“How’s my girl today?” asked Dr. Banks, as genial and fatherly as ever. “I see you’re not moving. That’s good. That means the nerve blockers we’ve placed on your spine are doing their job. It’s important that you keep still. I’m sure you understand that by now.”
I kept my eyes closed.
“I know you’re not dead, Tansy. I can see your chest moving, and the monitor tells me that your vital signs are still clear and strong. You’re a fighter. You’ve got a lot of fight left in you before you’ll even be able to consider giving up on us.”
His words filled me with more despair than I would have believed possible. It felt like I’d been his captive for weeks. It could have been days, or even hours. With the constant light and the lack of solid food, I had nothing to measure time by. The sadistic bastard could do whatever he wanted to me, for as long as he wanted to, and it wouldn’t matter. I was never going to get away.
“Kill me,” I whispered.
“I intend to,” said Dr. Banks, with amiable honesty. “After we’ve wrung every drop of useful data out of you, we’re going to take you apart and find the things we missed on the first pass. But you’ve got some time before that, and we’re going to spend it together, learning everything you don’t even know you have in you to teach.”
I didn’t think I had it in me to scream.
I was wrong.
STAGE II: DIAKINESIS
Mankind has been forgetting this simple fact since the dawn of time: when we transgress, it is our children who must pay the price of those transgressions.
–DR. SHANTI CALE
I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was survive.
Mom is sad all the time right now. She stays in her lab as much as we let her, looking at graphs and charts that show how the cousins are waking up, and sometimes she says bad words when she doesn’t know I’m there listening to her. It makes me feel funny when she does that, like she has a face I’ve never seen, because she’s always been so busy being my mother. She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. She’s a super scientist and she’s going to find a way to save everybody, not just the humans. But she’s sad, and I can’t make her better.
Sal and Tansy are both still missing. I think that’s a lot of what makes Mom so sad. I miss them too. Tansy’s always been my best friend, and I like Sal a lot. She’s my sister, and that means I have to love her forever, but nobody gets to tell me who I have to like. I decided I would like her all on my own. Now I just miss her a lot.
Maybe I should go and find her. Mom would be happy again if I brought Sal home, and then Sal and I can go find Tansy, and we’ll finally be a family the way we should have been all along. I can do it. I’m smarter than anyone thinks I am.
I can bring my sisters home.
–FROM THE JOURNAL OF ADAM CALE, OCTOBER 2027
The subject has shown surprising resilience. I expected her to die when I introduced antiparasitics into her food supply, but she proved unexpectedly resistant. The subject reacted to the antiparasitics as if they were an infection, resulting in nothing more severe than a brief spike in the host body temperature, with no lasting damage to the subject.
Proglottids cultured from the subject have proven to be strong and healthy. Three have been introduced into the subject’s digestive system, to see whether the brain worm can tolerate the presence of competing parasites. Full documentation will continue.
All in all, this is an excellent way to test all current theories without endangering the life of any necessary or important personnel.
–FROM THE NOTES OF DR. STEVEN BANKS, SYMBOGEN, OCTOBER 2027
The grate in the changing room wall opened onto a snug vent that was at most two feet across and a foot and a half tall. I squirmed my way inside, grateful that the phobia instilled in me by the psychologists at SymboGen had focused on car crashes instead of on tight spaces. This would have been enough to make even a mild claustrophobe lose their composure, and that was while I was still close enough to the opening for a small amount of light to filter in and allow me to see. It was going to be all about touch from here on out.
At least it was too narrow for Sherman or Kristoph to come after me. Ronnie would fit, but it would take a while for whoever was watching the monitors to realize that I wasn’t emerging from the dressing room. No matter what, I would have a lead before he came after me, and that meant that I might actually have a chance. Bracing my weight on my elbows, I began pulling myself inexorably forward into the dark.
The light faded within ten feet of the entrance. I was just starting to wonder how long this tunnel could go when my fingers hit the wall. I stopped where I was, feeling around for where the tunnel branched. There were openings to both my left and my right. They felt like they were roughly the same size, but there was more dirt and grit to the left, which implied that air normally flowed in that direction. Since air would flow from the outside, that meant I needed to go right. I shuffled back a foot or so, and then pulled myself cautiously around the corner, continuing my slow progress into the dark.
The slow pounding of my heart in my ears distracted me from the otherwise absolute silence in the vent: without the air conditioner or heater running, the only sounds were the ones that I made. That was good. It made it easier for me to listen for pursuit. I stopped every ten feet or so, cocking my head and trying to focus back through the dark for signs that I was being followed. There weren’t any, as yet. That didn’t mean that they weren’t coming. I needed to keep going as fast as I could.