Nate had no answer for Tim. He’d already said he was going to take the symbiont from Bradley, who had been freaking out for several minutes—or the symbiont inside him had.
Bradley belched into his hand and held out the slug, his goofy grin as vacant as always. If ever Nate needed a reason, it was now, but nothing came to him. He braced himself. This alien creature was not going to take over his mind.
“It’s okay,” said Jack. His color was almost back to its normal palishness. “It’s like having company in your head. That’s all.”
“Down the hatch,” said Tim.
“No!” Jack grabbed Bradley’s wrist and carefully picked the creature from his hand. “Just let him go where he wants. He knows.” He held it up towards Nate’s mouth like a eucharistic offering. The slug reached and twisted toward him.
Nate closed his eyes and opened his mouth. The cool, fleshy creature squirmed toward the back of his throat as he closed his mouth. A taste like aspirin joined a slight electrical buzz, and it disappeared. Nate visualized it boring into his heart.
—That’s not what I’m doing at all.—
—I’m nowhere near your heart.—
I’m not going to kill my friends.
—Why in the world would you kill your friends?—
You can’t make me, Feepin.
—I have no intention of making you. You can think or do whatever you want.—
I’m sure that’s what you want me to think.
—Go ahead. Think about something. I won’t control it.—
How do I know you aren’t making me think that I’m thinking what I want with my own volition? In fact, everything I think and do now is affected by having you here. I’m not going to think anything. You can’t make me.
“Holy cow, he looks like his head is going to explode,” said Tim.
“I had an angry Pac-Man frog that looked like that,” said Bradley.
“Nate?” said Jack. “Everything okay, Nate?”
“I think so,” said Nate. He kept his voice firm. “I’m just coming to terms with my little visitor.”
Did I just say that, or did you make me? I would have no way of knowing, and no way of testing it. I’m telling you right now that I will not capitulate, and I won’t kill my friends.
—How do you think I feel? Every time I bring on a new host I go through the same thing. First I separate from everything I’ve known for an entire lifetime, and my thoughts go blank. Then I have to re-engage with some strange mind not knowing what to expect and suffer through whatever bizarre notions they have about Milk Duds.—
Hey! Stay out of that part of my brain.
—Not to mention the fact that I almost always have to start with a baby Nitrilii, which isn’t much more brain than I have when I’m alone. And you want to know the worst part of it? For all the strangeness and wonder that I get from connecting with you earthlings, I won’t remember one bit of it when I go to the next host.—
Wait. You’re next host won’t know anything about my mind even though you were completely aware of it?
—Correct. I won’t know anything about it then. I leave your entire brain behind.—
Nate took a big sigh of relief. No one was going to know about the Milk Duds.
Okay… I think I can deal with this, just—no killing.
“How much longer until we reach the space station?” asked Nate.
“We’re still looking at about eighty hours,” said Bradley.
“Can you hang on?” asked Jack.
“I’m fine,” said Nate. “As long as I don’t picture any of you with gravy.”
“What about you, Feepin?” asked Jack. “How are you doing?”
Nate spoke. “It’s very constricted in here, but I’ll manage for a little while.”
What do you mean ‘it’s constricted in here?’
—I don’t know. It’s a feeling I get in the few brain cells my corpus possesses.—
Jack patted Nate on the back. “Well, we’ve got one more host you can use, so—”
“To hell you say,” said Tim.
“I was about to say,” said Jack, “Hold on as long as you can with Nate because we only have one host left.”
“To hell you say.”