Symbiont Page 22

–DR. RICHARD JABLONSKY

I can be your friend, or I can be your enemy. Isn’t it better when we’re friends?

–SHERMAN LEWIS (SUBJECT VIII, ITERATION III)

September 2027: Tansy

The last thing I saw before I passed out was a living wall of human bodies being driven by the semi-sapient minds of my opportunistic cousins, tapeworms who shared everything with me except for their specific method of taking over their hosts and oh, right, a basic understanding of hygiene. Some of those things were rank, like they had never met a shower they didn’t want to avoid taking.

But their teeth were sharp and their hands were strong and if I sound like I’m being flippant, it’s because I’d never encountered anything that terrifying in my short, bloody existence. Dr. C says I deflect things that stress me out, mostly because I don’t want to trigger another of the seizures that I used to get when I was newly integrating with my host. She says it’s natural and normal and that she’ll get me a better host someday, one where the brain hasn’t been pre-damaged and I can fit myself into the neural net without gaps and glitches. I kinda think she’s lying. I kinda think she likes the fact that she has a damaged daughter to send into danger, because it means she can keep Adam home and safe without feeling bad about it, or feeling like she needs to start training him for the field. As long as I’m a broken doll, she can send me through the broken doors all she wants. I don’t mind, though. I’m good at breaking things.

Sal was gone. She was running away again—that girl was always running away, from her family, from herself, from the truth—only this time I was glad to see her go, because maybe she’d get out. Maybe Nathan was as smart as our mom said he was, and he’d be able to keep Sal safe long enough for her to figure out what she really was. Maybe she’d realize that we were sisters, and then she’d miss me. She’d be sorry that I was gone.

It was a good thought. I’d always hoped that someday, someone would miss me. I held on to it as the bullets ran out and the fingers dug into my arms and the teeth bit into my flesh, and then it was all too much and I blacked out, toppling back into the nothingness that was always waiting at the edges of my damaged mind.

Dying hurt less than I expected it to. That was sort of a surprise. But I guess maybe it doesn’t count, because I wasn’t actually dead.

Not all the way, anyhow.

I was in some fucking sewer or something when I woke up. Everything was all yuck and slime and this smell like something had died down there. I tried to sit up. The manacles on my wrists drew tight before I could get more than halfway there, and the shock of the sudden resistance had me flat on my back before the screaming pain in my left shoulder and right hip could finish registering. I lay there panting, staring up at a ceiling that I couldn’t even see through the gloom. The pain was bad enough to make me want to scream and claw at the walls.

Pain is an illusion, because this body is an illusion, I told myself sternly. It’s just a Petri dish that you’re living in, that’s all. You can move out any time you need to, and that means pain is nothing but an inconvenience. Now breathe.

I breathed.

The pain began to fade, leaving a little bit at a time, until I felt like a husked-out shell of a girl, empty of sensation where I should have been full. There wasn’t even a tingling to remind me of the limits of my skin. Everything was darkness and numbness and the distant smell of whatever dead thing had become my new roommate. Charming. Maybe whatever it was would give me its phone number, and we could be BFFs.

When I was positive that the pain had passed, however momentarily, I closed my eyes, trading one darkness for another, and began flexing my toes, one by one, testing to see how many of them would respond to me. To my delight, all ten were present, accounted for, and miraculously unbroken, although when they moved, they did it without resistance: whoever had chained me up had also taken my shoes and socks away. That was less than completely peachy keen, by any objective standard. I scowled into the dark. I liked those shoes. They were big and black and stompy, and I hardly ever tripped over the toes anymore.

Toes were good: how about fingers? I repeated the slow flex, this time adding as much of an extension as I could, just to see whether I had my full range of motion. My left hand responded as expected, although there was a little pulling in my palm that told me there was a split in the skin, even if I couldn’t feel it at the moment. Pain had completely vacated the premises, and that wasn’t a good thing. Pain was useful. It was an illusion, sure, but it was an illusion that kept me from shoving my hand into a whirling garbage disposal, or touching a lit stove burner. I needed pain to remind me that my Petri dish of a physical form had limits, and that failure to observe those limits would have serious consequences.

My right hand was more of a problem. Three of the fingers wouldn’t move at all, and I couldn’t be sure whether that was because they were broken or because they were missing; not in the dark, not with my body refusing to return vital information about how bad my injuries were. My thumb only moved about half as far as it should have, and the finger that was responding—my pointer finger—didn’t have the range of motion to tell me whether the other fingers were there or not. I could have been missing half my hand and I wouldn’t have known.

I stared up into the dark, waiting for my eyes to adjust. My eyes did not adjust. I added “maybe I’m blind” to the list of things that were potentially wrong with me.

Look at it this way, Tansy, I thought, trying for an upbeat internal monologue. If your current body is totes wrecked, Dr. C will have to give you a new one.

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