Symbiont Page 15

The sound of his body rolling down the steps from the eighth floor to the seventh, and then down to the sixth, was like a sack of oatmeal being dropped. Something snapped when he was about halfway down, and the moaning stopped. I stayed where I was, panting and panicked, my wrist bleeding copiously, and stared after him, waiting for some sign of movement. None came.

Beverly stepped up next to me, leaning against my leg as she whined and tried to shove her head into my hand. “It’s okay, Bevvie,” I said, patting her automatically. It caused more pain, but not much; shock was starting to slide between me and my injury, blurring and soothing its edges. Blood loss was probably also helping. “You’re a good dog. You did good to hurt that bad man. Good girl, Bevvie, good girl.”

Then Nathan was there, putting his hands on my shoulders and pulling me inexorably away from the stairs. “Come on, Sal,” he said. “I need to get a bandage on that before you lose too much more blood.”

I nodded mutely, and went with him, leaving the body of the sleepwalker—the person I could have been, had things gone just a little differently during Sally’s accident—behind us.

In the places time forgot

What we are meets what we’re not:

Every choice you’re making throws another choice away.

Choose the passage, choose the task,

Choose the face or choose the mask.

If you choose correctly then, my darling, you can stay.

The broken doors are open—come and enter and be home.

My darling girl, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.

–FROM DON’T GO OUT ALONE, BY SIMONE KIMBERLEY, PUBLISHED 2006 BY LIGHTHOUSE PRESS. CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT.

The worst part is that I know everyone blames me, and they’re not wrong.

There was a time when it was easy to make choices and say that history would vindicate my genius. I was standing in the present, and when you’re only thinking about today, history is always so far away. You have a lot of time to kill before history comes knocking and demands you live up to all those big claims you made. History is the ultimate thesis review board, and unlike the board that reviewed my thesis, history doesn’t take bribes.

I always swore that I was going to do great things with my life, things that would change the world in a way that could never be undone. Well, I guess I got my wish. I brought an end to the Age of Mankind.

Good for me.

–FROM CAN OF WORMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SHANTI CALE, PHD. AS YET UNPUBLISHED.

Chapter 3

SEPTEMBER 2027

The dogs were as upset over the blood and screaming as I was. Minnie met us just inside the apartment, looking like she was on the verge of a canine panic attack—there was a certain brightness to her eyes and unsteadiness to her normally rollicking bulldog gait that I didn’t like at all. Both our dogs had lost their original owners to the sleepwalking sickness. But while Beverly had chosen to run away from her former master when his implant took him over, Minnie had tried to stay with her owners, and she had still lost them both. For her, this situation had to verge on the nightmarish, and there was no way to make her understand what was really going on.

Then again, there was no real way to make me understand it, either. The science was all gibberish delivered by people wearing white coats and serious expressions; the fact that I was actually a tapeworm in a woman-suit made no more or less sense than anything else that had happened in my short, improbable life.

“God, Sal, you’re bleeding everywhere.” Nathan let go of my wrist long enough to push Beverly fully inside before he turned and locked the door. Then he steered me to the kitchen table, looking back over his shoulder several times as he checked my face for signs that I was still with him. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t… I just didn’t expect to see him there. That was Mr. Bouman from Apartment 8C, down the hall. He must have found a way to open his door after he converted, and then forgotten it by the time he got to the end of the hall…”

I tried to muster a response, but my fear that it would come out as a wordless moan kept me from saying anything. The world was starting to go black and fuzzy around the edges, swarmed by countless tiny dots of nothingness. It was like insects were eating away at the borders of my vision, and I was helpless to do anything but let them. I didn’t like that. I scowled at the insects. The insects, which didn’t technically exist, ignored me.

I knew when we had reached the table less because I was paying any attention to my surroundings, and more because Nathan placed his hand on my shoulder and pushed me down into a chair. I didn’t fight him. Gravity was a simple thing, and it seemed better to just let it do what it wanted with me.

“Sal, I need you to keep pressure on this.” His voice echoed.

I blinked at him, and then at my wrist, which had somehow been wrapped in a dish towel that was rapidly turning bright red with my blood. He was pressing down hard enough that it should have hurt, and probably would when I took a moment to breathe.

“Come on, sweetie. I know it hurts, but I need you to stay with me here. I need you to keep the pressure on while I get the first aid kit.” Nathan took my free hand in his and pressed it down on the sodden dressing. I did my best to mimic his motion, pushing down until there was an unpleasant squishing sensation, things shifting under my fingers that had nothing to do with the towel.

Nathan, at least, looked somewhat relieved by my response. That made one of us.

“Stay here; I’ll be right back,” he said, and then he was gone, disappearing into the depths of the apartment and leaving me alone to try to fight against my body’s natural desire to bleed to death. Minnie and Beverly stayed with me, their furry bodies plopped down to either side of my chair and their enormous brown eyes fixed on me, like they thought they could just wish everything better.

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