V: To see the Sunrise.
I duck back around the corner, and slide noiselessly into one of the nearby rooms. I push the hopelessness away as I silently close the door behind me, thinking. You could give up; you might find life as a puppet fun. The parasite almost sounds hopeful. You could give up; you might find life as a lab sample fun. Better yet, shut up; you might find dying less painful. I almost feel it sigh as though resigned to a long yet already decided fight. We'll see; I'm not giving up. God wouldn't have put me in this position unless He also gave me a way out.
Think, focus. That's not an easy proposition anymore; maintaining vocalized thought is getting harder. I pull up the map on my wrist device, study it carefully. Places like this almost always have other ways out to avoid being death traps. What about the infrastructure? Maintenance hatches, ventilation...score! There, northeastern corner; the entire facility shared a maintenance zone which opens directly to the surrounding stone. It was filled with water pipes, oxygen pumps, and electrical work, but a tall ladder lead directly from the mine to a hatch surface.
Aghast, I sink to the floor. Why hadn't I noticed that earlier? I would be out by now. The malevolent mocking laughter of the parasite danced around my head. Right; stupid question. The light from the screen suddenly stabs into my eyes, and I wince away from it as the rest of the room is suddenly illumined. Has the power been restored? No; it's all blue. No power, just the parasite. I grit my teeth so hard I feel one crack, savagely shaking my head to clear my vision.
It doesn't clear. Fine; I'll use it. Night vision could come in handy. I fumble for the controls on my wrist, and dim the map, looking for the nearest access to the maintenance zone...again, I have to resist swearing; mad cackling laughter danced through my head like a ballerina hopped up on too much caffeine. The nearest hatch is at the end of the corridor. I have to cross in front of the lobby and its inhabitants.
There's nothing for it; it's the only way. Clearly, I cannot wait and be patient. I inhale deeply, get to my feet. Suddenly, for one terrifying moment it feels like I'm drifting above my body, watching it move on its own accord as it swiftly approaches the door, moving without care for silence. I push against the feeling with all my will, and regain control of myself. Dang. Nearly there! You're very strong, you know. Most of your kind succumbed within moments. The Mind will be interested in you. The mind can sniff a well-used toilet, and you along with him. In fact, why don't you both dive in, and I'll laugh maniacally as the water swirls you away with the rest of the p--
Yancy. Focus. It's trying to make you waste time. The door is already open partway, but I pull at it gingerly, opening it silently. The way I figure it, I've got one shot, and it's more of a shotgun than a silenced pistol. Without thinking about it too much, usually the way all brilliant ideas start, I take off running down the hallway.
This time, I don't care about being quiet, I don't care about not bringing attention to myself. I care about speed. I'm faster than your average bear, so my only hope is to reach the access hatch before the things catch me. It is, in hindsight, not a very good plan.
They screech alarm as soon as I cross their line of sight, but I don't care. The adrenaline and pants-dampening fear will only help me pour on the speed. I'm running so fast that the doors are passing like blurs; the maintenance hatch is approaching rapidly. Please don't let it be locked, Father. Please, I beg you. Don't beg; it's demeaning. If you ask me--
I didn't. Be silent; mock me if you wish, but do not mock my God. The strength of conviction which awoke within me silence's the parasite as I reach door and stop running by careening into the wall. The beasts are right behind me; I frantically scrabble at the hatch, pull it open and slide in without a moment to spare. The beasts slam into it as I pull it shut, nearly closing my foot in the door. It doesn't lock from this side, so I summon all my strength and snap the handle off, praying that will booger the mechanism to the point they can't open it.
It does; after much screaming and fussing and banging at the door, the crowd on the other side silences. Which is not as comforting as I thought it would be. At least I knew where they were. I spare a few precious seconds to examine my surroundings; I'm standing on a narrow platform on the exterior or the facility. Below me is a deep abyss reaching to the bottom of the Station; I can just see the sandy floor below, thanks to my new eyes. Door after door, platform after platform, stretches below me, wrapping all around the structure like a giant metal girdle.
In front of me, ten feet away across a gap, is the ladder, reaching to the floor and deeper, presumably into the mine. Above me it stretches up and hopefully out; I can't see the top. I forgo lowering the short bridge, and just leap out over the abyss, snatching hold of the ladder with ease. Making that jump was too easy for my normally short self, and I don't want to think about why.
I start climbing, hand over hand, foot over foot. After awhile, I hear doors being thrown open below, feel the ladder vibrating as they leap onto it. I'm being followed, so I pick up the pace. I'm almost running up the ladder until I stop short, limbs frozen. I try and force them to move onwards, but they won't. I'm suddenly hungry; starving. I want to feed, I need to feed, but I can't until the cursed star moves to the other side of the world. I need to return to the nest and sleep until then; until the Mind says to go. I start climbing down the ladder.
NO. FOCUS! MY NAME IS YANCY. I AM A HEALER. I WAS SENT HERE TO RESCUE THESE PEOPLE. Gasping, I wrench my mind back, and force my strangely long limbs to climb upwards over the rusty, moist ladder. My hands are blackened from it, or at least I hope that's why they're blackened. Oh well. Almost. Never. Never never ever, never ever ever, EVER. Nevereverneverever. If you spell it Nevereven it's a palindrome, so never even got control of my mind, because palindromes are unbeatable. IT IS LAW.
I'm unraveling. It feels like I'm controlling my body like a marionette, watching it as it climbs the ladder. Just call me Pinnochio, but I cannot tell a lie, so maybe I'm George Washington instead, and this mine is the Cherry Tree. But that's a myth; it was really an alien parasite ol' G-Dubs was chopping down. I've been climbing for awhile now, almost an hour. Surely I'm near the top? The world's spinning, so I must be. I'm still hungry. So hungry. Wouldn't it be nice to sleep in the nest, the cool cool nest? To sleep until the next feeding?
Sure, but it would also be nice to save all those people. Oh, and myself. It would be nice to not be a horrifying reptile-monster stuck in a dingy mine for all of eternity. Or so I suppose; I've never actually been done that, so some turds would say I have no point of reference, and thus I cannot say it's wrong. Idiots. I'd spit on them if they were in front of me, but something else is in front of me...Hey, is that a door? You should open that.
No, don't. I watch my body pull back, questioning. Yes, that's right. Above is death, destruction, the murder of thousands of your fellowmen.
No. No, it's life. Life for thousands, life for everyone. It's a great cereal, but also a great thing in general. Focus Yancy; please, just...just open the door.
My body is struggling, raising a clawed hand to the hatch, then pulling back, almost opening it, then pulling back with a hiss. All I want is food and sleep. I begin to back down the ladder.
WAIT. There's food on the other side of the door! And it's much closer than in the nest. No waiting needed either! The thought sickens what little is left of my mind, but my body pauses, considering. I push forward. Yes, food; dozens, hundreds, all for the eating. All you have to do it push the door open and attack.
It's a trap! Don't do it, the sun is still high, and you are not yet complete. Wait a few more minutes.
No, it's not! I've been down here for a very long time, and the sun is surely down. The parasite just wants to control you, wants to keep you from feeding. It's pretending to be the Mind, and you know how the real Mind feels about slaves that question its authority. I reach up and slowly begin to open the door. Yes! NO! Don't go slow, they'll see you and shoot! Throw the door open in a surprise attack! Throw it NOW!!!
After a single moment of hesitation, of my will balanced on a thread, I do. I fling the door open, dust pours in with a dry gust of hot wind, and beautiful glorious sunlight rains down upon me like the fury of a thousand stabbing blades. The parasite is shrieking in the back of my mind, as are the infected people below me, so very close. But I laugh through the pain, laugh at the freedom, laugh at the safety, and the sun beams down upon me. I lock my arms tightly around the ladder lest I fall back down the shaft. The parasite has lapsed into silence; the balloon in my head deflates. After a moment I feel confident enough to pull myself out and roll languidly in the sand as fire envelops me.
I hear shouts and running feet, and soon I'm surrounded by dozens of heavily armed and armored soldiers, their gazes a mix of fear and concern, guns half pointed in my direction. I have no idea what I look like, but from their eyes, I guess my natural beauty isn't at the forefront.
“Tell the doc I've got his parasite sample,” I wheeze. My voice sounds strange, breathy and hollow, “And tell Davison I'm putting in for vacation.” At that point, the pain finally pulls me into that happy state of unconsciousness, where I stayed for the next few hours.
It didn't take the docs long to figure out a way to kill the parasite. Sunlight on its own would do the trick, as mine was more than half dead when they cut it out of me. Unfortunately, that tended to kill the host as well. Remember that whole “cannot die” thing? Yeah, it came into play. So they came up with a gas instead that would poison it, stop the mutative effects, and slowly allow the infected people to be weaned off.
Without the blasted things in their bodies, the people regained their own minds, and contacted the surface, wondering why they all resembled horrifying monsters. It's a fair question, and I'll bet you're wondering too. Happy days, I have the answer. A race of people called the Zaltahnians, being jealous of the Earth miners success and wanting the minerals for themselves, had slipped the first parasite onto the base in a mail package, hoping the entire mining core would mutate into the Collective, a race hated and hunted by almost all civilization, and cause a huge bounty hunt to start, with the benefit of putting the mines up on the market. Oh Industrial sabotage, will you never stop hurting innocent people? Last I heard, the miners were pursuing a hefty lawsuit, and winning hand over fist. I've no complaints; I'll even testify if called.
Ready for more happy? As it turns out, no one actually died; once the parasites infect a person, they became one of the Collective, a nasty reptilian species from one of the shadow planets. A genetically modified retrovirus counteracted most of the effects, returning people to normal after a few weeks treatment. Those fully transformed will need a bit more medical attention; but as the Healers are good at healing and have promised aid, that should be no problem. They'll be unlizarded in no time.
As for me, well, I returned to normal soon after they pulled the bedimmed thing out of me. It's my own personal theory that the only reason I didn't regenerate at first was so I could bring a living parasite with me for the docs to use. I had a long talk with God later assuring Him I wouldn't have minded carrying it in a Ziploc, or a bucket of some sort, but I've reason to believe His way worked best, even if it was...uncomfortable.
I still have the fangs though. Not as gnarly as they were at first, granted, but I swear my canines are still longer than they were before. That's OK;
I've got a cape and a hunger for the trophy from the annual Halloween costume contest.
This report is an excerpt from evidence submitted by the Healers Inc (Spec. concerning Yancy Cormorant). to general Intergalactic Justice court, case 109797034312/E, Earth Miners vs the Zaltahnian High Mining Guild. Case was later ruled against the Zaltahnians because they were deemed incompetent idiots, since no intelligent being would risk the forming of a Collective just to gain access to a mine.