Page 107


You know what I find really interesting about the people who want to ask about the “consequences” of what they consider to be me and my company playing God? They’re never the ones refusing medical care. They’re never the ones saying “No thank you, Doctor, I’d rather be on insulin and taking inefficient medications in pill form and dealing with the possible side effects of increasingly ineffective antibiotics than have something living inside me.” They’re never the ones who refuse the implant on moral or religious grounds.

No, the people who say the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard™ is somehow morally wrong are always the ones whose implants are securely in place and wouldn’t be impacted by any new regulations. They’re the ones with dependable medical care, for whom the hygiene hypothesis was always an interesting theory held at bay by their physicians and their medications.

They’re the ones with nothing to lose. The people with everything to lose, the ones whose lives have been transformed by D. symbogenesis? They’re the ones who stand up and say “No” when legislation is proposed that would make us and what we do illegal. They’re the ones who keep us going.

They’re the ones this is all for.


Chapter 16


Something is different.

I am alone in the dark, in the hot warm dark, and nothing here is supposed to change; change is the antithesis of the dark. Change is forever, it cannot be undone. Even if things are returned to their original state, they will still have been changed. They will still remember the act of changing. Change is the great destroyer.

But whatever has changed, it is not something I can see, and so I forget that anything has changed at all. There is no point to holding on, and memory is hard, so hard, almost as hard as change; memory is for another time, another place, a place outside the hot warm dark. I let go and let myself drift through the darkness, and everything is safe, and everything is warm, and everything is always and forever accompanied by the sound of drums.

The sound…

The sound of drums.

But hadn’t the drums stopped? I was sure they had… and as soon as I thought that, it became true. The drums stopped, the red turned to black, and the warmth turned to coldness. I woke up alone in the dark, opening my eyes and squinting into the shadows as I tried to figure out where I was.

All I found was more darkness, and a growing sense of dread.

The dread intensified when I tried to sit up and discovered that I was strapped to the unfamiliar surface beneath me. I froze, suddenly, horribly convinced I’d been hallucinating when I heard the sleepwalkers saying my name before. I’d been undergoing my own conversion, that was all, and the syllables that sounded like my name were really moans, translated into words by my own damaged ears as my implant devoured my mind, my self, everything that was me—

I made a strangled squeaking sound, feeling hot tears rise burning to my eyes. The sound wasn’t a moan, and that was more of a relief than I could have imagined. Besides, argued a small, logical part of me, if I’d been succumbing to the sleepwalking sickness, I wouldn’t be here to worry about it, now would I? Sally Mitchell would be gone, replaced by a confused tapeworm in a body it didn’t understand or know how to operate.

At some point between leaving my house and waking up alone in the dark, I’d stopped questioning what Dr. Cale had explained to me. It made too much sense when I held it up to the situation. Frankly, it was the only thing that made sense.

Anyone with a SymboGen implant was in danger. Anyone with a SymboGen implant was a danger, to themselves and to others. Nausea rolled in my gut, intensified by the ongoing knowledge that I was strapped down. If I threw up, I was going to be lying in it until someone came and let me up. But the thought that I might have a tapeworm laying siege to my brain, my self, was just too horrifying to put aside.

There was another thought beneath that. It was even worse than the idea of the siege. I buried it more firmly, trying to dwell on the more understandable horror. And I did understand what Dr. Cale was claiming she, Dr. Banks, and Dr. Jablonsky had done. I wasn’t a doctor, and I wasn’t a scientist, but I wasn’t stupid, and I learn quickly. So I understood, even if there was no way I could have re-created her work, or even explained the fine nuance to someone who hadn’t been present for her explanation. It wasn’t until the containment ward at USAMRIID that I started to fully believe her, and to accept what her actions meant.

My throat was dry. At least the room was silent; no sirens, no moaning, and no distant sound of drums. I licked my lips to moisten them, and said, “H-hello? This is Sally Mitchell. I’m not sick. Please, is anyone there? Please, can you come and untie me? I want to get up. I’m not sick. Please.” That didn’t seem like enough. I tried to count how many times I’d used the word “please,” how many times I’d said I wasn’t sick. It didn’t seem like enough. It didn’t seem like anything could possibly be enough. “I’m not sick,” I whispered, just once more.

“The sedatives you were given can have some unpleasant side effects, including increased salivation and sensitivity to light,” said my father’s voice, clear and firm and reassuringly familiar. It also sounded like he was speaking from somewhere inside the room—but that wasn’t possible. He was a quiet man, but I would have been able to hear him breathing in the absolute silence that had greeted me when I first woke up.