Excalibur Books presents an excerpt from another story included in the forthcoming anthology “Dimensions Unknown 2020: Warriors of Olympia”. Here, Donald Flynn speculates on what changes could transform society in first Japan, and then the world, in years to come …
THE GOD SYMBIOTE (EXCERPT)
Tetsu approached the door to the office and listened intently. There was no noise. Mitsuko was sleeping at last. He worried over how many sleeping pills she had taken. It took a couple just to get her to calm down lately. He quietly turned the knob and peered inside. She was sprawled across the futon, the covers wrapped around her body. Dark hair fell over her face. She breathed heavily and licked her lips while he watched. Her eyes remained closed. Reassured, he gently shut the door and went to their bedroom to dress for work.
She had been sleeping in the office for a few months now. His pleas for her to return to their bed were routinely waved away. Her depression was deepening. Often, when he returned home in the evening, she was still in the same spot, watching videos on her Firefly device. She had gained weight and had dark half-moons under her eyes. She seemed fine in the early evening, but as the night wore on, she would become listless. He often found her lying in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. Offers of tea or biscuits were refused. She used to down most of a bottle of sake before bed, but thankfully she had abandoned the habit. She would wake up the next morning sick to her stomach, and the heavy cloud around her would leave her catatonic.
A recent doctor visit had suggested her problem, which Tetsu suspected. Mitsuko’s Theian cohort was no longer active. There was a chance it could have entered a period of stasis, usually a temporary condition of inactivity. But the doctor said it was likely that it was dead. If that was the case, it would mean getting a new one, and they were terribly expensive.
A few decades back, when humans briefly colonized Mars, a number of small, rudimentary life forms were discovered. A tiny worm resembling an acanthocephalin was one of them. It was round with two fleshy hooks at one end. It looked like a parasite, but scientists couldn’t find its host. After much searching, they speculated that maybe the host had recently become extinct due to the new human presence. When two of the worms were placed together in a dish, however, they latched onto each other. The two organisms thrived for a few weeks, then they both expired suddenly. Biologists couldn’t tell why. It was clear though that they could rely on each other for survival for a time, if necessary. Some believed that they had lost their original hosts at some point in the past, and they had adapted to symbiotic relationships within the species.
Years into the study, a reckless student decided on his own to introduce the parasite into his body. Injection into the bloodstream produced no results, but when he placed it in his eye, within days he felt an effect. At unpredictable times of the Martian day or night, the young student would have epiphanies. Maslow’s peak experiences. Sudden, brief glimpses into enlightenment. The bracing, exhilarative spiritual bliss that devout believers would sometimes report as they meditated, chanted, or prayed. Other members of the expedition recalled passing the student in the hallways or work areas as he sat dazed against the wall. They had to intervene to get him to move again and refocus on his tasks. It was believed that the student probably was in the grip of an epiphany when he was caught outside in a massive sandstorm on the Martian surface. His breathing equipment malfunctioned, and he suffocated. Afterwards, other team members submitted to having the organism introduced in their bodies under tightly controlled conditions. It was found to relieve their difficult feelings over being so far from home. More of the organisms were harvested and sent to earth.
When it was discovered how to breed them, they became a product. They were the answer to the stress and malaise of early 22nd century living. Those who could afford them enjoyed a longer, more fulfilling life. After the climate breakdown and the sixth mass extinction, the cost was deemed worthwhile.
Tetsu couldn’t afford another one. They’d spent a large portion of their savings getting Theian cohorts several years before. He would have to look in the black market. They only cost a third as much there. The downside was that black market cohorts were not as reliable. Sometimes they weren’t even Theian cohorts, but an impostor that often led to horrible brain infections.
One night after work, Tetsu had arranged for a local Buddhist priest to stop by their pod to talk with Mitsuko. He hoped the priest could lift her emotional shroud, at least until she could get a new cohort. As the priest approached the door, the security camera activated and the image appeared on the monitor in the kitchen. Tetsu looked closely at the screen. The image wasn’t what he expected.
Tetsu opened the door to the priest. He was wearing a light gray robe and loafers with white socks. But he was not Japanese.
“Good evening. Thank you for inviting me,” the priest said, in Tetsu’s language.
“Good evening. Please come in. May I offer you something to drink?”
“Just water, please.”
Tetsu filled a cup with water and brought it to the priest. They sat in the living area. They were soon joined by Gijo, the couple’s butterscotch-colored tabby. The cat confidently mounted the couch and looked up at the priest, who smiled and extended a hand to pet him. Tetsu slyly studied the priest’s green eyes and olive skin. He had never met a foreigner before. The priest sensed Tetsu’s unfamiliarity with the situation and spoke first …
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