Standing in the ship’s shuttle bay next to a dead alien of unknown type, Jack had saved the symbiont’s life, and now he was horrified to be his slave.
—You’re looking at it wrong. Look at it as a job change.—
I don’t want a new job. I want to go home. Jack’s arms and hands flopped around like a demented hula dancer’s.
—I understand. But you sometimes take a job you don’t want. That doesn’t mean the job enslaves you.—
“Jack. What are you doing?” asked Nate.
“He just swallowed the slug,” said Tim.
“Just like my Skull and Bones initiation,” said Bradley.
“Hold on,” said Jack. But you’ve taken over my body.
—I haven’t. I can move your body, and I use your brain to process my thoughts, but I haven’t taken them away from you.—
If that’s true, I should be able to stop you from waving my hands around like some idiot.
—Oh.— Jack’s hands dropped. —I didn’t realize that was foolish. But you could have stopped them.—
“I tried,” said Jack.
“Tried what?” asked Tim.
“Ssh. Not talking to…”
—Well, you’re probably just a little freaked out with someone else moving you around.— Jack’s hands started waving again. —Try it now.—
Jack straightened his arms by his side and balled his fists.
How do I know you didn’t just let me?
—Hm. I guess you don’t, but can you take some comfort in the fact that I did let you?—
Nate grabbed Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, you’re scaring us—”
“Speak for yourself,” said Tim.
—You can trust me.—
“Tell us what’s happening,” said Nate.
“Why’d you eat the grub?” asked Tim.
—Go ahead and talk to them. You’ll eventually get used to simultaneous inside and outside discussion. If I survive.—
“It’s a symbiont,” said Jack. “The slug thing is…”
“You mean like on Star Trek?” asked Tim.
“Wait,” said Jack. “What do you mean, ‘If you survive?’”
“What are you talking about?” asked Nate.
“Not you,” said Jack. “I’m talking to the symbiont.”
“Does the thing have a name?” asked Bradley. His buck teeth showed in a half grin.
“That’s a great question,” said Jack. What is your name?
A cognitive shape formed in Jack’s mind, taking on feelings and syllables coalescing into what he could only express as ‘Feepin.’
“Your name is Feepin?” he asked.
—It feels right as you say it.—
What did you mean, ‘if you survive?’
—In our living memory, we have only ever joined with Nitriliis. You’re physiology is very different.—
Jack looked at the dead alien. It looked like a dark green brittle starfish with an orange blob on one leg with several protuberances and cavities, giving it an almost bilateral appearance.
—I am quite comfortable, but you may not provide what I need to live.—
“We’ve got to find some Nitriliis,” said Jack.
—See? That was your thought, not mine.—
Did you compel me to swallow you?
—Not at all. You did that on instinct to save another soul. Namely me.—
I’m a great guy. How do we find the Nitriliis?
—I don’t know. That knowledge was kept in the brain of my host.—
“Okay, guys,” said Jack. “This is a Nitrilii. And we’re going to find some of them.”
“What the hell for?” asked Tim.
“Because I’m a great guy,” said Jack. He wasn’t sure if it was Feepin or himself that said it, but at this point, he didn’t care.