Science Fiction

Parasite

12:37:00 AM

“I celebrate that we found you. We were forced to induce a coma to curtail brain damage.”
Shiilak’s staccato voice fell like hammers on Heather’s eardrums. His English was interspersed with pauses and his wording unusual, yet grammatically perfect. She thought she could discern real concern through the strange alien intonation.
“How bad is it?” she asked.
“We are in the belief it is the Shaar parasite, which afflicted our ancestors multi-hundred years ago. We eventually grew resistant to it and had long thought it to be extin—”
“Well is there anything you can do about it?” she interrupted.
“Perhaps. But this is the most pernicious pathogen our history documents. It is a computational parasite—it carves out regions of the host brain for its own purposes, while the authentic… no, original... spore dissolves without traces. Those portions of the brain are reprogrammed and become the parasite.”
“There has to be a treatment, right?”
“We must rebuild the severed neural connections before the reprogramming concludes. You are fortunate we found him in time. He lay unconscious with brain activity indicative of hallucinations. I mustered the foresight to promptly put him in a coma.”
“Are there any risks to the procedure?” she managed.
“Death. Despite the similarity between our species, our relative unfamiliarity with the human neurophysiology will complicate matters”, Shiilak explained.
“And the prognosis if left untreated?” Heather’s voice came out weak.
“Progressive insanity, followed by certain, painful death. At least in us Tsaleks.”
Heather felt lightheaded. She looked up at the sky and was greeted by the strange alien cityscape, lazily lit by a bright red sun. Buildings shot up like glistening tentacles deep into the sky—intertwining, separating, then intertwining again. Some seemed to circle back towards her, threatening to scoop her up. It was as though the verisimilitude of the whole situation was slipping away. She realized she had collapsed to her knees.
“Take me to him. I need time to think it over”, she said, trying to compose herself.
“A luxury we do not have. You have three of your hours.”

***

Jason lay on an impeccable white bedding surrounded by sterile metal walls. His chest rose and fell in tandem with the rhythmic pulsing of the bionic medical apparatus. The lighting in the room had a strange, clinical quality to it—it seemed to pervade the room uniformly with no apparent source, and cast no shadows. Heather sat wordlessly beside him, staring at his limp body. The austere surroundings and the bizarre control panels—designed, no doubt, for Tsalek ergonomics—did little to comfort her.
Shiilak had said Jason could probably hear her, but she didn’t speak. Her mind instead wandered to the events of the past several years. She wanted to tell herself this was just another hurdle, just another exploding power relay or a decompressing hull breach, just another barrier they’ll eventually break through, like she and Jason always did.
The journey that had brought them to this planet mere days ago had been nothing short of nerve-wrecking—right from the moment they had received The Signal seven years ago. In defiance of the Earth governments, a small group of scientists and engineers had launched in humanity’s first superluminal spaceships, to investigate the first signs of intelligent life in the cosmos. That was three years ago. The celebrations among the skeleton crew had quickly faded into monotony, and then into increasingly neurotic periods of apprehension interrupted only by tragedies. She saw the other two spaceships succumb to the unforgiving harshness of space. She saw her other crewmates perish one by one to mishaps and suicide. She didn’t blame them. Traveling in the barrenness of space for so long, where the only indicator of progress is a readout on a screen, you begin to question the existence of Earth itself. But she and Jason had pulled through it all. Jason had pulled both of them through. Sweet Jason—like an anchor to her past, an anchor to reality. In college they would—
Her reverie was broken by Shiilak’s entrance.
She nodded at him.

***

Jason woke up with a splitting headache. He was still groggy, but he could tell something was different. He felt… more. Too much.
Heather and Shiilak were standing next to him. “You were infected by an ancient Tsalek parasite”, Shiilak began to explain.
Jason heard sounds. His attention jumped to the vibrations in his eardrums. He saw Fourier transforms. Then he recognized the words and then realized their meaning. Something was not right. His heart had started pounding. He had started pounding his heart.
“Your digestive, pulmonary, cardiac… in fact, all your organ systems except the musculoskeletal, were disconnected from conscious control. We managed to restore the severed neural pathways.”
“Wait what? That's not how humans work!” exclaimed Heather with a start.
“How do you mean? And what about the hallucinations?”
Jason instinctively released a large dose of adrenaline into his bloodstream. He momentarily observed the progress of vasoconstriction in his facial tissue, before yelling at Shiilak.
“There was no parasite! I was dreaming, you idiot…”
His voice trailed off as his attention was distracted by the micro-tears forming in his strained vocal cords. He began to formulate the optimal repair strategy.

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