Nothing, except maybe for a father who really did want what was best for me, even if he didn’t know what that was. I slung the bag over my shoulder as I straightened, and turned to throw my arms around his neck.
“I love you, Dad,” I said.
He sighed. “I love you too, Sal.”
I let go and ran toward Nathan’s car, so anxious to be out of there that I almost didn’t stop when I heard my father shouting, “Wait!” behind me. But he was letting me go, and so I owed it to him to at least pause. I stopped, turning, and waited to hear what he had to say.
He just looked at me for a long moment. Then, barely loud enough for me to hear, he said, “Goodbye, Sally.”
“Bye, Dad,” I said, and turned away, walking to the car where Nathan waited. He opened the door for me. I got in, and watched through the windshield as he walked around to the driver’s side. Then he took his own seat, and together, we drove away into the bloody sunset.
INTERLUDE III: JUDGES
The world is out of order. It’s been broken since you came.
—SIMONE KIMBERLEY, DON’T GO OUT ALONE
—TANSY (SUBJECT VIII, ITERATION II)
March 23, 2019: Time stamp 04:22.
[The recording quality has improved over the past three years, as has the lab. The equipment is still mismatched, but it is better maintained: the scanners and terminals are newer. A hospital bed dominates the frame. Its occupant is a young woman, head shaved, eyes closed. She does not move. A blonde woman in a wheelchair is positioned next to the bed.]
DR. CALE: Doctor Shanti Cale, third status report of subject eight, iteration two. The host remains unresponsive, but blood tests present hopeful signs: the D. symbogenesis markers had increased up until two days ago, when they began a sharp and sudden decline. Today’s tests showed no signs of infection. She may be coming out of the woods. We have discontinued twilight sedation, and are now waiting for the subject to awaken.
[She pauses, and smiles brightly into the camera.]
DR. CALE: I think I’m going to call her “Tansy.”
[The woman on the bed opens her eyes and groans. There is a sudden shakiness to the scene, as if whoever was holding the camera put it abruptly down. Dr. Cale turns, waving to someone out of frame.]
[The recording stops.]
STAGE III: INTEGRATION
SymboGen: turning problems into solutions since 2015.
—EARLY SYMBOGEN ADVERTISING SLOGAN
This isn’t going to end well for anyone.
I always knew the truth would come out eventually; truth has a tendency to do that, especially when all of the parties involved want it to stay hidden. I knew the truth would come out on the day I ingested the samples of the first-generation D. symbogenesis to keep them from being destroyed; I knew it would come out when I lost all feeling in my lower body; I knew it would come out when the national news first began reporting incidents that had clearly been caused by the implants compromising their human hosts. Steven could only conceal the truth for so long.
Mostly, I have lived my life for this past decade and a half simply hoping that I would still be alive when the judgment day arrived. After all, what’s the point of helping to create an apocalypse if you’re not going to be around to see it?
—FROM CAN OF WORMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SHANTI CALE, PHD. AS YET UNPUBLISHED.
The question of legal liability was raised early and often during the advent of the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard™. After all, most medical procedures and treatments carried with them the risk of lawsuits in the case of adverse reactions. Why should a biological organism used for medical purposes be any different?
SymboGen’s response to this question was a second flurry of advertisements, this time virtually begging anyone who might have had an adverse reaction to the Intestinal Bodyguard™ to come forward and let them make it right. Finding someone who had reacted poorly to the SymboGen implant became a modern-day quest for Bigfoot—only catch your quarry and all your troubles would be solved by an endless flood of reparations. There were reports, but they were all proven to be false, and gradually, the ad campaign was phased out, leaving the world sold not once, but twice, on the idea that a worm was the solution to all their problems.
—FROM SELLING THE UNSELLABLE: AMERICAN ADVERTISING THROUGH THE YEARS, BY MORGAN DEMPSEY, PUBLISHED 2026.
The scrambler in Don’t Go Out Alone might have been good enough to block SymboGen’s bugs, but neither Nathan nor I wanted to test it against whatever listening devices USAMRIID had installed on their own property. We stayed silent until we were off Treasure Island and back inside the comforting Faraday cage of the Bay Bridge, whose metal infrastructure would prevent any signals from getting through, whether we wanted them to or not. Even if USAMRIID had planted bugs on my clothes or bag, we should be okay there.
Once we were safely surrounded by the steel frame of the bridge, Nathan glanced my way, lips thin with tension, and asked, “Are you all right? I mean, really all right?”
“Yes,” I said. “No. Maybe. I don’t know anymore.” I pulled Don’t Go Out Alone out of my bag and looked down at it, running my fingers over the letters of the title as I explained what had happened, starting when he dropped me off at my house. Nathan didn’t say anything as I spoke, and I didn’t look up, both of us preferring to let this seem less like a real thing that had really happened and more like a story out of a book.