If you believed that D. symbogenesis was the simple, easily controlled organism SymboGen described in their press releases and paperwork, you have been sold a bottle of snake oil. While you may well deserve what that gets you, the truth is, I enabled Steve to become such a great salesman… and while I may not regret the science, I am truly sorry for the lies.
—FROM CAN OF WORMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SHANTI CALE, PHD. AS YET UNPUBLISHED.
I don’t think anyone can deny that the SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguard™ changed the face of medicine as we know it. Chronic conditions can now be treated on an ongoing basis by the ingestion of a single pill—it’s just that the pill contains the egg of a D. symbogenesis, and the implant will handle all the ongoing medical care. No more worrying about affording your prescriptions, no more missed doses or mix-ups at the pharmacy. Everything is taken care of.
Were we perfect from the word “go”? No. Even if we weren’t only human, that would have been a little much to ask of us, don’t you think? We could only do what anyone is capable of doing: our best. We rose to the challenges we were offered, and we did what we could to meet and match them. I think that when history looks at our accomplishments, the good that we managed to do will outweigh the bad. I hope so, anyway. No one wants to set out to be a hero, and discover after the fact that they’ve been a villain all along.
—FROM “KING OF THE WORMS,” AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN BANKS, CO-FOUNDER OF SYMBOGEN. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN ROLLING STONE, FEBRUARY 2027.
After Dad’s dire warnings, the entry hall of the L4 building was almost anticlimactic. I was expecting something out of one of Joyce’s science fiction movies, with unfamiliar equipment and unexplained lasers everywhere. What I got was basically a hallway that could have been leading to any ER in the world. The walls were a hospital-standard shade of eggshell white, with bands of color painted on them to help guide researchers to the right parts of the building, and the floor was an industrial avocado green that looked like it had been chosen to coordinate with generic medical scrubs.
Another uniformed guard sat at the reception desk. Dad motioned for me to stay where I was as he walked over and exchanged a few words with the man in a low voice. The man’s eyes flickered to me and back to Dad again. I tried not to squirm. Finally, my father leaned over the desk and picked up an old-fashioned telephone. A thick cord connected it to a base that looked heavy enough to be used as a melee weapon. He brought the phone to his ear, and was silent for several seconds before he said, “This is Colonel Alfred Mitchell. My daughter, Sally, is with me. Can you confirm the current conditions in the main lab?” There was another pause before he said, “Yes, I’ve cleared her presence through the appropriate channels. I am the appropriate channels. Can you confirm current conditions?”
He sounded annoyed. I stayed where I was. When my father was annoyed, the last place I wanted to be was in his line of fire. He never really yelled at me—that pleasure was generally reserved for Joyce, who didn’t seem to mind; she gave as good as she got, anyway, and that seemed to work for both of them—but he’d look at me sometimes like he wasn’t sure what I was doing, or why I was allowed to be wherever I was, and that was something I wanted to avoid if at all possible.
When he looked at me like that, he was frightening.
Dad made a small, irritated sound. “Well, tell Michael to put things back in their boxes. We’re coming through in five minutes. Sally has something she needs to show me, and that means we need to be inside the lab space.” He slammed the receiver down on its base harder than he needed to as he turned to face me. “The lab is not prepared for civilian visitors. They’ll be ready for us shortly.”
“Do you mean ‘not prepared’ like ‘they need to clean up,’ or ‘not prepared’ like ‘someone dropped a vial and now it’s all melting flesh and screaming’?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. I wasn’t sure I’d ever sleep again if I didn’t know the answer.
That actually made Dad smile. “Neither,” he said. “It’s ‘not prepared’ in the sense of ‘there is confidential material that shouldn’t be seen by civilian eyes out on the counters.’ ”
“Oh.” I paused, frowning. “But… isn’t Joyce a civilian?”
Dad’s smile faded. “Yes,” he said, and the weight of disappointment in that word was as crushing as it was confusing. If Joyce was a civilian, what was the problem with my asking the question?
He turned away before I could ask him, saying something else quiet to the guard at the desk. The guard nodded, handing him a key card and a visitor’s pass. The pass had my picture on it. Dad turned, holding them out to me.
“How did they make it so fast?” I asked, taking the pass and card.
My father ignored my question. “The women’s changing room is over there,” he said, indicating a door at the back of the reception area. It was unmarked. “Go in there and get yourself into some scrubs; affix the pass to the front of them. We’re going into a clean area, and I’d rather you didn’t introduce contamination.”
“Just get changed, Sal. We’ll talk about all this later.”
I frowned. His mood swings and changes in attitude were starting to worry me. Given Dr. Cale’s description of the components of D. symbogenesis, what were the chances it could be interfering with his brain function? Was my father’s implant beginning to take over? And if it was, was there anything I could possibly do about it?