Monday, 5 June, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Kate walks a little faster as she leaves Main Street and turns at last toward the Burlington Office Center. Up ahead, the brick building’s three levels glow in the morning sunlight, only partly obscured by the early leaves of parking lot trees. The parking area is practically a region of the Earth. It’s much more than just the parking lot for Kate’s building. There are four other buildings, three of them similar in form to the Triple AI office, but two of them—the two that Kate is walking between at the moment—are boarded and graffitied and the parking lot asphalt around them badly cracked. The world has been like this for as long as Kate can remember: aging, tawdry, badly cracked. Sometimes very badly indeed. From time to time she has wondered about it, wondering why things always seem to be going from bad to worse, from run-down to ruined to cataclysmic. Now, at last, she has a pretty good idea why.
How long have the parasites infected people? Have they always been here, like an astral version of tapeworms? Did they come from outer space? Did they first arrive in Grovers Mill, New Jersey on Sunday, October the 30th, 1938, using the War of the Worlds broadcast as their cover, and then immediately begin infecting everyone in the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network? Who the hell knows? And what’s the deal with a life-form that can only be detected in the astral realm, anyway? Is there a whole ecology up there? Living things on a whole new level? Do any other denizens of that realm prey upon unsuspecting humans? Is that what’s really happening every time somebody gets a migraine, or says “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess I’m just a little under the weather” ? Do people have astral immune systems that can fight these things off? Kate doesn’t know answers to any of these questions yet.
What she does know is that she has walked four miles and found a new life. There are no doubts in her mind any more. She is going to use her newfound abilities—wherever they may have come from—to watch, to learn, and finally to do whatever she can to free as many people as possible from the parasites. But as she looks forward to ending her long walk and getting back to her lovely office at last, she has a sobering thought. This new life is not going to be a cakewalk, it’s not going to be all wine and roses, it ain’t no party, it ain’t no disco.
Will it be like in Colin Wilson’s story, with parasite-controlled people actually attacking her? She doesn’t know.
She will have to move carefully at first, and she will have to be ready for surprises and disappointments. The first of which will probably be—Oh, no. Oh my gosh—the people in her new company. They are wonderful people and Kate loves them, but she is pretty sure that the mind parasites are very likely in every single adult human being on Earth who is above a certain age. From now on, and very likely for the rest of her life, even when she talks to the people she loves, Kate knows that if she shifts her eyesight in just that special way that she has recently learned, she will see those inch-thick gray glistening worms writhing out of the backs of people’s head. Every one of them.
That cannot be allowed to matter. That cannot be allowed to stop her.
As Kate walks, sunlight winks on broken glass on the third floor of an abandoned building to her right. Whatever has happened to her to make her able to see these things, she will never bring herself to wish that it had not happened. How could she ever wish to have herself re-infested, re-violated, the most intimate recesses of her mind made into nests for vicious vermin? No.
And yet, it is a lonely world that she is walking toward. Maybe there is an ascended master somewhere on a mountain peak in Tibet who has managed to remain uninfested, but the reality, which she has been half-consciously checking for the last half hour of walking, is that every single adult human being upon the Earth is infected. Every person who has driven past her in a car, every one of the small number of other pedestrians, every one of the more numerous people riding buses. Every one of them. Everyone.
And you know what that means, girl, don’t you? That means no more boyfriends for you. Not that you’ve ever had very many. And not that it was ever all that great when you did have one. Well, I’m glad you didn’t dig it all that much, because that is ended, all done, bye-bye, finito mucho. Somehow, I just don’t think I can get interested in a guy with a gray worm hanging out the back of his head. Is that a parasite in your mind, or are you just sad to see me?
Kate’s expression becomes more serious. Like Spiderman’s father said, With great power comes great loneliness. And, like Jesus said, The birds do it, the bees do it, even all the Pharisees do it, but the Son of Man hath no one with whom to get laid.
Kate takes a deep breath of the lonely springtime air. But she keeps walking.
In her seat at the reception desk, Nuriel touches a screen to accept an incoming call from Haniel. “I see your new young lady approaching,” she says. “A little late this morning.”
“Yes,” Haniel nods, and frowns. “I think—it would be best to mute the alarm.”
Nuriel raises an eyebrow.
“I think we may see something unusual, and there’s no need to alarm everyone again.”
“I assure you she’s not an enemy weapon. I don’t want anyone overreacting. I’ll be there in a few seconds. Just tie me in to the defensive scanner feeds.”
The display goes dark. Nuriel sighs, then makes the changes that Haniel has requested, finishing just moments before Kate Spence arrives under the awning that covers the approach to the front door.
“Now,” Haniel says, quite unnecessarily, reviewing the recording with Nuriel. They are in Nuriel’s private office on the human-inaccessible fourth floor. From here she can monitor all sensors in and around the building, and translate back down to her post at the reception desk is anyone approaches.
The floating display shows a view of the building’s front entryway as Kate Spence pulls open the front door. The view is from above her, looking down at a steep angle. In the lower right corner of the image, numbers change and a message is printed in red: “Human Standard Plus 4.5 Sigma. Alarm Suppressed.”
“She was plus two on Friday!” Haniel whispers. “She’s been plus two all her life!”
“Is that,” Nuriel frowns, “possible? For a baseline human?”
“Well, it never was before,” Haniel replies quietly.
“Hani,” Nuriel says, looking up at her in the glow of the screens, “I am uncomfortable.”
“Of course.” Haniel nods. “And if you feel you must speak with Michael then of course you must. But please consider. This is a young woman whom I have been watching for some time now. She is certainly no agent or tool of the Enemy. Yet here she is, suddenly developing in ways that we have never seen before. More rapidly than can be explained by any techniques that we or the enemy possess.”
“And this strange development is happening less than three months after our entry alarm activated for the first time ever? Which was when the young man Chris first entered? How do we know how long ago these changes in Kate actually began? And now the two of them may be forming an attraction?”
“Nuri,” Haniel continues, “whatever is happening here—it means something. I’m certain that the best thing to do is watch, and gather more information. But you know that if we tell Michael now—with Raphael and Gabriel both gone—you know what he’ll do. You know how cautious he’s become! He will say that we cannot take a chance. He’ll remove this child from us, from me. We can’t do that now. We must understand what is developing here. Even if it seems like a risk.”
Haniel looks down at her urgently. Nuriel is more senior, but has always been content to stay in the background, content to do the office work that is always needed. She has never been ‘in the field’. She has also long known how desperately Haniel wishes to teach. To have a human student.
“Please, Nuri,” Haniel says. “You know I’m right.”
After a long moment, Nuriel nods.
Having been at work for half an hour now, Kate walks slowly down the stairs toward the atrium feeling as though she is acting the role of her former self. Fortunately, everyone is buying it. She used the excuse of picking up last week’s timesheets to tour the second floor where the sales and marketing people work, people she doesn’t know very well. Now as she descends the stairs, she is feeling some reaction to what she has seen, like the first hints of the onset of an illness.
I am not totally sure that this is going to work.
It was one thing to tell herself that everyone is infected. It is quite a different thing to see it, in your own company, among the people you work with every day. And this was with the people she knows the least. How will she have the heart to go and see the guys, her Lost Boys, and see that they, too are fed upon? And, hardest of all, Chris.
Now she knows why those ascended masters go sit on mountain tops in Tibet. It just hurts too much.
With five steps to go before the polished floor of the atrium, Kate stops. Could she really just leave? Could she just walk away and get on a bus? Maybe with her new abilities, she could somehow make money easier? Maybe not go live in Tibet, but how about Kansas? Or Texas. Colorado. Anywhere. Someplace where she doesn’t have to see the people she has started to love being devoured, body, mind, and soul.
Really? And desert Mrs Pogany? Poor Jon looking so nervous to ask her out? Ulrich who laughs like a foghorn blowing? Neal pretending that he’s too cool to care whether everyone already knows that he’s gay? And Saed, and Brian, Mr ‘Smith’ and Haniel and—Kate takes a deep breath. And Chris.
She takes one more step and sets foot at last on the polished stone floor of the entry area and atrium. The stone tiles that look a million years old, hearing the sound of water from the atrium’s trickling-down-the-stone-wall waterfall. This is solid ground, girl. The Earth. Where decisions must be made, and then lived with.
Nora is not at her desk, but Kate takes one more step angling to the right, and, sure enough, there he is. Beautiful Chris, sitting in a pool of morning light among the Jurassic Plants, writing intently in an engineering notebook. A shiver runs through Kate’s body.
You are not going to be able to avoid this forever.
Steeling herself, she begins walking forward calmly, and shifts her eyesight in just that special way.
She knows she has it because, even now that she is so massively sophisticated, the world still takes on a bit of a pixelated look, a bit of a tint: a remnant of the way she saw things at first with the Tiny Blue Stars Behind Reality. This is what she has been doing for the last fifteen minutes upstairs. Now the atrium and its plants take on that special look, the look of the world-behind-the-world, and so do the two-story windows at the far edge, and so does the sunlight streaming I, and so does Chris.
And it is not there.
It is not there.
There is no gray worm in the back of Chris’s neck. No worm, no hole, no astral scar where there used to be a hole. Nothing but a beautiful, normal, well-formed young man’s neck.
He is clean.
He’s as clean as the seven-year-old girl at Kerrytown.
I’m a birdie!
An inadvertent gasp escapes Kate’s lips and she loses control of the stack of papers which go sprawling on the shining floor. Chris looks up at the sound, then sets his notebook aside and stands up when he sees the look on Kate’s face.
“Kate?” he asks. “Is everything OK?”
In her whole life, Kate Spence has never until this moment felt pure joy in the simple knowledge of the existence of another human being. She manages to nod and whisper “Yes!”, but then she just strides toward Chris, ignoring the papers she has dropped and not caring a bit about how it will look to anyone, and wraps her arms around him.
“Yes,” she says again, her cheek pressed against his shoulder. “Everything’s great.”
Chris doesn’t know what to do at first, but eventually he determines that he ought to do something, and haltingly returns her hug. He can feel her tears that have soaked through his shirt. After more seconds, he decides that one ought to say something when a friend is crying onto one’s shirt.
“It’s OK,” Chris tells Kate. “It’s going to be OK.”
“Yes!” Kate leans back to smile at him, and Chris sees the tears on her face. “Yes it is!”
Then she hugs him again and keeps on crying.