wistful as he talked about the toaster, like it had somehow become the symbol of a simpler time. We had to survive the tapeworm uprising, because otherwise, who would he buy toasters for?

I was starting to be quietly convinced that the time of toasters was coming to an end. Nathan looked so sad that I didn’t want to come right out and say that, so I tried a less dangerous question: “Does he work here too?”

“Who, Daisy’s husband? No, he’s working overseas. He’s in telecommunications, I think, or maybe software engineering—something to do with computers.” Nathan shrugged. “Once you take the ‘bio’ out, I lose interest in technology pretty quickly. It’s my shameful little secret.”

“It’s not that secret.” I sat up a bit straighter on the cot. “Where are the dogs?”

“Adam has them. They both like him a lot. Beverly’s made friends with half the staff, and Minnie’s been napping on every flat surface she could find. They’re going to be fine while we’re at the hospital.”

I nodded. “Good.” Carefully, I swung my legs around to point toward the floor. My feet dangled about a foot above the polished wood. “How are we getting me there?”

“Fang’s acquiring an ambulance.” Nathan said it with a completely straight face.

“Um, does ‘acquiring’ mean ‘stealing’?”

“I didn’t ask. I was afraid Mom would tell me.”

“You feared correctly,” said Dr. Cale, wheeling herself into the room. “Fang’s back, and Daisy has an ID badge for you, Nathan. I’ve got the admitting paperwork for Sal all prepared, and it links back to one of my less public identities, so if anyone calls to confirm that she’s a legitimate patient, I’ll be able to confirm. Fishy is altering hospital records as we speak. By the time you get to John Muir, you’ll have an insurance trail going all the way back to your first temp job.”

“Who’s Fishy?” I asked blankly. “Is that a person?”

“His name is Matthew, he’s a computer engineer, and he goes by ‘Fishy’ because when he first came to work for me, I had a Matthew and a Matt already in the office. He proposed using his old gaming handle, and I said it was fine, since it’s not profane or otherwise inappropriate. It’s easier to explain who’s been injured in the explosion when you don’t have to keep backing up and clarifying which of the five people with that name you don’t mean.” Dr. Cale’s tone was patient, but her hands locked together in her lap, tension showing in the way her fingers interlaced. “Once you get to the hospital, they’ll transfer you onto a surgical gurney. Now, Sal, it’s important you remember that you shouldn’t need to talk much, and it would be better if you didn’t, given the circumstances. You would normally be expected to answer questions before you could enter a surgical theater, but we’re shortcutting that process as much as possible, and anyone who checks your charts should see that you answered the standard questions before you had to be sedated to prevent seizure.”

“Do people really try to have conversations with patients who are in the hospital to have their heads cut open?” I asked blankly.

“They’re not going to cut your head open, exactly,” said Dr. Cale. “Most of the work will be done by lasers and by machines no bigger than the head of a pin. It’s not the nanotech that we were promised when I was in school, but I’ll take it.”

“Mom,” said Nathan warningly.

Dr. Cale held up her hand. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I just got distracted for a second there. The actual incision won’t even be as bad as that bite on your arm, Sal—which we flushed with saline and stitched up while you were unconscious, by the way. It should heal much faster and cleaner this way. You didn’t lose that much blood, thankfully. The problem seems to have been mostly related to the impaired blood flow to your brain.”

“Um, thanks,” I said, resisting the urge to rub my wrist. “I guess what I meant was, am I really going to have to answer questions? I’m there for brain surgery. Even if there’s not a lot of cutting going on, you’d think that might mean nobody would ask me things.”

“Actually, it may mean someone stops you on the way to the operating theater to make sure you’ve consented to the operation, and that the operation you say you’re having matches the one on your paperwork,” said Nathan. The grim note in his voice startled me. I turned to frown at him. He met my eyes and sighed. “You remember how there are some aspects of my job that I don’t like to talk about? Well, this is one of them.”