For ysabetwordsmith‘s commissioned continuation of
From the moment they breathed our air (Lj) after: Staying in the City (LJ) and Spooks vs. Bugs (DW)
This came out a little strange, and I’m not certain it *entirely* got across what I was trying to do, but here it is.
Those who had already been bonded with a bug had a unique advantage over those who didn’t. They had many, many disadvantages: they shared their brain with a symbiote who could skim their thoughts, affect and shift those thoughts, alter moods, and take over their body. They were, because of that symbiote, tagged and lojacked, stuck, now that the bugs had been repulsed from continuing attacks, in small encampments behind enemy lines and even if they could get out, the humans had learned what to look for, and would often shoot them on sight.
On the other hand, they were behind enemy lines, with an enemy sharing mind-space with them, and the bugs did not seem to have a tradition of keeping secrets from their hosts. And they were learning how to reboot their symbiotes, giving themselves more and more time to talk – to plan, that was important – without their enemies overhearing.
And there were a host of things that they’d found the bugs just couldn’t handle. Ghosts and fae, that had been a fun one. Paula was still giggling about it – much to the consternation of her symbiote (The bugs had humor, but it was more on the lines of puns and clever-tricks than slapstick or situational comedy).
She wasn’t giggling about the chemical sensitivity – no one was. The expelled symbiote had died, and the host had nearly done so. But she hadn’t, and that told them something very useful. And the hosts were talking.
Talking was risky, of course. The symbiotes only stayed dormant for so long, and the “so” was hard to predict. And when they were awake, you had to trust yourself to not think about the plans, not even think that there were plans. You had to be very good at being a prisoner in your own mind.
She’d been going back and forth about that one for a while, when she had room to think, chewing over it, trying to figure out how to plot a rebellion against something in your own head. The ghosts helped, but the bugs were beginning to understand them and, as they understood them, were less likely to glitch out.
The chemical sensitivity was trapping the bugs into environmentally-controlled ships, buildings, and bubbles, which, in the end, would probably give the rest of the world the tools they needed to defeat their enemy. But it did nothing for those already bonded, if they didn’t happen to have asthma or a chemical sensitivity.
For all of her mulling over it, Paula ended up almost literally tripping over her solution.
Her symbiote, for all the little it talked to her, had clearly been worried ever since the woman with chemical sensitivity had rejected her invader. That had, she gathered, never happened before. But if it had happened once, the bug seemed to think, could it happen again?
It sent waves of pleasure-feelings through Paula in an urge to soothe and, she thought, bribe her: ::good human, you wouldn’t kick me out to die?::
::I don’t know how.::
But it could be done. Somehow. Somehow, if its body thought it was dying from you. Which was easier said than done, she was pretty sure, short of poison, short of actually almost-killing-yourself. Which really didn’t solve the problem.
And then she tripped over Anya.
Anya was new to their collection of hosts, a slight girl with a nervous tic and a habit of staying in the back of any conversation. She’d seemed shy but not all that unstable when Paula met her, but now, she was curled up in a corner, staring into space.
“What is it?” Paula asked her gently.
“My meds,” the girl admitted. “Without them, without them it’s hard to stay calm. I have to work to remember that the voices in my head aren’t real, and the worst part of it is, now, one of them is.”
One of them is. She sat down next to Anya, carefully not thinking of anything but the girl’s problem. “How do you normally deal with the voices in your head?” she asked. She’d had a friend in college with panic attacks… and another one who learned how to self-induce them to get out of tests.
“I tell them they’re not real,” Anya whispered. “And then they stop bothering me for a while.”
“Have you tried,” she asked, even more slowly, “trying that with the bug?”
“I…” She closed her eyes, and curled up on herself. “This isn’t real,” she murmured. “You’re not real. You’re just a figment of my imagination, and I don’t need to listen to you.”
When she opened her eyes, she seemed happier, more human – and Paula had the beginnings of a plan.
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