After walking out of the hotel and down the street in the opposite direction from which they’d come, it didn’t take long before Peter and Michelle found themselves in an area where there was far less poverty. The two saw the occasional homeless person, but not rows of tents of them.
“It’s good to see that not all of Regent Park is as badly off as I’ve heard,” she said.
“Didn’t I tell you that there were some nicer areas?” he said. “I just wish my parents had provided better for the worse-off here.”
After another block of walking, they reached a building with a sign that read, Dr. Phil Gordon’s Clinic, Virus Testing, ENT, and Other Medical Services.
“Here we are,” Peter said. “My doctor friend’s clinic.”
They went in and up the stairs to the second floor, where a sign on the door said the same as the one outside. They went in.
A nurse in a protective suit was at a desk. She looked up from her work and recognized Peter.
“Peter?” she said. “What brings you back here again? You don’t want another test so soon, do you?”
“Yes, both of us do,” he said.
“Wow, you never used to be this worried about viruses,” the nurse said.
“Well, strange things have been happening to both of us lately,” he said. “We really need to talk to Phil.”
“Well, Dr. Gordon should be finished with his patient in there in a few minutes,” the nurse said, gesturing to the examination room to her right. “Why don’t you both have a seat over there?” She now gestured to the seats in the waiting area on the other side of the room, opposite her desk.
“OK,” Peter and Michelle said together, then went over and sat.
She picked up a copy of The Mississauga Exposé. She flipped through the pages and found an article about the difficulties MedicinaTech was having creating an effective vaccine for The Splits.
“Peter, check this out,” she said, showing the story to him.
“Oh, of course,” he said. “And we both know why they’re having those difficulties, don’t we?”
A man in a protective suit walked out of the examination room. As he left the clinic, the doctor–with the examination room door still half-way open–recognized Peter.
“Hey, Peter,” he said. “Welcome back. Come on in.”
Peter and Michelle got up and approached Dr. Gordon.
“He still isn’t wearing one of these suits,” Peter said.
“Yeah,” she said, shaking a little.
They all went into the examination room, and Gordon closed the door behind them. “So, what brings you back here?”
“Well, for one thing, I’ve been meaning to ask you, Phil,” Peter said, “why you never have on a protective suit, like everyone else.”
“Well, I have to wear one outside of Regent Park, because out there everyone’s paranoid about The Splits, not so much here, and I don’t wanna worry them or make waves.”
“But why don’t you wear one here, too?” Michelle asked. “Your nurse is wearing one. Your last patient has one on, too.”
“Because I know, for a fact,” Doctor Gordon said, “that I’m never going to be ‘infected’ with The Splits.”
“How do you know that?” Peter asked, his eyes and mouth wide open.
“You know how, whenever people are known to be afflicted with The Splits, they first see a swarm of little, glowing balls of white light entering them?” the doctor said.
“Yeah,” Peter and Michelle said together, anticipating Gordon’s next words.
“Those things never enter my body,” he said with perfect self-assurance. “And I’ve seen them hover inches before my uncovered face too many times to count. I’ve tested myself every time after, too, just to be sure. All negative. I’m not even a symptomless carrier, like Hannah Gould.”
Peter’s and Michelle’s jaws dropped.
“There’s a kind of confession on your faces that you’ve had a similar experience, I’ll wager,” the doctor said, “or you’ve known others who’ve had that experience.”
“Actually, that just happened to both of us a few hours ago,” Michelle said.
“The little stars flew out of a carrier,” Gordon said, “one who had at least part of his body exposed, and instead of entering your bodies, they just floated in front of you both, as if they were checking you out to see if you were friends or foes?”
“Yeah, that’s how it seemed, anyway,” she said.
“That happened to me, and to a number of other people who’ve come here, too,” the doctor said. “I’d say you needn’t ever fear The Splits.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Based on all the observations I’ve made of this ‘Splits’ phenomenon, there seem to be about four different reactions to those little glowing things: death, as happened to both your parents, Peter, I’m sorry to hear; second, a struggle with those things, leading either to death, or survival and becoming a carrier, this latter which seems to have happened to Siobhan Buchanan, head of the Mississauga Exposé and the district–“
“That’s my mother, by the way,” Michelle said.
“Oh, you’re Michelle Buchanan,” Gordon said, putting out his hand to shake hers. “I read about your family in the papers. Sorry for the loss of your father. I trust your mom’s doing OK now?”
“Thanks,” she said, shaking his hand. “I guess so, though she acts strangely.”
“That’s the result of being a carrier,” the doctor said. “It changes you. And hey, Peter, why didn’t you introduce me to her? She’s your girlfriend, right? You talk about her enough when you come to see me.”
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting for you to introduce me,” she said to Peter, glaring at him. “Where are your manners?”
“Sorry,” he said in embarrassment. “Phil, Michelle; Michelle, Phil. I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
“He’s a little uncouth,” she said to the doctor while giving Peter a hug. “But I love him all the same.”
“Anyway,” Peter said, “what are the other two reactions?”
“The third reaction is what happened to Hannah Gould,” the doctor said.
“The wife of Derek Gould, MedicinaTech’s old CFO,” Peter said.
“Yes, he was the first victim, you know that,” the doctor said. “Hannah actually came here a week after the attack. After being in quarantine for a few days, they suited her up with a protective suit. She came here to talk to me about this supposedly medical issue. The little white lights enter you and only slightly change you, as happened to her–you feel a warm, vibrating feeling, and you’re a carrier. And the last reaction is nothing at all–no entry of the body, or what happened to us.”
“Why do you think there are these different reactions?” Peter asked. “Why do those things kill some, fuck other people up for a while, live in people’s bodies without harming them, or don’t touch us at all?”
“Well, when Hannah visited me, she took off her head covering and let those little stars fly out at me, though they did not enter me (my first experience of that, by the way). She said, ‘Their harming or not harming you depends on how sympathetic you are to the cause’.”
“Sympathetic?” Peter and Michelle said together with sneers.
“The ’cause’?” Michelle asked.
“When I dealt with patients who had The Splits, and their bodies were ripping apart, closing back together, and ripping apart again, there was a sense that they weren’t accepting what was going on inside themselves,” the doctor said. “Their bodies were rejecting those little glowing things, and that’s what was making their bodies tear apart.”
“And if the patient got better, he became a carrier, and had that changed, emotionless personality,” Peter began.
“Or personality with fake emotions,” Michelle added, thinking sadly about her mother.
“That all means they came to accept ‘the cause,’ whatever the fuck that is?” Peter asked.
“That’s how it has looked to me, every time I’ve seen it,” Gordon said. “And if they totally rejected those things, they ripped up into pieces and died. But the more accepting of them that a person is, the less they will bother him.”
“So they aren’t bothering us at all because we totally sympathize with whatever they want to do?” Peter asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“It seems that way,” the doctor said. “I can’t know for sure, but that’s the way it looks.”
“Well, I fail to see how I ‘sympathize’ with the killing of my father,” she said angrily.
“Or how I can ‘sympathize’ with the killing of both of my parents,” Peter said with even more anger.
“Hey, I don’t sympathize with any of the killings I’ve seen,” Gordon said. “Those things seem to go after powerful, influential people, not the powerless, hence we don’t see the homeless here with The Splits. Now, I don’t like the powerful any more than you do, Peter, but as a doctor, I don’t want to see the rich and powerful die any more than the powerless.”
“They attack only the powerful,” Peter mused. “This is no disease, is it, Phil?” he asked with fear in his eyes.
“Nope,” the doctor said, shaking his head in all self-assurance.
“Do you have any idea where those things came from?” Peter asked.
“When I talked to Hannah, she said she and Derek saw them flying down to them…from the night sky,” the doctor said, then heaved a sigh.
There was a moment of tense silence among them.
“You mean,” Peter said in a trembling voice, “that those things are from…?”
“Outer space?” Michelle said.
“Hey, you said that, not me,” Gordon said. “Hannah told me that the less we know, the better.”
“And you trust her?” Peter asked. “I’ll bet she knows, but is hiding valuable information.”
“I don’t know who to trust,” the doctor said. “But I do know how not to rock the boat. In any case, if you’re uncomfortable wearing those suits, I’d say you can take them off.”
Peter looked at Gordon askance and asked, with a sneer, “Why should we take them off?”
“Hey, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” the doctor said.
“Oh, I want to,” Peter said, “but…”
“Then take your suit off,” Gordon said.
“Do you want us to?” Michelle asked with a sneer.
“I don’t care either way,” the doctor said, noting the suspicion in their eyes and waving his hands to assure them that he had no hidden agenda. “Do whatever you want.”
Peter and Michelle just stood there, motionless and eyeing him carefully.
“Those things didn’t attack you before,” the doctor said. “Even if I’m a carrier and lying to you, I assure you, they won’t attack you now.”
He isn’t showing any of the carriers’ lack of emotion, Peter thought.
He isn’t showing the fake smiles my mother shows, Michelle thought.
Peter and Michelle looked at each other, then back at Dr. Gordon.
They ever so slowly took off their head coverings, ready for anything, ready to pop them right back on at the slightest sign of danger.
Then they ever so slowly unzipped their body suits, never taking their eyes off the doctor.
The suits came completely off.
Peter and Michelle breathed a sigh of relief.
“I told you you were safe,” the doctor said. “Do you think you can trust me now?”
“OK,” Peter said.
“Sorry,” Michelle said.
“Look, I have no idea what those things want,” the doctor said. “But I have reason to believe that they don’t think of the three of us as enemies. I have no idea why, but we’re not their enemies, or so they think.”
“I’d say they’re wrong about that,” Michelle said with a frown. “They killed my dad.”
“I’d say they’re wrong, too,” Peter said. “I lost both parents because of them. I may not agree with my parents’ politics, but that doesn’t mean I wanted them dead. Those little lights have got a big-ass enemy in me.”
Just when he finished his sentence, the glowing little dots flew into the room from an open window.
Peter and Michelle gasped. The doctor stayed cool.
The little lights just hovered before the faces of all three of them.
Peter and Michelle froze. Dr. Gordon leaned comfortably against his desk.
“You killed my father,” Michelle said with tears in her eyes. “I’m not your friend. Kill me now.”
“You killed my parents,” Peter said with gritted teeth. “I’m not your friend, either. Kill me now.”
The little dots just stayed there, hovering inches before them.
“Kill me now!” Peter yelled.
“Kill me now!” Michelle screamed.
After a few more seconds of hovering, the lights flew out of the window.
Peter and Michelle were still shaking a minute or two after.
“Now what?” Peter asked Dr. Gordon.
“I guess they don’t want to kill you,” the doctor said with a shrug.
“They have a plan for us, or something?” Michelle asked.
“Who knows?” Gordon said with another shrug. “I guess you won’t be needing a virus test, will you?”
“No, I guess not,” Peter said.
END OF BOOK ONE