The other technicians were in motion now, some of them running for the exits, others grabbing old-fashioned telephones from the walls and gabbling into them, presumably calling security. I yanked Joyce back another step before raising my voice and calling, “Does anybody have any antiparasitics? I mean really good ones? We need—” I cheated my eyes toward Joyce and asked, “What do you use for tapeworms?”
It seemed impossibly weird to be asking her questions when our father, clearly dazed, was shambling toward us like something out of a horror movie. Oddly, that seemed to help Joyce. This was too strange to be happening: therefore, it wasn’t happening. “Praziquantel,” she said. “It has some negative side effects, though, like—”
“Is one of the negative side effects death?” I demanded. “Because if it’s not, I suggest we get somebody to pump Dad full of the stuff right now.”
Joyce took her eyes off our father in order to blink at me in obvious bewilderment. “What are you talking about?”
I wasn’t sure whether sleepwalkers were capable of watching for an opening—if they were anything like as confused as Dr. Cale had implied, they might not be capable of anything beyond basic instinct, at least initially—but my father still took advantage of the opening when Joyce presented it to him. He lunged forward. He was fast. I was just a little bit faster. I grabbed her shoulders and yanked her hard away from him, leaving his hands to slap together on empty air with a flat, meaty sound that would haunt my dreams for days. Joyce yelped, as much with surprise as anything else, and fell over, upsetting two trays of instruments in the process. I barely managed to dodge in time to keep her from taking me to the floor with her.
The sudden flurry of movement seemed to confuse our father, who froze, his face swinging slowly toward me, then toward Joyce, and back to me again. I straightened slowly, raising my hands in front of me to show that they were empty. I don’t know what good I was expecting that to do. I wasn’t thinking particularly clearly by that point.
“Dad, you’re sick,” I said, enunciating each word as clearly as I could. “I need you to fight against whatever it is you want to do right now, and focus on the sound of my voice. There’s something we can do to help you be better, but it won’t work if you don’t focus on the sound of my voice. Can you do that for me, Dad? Can you fo—”
Without warning, he lunged. I squeaked, stopping in the middle of my sentence, and turned to run. He seemed to track by sound and motion. Joyce was frozen in terror. She wasn’t making a sound, and she wasn’t going anywhere. All I had to do was keep his eyes on me, and trust that someone would stop him before he could do something we’d both regret later.
Well. Maybe I wouldn’t regret it if he killed me. I’d be dead, after all. But I’d sure as hell regret letting myself get into this position if things got that far, in the time I had before oxygen deprivation resulted in my second clinical brain death.
I ran; my father followed. The rest of the technicians had cleared the room, which was convenient, since it meant I didn’t need to worry about leading their rampaging, somewhat addled boss into the middle of their workspace. I shoved things into his path as I tried to evade him without losing his interest. I was afraid if anyone else in the room moved or made a sound, he’d abandon chasing me in favor of going for easier prey. Prey that wasn’t running like hell, or throwing file boxes at his head.
The doors at the back of the room opened and military police flooded in, almost like they were imitating the SymboGen security guards on the day when Chave got sick. That seemed like it had happened so long ago. It seemed like it had happened yesterday. Several of them pulled their guns, and I stopped running in order to put up my hands, and yell, “No! Don’t shoot! Stun him, and get the pretzel drugs!” I was saying it wrong. I knew I was. But long words were Joyce’s thing, not mine, and I’d only heard the name of the drug once. I was frankly impressed I could remember it started with the letter “P.”
And then my father’s hands closed around my throat, and I stopped being impressed by anything, except for maybe how tight his grip was. I scrabbled at his fingers, trying to dislodge them, and couldn’t find any purchase. He was bigger than I was, he was stronger than I was, and he was going to win this one if I didn’t figure out a way to change the rules.
Dad, I’m sorry, I thought, and focused all my remaining energy on planting my foot squarely between his legs.
His response was to groan and let go of my throat, causing me to drop first to my knees and then to my ass as my legs folded up beneath me. My father didn’t seem to notice; he was too busy grasping his crotch and moaning.
I scrambled back to my feet. “It’s not too late!” I shouted. “Joyce, get the antiparasitics!”
The other sleepwalkers didn’t seem to feel or really register pain once they had fully succumbed to the parasites that were infiltrating their brains. My father still responded to extreme pain stimuli like a normal human, and that meant he hadn’t been completely taken over yet. There was still a chance that we could treat him. There was—
“Oh, my God, my balls,” he moaned.
I stopped. “Dad?”
“Wow, Daddy, great idea,” said Joyce, picking herself up off the floor. She dusted off her lab coat with the heels of her hands, scowling at our father like he had just disappointed her in some deep and profound manner. “It’s not Halloween, we’re not twelve anymore, and this isn’t how you make it clear that things are serious.”