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a region of the forebrain below the thalamus which coordinates both the autonomic nervous system and the activity of the pituitary...involved in sleep and emotional activity.

It's hard to concentrate on Very Important Conversations when you're scuttling through the undergrowth of some guy's house whose name you don't even know, on a sort-of alien planet, and are about to break into said home to cause mischief. Sometimes I find it really, really hard to concentrate on two things at the same time: I could be stealthy, or I could pay attention to what Marv was saying. Doing both simultaneously was super hard.

"There's something been bothering me since I woke up," he said, scanning ahead of us with his handy thermal vision to make sure nobody was about to step out into the garden.

"What's that?"

"Oh, everything," he said, stopping and signalling for me to do the same. We were crouched against the white wall of the house, hidden in shadow. Other than leaves rustling the neighbourhood was quiet. Cicadas chirruped somewhere nearby. "When I woke up, it wasn't my missing arm that got me worried. It wasn't being stuck on a desert planet in the middle of nowhere. I didn't give a shit about the big conspiracy that you and Cal are chasing."

"Then what?"

"I was thinking about who was going to buy the groceries this week."

"Cal had been bringing back food-"

He held up a hand to cut me off. "Not us. Back home. My folks. My sister. Who's looking after them? Sure ain't me right now." He leaned in closer. "Why did I just leave them like that?"

"This is about something bigger," I said, "and it affects them, too. You believed in what we're doing."

"What are we doing, Kay? And when exactly did I start believing in it?" He was distressed, and struggled to articulate his thoughts. "Look, I don't know how to explain it. It sounds like I'm shifting the blame, or trying to make up excuses. But listen, Kay: I can't remember how I came to this decision. I don't recall the specific series of thoughts that got me to staging a heist on my damned workplace."

Everything seemed pretty hazy to me, but that was nothing new. "Hey," I said, putting a hopefully reassuring hand on his waist, "it's been a crazy couple of months. I don't think I've actually, you know, relaxed since I found Cal in the shed. That stresses you out. We're not made for this kind of crazy adventuring."

"Maybe, maybe not." He paused and considered what he was about to say. "Think about it this way: what is Cal's end game? What are we running towards, here?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said, "but here he is."

Cal appeared from the far end of the house, moving low and quietly back towards us. He looked straight at the wall, a thermal quirk I could never get used to. "Looks clear," he said.

"We didn't see anything," Marv confirmed. "Just those two in there, I think. But wait just one minute - are we even going to be able to speak to the guy? Language, I mean?"

"One way to find out," Cal said, his features shifting again as he gained height and bulk, his arms straining at the straps on his backpack. If he hadn't already removed his shirt, it probably would have pulled apart at the seams. Gotta say, I could think of worse images. There was a light, bristly covering of brown fur on his face and back - it was the same genotype he'd used in the Aviary.

Before we could respond, he braced himself on either side of the doorway and with a forceful kick sent the door splintering inwards. It skittered across the floor, colliding with furniture on its way. Cal was in the house before the dust had settled.

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