Page 75

“I didn’t hurt our mother,” said Adam, attention remaining focused solely on Nathan. His voice had a measured quality to it that was audible even through the anxiety. He clearly needed Nathan to believe him, but he wasn’t able to force the words out any faster than he already was. I recognized that tempo. It was the way I used to talk, when I was first coming out of speech therapy. His thoughts and his tongue weren’t in accord with each other yet. “I wasn’t in her when the bad stuff happened.”

“She’s not our mother,” snapped Nathan.

“Adam was implanted using the material that had been extracted from me before my first course of antiparasitics,” said Dr. Cale. She beckoned for Adam to join her. He hurried to her side, lurching slightly as he walked. When he reached her, he crouched so she could put an arm around his shoulders while she looked defiantly at Nathan. “Tapeworms can regenerate from practically nothing. Adam and the worm that damaged my spine began from a single egg, but they’re not the same individual.”

“Of course he’s not the worm that hurt you,” snapped Nathan. “He’s not a worm at all. He’s… he’s a clearly disturbed young man who’s taking advantage of… of…” He stopped.

Tansy raised both eyebrows, looking at him hopefully. “Well? What’s he taking advantage of? Doctor C’s well-known weakness for pretty boys claiming to be horrific abominations of science? Or maybe her total willingness to believe whatever dumb-ass thing you tell her, as long as you make sure to sprinkle it with a bunch of technical junk and go ‘blah blah blah SymboGen is evil’ at the end? Or is there a third option? I love a third option, that’s always when things get silly.”

“The original name of Adam’s body was Michael Rigby,” said Dr. Cale calmly, as if Tansy hadn’t spoken. I could see where pretending that Tansy wasn’t involved in a conversation could make things go a lot smoother, if she was always like this. “He was in a coma, and had been on life support for the better part of six years. His parents could no longer afford his medical bills. In exchange for a reasonable cash settlement, I was able to convince them that their son had work to do, to push forward the bounds of science.”

“You bought their son?” I asked. Feelings of disgust tangled in my belly. I had been on life support after my accident. Would my parents have been willing to sell me if they hadn’t been able to afford my care? And honestly, was I being selfish by being upset by the idea? I hadn’t been in a position to choose one way or the other, and I’d never been the one paying those bills.

Maybe things looked different when you were facing a future with no hope of ever paying off those debts. Maybe selling a son you’d already mourned would stop looking inhumane, and start looking like a way to salvage things for the living.

“I bought Michael’s body, yes,” said Dr. Cale. “He was perfect. Young, fit, guaranteed brain dead—and best of all, the family was too poor for anything beyond the basics that would keep his body breathing, but too well-off to qualify for state assistance. They were in the gap. He’d never been fitted with a SymboGen implant.”

“That’s like, totally required,” added Tansy helpfully. “The lack, I mean, not the… what was I saying?”

Adam didn’t say anything. He just stayed crouched down next to Dr. Cale’s chair, holding onto her arm like it was a lifeline. His eyes stayed on Nathan, pleading for… something. I didn’t know what. Acceptance, maybe, from the man he’d been told to think of as a brother? Or maybe something more. Understanding.

Nathan, meanwhile, was staring at his mother. “This is insane.”

“Science always starts out looking like insanity, darling; that’s why the phrase ‘mad science’ gets bandied about so much. But what seems like madness at its inception will become the way things have always been if you give it enough time. Look at SymboGen. In a sane world, they would never have been able to get approved for human testing, much less brought their product to the market. But money talks, and people like science that seems just a little bit insane. It reminds them that the future is tomorrow, and that we have a chance to shape it.” Dr. Cale shook her head. “All scientists are mad scientists. It’s just a question of how long you can keep yourself from starting to look thoughtfully at the nearest thunderstorm.”

“So you’re seriously telling me that you bought this boy,” he indicated Michael, “from his parents, brought him out of his coma, and have convinced yourself that he’s actually your alpha tapeworm? Mother. That’s not mad science. That’s just madness.”

Dr. Cale sighed. “I really wish I’d played a bigger part in your education, Nathan. I never expected you to become this rigid in your thinking. Michael Rigby was dead in every sense but the biological one. Adam was alive, and without a host… and I had a theory to prove. Once I was finished with my initial calculations, we took Michael Rigby’s body and prepared it for Adam’s introduction.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that he didn’t ingest the implant. Instead, we opened the back of his skull and introduced Adam directly to his brain. We monitored the condition of both the host and the parasite closely for the first several days, and then closed the patient up and left it to his natural powers of recovery to decide what would happen.” Dr. Cale turned a warm, maternal smile on Adam. “He woke up six months later. My darling boy. My second son.”