“As it turns out, dying is painful. Not in a, just stubbed my toe, kind of way, but more of a, the inner essence of my being is peeling away. It’s harder to describe than just stubbing a toe. It’s more like sandpaper scraping away at something internal, followed by the fire you might associate with peeling a scab before it’s ready. After that, there’s stretches of time where it feels like falling through the air. Everything is sickening and tilted the wrong way, but at least there’s still hope that when you hit the bottom-wherever that is-the spinning will stop.
I don’t like to think about it, though. If I’m going to die, I’d like to retain my dignity. So, through all the pain, through all the sickness, I push forward.”
“Right,” the specialist says. “But, if you could live, would you choose to?”
I leaned forward in my chair. Would I choose to live? Who wouldn’t choose to live? I could have slapped him. I told him as much. He laughed.
“Of course, of course. I just need to know, though, what is it worth to you? How much would you give up?”
I don’t have much to give up at this point.
“What’s it cost?” I ask.
I don’t like the sound of that. But if I die I lose everything anyway. I may as well give up everything and live.
“Let’s do it,” I say.
“From here on out, your life will belong to me. To do what I wish. To send where I wish. Understand?” The specialist says. I nod.
“Just make it go away.”
The specialist gets up and takes a syringe from his desk. The shot is ready. He knew all along that I would say yes. I wonder what would have happened if I would have said no.
“Do I have your permission to proceed?”
I hesitate, but only for a moment.
The specialist turns, grabs my arm, and plunges the needle past my skin. My body seizes and spasms. I can feel the infection trying to fight back.
“Doc!” I say. My mouth can’t open all the way. My words are just noise.
“Be still,” the specialist says. “It’s almost done.”
The sandpaper shears away at me. It shreds my inner being. The fire pours in. Then, I’m falling. I throw up. It’s different now. Before, when I fell, I was connected to my body. Now my body slips away from me. I’m suspended there, looking down at the pile of meat and bones that used to hold me.
I speak, but my words are as empty as my body – they vanish before they pass my lips. The specialist sits behind his desk and picks up another syringe. He sticks this one in his own arm, convulses, and then slumps over.
I start moving toward him. I cry out, but the words are less than whispers.
As I connect with the specialist, refreshing water runs over me. The sandpaper stops. The burning stops. The falling stops. I settle into the specialist’s body. We are combined. United.
A cacophony of voices surrounds me. They rise up like thunder. There’s thousands-millions.
“Where are we?” I ask the voice nearest me.
“We are one with the specialist now.” His words scare me, but I feel better than I have in a long time.
“The infection is gone?” I ask.
“All gone. The specialist saved us. We’re alive. Alive like never before.”
“What do we do now?”
“There are still those who are infected. There are still more to be saved.”
I see through the eyes of the specialist now. I watch as my old body changes. It mutates before me and becomes the mirror image of the specialist’s own body. The body rises and smiles.
“We have work to do,” the specialist says.
E.C. Lee is a builder of worlds and a crafter of characters (most of whom choose not to listen to him). When he isn’t reading or writing, he’s enjoying any time spent with his wife and daughter, or he’s dutifully serving as the official court minstrel to his dog, Kilter. Follow him on Twitter.