“Sure,” I said, uncertainly. “This is going to tie back into the sleeping sickness soon, isn’t it?”
“Oh, my dear Sal, the broken doors are open, and we can’t close them on our own. Believe me; everything I am telling you ties back into the sleeping sickness.” Dr. Cale looked past us, into the gloom near the back wall. “It’s all right; you can come out now, dear. They’re ready for you.”
Tansy appeared, leading a young, gangly-limbed man by the hand. He was wearing a lab coat, like everyone else we’d seen since arriving inside the bowling alley. The T-shirt he had on under the lab coat advertised a children’s TV show I’d never heard of, and his jeans were torn out at the knees. His hair was cut short, and his eyes were wide and anxious. He was probably in his twenties, but those eyes made him look like he was barely out of his teens.
“Mom?” he said, uncertainly.
“It’s all right, Adam,” said Dr. Cale, beckoning him forward. “They really want to meet you. This is Nathan, my son, and his girlfriend, Sal.”
“What’s going on here?” asked Nathan.
I looked into the eyes of the man Dr. Cale called “Adam,” and I knew. There was no point in wasting words on asking. “He’s your tapeworm.”
Dr. Cale beamed like I’d just answered a particularly difficult riddle correctly. “Brava, Sal. There may be hope for you—and for humanity—yet.”
INTERLUDE II: NUMBERS
Lies are truth in tattered clothes.
—SIMONE KIMBERLEY, DON’T GO OUT ALONE
Money speaks louder than morality.
—DR. STEVEN BANKS
January 07, 2016: Time stamp 13:22.
[This recording is rough, and the lab is a tangle of mismatched equipment, scavenged machinery, and dented metal furnishings that were likely acquired from some other, richer facility. The camera is focused on a pale woman lying on a hospital bed. An IV needle is hooked to her arm, and her hair does not appear to have been brushed in some time.]
DR. CALE: Doctor Shanti Cale…
[She stops, coughing.]
DR. CALE: I’m sorry. Doctor Shanti Cale, postoperation report. I appear to have survived the surgery which removed the D. symbogenesis mass that had formed around my spinal cord. Only time will tell whether I am going to walk again, but the signs are not currently positive.
[She stops to cough again before looking wearily at the camera.]
DR. CALE: I am making this record because I don’t know if Steven is still looking for me, and something has to survive. When things inevitably go wrong—and it is inevitable; I’m living proof of that—we’re going to need this. We’re going to need proof that someone knew. Someone tried to warn him. And yes, sadly, so far, I have failed.
[She sighs, closing her eyes.]
DR. CALE: Turn off the camera. I’m tired.
[The recording stops there.]
STAGE II: EXPANSION
SymboGen: Practicing Nature’s medicine, Nature’s way.
—EARLY SYMBOGEN ADVERTISING SLOGAN
Oh, God. What have we done?
—DR. NATHAN KIM
It wasn’t something as simple as an ethical disagreement: it was a basic division of morality. Shanti felt that the life of every creature she worked with was of equal value—meaning she ranked you, me, and her lab assistants on the same level as her test subjects. Given a choice between saving the life of a human and saving the life of a tapeworm, it was impossible to tell which way she would go. It made her a liability, once we reached a certain point in the process. She couldn’t be trusted.
It broke my heart to lose her. It really did. But given what we’ve turned up in her lab notes, it was for the best. We wanted to improve mankind’s future, and with Shanti’s help, we were able to do that. The thing about working for the future, though, is that sometimes you have to admit that it’s time to stop clinging tightly to the past. Sometimes you have to let things go.
—FROM “KING OF THE WORMS,” AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BANKS, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ROLLING STONE, FEBRUARY 2027.
Lies are truths in tattered clothes,
At least that’s how the story goes.
Once you’ve found the keyhole, then you’ll need to find the key.
Don’t be scared of what’s to come,
Don’t forget the place you’re from.
Take your time. Remember, you’ll be coming back to me.
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.
This is insane.” Nathan recoiled from Adam, who didn’t move. He just looked at Nathan sadly, his hands twitching by his sides. Nathan took a step backward, nearly bumping into me, and said, “You’re delusional. Mom, I don’t know what’s happened to you over the past several years, but—”
“Calm down, Nathan,” said Dr. Cale. There was a coldly maternal snap in her voice. It was the same tone my own mother sometimes used on me. “I’m not delusional. Or did you think I was explaining my research to make my psychotic break with reality a little more believable? I wanted you to understand enough that you’d be able to handle this moment with dignity. I didn’t expect you, of all people, to be so small-minded.”