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Dr. Cale sat up a little straighter, lifting her chin. “That’s true. I ran as soon as I saw the writing on the wall. You were in a position of power, and I knew what a man like you would do when he had a little power in his hands. Now here we are, and I’m in this chair, and yet for once, you don’t have any power at all. You’re just a man with no army at his back, standing here and asking for my help. So what is it that you want, Steven? What can my humble little underground lab do for someone with your resources and reach?”

“Sarcasm is a mode of speech used to convey mockery or even disdain without openly insulting the other person involved in the conversation,” said Anna.

Everyone stopped. Dr. Cale’s attention switched from Dr. Banks to the girl, her eyes crawling over Anna’s body with an almost visible avidity. Anna continued to stare straight ahead, not seeming to fully understand what was happening around her. Again, the urge to shield her from the situation swept over me, and again, I pushed it aside. She wasn’t on our side. That made her the enemy.

“How far along is her integration?” asked Dr. Cale.

“Two and a half weeks,” said Dr. Banks. “Ideally, she would still be hooked to her monitoring equipment, but she’s highly resistant to being separated from me. She becomes difficult to control.”

“How is she talking if she’s only two and a half weeks along?” asked Dr. Cale. “Language integration takes longer than that.”

Dr. Banks looked smug. “I found a new means of stabilizing the neural paths. It allows for a quicker, more seamless connection between the implant and the brain.”

“Building a better chimera,” said Dr. Cale. “I’m sure the government will be thrilled to hear that’s what you’ve been doing with their money.”

“We have to understand them if we’re going to defeat them.” Dr. Banks sighed, shaking his head. “All right, Shanti, what is it that you want me to say? You want me to apologize? Fine. I apologize. I’m sorry I brought you into this, and I’m sorry I created an environment where you felt like you had to remove yourself for your own safety, and I’m sorry I tried to have you killed. Although to be fair, you would have done the same in my position.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Dr. Cale. “You stole my research, Steven. You stole my life’s work, and you stole my family.”

“I didn’t steal them,” he protested. “You chose to give them up.”

“That’s not the family she’s talking about.” The sound of my own voice surprised me. Dr. Cale didn’t take her eyes off Dr. Banks, but the way her mouth curled upward at the corner told me that she approved of my interjection. I swallowed, the drums hammering loudly in my ears, and said, “You called Anna my sister. You did that because she’s… she’s like me. She’s a tapeworm in a human skin.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Banks, and beamed at me, like I was a slow child who had just managed to catch up to the rest of the class.

It made me itch to punch him, to feel my knuckles sinking into the soft flesh of his cheek or throat. I clenched my hands by my sides instead, and said, “That means you used the D. symbogenesis tapeworm on a human subject to get a chimera of your very own.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Banks again. His smile this time was more strained. He was clearly getting as tired of praising me as I was of being praised. Too bad that had never been enough to make him stop.

“That worm has human DNA in it. Dr. Cale’s DNA. You took her family away from her when you took us away from her.”

“Millions of children,” said Dr. Cale, a wistful note in her voice that I had only heard on a few occasions, usually when she was talking about her friend Simone, who had died of allergies before the development of the SymboGen implant. Simone had been Dr. Cale’s motivation for wanting to solve the hygiene hypothesis. Without that dead friend, Dr. Cale would probably have turned her terrible intellect on destroying the world in some other completely accidental way.

That’s the danger of genius. One way or another, it’s going to destroy the world.

“I don’t understand,” said Dr. Banks.

“I think you do,” said Dr. Cale. “I had millions of children, and you took them away from me. So what can you possibly offer that would make up for that?”

“Data.” He produced an external hard drive from inside his shirt, holding it up for all of us to see. “I have the full record of Anna’s conversion and assimilation here, and I’m willing to give it to you, if you’re willing to help us. There are things on there that you probably haven’t even considered yet, much less advanced to the testing stage. I can help you jump your research forward by a matter of years, and all I’m asking is room, board, and a little supervised access to your lab space. Anna still needs monitoring for signs of rejection, after all.”

Anna herself didn’t say anything. After her interjection about sarcasm she had returned to her previous silence, standing like a wan shadow next to Dr. Banks. I tried to meet her eyes. She looked away. Something about that made my stomach clench, although I couldn’t have said exactly what it was. Something was wrong with Anna.

“I have all that data,” said Dr. Cale dismissively. “I brought three subjects to full integration, and I monitored them every step of the way. You’re going to have to do better if you want me to find a space for you here, and not to just shoot you and dump you out back for the feral cats.”