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“Both of me,” I interjected. Nathan and Dr. Cale both turned in my direction. I flushed red. “I mean, Sherman cut my head open, and he didn’t do the best job of sealing it back up, and the only thing I can think of that he might have wanted from in there is a tissue sample from my original body.”

“He could have taken several segments from your posterior end without interfering with your synaptic interface with the human body,” said Dr. Cale. “Do you have any idea why he would want to do that?”

“He said that he didn’t know what I was originally tailored to do, since there were holes in SymboGen’s records, and said that since most worms were designed to have a purpose—not just making their host healthier, but actually serving a purpose in their bodies—a lot of chimera can be something special. Like he can induce biological trances in chimera and sleepwalkers just by touching us.” Even saying that made me feel unsafe and unclean, like I could summon Sherman with the mere admission of what he’d done to me. To us—Ronnie wasn’t exactly thrilled by the way he’d been treated, and I suspected that he wasn’t the only one bridling at Sherman’s behavior. “So maybe there’s something in my genetic makeup that made it easier for me to integrate with Sally. Whatever that something is, he wants it.”

“You need to tell her, Mom,” said Nathan, his gaze returning to Dr. Cale. He still didn’t let go of my hand. “If Sherman’s been taking samples…”

“Tell me what?” I looked between them, frowning. “Is everyone okay?”

“Not by a long shot,” said Dr. Cale. “Millions of people have died worldwide, and millions more are going to die before this is over. But I don’t think that’s what Nathan meant.”

“It’s not,” he said flatly. “Tell her.”

Dr. Cale took a deep breath, her ever-present smile fading. She looked down at her hands for a moment, and when she raised her eyes to me again, that sense of age was back, like she was growing older at an impossible rate. “I’m not going to apologize for what I told Daisy and Fang to do,” she said. “I will, however, apologize for acting without your full consent. Time was short, for a lot of reasons, and proved to be even shorter than I had feared. What we did was necessary.”

Just like that, everything fell into place. I dropped both Nathan and Adam’s hands as I reached back to feel the bandages at the base of my skull, held down with strips of tape that would pull and tangle when I tried to remove them from my hair. Suddenly, that seemed very unimportant. “You took samples from me when you were repairing the arteries in my skull,” I said softly, the feeling of violation growing soft and warm in my middle. “That’s why you were so willing to help get me into a proper surgical theater. Because you wanted sterile samples of my body.”

“It’s not the only reason,” said Dr. Cale defensively. “I wanted you to be safe. You’re my daughter and my future daughter-in-law all wrapped into one, and your health is important to me.”

“Didn’t SymboGen have a slogan that sounded a lot like that?” I straightened, pulling myself as taut as a bowstring. “You touched me.”

“I didn’t—”

“Your people work for you. You told them what to do. You gave the order. You touched me.” My voice came out so cold that it sounded alien to my own ears, like it was coming from someone else’s mouth. I turned to Nathan. “Did you know about this?”

“No,” he said. “Not until we made it back to the lab, and by that point, you were missing and I was out of my mind with worry.” He glared daggers at his mother as he spoke. “I wasn’t really involved in the operation, since that isn’t my field. I didn’t realize what they were doing, or I would have stopped them.”

And he wouldn’t have been watching for that sort of trickery: not on his mother’s part, and not with my life potentially on the line. My eyes narrowed as my attention swung back to Dr. Cale. “Was the operation necessary?”

“Yes,” she said, with what was clearly meant to be absolute sincerity. It was really too bad she’d spent so much time lying to me. I didn’t know what she sounded like when she told the truth. “The weakness in the arteries feeding your brain was real, as was the need to address it before one of them ruptured. We needed access to a functioning surgical theater. All that was completely true. As for the rest… I saw an opportunity, and I took it, for the greater good. You can’t blame me for that.”

“Oh, I think you’ll find that I can blame you for a lot,” I said, taking my hands away from the bandages on my skull and folding my arms across my chest. “What did you learn from taking me apart without my permission?”

Dr. Cale sighed. “It’s going to be like this now, is it?”

“Not forever,” I said. It pained me to admit it. This was enough of a violation that it should have been a deal breaker: it should have left me in the position of never letting myself trust her again. But I knew that she’d done what she’d done because she was trying to save us all. The fact that she hadn’t stopped to ask me for permission made me furious. But it wasn’t worth the end of the world. “We’re going to need some ground rules before I trust you again. But I still want to know what you learned.”

“I learned that Sally’s father was not exactly forthcoming about his medical history, probably because epilepsy is frowned upon when you’re working in Level 4 biosafety labs.” Dr. Cale’s expression was grim, but there was elation in her eyes, like she had finally cracked a complicated puzzle that had been bothering her for quite some time. “That’s why he paid to have top-grade implants tailored by SymboGen, instead of getting them through USAMRIID’s medical plan, which would have made more sense—and saved him quite a bit of money, I might add. But he couldn’t do that. Not if he was going to get the specific modifications he needed for himself and his eldest daughter. That also explains the holes in the records. He would have paid to have all his files expunged.”