‘The Splitting,’ A Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Expanded Version, Book IV

Book IV

Chapter One

2033, Fort Leavenworth, ExxonMobil Correctional Facility

Peter sat on his bed in his cell with a permanent frown, his smartphone in his hands, searching for another video to watch.

Apart from trying to keep abreast of what had been going on in the world since his, Michelle’s, and the other sympathizers’ arrests, he was using the videos as distractions from everything he had to be miserable about. As distractions, though, the videos weren’t of much use, of course.

He tried to forget his and Michelle’s treason trials and convictions. Their protestations, as well as those of their defence attorneys, that the Bolshivarians were trying to help the world, fell on deaf ears. Their counter-accusation–that it was the armies of the world that were the real war criminals, having killed hundreds of thousands of people with the nuclear bombs dropped on Santiago, Lagos, and Jakarta, all to draw out the Bolshivarians so they could be sprayed with bug toxins, killing not only the aliens but millions of human carriers as well–also fell on deaf ears. Having judges who were paid for by, and therefore sympathetic to the interests of, the governments, corporations, and military, is what caused that deafness, of course. 

The only good thing about that morning was that he, for some reason not explained to him, didn’t have to do hard labour all day that day; nor did the other sympathizers, who were just as unaware of any reason for this relief from work as he was. 

Leavenworth, like so many other places over the 2020s, had been given such a thorough makeover that the current fort would have been almost completely unrecognizable to anyone who knew it back in the 2010s. The fact that Exxon-Mobile had taken it over and privatized it was most of the reason for the sweeping changes, including not only the radical changes to its physical form, but also the new incarceration of civilians, females, and non-Americans. After all, countries only continued to exist in name, essentially, so one didn’t have to be an American, or even a native of Kansas, to be incarcerated in the new Leavenworth. 

All one had to do was offend the privatized armies of the 2030s. 

Peter heard the clanking of metal on the bars of his cell. He looked up from his phone to see Corporal Culig, one of the prison guards, giving him a tray of food.

“Here’s your breakfast, traitor,” Culig said as he put the tray through a horizontal rectangular hole in the bars. “I hope you choke to death on your bacon and eggs,” he added, a typical comment from him.

Neither Peter, nor Michelle, Wendy, Pat, Valerie, nor Sid were allowed even to eat in the prison cafeteria, for fear they’d sit together at a table and reminisce about old times in Venezuela or Angola. Part of their punishment was to be deprived of friendly company for the rest of their lives.

He took his tray from Culig, thanking him with a scowl. He took it back to the bed and sat back down.

I miss Michelle, he thought. I miss her touch. I miss looking at her pretty face.

He found a video of a crowd of people on the streets of Paris protesting the nuclear bombings of the previous year. His grasp of French was good enough to know that they were also sympathizing with the slain aliens, for he saw placards that had such messages as, “Killing Bolshivarians is also a war crime!” and “No to nuclear war!”

He was struck by the huge range of emotions he saw in the protestors…he was struck by the fact that there even were protestors!

Didn’t all those vaccines numb away all the spirit of resistance from everybody? he wondered. I thought all the sympathizers were arrested. This protest is commemorating the first anniversary of the bombings. This video was taken only last week! Surely it’s going to be deleted any time now; I’m surprised it’s still up. How is all of this possible? We lost!

Then he Googled more information, that of independent bloggers. He found one, published just a few days before, titled, “How the Vax Got Vanquished.” The writer said, “I went about every day like a zombie, just doing my job without any feeling or interest. Then one day, someone touched my arm, a carrier of the aliens. I saw the little lights go out of his fingers and into my body. I was so numb from the effects of the vaccines I’d been made to take that I didn’t feel scared; if my body was to be torn to pieces, I just thought, ‘Oh, well…’ But instead, I felt that emotional numbness fading out of me. I started to feel something I hadn’t felt in years…emotions. Energy. Drive. Passion. And most importantly, joy! A touch of the aliens cured me! I’ve heard stories from many other people who’ve had the same experience.”

They’re still alive, Peter thought. They’re not all dead, after all. And the article is still online.

He searched for more information to explain all these odd developments. He found a YouTube video, again recently published, of a woman standing before the camera and saying the following:

“We all know of how governments around the world have been testing people to see if they’re carriers of the Bolshivarians. It has been assumed that, by now, they have all been found and, on exposure, been killed–that is, the human carriers are shot, and the Bolshivarians are exterminated with the bug spray toxins.

“This, however, is far from the truth, as I’ve been tested and allowed to pass, alongside many other carriers.” To prove her assertion, she let the tiny dots of light flow out of her fingers and towards the camera screen.

They’re alive, he thought with a smile. They’ve been hiding, but they’re coming back.

“You sympathizers out there in the world,” she went on, “I say this hoping you’ll hear my words before this video is removed from the internet: don’t lose hope. We have non-carrier sympathizers conducting the tests and allowing carriers to pass them undetected. We’ll all be free sooner than you think.”

He was so excited, he’d forgot about his breakfast, which was getting cold. He started shovelling it down.

After eating, his newfound happiness caused him to let go of the tension he’d been feeling up until this morning. His initial excitement thus gave way to a sense of peaceful contentment, making him want to lie on his bed and meditate on his new hopes. Within an hour, he fell asleep.

He’d been napping until lunchtime when that clanking metallic noise woke him up. “Here’s your lunch, traitor!” Culig snapped at him. Peter didn’t scowl at him this time when he took his tray, surprising and annoying Culig.

About two hours later, Culig returned.

“Peter, get up,” he said. “We’re transferring you.”

“What?” Peter said, rising to his feet. He never calls me by my name. ‘Traitor’ is my name, as far as he’s concerned. No look of hate in his eyes, either. Not much emotion of any kind.

“Please hurry,” Culig said. “We don’t have much time.”

Peter put his smartphone in his pocket and approached the bars. Culig never says ‘please,’ either, he thought. This is truly weird.

Culig opened the cell door. “C’mon, we gotta go.”

“Nobody said anything about a transfer,” Peter said as he came out of his cell. “What’s going on?”

“Everything will be explained later,” Culig said as they walked through the hall and out of the cellblock area. “For now, let’s just focus on getting you out of here, and fast.”

Culig is never this…nice, Peter thought. He also seems a little robot-like. Just two hours ago, he was his usual mean self. And now…?

Peter was even further amazed at how smoothly he got through the whole prison complex, all the documentation and requisition forms reviewed and accepted without a hitch. And this was all for a transfer he’d never been told about until just now, just like his sudden, unexplained relief from having to do his daily hard labour. He thought to look carefully at the faces of all the people cooperating to make this transfer so effortless.

They all had Culig’s newly-acquired automaton-like body language. Had they all acquired these same traits, just this afternoon? And who gave them these traits, all of a sudden?

Could it be? Peter wondered, remembering all he’d looked at on his smartphone that morning. Nah, don’t get your hopes up too high.

He was taken outside, to where a dark green truck was parked by the outer entrance gate.

“Get in,” Culig told him. “Good luck, where you’re going.”

“What?” Peter said, looking back at the guard and seeing no trace of sarcasm (or any other emotion, for that matter) on his face. He got in the truck.

Now he felt an even greater shock…but a pleasant one.

“Peter?” a familiar, female voice called out to him. The driver closed the back door of the truck, leaving everyone in there in almost total darkness.

“What?…Michelle?” he shouted, straining his eyes to find her face in the dark of the truck. When he spotted her, he ran over to where she was sitting. They hugged and kissed. “Damn this darkness. I wanna see your face in the light.”

“What’s going on, Peter?” she asked. “What do they want to do with us? You don’t think they’re taking us out to be…” (she whispered) “…killed or anything, do you?”

“I don’t know,” he said, sitting down beside her. “My guard, who’s never nice to me, seemed nicer just now.”

The truck started moving.

“I know,” she said. “My guard seemed nicer today, too.”

“Did their mannerisms seem a little…mechanical to you, and I mean ‘mechanical’ in a familiar way?” he asked.

She recalled her mother’s initial mannerisms when she’d just been made a carrier, then made a mental comparison to those of her guards. “Yeah, now that you mention it, they were,” she said.

“I noticed the same thing, Peter,” another familiar female voice said in the darkness, to which his eyes were only now adjusting. “But I don’t wanna get my hopes up.”

“Wendy Callaghan?” he asked. “Is that you?”

“Yes, it’s me,” she said in a cheerful voice.

“Wow!” he said, then went over to hug her. “So good to see you…well, sort of, in the dark…again! Any other familiar faces in here? My eyes are still just adjusting to the dark.” He squinted and looked around.

“Over here, Peter,” Pat called out. Peter could barely make out his and Valerie’s faces, then their waving hands.

“Oh, hi!” Peter said, waving back. “Is Sid here?”

“Oh?” Sid grunted, waking up from a nap. “Did someone call me?”

“Yeah, there’s Sid,” Peter said. “Hi!”

Sid strained his eyes to recognize Peter. “Oh, hi, Peter.”

“So, where are we being transferred to?” Michelle asked. “Anybody know?”

Every voice in the back of the truck said, “No.”

“You’d think they’d have told us,” Valerie said. “Why didn’t any of them say where we’re going?”

“That’s what’s kind of scary about all of this,” Pat said. “Were they all nice to us because today is our last…Oh, I don’t wanna say it.”

Suddenly, the truck stopped.

There was an uncomfortable silence of several seconds.

They heard footsteps on what sounded like gravel going from the front to the back of the truck.

“We’re about to find out, I guess,” Wendy said.

The driver opened up the back of the truck, with grating metal clangs. Blinding sunlight shone outside. “Everybody out,” he said.

They all came out slowly, with shaking legs. When their feet touched the gravelly ground, they looked around, with a hand over each pair of eyes to block the sun. Now they had to adjust their eyes to the light…but they were afraid of what they would see.

No wall to line up against.

No firing squad.

Just the local bus station.

“What the…?” Peter asked, then he looked over at Michelle and smiled. “Oh, there’s that face.” He caressed her cheek, getting a smile from her. “If we die, at least I got to see you once more.”

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too,” he said, then looked over at the driver. “But what’s going on?”

“There are people in the bus station, our contacts, who will take you where you want to go,” the driver said, in as monotone a voice as that of Culig and the other guards. “Go in there, and you’ll find them.”

“Where we want to go?” Sid asked.

“Yes,” the driver said. “You’re all free now.”

“We’re free?” Valerie asked with a sneer of incredulity that all the others imitated.

“Yes,” the driver said. “We’ve arranged everything. But beware of the manhunt that’s coming soon; we might not be able to stop that soon enough, though we plan to. The people in there will help you, and we’ll do what we can to slow the manhunt down, as I said. Anyway, goodbye, and good luck.” A few little dots of light flew out of his waving hand. He went back to the truck, got in, and drove away.

Peter and the others just stood there, stunned.

After a few seconds, Michelle said, “I guess we’ll go into the bus station, then.”

Chapter Two

“Come in,” General Harris said after hearing the knock on the door.

Culig stepped in the general’s office. “The sympathizers have all been sent off, sir,” he said.

“Good work, Corporal,” Harris said. “Has anybody objected to their being…transferred?”

“None to my knowledge, sir,” Culig said. “Everyone in this military correctional facility has been…converted to our cause.”

“Good. I’ve been sending our people out to as many branches of the military and police, in all the city-states between here and the Canadian border, to convert them, too. With a little luck, that manhunt we’re worried about won’t happen at all.”

“I’m sure of it, sir. By now, at least half of the population of the United City-States of America is likely converted to the Bolshivarian way.”

*************

Peter and Michelle were dropped off by the front doors of MedicinaTech in the Toronto District.

“OK, you two,” the driver said with what was by now an all-too-familiar lack of emotion. “Here’s where you wanted me to drop you off.”

“Yeah, OK, thanks,” Peter told him. He and Michelle got out of the car and walked over to the front doors of his parents’ business and government. It was the early afternoon, so all the staff, informed of his imminent arrival, were in the lobby waiting to welcome him back.

He and Michelle went in. The acting CEO walked up to greet him. She also had that look on her face that seemed to indicate a lack of human personality. She had the same grin as every other employee.

“Good afternoon and welcome back, Mr. Cobb-Hopkin,” she said as if having memorized a speech, putting out her hand to shake his. “I’m Marsha Tenenbaum, acting CEO–“

“Oh, uh, hi,” he said, not shaking her hand. “Look, I’m sorry, but we’ve had a long, crazy trip here, and we need to go rest for a bit, OK? We’ll talk later.” He and Michelle went off into a small meeting room to be alone. They closed the door behind them.

All the staff outside, instead of being shocked at how uncouth Peter was, just stood there like robots, still with those seemingly meaningless smiles on their faces.

“OK, Michelle,” he said after heaving a big sigh. “What the fuck is going on around here?”

“Around here?” she said. “Around everywhere.”

“Exactly,” he said. “All of that–getting out of Leavenworth, going on the bus ride all the way to the Canadian border, getting from there in another bus to Toronto, then that guy…that automaton!…driving us here. That was all much…too…easy!

“We’re escaped convicts,” she said. “We’re wanted…aren’t we?”

“Was there any kind of a manhunt…at all?

“I know. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“All Bolshivarian carriers getting us through everything, everywhere, with no difficulties?”

“I thought they were all killed with the bug spray drones,” she said. “I can understand if a few of them survived, and are in hiding, but…”

“And the testing was supposed to have wiped out all the remaining carriers, or at least almost all of them,” he said. “But they’re everywhere now.”

“Far too many, it seems. I never thought I’d be feeling uncomfortable about that.”

“With no recognizable human personalities, either. I thought the emotional numbing of the vaccines was bad. This emotional numbing we see now is much more extreme.”

“Yes, it is,” Michelle said with a sigh.

“In my cell, I watched a few videos of people who were liberated—by the Bolshivarians—of the mind-numbing of the vaccines. They were so full of emotion; it was wonderful to see. I have a bad feeling that that emotional liberation was short-lived, though. I’ll tell you something else: I learned from my year in Leavenworth that the army grunts never got the vaccine…because they’re already brainwashed into obeying the dictates of the ruling class; that’s why they show more emotion than the general population, though only hate and anger.”

“Yeah, I learned that, too,” she said. “But this robot-like behaviour of the new carriers–it’s disturbing. They don’t seem to have a will of their own. I’ll bet Valerie and Pat, Wendy and Sid have been taken to their homes with the same ease. We should contact them on social media.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that right now,” Peter said, getting out his smartphone. “I’ll tell you another thing: not only are there all these new carriers, including guards who were nasty to us and hated the Bolshivarians right up ’til the switcheroo, but you never see these anti-Bolshivarian types splitting up into pieces.” He began typing up a message on Facebook, then tagged Valerie, Pat, Wendy, and Sid.

“This is really weird,” Michelle said.

“OK, I just tagged all four of them with this question: ‘Did you all get back home with disturbingly unbelievable ease, your drivers all acting like robots with seemingly no will of their own?’”

Within a few minutes, Valerie, Pat, Wendy, and Sid all ‘liked’ Peter’s post, and commented ‘Yes.’

Pat added to his comment by saying, “I’ve experienced exactly what you’re talking about here in Milwaukee. All human automatons, these new carriers. No difficulty at all getting home. Just as you said, Peter: ‘disturbingly unbelievable ease.’ This is too good to be true, let alone to be good.”

Valerie, Wendy, and Sid all ‘liked’ Pat’s comment.

Both Peter and Michelle looked at his phone with fearful faces.

“Do you remember what Bob said to us, back in Luanda, just before the attack that killed him and almost killed us? He said that if the Bolshivarians had wanted to take over the world, they could have done it like that.” Peter snapped his fingers, as Bob had done. “They didn’t quite do it then, but they seem to be doing it now. Michelle, are the Bolshivarians controlling people’s minds? What do you think?”

Wide-eyed, she couldn’t answer.

Chapter Three

The morning of the next day, in the headquarters of the US State Department, three soldiers were walking the halls in the direction of the office of the Secretary of State. Again, as with almost everywhere else in the world, the whole interior look and structure of the Harry S. Truman Building had been so thoroughly made over that it would have been difficult for someone from as recent as a decade earlier to recognize it. Such was the influence of the Amazon Corporation’s takeover of it; indeed, as one walked through the halls and visited the offices, one saw, for example, not just portraits of the president, but also those of Amazon executives, past and present; and the Amazon logo was almost ubiquitous.

When the soldiers reached the office of the Secretary of State, one of them knocked on his door.

“Yes?” SECSTATE Hammond said.

“Mister Secretary?” the man who knocked said. “This is Lieutenant Davis, with Sergeant Wilson and Corporal Neil. We have a matter of urgent business to discuss with you. May we come in?”

“What the—“ he said, getting up from his desk. “You couldn’t first check this with my—? Oh, all right, come on in.”

All three entered. As soon as they shut the door, the little lights flew from their fingers.

“Oh, my G—!” Hammond began, but before he could reach for the can of bug spray in his desk, the lights had already entered him.

He didn’t grunt in pain, twitch, or fall to the floor. No red cracks appeared on his face. No bruises. No tearing of clothes, then of flesh to reveal inner organs.

He just stood still. He didn’t even fidget in the slightest.

“Mister Secretary?” Sergeant Wilson asked.

“Shall we take a walk over to the White House?” Hammond said in a calm but rigid voice. “We should see President Price. I have a matter of urgent business to discuss with her.”

****************

In the afternoon of that day, Peter called Marsha Tenenbaum. “Yes,” he said. “I want you to continue running MedicinaTech for the time being. I’ve got personal business I need to take care of, and it’s going to occupy my time for…well, quite a while. I’ll let you know when I can come back and take over…Sorry, I can’t go into that right now. I have to go now. Talk to you later…Bye.” He hung up and left for Mississauga.

When he arrived at the Mississauga Exposé building, he just barged past everybody in the lobby, past the receptionist who tried in vain to stop him and ask if he had an appointment, and rushed into an elevator.

Michelle said she was chairing a meeting today, Peter thought as the elevator went up to where he knew, from past trips there, all the heads of the newspaper worked. He got out of the elevator and went through the halls, looking through the glass walls to see which room she was in.

At the end of the hall, he found her. It was easier for him to find her by the look of confusion on her face than by her face itself. Utterly lacking experience, she could only look awkward there. He barged in.

“Michelle!” he shouted, interrupting a presentation that she looked bored watching.

“Peter!” she said with a smile, relieved to have an excuse to get out of the meeting. “Excuse me, everyone. Something’s come up. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“That’s OK, Michelle,” the unruffled presenter said as she walked out of the room with Peter.

“They’re not mad at me for my little intrusion?” he asked.

“Of course not,” she said as they walked down the hall, him looking for an empty room with a computer. “They’re all emotionless carriers, like your staff. They can totally do that meeting without me.”

“I thought so,” he said as they walked into an unoccupied room. “I figured they could run everything without you, as my staff can without me. I mean, why would they want us running things when they know we don’t know how to do it?”

“Good question,” she said when he sat in front of a desktop computer and turned it on.

“And in a minute, I’ll give you my answer,” he said. “Occupying us with our parents’ businesses will distract us from watching what the Bolshivarians are planning. Check this out.” He found a recent video on YouTube: George Villiers-Joseph and Karol Sargent in China.

Michelle’s eyes almost popped out of her head. “Oh, my God,” she gasped. “They survived?

“Yes,” Peter said. “Someone got them out of South America just in time before the bombings and bug spraying. As you can see, this video is dated from last week, and it hasn’t been censored, like so many other videos and web pages that normally would have been taken off the net by now.”

“You mean, President Price and her people aren’t censoring the net anymore? Why?”

“Because they’re losing their power over the world.”

“Well, that’s good news,” she said, grinning. “Now the Bolshivarians can heal the Earth, and we can help the poor of the world.”

“True, and as we know from the news, these changes for the better are really being made. But at what cost?” he said. “Who are the Bolshivarians improving things for?”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on, Michelle. You’ve seen those automatons working for you, as I’ve seen them working for me. Watch this.” He clicked PLAY.

George was chairing a meeting with Karl in a hiding place somewhere in China. The video panned across all the people in the audience, mostly Chinese with that all-too-familiar emotionless stare in their faces. George began to speak.

“As you all know,” he said, “the heightened danger to Bolshivarian life here, brought about by the nuclear holocausts and the genocidal extermination of so many of us, has necessitated a radical change in our strategy. No longer will Bolshivarian entry into human bodies give our carriers a choice to join us or die. We will simply take control of our hosts’ mental apparatus completely.”

“There you have it, Michelle,” Peter said. “Our worst fears realized.”

“Oh, no!” she said.

“All of you in our audience are carriers, your wills all under 100% Bolshivarian control, which also ensures that you understand my meaning without needing Chinese translation,” George said. “This use of mind control was a hard decision for us to make, but we’ve been given no choice. Too many Bolshivarian lives have been lost–deaths in the billions!–to allow us to take any more risks in the name of ‘liberty’.”

“Tory tried to warn us,” Peter said, pausing the video. “He told us not to trust George…and I put an axe in Tory’s head.”

“I can understand the Bolshivarians needing to protect themselves,” she said. “But…this can’t be.”

“In spite of all the good we’ve seen them do, including saving our own lives…twice…still, I’ve always had a nagging doubt in the back of my mind about them. Are they doing all this healing of the Earth for us, or for themselves?

“That sounds like Price’s propaganda.”

“I know, and you know I’ll never trust her or any of the ruling classes of the Earth, but this video spells it out, all in black and white, so to speak. You won’t like hearing this, Michelle, but those psychic communions we have with our ‘parents’–I don’t think they’re real.”

“They’re real, Peter!” she said in a voice of sobbing anger.

“I know how you feel, and I know how painful it is to–“

“They’re real!” she shouted, tears forming in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, but the Bolshivarians fabricated them with their technology.”

No!” she bawled. He held her as she wept.

“Let’s hear the rest of the video,” he said, then clicked PLAY.

“As for the non-carrying sympathizers of the world,” George said. “As long as you remain loyal to us, you need not fear having your free will taken from you. No more threats to Bolshivarian life, and you will be left alone. But if a non-carrier is to take any more Bolshivarian life, as Karen Finley did, and Tory Lee tried to, then we’ll have no choice but to take control of all sympathizers. Our safety, as the saviours of the Earth, has become paramount!”

Applause could be heard from all over the room, including Karol’s clapping hands.

Neither Peter nor Michelle clapped.

Chapter Four

One hour later that day, Peter shared the video of the China conference with Pat and Valerie. They replied immediately by saying it would be best to share their feelings on Zoom, so they could express themselves more intuitively.

They arranged a meeting that evening, all four of them, including Michelle.

“So, how are things over there in Milwaukee with you?” Peter asked. “Where in Milwaukee is ‘over there’? Are you in an airport?”

“Yeah,” Pat said. “We’ve been through customs, and we’re waiting at our gate. So we have a little time now, though we’ll have to keep this short.”

“Where are you going?” Michelle asked. “I mean, this is so sudden. I thought you’d be so tired after the ride from the Kansas Districts to the Wisconsin ones, that you wouldn’t want to go anywhere after that. You both certainly look tired, without much energy. And how did you manage to arrange a flight so fast?”

“Oh, we know people who can set us up fast,” Valerie said. “Lots of money helps, too. Besides, we’d been planning this trip for a while, even before you’d sent us the video. And actually, we already knew about George and Karol hiding out in China.”

“Wow,” Peter said. “Really?”

“Yeah. Also, the people helping us are under Bolshivarian influence,” Pat said. “So their trust of us as sympathizers will help us get to where we’re going faster.”

“And where are you going?” Peter asked.

“Guess,” Valerie said.

“I have no idea,” Michelle said.

“China,” Pat said with a grin.

“You know exactly where George and Karol are hiding?” Peter asked.

“Not yet, but we’ll find them soon enough,” Pat said. “Valerie and I want to try to dissuade them from going on with this terrible idea of controlling everyone’s minds.”

“OK, but I can’t imagine you changing their minds,” Peter said. “All those Bolshivarian deaths have made them pretty firm in their decision, to put it mildly.”

“We know,” Valerie said. “But we have to try. We don’t want a world with no free will.”

“As important as saving the world from people like Price is, it mustn’t come at the expense of making us all slaves,” Pat said.

“I couldn’t agree more, Pat,” Michelle said. “But what if you can’t change George’s or Karol’s minds?”

“Well…let’s just say we may have to resort to more…radical, sweeping measures,” Valerie said, shaping the fingers of her hand into a gun and pretending to shoot Pat in the head.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “I’m as unhappy about all of this as you are, but don’t do anything stu–“

“Sorry, guys,” Pat said hurriedly. “Time to board our plane. Bye.”

Pat and Valerie ended the session on their laptop, leaving Peter’s with a blank screen.

He and Michelle looked at each other with frowns.

“If they do what I think they’re going to do,” he said, “they’ll provoke even worse repressions on everybody.”

“Worse than that,” she said. “Pat and Valerie could fuck up our entire effort to save the world.”

“We should warn George and Karol,” he said. “If only we knew how to contact them directly.”

“We could tell any of the carriers in our companies,” she said. “They’d know somebody, who’d know somebody, who’d—“

“And that just might be the thing that makes the Bolshivarians want to make everyone around the world, including you and me, into mind-controlled carriers. Just warning them alone could make them make that awful decision. No, we’d better not. Let’s just hope Pat and Valerie deal with this intelligently.”

Chapter Five

Peter emailed a video to Michelle a week after their videoconference with Pat and Valerie. The video was dated three days before, and titled Assassination of Underground Bolshivarian Leader in China.

“Oh, please God, no,” she whispered before ever-so-reluctantly clicking PLAY on her phone.

Karol Sargent was seen in a small room chatting with several people, mostly Chinese. George was not there, but Michelle saw, in a far corner, a familiar face.

Pat’s.

She had no interest in what Karol had to say (it was mostly idle chatter, anyway); she was focused on whatever Pat was going to do. Though George was the one who did most of the public speaking, it was known by all the carriers and non-carrying sympathizers–including Peter and her–that it was Karol who wielded great influence behind the scenes in terms of policy decisions; so Pat’s presence in that room had great interest for her.

Pat’s face showed no hate or anger as he looked at Karol; he’d obviously learned how to bury his feelings deep down, so when he got up and walked towards Karol, he had a pleasant smile on his face, laughing at one of Karol’s jokes.

Then he pulled a pistol out of his jacket pocket.

He buried a bullet in Karol’s chest with a loud bang and a splash of blood.

The Bolshivarian dots of light flew out from the dying man as they did out of all of his carrier listeners, swarming around Pat as he fumbled a can of bug spray with his other hand. They entered him before he could aim it at them. The familiar cracks of red showed on his face.

“Oh, my God!” she said, then thought, Why would he do that, knowing it wouldn’t help our cause at all? Surely he knew they’d just kill him and use more repression on the rest of us. Then again…why would Karen and Tory have made their assassination attempts? Surely they knew it would have done them no good, either. Of course, they went mad with grief over the loss of their son, so they couldn’t think rationally. I guess Pat and Valerie were going crazy, too; maybe they lost loved ones to Bolshivarian splitting. We’ve all been losing it over the past few years, anyway.

The video abruptly ended amid the confusion and Pat’s body beginning to tear up. She saw a split second of exposed brain before it ended.

Her phone began to ring. It was Peter.

“Hello?” she said.

“Did you watch the video?”

“Yes,” she said. “Horrible.”

“You know what George is going to do, now, right?” he asked.

“I don’t even wanna think about it.”

“Well, we’ll have to. We’re going to have to lie low for at least a while, and keep away from the carriers as best we can. Imitate them if we meet any of them. Practice doing those stupid smiles before the mirror.”

“What about Valerie?”

“Probably controlled by the Bolshivarians by now.”

“I wanna contact her to be sure,” Michelle said. “Who knows? Maybe she got away from them in time.”

“Possible, but not probable. Contacting her will be risky.”

“I know, but I still wanna be sure. We need all the friends we can get.”

“I agree, but we’ll have to be super careful. These are dangerous times we’re living in.”

Chapter Six

That evening, Peter was in Michelle’s home, in the living room. They were watching CNN.

President Price was giving another press conference. Her secretary of state, that tall, black man, Hammond, who’d taken a walk over to the White House to talk with her so urgently, could be seen standing in the background.

“Over the past year, I’ve been giving some thought to the policies of our governments and corporations, both domestic and international,” she began. “This reevaluation has been provoked by what…happened…last year. We made great strides in overcoming so many of the ill effects of climate change–ending the wildfires, lowering sea levels, removing pollution in the air and oceans…”

“You liar,” Peter said. “The Bolshivarians did all that with technology we’re not even close to having. You’re still taking credit for their…”

“C’mon, Peter,” Michelle said. “Let’s listen.”

“Still, we’ve done our share of destructive things, too,” Price said, with what sounded like effort and strain. “The bombs we dropped on those three cities, a necessary sacrifice to draw out the aliens from their hiding places so we could exterminate them, nonetheless caused terrible destruction and loss of life.” That effort and strain in her voice was growing, yet it was only a physical problem, for she still spoke without feeling.

“Wow,” he said. “A frank admission of guilt from her.”

“And eerily lacking emotion,” Michelle said. “Or sincerity, I’m sure.”

“To atone for what our governments and corporations are responsible for, we’ve decided to make some radical. sweeping changes in our domestic and foreign policies,” Price said.

“‘Radical and sweeping’,” Peter whispered. “Her favourite words again.”

“The wealth…of the heads of corporate governments…will be taken and shared…with the poor of the world,” Price said. She coughed and seemed to be gagging.

“Whoa!” Michelle said.

“That’s a Bolshivarian policy,” Peter said. “Not hers.”

He noticed that Hammond was squirming, too.

“This money will fund social programs and education, will provide and guarantee employment for all, as well as universal housing and healthcare for everyone, including the poorest,” the president said amid more coughs and gagging. “All military operations in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will end…immediately.” She twitched a few times, as did Hammond. “All troops…are to come home…with no delay.”

Peter and Michelle watched and listened with their jaws practically touching the living room carpet.

“This is too good to be true,” she said.

“Exactly,” he said. “They aren’t making these decisions of their own accord. We know who’s really doing it.”

“The mechanical way Price is talking and looking at everyone proves it,” Michelle said. “Her expression is even more forced, more robot-like, than my mom’s was when she’d first become a carrier.”

“What we’re doing …is,” Price went on, wincing as if in extreme pain, “for…the greater…good…unh!

“Madame President, are you alright?” a reporter asked.

Hammond was squirming even more, and he began fidgeting in pain, too. A confused noise of voices among the reporters was the only comment on his and Price’s behaviour.

After several more seconds of squirming and wincing, both of them let out screams of pain. The familiar red crack lines could be seen on their faces and hands.

“I knew it,” Peter said.

“So, when Bolshivarians take control of your mind, this is what happens when you try to regain control of yourself?” Michelle asked.

“Looks that way,” Peter said. “Masochistic agony.”

Hammond confirmed Michelle’s suspicions when he grunted, “Give me…liberty…or give me…DEATH!!!”

His and Price’s bodies both split into pieces, tearing their clothes and revealing their internal organs.

“I never thought I’d see the day when the president’s guts would be shown on TV,” Peter said.

“Or the brains…since JFK’s assassination, at least,” Michelle said.

The bodies exploded seconds later.

“The TV isn’t cutting to a commercial,” she said.

“There no longer seems to be any concern over censoring anything,” he said. “No secrets need to be kept from the public, it seems.”

Peter and Michelle looked at the faces of the reporters. No shock was seen on any of them.

“The reporters don’t seem to prefer liberty over life, do they?” he said.

“No,” she said. “We know whose side they’re on.”

“Look, I’m glad Price and Hammond are gone,” he said, “But I’m not so glad about what’s replacing them.”

“If the Bolshivarians can get at the president,” she said. “They can get at anyone.”

“We’re gonna have to be extra careful if we want to keep control of our brains,” he said.

Chapter Seven

The next day, Michelle contacted Valerie on Facebook, asking about what had happened to her since Pat’s assassination of Karol Sargent. This was Valerie’s reply in a personal message:

Don’t worry, I’m OK. I managed to get out of China immediately after the killings. I got back home by burying my feelings and pretending to be one of those automatons. It was really hard to hide my grief over the Bolshivarians’ murder of my husband, but once I got back to the privacy of my Milwaukee home, I lay on my bed and cried for what seemed hours.
We should meet. I can fly over to Toronto or Mississauga. I hate having to pretend to be one of those soulless carriers all the time. If I’m with you, I can relax, be myself, and cry on your shoulders over what happened in China.

Michelle let Peter read Valerie’s message.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked him. “Judging by what she said, does she seem to be still all human? She doesn’t seem compromised to me. Do you think this message could be pretence?”

“Well, I guess she’s being sincere,” he said. “I certainly want to believe she’s sincere. We need some real human company around here, and the only way we can get it is by taking a risk or two. We can have some cans of bug spray handy, just in case.”

“OK, I’ll tell her we can meet, say, in your home,” she said. “As soon as she’s in Toronto District, we’ll have a driver at the airport take her home.”

“The driver could be a carrier. He could turn her into one of them.”

Anyone out there during her trip could be a carrier, turning her into one of them. She could be a carrier right now, for all we know. If we really want to meet with her, it’s the chance we’ll have to take.”

“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. Let’s hope that if she isn’t a carrier, that she can fake being one all the way here, and not get changed.”

Michelle replied to Valerie’s message with the plan, to which she agreed.

***********

Three days later, in the afternoon, Peter and Michelle heard his front doorbell ring.

“That must be her,” Michelle said.

They both rushed to get the door.

Valerie stood there with that eerie, soulless grin.

Peter and Michelle grinned back uneasily.

They all stood there stupidly for several seconds.

“May I come in?” Valerie asked, her grin unchanged, with no awkwardness in her expression at her hosts’ odd hesitating.

“Oh, yeah…uh, of course,” Peter said as he and Michelle stepped aside to let Valerie in. “Sorry.”

“What a nice place you have,” Valerie said as she went in and looked around. “So, this is how the rich live.”

Concealing his annoyance at her remark, he said, “I may be bourgeois by birth, Valerie, as is Michelle, but I assure you, that’s not where our sympathies lie. My mom and dad actually used to call me the Friedrich Engels of our family.” He closed the front door.

“I’m sure they did,” Valerie said with that same grin as she approached a chair to sit on in the living room. “I’ve just never seen such a posh place before.” She sat down. “My home with Pat in Milwaukee is nice, but not this nice.”

“Thanks,” Peter said as he and Michelle returned to the living room and sat on the sofa. “After seeing what life is like for so many in Venezuela, Angola, and here, too—in Regent Park, that is—I feel guilty about having this ‘nice’ home.”

“I feel the same way about mine in Mississauga,” Michelle said. “With all the changes the Bolshivarians are making, especially now with President Price and Secretary of State Hammond gone, and with the Washington District government under Bolshivarian control instead of Amazon, we can more quickly provide for all the poor of the world.”

“Yes, those changes will be coming fast now,” Valerie said, still grinning without a trace of personality.

Peter remembered the switchblade he had in one of his jeans’ back pockets, and the small can of bug spray in the other. I don’t want to stab you, Valerie, he thought, but I will if I have to.

“Valerie,” Michelle said. “Would you like to relax? I mean…we can get you something to drink if you like. Some tea?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine,” grinning Valerie said. Are they faking? she wondered.

“You said in your message that you want to relax and be yourself,” Peter said. “Feel free to do so here.”

“I am,” grinning Valerie said, then thought, You’re the ones who aren’t being yourselves.

“You–you’re with friends,” Michelle said. “N-no need to pretend. Let yourself go.”

“Pretend?” Valerie asked, all those teeth still showing.

Desperate to end the tension, and gripping those weapons in his back pockets, Peter stood up and said, “You don’t need to pretend to be one of those Bolshivarian automatons!”

“Peter, easy,” Michelle said with a frown.

“I’m not pretending,” Valerie said as she rose from her chair. “But you have been, haven’t you?” Out of her fingers flew a swarm of those little dots of light.

Peter was quick on the draw with his can of bug spray. It hit the first six or seven of those tiny balls of light, making all of them drop on the carpet. Since Valerie hadn’t been a carrier for long, the lights hadn’t yet integrated with her body, so the bug spray wouldn’t kill her. Peter ran at her with the switchblade ready to stab. Valerie screamed.

“Peter, no!” Michelle yelled.

She looked away and covered her eyes. She didn’t want to see her boyfriend shed blood a second time.

A few seconds after Valerie’s body hit the floor, her blood staining the carpet, Peter and Michelle heard the doorbell ring again. Michelle ran over to answer the door.

“Yes?” she said to a male neighbour after opening the door.

He, too, had that all-too-familiar grin.

“I heard a scream,” he said, looking into the living room, though Michelle’s left shoulder was hiding Valerie’s body and blood from his sight. “Is everything OK?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying her best to imitate that stupid-looking grin without showing any nervousness. Shake on the inside, she thought.

“We’re watching a horror movie on TV,” Peter said as he approached the door, hoping his body would help obscure not only the bloody body, but also the living room TV that hadn’t been turned on at any time that day.

Chapter Eight

The next day, Peter and Michelle were flipping through the channels on the TV in her living room, finding all the grinning they saw on everyone’s face increasingly disturbing. They stopped changing channels at the CBC, on which a reporter was interviewing the Prime Minister.

“Everything is going smoothly,” Prime Minister Lévesque said with that grin that, now, was never not seen on any face. “There are hardly any cases of rising sea levels or wildfires anymore. We’re well on our way to wiping out poverty in every inch of the City-States of Canada. Places like Regent Park, in Toronto, for example, are on virtually the same economic level as the rest of the Toronto District, or any other district in Canada, the UCSA, or anywhere else in the world.”

“That’s wonderful news, Prime Minister,” the reporter talking to him said…with that same grin.

“This is getting to be too much!” Peter said to Michelle, then turned off her TV in frustration, and tossed the remote on a chair beside the sofa. “Every politician and public figure we see on the news making statements on current affairs has that ‘pod people’ Bolshivarian face.”

“They really have taken over, globally,” Michelle said. “The heads of every city-state we’ve seen–London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Riyadh, Ottawa, San Francisco,…”

“You name the city-state, the politicians and CEOs representing them all have that mindless grin, that far-away look in their eyes,” he said. “This is really getting scary!”

“I’m amazed we were able to pacify that neighbour of yours yesterday,” she said. “We barely escaped Toronto without being spotted as non-carriers. And there’s no way we’re risking going back. And again, I have to ask: why’d you have to kill Valerie? We could have run outside without you using your switchblade on her. I’m also amazed they don’t have Bolshivarian cops tracking us. I guess they’re more interested in turning us into carriers than arresting us for murder, they’re more upset about the loss of their own than of human life, and they know we’ll spray them if they try to apprehend us. Instead, they’ll be more cunning about catching us.”

“Again, I’m sorry about stabbing her. I acted rashly. We’re all going a little crazy here. But as you said, at least we got out of there without being chased. I guess our acting skills have improved. But we can’t stay holed up in your house forever. Is anybody out there still normal?”

“I got that message from Wendy Callaghan, which was just like Valerie’s. She claims she isn’t a carrier, and that she’s all tense and afraid of being absorbed by the Bolshivarians. She said she’d like to come here, all the way from Los Angeles, because life there is so hopelessly taken over, she wants to get as far away from the Bolshivarian carriers there as she can. Do you think we should meet her, or will it be too risky?”

“Everything we do every day is a risk now,” he said. “But I’m desperate for us to find someone else who’s normal. If she is, it will be well worth the risk. The more normal people we can find, the happier I’ll be. I’m going crazy.”

“Same here.”

***************

Three days later, Peter and Michelle were in the hallway of a hotel in Toronto, approaching the room Wendy was staying in. They were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses, in the hope that no one would recognize them as the two who killed the woman in his house, where the carriers must have, by now, gone into, looked around, and found her body.

“She must be even more paranoid than we are to prefer a small hotel room to accommodations in your house,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Michelle said. “For all she knows, we could be carriers, and she’ll have her can of bug spray ready for us.”

“As we have ready for her, in case she’s been made a carrier since our last communication with her. So we’ll have to guard our feelings and only let our real selves out bit by bit.”

“She’ll probably be doing the same thing.” Michelle, with a feeling of dread, rang the doorbell to Wendy’s room. “Have your dumb smile ready.” They took off their hats and sunglasses.

Wendy opened the door.

She was grinning from ear to ear.

Peter and Michelle mirrored her grin back, hoping she was putting on as much of an act as they were.

“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for them. “It’s good to see you both again.”

Peter and Michelle entered.

“What a small room,” she said as she and Peter approached Wendy’s bed. “In my home, I could have offered you a much bigger one, and for free.” She and Peter sat on the bed.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Wendy said, sitting on a chair across from the bed. “I don’t want to impose on you.”

“Oh, it’s no imposition at all,” Michelle said.

“Really, I’m fine here,” Wendy said.

“Well, as you wish,” Michelle said.

There followed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“So,” Peter said, allowing his grin to relax a little. “You said in your message, Wendy, that you were really scared of…all the changes going on around us.”

“Yes,” she said, still fully grinning. “But everything’s OK now.”

“So…we can all relax, then?” Michelle asked, also letting go of her grin ever so slightly.

“Of course,” she said, all of her teeth still showing. “I’m relaxed now.”

“Good,” Peter said slowly, relaxing his grin some more.

There were a few more uncomfortable seconds of silence.

Has she been assimilated, Peter and Michelle wondered, or is she just so paranoid that she can’t let go of the act?

“So, what are your plans?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, I’m just doing what I can to help us all heal the Earth,” she said with that ever-present grin.

“Yes, it’s wonderful, all the progress that has been made,” Michelle said, her cheeks getting sore from all that grinning.

“Yes,” Wendy nodded in agreement. “Bolshivarian influence has stopped the wars, cleaned the pollution away, housed and fed the poor. It’s terrific.”

Peter ventured to lessen his grin a little more. “Is there anything you wish could be done…a little differently?”

“Oh, only that it could all be finished quicker,” Wendy said. “But things are being done fast enough, I guess.”

“And then the Bolshivarians can leave, and we can enjoy our new, healed Earth, right?” Peter asked.

“I suppose,” ever-grinning Wendy said. “Or they can stay with us, if they wish.”

“W-why would they need to stay, if all their work here is done?” he asked.

“Oh, if humans are let go, they might return to their destructive ways,” teeth-baring Wendy said. “And then our efforts will have been all for nothing.”

To Peter and Michelle, her choice of words (“humans,” “they,” “our” referring to the Bolshivarians) seemed to indicate she wasn’t acting.

Still, they didn’t dare take out their bug spray cans unless they saw the dots of light come out from her. Escaping a hotel presumably full of carriers would have been a lot harder than escaping  his or Michelle’s house. 

Maybe that’s why she wanted to stay in a hotel? To trap Peter and Michelle?

Hence, another moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Oh, Peter, I just remembered,” Michelle said. “There’s something I have to do at the Mississauga Exposé. Damn, I forgot all about it, and it has to be done today. Sorry, Wendy, we have to go now. This is so abrupt.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” she said, always grinning. She got up.

Do I detect a tinge of relief in her eyes? Michelle wondered. Or is that wishful thinking on my part, that she isn’t a carrier, and is acting, as we are?

“Yeah, we’d better go,” Peter said, getting up with Michelle. “Sorry to cut this off so quickly.”

“It was good seeing you again, Wendy,” Michelle said, hugging her by instinct, then regretting the hug as soon as they touched. She could have sent the lights into my body right then, she thought; hugging her was a stupid idea. She felt Wendy’s heart beating as fast as her own. Wendy was also trembling as much as she was. Does this mean she’s faking? I don’t dare ask!

Indeed, no lights came out, though, to their relief.

The women let go, and Peter and Michelle went back to the door. “Bye,” they said to Wendy as they went out into the hall.

“Bye,” Wendy said, keeping her grin on her face until the door closed.

Chapter Nine

A week later, Peter and Michelle made arrangements to meet with Sid, this time in her house.

“He’s on his way, right from his home in Brantford,” she said. “So, we’re gonna go through with this farce again?”

“Yes, crazy as it sounds,” he said.

“Crazy as it is,” she said. “At the worst, he’ll be a carrier who we’re risking turning us into one of them, or one of us will kill him (I’m not encouraging you, Peter!) and we’ll risk–this time, my neighbours finding out, since we’re meeting him here this time. At best, Sid will be the way Wendy was probably acting: he’ll be one of us, but too scared to show his real self.”

“Or he will let his real self show. As tense as this is going to be, we have to try. I’ll go crazy if I have to live knowing only you and I are normal.”

“And what if he’s one of them, and he makes one of us into a carrier? What if I lose you, Peter?”

“I could lose you to them, too, Michelle. And that terrifies me. But that’s why we’ve gotta try to find allies. What’s going on around the world is like the zombie apocalypse, only it’s the Bolshivarian apocalypse. The more of them there are out there, the more desperate we’ll be to find any of us, ’cause we can’t do this alone.”

She let out a big sigh. “OK, let’s do this.”

They kissed.

**************

Five hours later, the doorbell rang.

They took a deep breath, clutched the bug spray hidden in their jacket pockets, and went to the door.

They opened it to see, predictably, a grinning Sid.

“Hi,” he said. “Long time, no see.”

“Yeah,” they grinned back, much better practiced now.

“Come on in,” Peter said.

They went into the living room and sat down.

“So, Sid,” Peter said through his bared teeth, “how are you coping with all of the changes going on?”

“Coping?” Sid said with a tinge of disbelief in his eyes. “What’s there to cope with? The improvements being made around the world are nothing short of miraculous. Schools and hospitals are being built all over Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Decent-quality housing is replacing all the slums, including those in Regent Park, as you both must know. The unemployed are being given work. The climate crisis is practically over. What’s there to complain about?”

“Oh, of course we know about all the improvements being made around the world,” Michelle said. “We’re more than happy about all that. It’s just…well…”

“Well, what?” Sid asked, his smile beginning to fade.

“We don’t…feel as free…as we used to,” Peter said.

“Don’t feel free?” Sid said. “What could be more liberating than the changes we’ve recently seen? No more war. No more poverty. No more wildfires, flooding, or pollution. The people want these changes. Don’t you?”

“Of course we do,” Michelle said.

“But at what cost?” Peter asked.

What cost?” Sid asked. There was an uneasy pause. “Has your loyalty shifted?”

Peter and Michelle couldn’t answer.

“You in your nice palace of a home?” Sid added.

There was another uncomfortable pause.

Then the dots of light flew out of Sid’s fingers.

Peter and Michelle pulled out their bug spray, but they then heard some familiar voices in their minds.

Michelle? Siobhan’s voice called to her.

“Mom?” she said.

Peter, what are you doing? his mother’s voice said.

What George is doing is for the best, Peter could hear his father saying in his thoughts.

“You’re not real,” Peter said, aiming his little spray can right at the dots of light. “You’re a Bolshivarian hallucination.”

Sweetie, you don’t wanna spray me, do you? Siobhan’s voice almost sobbed in Michelle’s mind’s ear. The Bolshivarians are what are allowing my consciousness to continue existing. They are what is still giving me life. If you spray and kill them, I’ll die a second time, and I’ll never come back. Don’t do it, sweetie!

“Mama,” Michelle answered in a sobbing voice.

“The voices aren’t real, Michelle,” Peter said.

“Oh, yes they are,” Sid said.

“Mom?” she wept.

“Don’t listen, Michelle,” Peter said. “It’s a trick.”

“If you spray them, you’ll regret it, Peter,” Sid said.

We don’t want to take you by force, Don’s voice said to Michelle, but we will if we have to, honey.

“Daddy, you won’t hurt us, will you?” she sobbed.

“Of course they will,” Peter said. “They’re not our parents.”

“Shut up, Peter!” she bawled.

“Fine,” he said. “Speak, can, for me!” He sprayed at the lights.

Michelle! the voices of Siobhan and Don said, fading out into oblivion as the little dots lost their light and dropped on the carpet.

“Nooooooo!” Michelle screamed.

Peter grabbed her by the hand, sprayed Sid in the eyes, getting a grunt from him, and the two ran out of the house.

Peter and Michelle ran down the sidewalk, almost reaching a corner when he saw a few people farther off, with their backs to them. He stopped running and tried to calm down.

“Bastard!” she hissed, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Stop!” he whispered. “They’ll see us fighting.”

She wiped the tears off her cheeks, gave him a brief scowl, then calmed down and imitated his grin.

As they continued slowly walking down the street, she whispered, “The carriers are all around your home, Sid is controlling my home. We’re homeless now, you know.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said through his grin.

Chapter Ten

As Peter and Michelle continued walking out of the neighbourhood and towards a park filled with people, including kids in a playground, they kept those stupid, mindless grins on their faces. It didn’t matter how sore their faces were…they had no choice.

Remember, they both thought as they walked along, as far as everyone else is concerned, we’re more than happy about all the progress being made to heal the Earth.

All they could do was cling to the microscopic hope that they’d sooner or later meet with non-carriers.

Their hopes kept getting frustrated with every person they passed by on the sidewalk. All the people they saw, with that uniform grin, might as well have been identical clones. Everyone appeared to be the same.

A man or a woman would be walking in their direction, and while they were far enough away from the approaching person, Peter and Michelle would think, Please, please let this person be normal!

Then, once they got close enough, the man or woman would bare his or her teeth and say, “Hi!” like a conformist, compliant robot.

Granted, Peter and Michelle were doing the exact same thing.

Could any of those approaching them have been doing the same, fake grinning act, too?

The sun was going down. They’d passed the park, and were now in an area of the neighbourhood with far fewer people.

Still, they were getting desperate to find somebody who was normal, perhaps someone who had a house nearby where they could stay and be safe.

They were getting tired from all that walking. They were hungry, too. The moon and stars were out.

They walked by a small restaurant with no customers at any of the tables. The owner, wearing an apron and presumably the cook, seemed to be the only one inside. They went in.

“What can I get you?” he asked with that all-too-familiar grin. “I was about to close, so you’re lucky to be my last customers.” He turned the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED, then he locked the door.

“This could work to our advantage,” Peter whispered in her ear. “We could spray and kill him, then take control of this place, and eat all we like.”

“Not for too long,” she whispered back. “And I don’t like you killing any more people.”

“It’s better than nothing. And I’ll kill only if I have to.”

The owner approached their table. “So, what will it be?” he asked, grinning and with his pad and pencil ready to write down their orders.

They looked at the menus laid out on the table.

“I’ll have a burger and fries, an orange juice, and a coffee, double-double,” Peter said, handing him the menu.

“I’ll have the same, but with a ginger ale instead of juice,” she said, then gave him the menu.

“Are you the only one here?” Peter asked him.

“Yes,” the owner said as he wrote down their orders. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious,” Peter said. “You seem lonely in here.”

“Oh, I’m fine. I’ll go cook your burgers.” He walked off to the kitchen area.

As he was cooking, he could look out from the kitchen and onto the dining area, where he could clearly see them talking at their table. Peter and Michelle were letting their guard down, and he could see them expressing themselves in a most non-Bolshivarian way.

He finished cooking their orders and served them, but as they ate, he kept his eyes on them. Still, they were behaving in a conspicuously non-carrier way, showing emotions other than, in their opinion, that fake contentment that was supposed to be the norm. Peter was tactlessly expressing his usual annoyance with the world, and Michelle had a look of worry on her face.

When they finished their meal and went up to pay, the owner looked in their eyes.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Peter said. “It was great.”

“So, you’re content?” he asked, meaning something more than just the service.

“Sure,” Michelle said. “Of course.”

“You seem a little less sure than that,” he said, always grinning.

“What are you getting at?” Peter asked, frowning.

“This,” he said, sending out the little lights from his fingers.

“You fucker!” Peter shouted, then found a steak knife on a nearby table.

Michelle had her can of bug spray already out. She sprayed the lights, dropping them to the wooden floor with the sound of bouncing marbles. The owner stepped back.

“No, Peter!” she said as he approached the owner with the knife. “You don’t need to–“

Peter slashed at him with the knife, slitting his throat. His blood sprayed out everywhere.

“Oh, Jesus, Peter,” she said, wincing at the sight of the owner staggering and coughing blood.

A few passers-by looked in the window and saw the blood, then saw the owner fall to the floor.

Michelle looked out at them. “Oh, shit!” she yelled. “Peter!”

He looked out. “Oh, fuck me! C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

They ran into the back and hid in the darkness of a storage room. They could hear a shaking of the locked front door, then a banging on it. Peter looked over to the back door.

“We can’t stay here long,” he said.

Chapter Eleven

Peter and Michelle, having heard the breaking of the glass on the front door to the restaurant, shuffled over to the back door leading out to an alley. They heard the shuffling of feet entering the restaurant; the footsteps grew louder as they, presumably carriers, were approaching the back.

“They’re gonna find us in here soon enough,” Peter whispered, then listened at the door. “I hear nothing out there. Let’s sneak out before they turn on the light in here.” They went out the door.

In the alley, they hid between stacks of crates and garbage bags to the right of that door. They heard it open, a pause of silence, then closing the door.

“What do we do now?” Michelle asked.

“We don’t wanna go in the direction of that door,” he whispered in her ear. “Any of them could be out there waiting for us. We should go in the opposite direction.”

One of us should go first,” she whispered in his ear. “Then, if the coast is clear, we’ll go out together.”

“OK, I’ll go.”

“Stop being so gallant. I’m smaller than you, so I should go. I can hide more easily than you.”

“OK, but don’t take long. I don’t like you going out there alone.”

“I’ll be super-fast. Don’t worry.” She kissed him on the lips, then went.

Shaking with worry, he peeked past the crates and garbage bags to see what was out there, but it was mostly darkness.

Thirty seconds of agonizing waiting passed.

I thought you were going to be super-fast, Michelle, he thought.

More waiting. 

It was so silent, he could hear his nervous breath and pounding heart.

Finally, she came back.

He got up from his crouching position to see her better. “So?” he whispered. “Can we go? Is it OK?”

“Yes, it’s OK,” she said with a wide grin on her face. “Everything is just fine.”

For the first time in their relationship of so many years, he did not like the look of her face. 

“C’mon, Michelle. Don’t joke around. We don’t have to–“

“Join us, Peter.” She was still grinning. “It’s for the best.”

“Oh, no!” His heart sank with his lower jaw. “Please, God, no! Not you, too, Michelle.” He was choking up. In his approaching despair, he slouched to the ground, losing almost all his energy.

“Peter, just accept the new way. The Bolshivarians’ work is almost done. Just a few more months, and all the vestiges of our old, sick world will be annihilated.”

“With our souls,” He began weeping.

“No, Peter! As soon as the Bolshivarians are finished, they’ll free us and leave the Earth. I promise you.”

He just kept crying. “I love you.” He held the can of bug spray in his hands, but couldn’t bear to use it on her, for fear of even hurting her with it.

“I love you, too. And everything will be OK. Trust us. The souls of our parents are telling me, right now in my head, that all will be well.”

He looked at her and frowned. “Didn’t you tell me during our meal in there, that when I sprayed the lights coming from Sid’s hands, that our parents’ souls were destroyed, never to come back? That only the Bolshivarians could keep their souls alive?”

“That was a white lie they told me, I must confess.”

Peter took a deep breath and scowled at her. 

“I’m saying this to you Bolshivarians, not to Michelle, who I know is still in there somewhere. You are all liars, like the ruling class here on Earth. You’re no better than they are.”

“The ruling class here is almost all obliterated. We had to lie about your parents. It was a desperate attempt to stop you from killing more Bolshivarians.” The lights were coming out of her fingers and were hovering before him.

“I remember when we lost our fear of these things.”

“I don’t fear them now, Peter.”

“They’ve taken your will, Michelle; but I know, deep down, you’re still in there, and I don’t wanna lose you.”

“You won’t lose me, Peter. They’ve reaffirmed my faith in them. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, let them in, the voice of his father said in his head.

We’ll all be together again, his mother’s voice said.

As Don and I are with Michelle, Siobhan’s voice said.

“I can’t bear to lose you,” Peter said in sobs.

“You haven’t, and you won’t,” Michelle said, still with that grin that told him those words weren’t her own.

“Well, being a Bolshivarian slave with you is better than not having you at all.” He stretched out his arms to receive the lights in his body. “I guess this is my suicide.”

“Oh, nonsense,” she said with a laugh as the lights went inside him.

Split me up, he thought as he felt their vibrations throughout his body. Tear my body into pieces, as you did my parents. I don’t wanna live anymore. But they didn’t split him up. 

Instead, he had the awkward feeling of feeling his body move—he stood up—but not by his own command. The Bolshivarians already had total control over him. His mind felt totally cut off. 

His consciousness felt as though confined in a small, dark jail cell, with only a small window to look out of. He could see what his body was doing, but was helpless to do anything about it.

My God, he thought. This is worse than death. Why couldn’t they just split me up?

He tried to resist, as he’d seen Price and Hammond do on the TV. He felt an excruciating headache that forced him to stop long before any red cracks could be seen on him, or the bruising pains of stretched skin could be felt.

“Peter,” Michelle said. “Stop fighting it. Just let go. Accept it, and be content with the rest of us.”

He let go of the mental tension he felt. 

He allowed a smile to appear on his face.

Chapter Twelve

A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet still, if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’

To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. He had to let the Bolshivarians control his body, to let them move it wherever and whenever they wanted to. He could only move his body on his own power if these movements didn’t contradict the Bolshivarian will. He could only speak without the migraines if his words didn’t contradict their will. 

And his only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.

He could feel the Bolshivarians trying to merge with his human consciousness, something he tried to resist with all his might. Being too aggressive about it, of course, brought about that migraine; but he’d be damned if he’d just allow those lights to merge with his brain without the slightest opposition. Instead, he found a middle way, erecting a kind of gentle, but firm, psychic wall that didn’t push the lights away, but at least kept them from coming inside.

They would eventually come inside and merge with him, he knew he couldn’t stop that…but at least he could slow it down.

Michelle, in contrast, felt fully reconciled with the will of the Bolshivarians. Her consciousness was completely merged with theirs, and she now understood why her mother had had that—what seemed at the time to her—inane grin: Siobhan wasn’t an unthinking, compliant automaton; she was genuinely happy. The Bolshivarian victory was just about complete, and the Earth was set to be a happy place to live.

Peter, of course, was still too proud to accept the new way.

“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said one evening when they were back in his living room. Both of them were standing by his TV. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.

“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with some of the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”

“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!

“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV and getting the remote that lay beside it. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”

“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!“ He felt the Bolshivarians making him go with Michelle to the sofa and sit down.

She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away. Stop being so proud.”

“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!

“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”

“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!

“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”

“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”

“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.

“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!

“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.

Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. I keep asking myself: could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?

“The time has come for us Bolshivarians to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”

They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead. Actually, I welcome it. I no longer want to live in this hell.

“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened and aggravated struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”

Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.Tear our bodies to pieces.

Oddly, though, he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.

His body slouched suddenly after realizing that it was no longer being held up, all rigid, by the Bolshivarians. At first, he was spastic in his effort to regain a control over his body that had become, over the past month, rusty. 

“Wait…what?” he said, his first unmonitored words, freely and confidently expressed without pain, in a long time.

His consciousness felt released from that dark jail cell of the mind. The light beamed at him not from a tiny mental cell window, but from all around him in the room.

He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.

“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that, to Peter, looked genuine. She didn’t have his spastic reaction to having regained full control over her body, because she’d fully accepted Bolshivarian control over it.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning…sincerely.

On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.

“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.

Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”

You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.

As will we, Peter, the energy of Ray and Donna vibrated throughout his body.

“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”

No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.

Indeed, Peter and Michelle could feel a kind of ghost-trace of Bolshivarian consciousness blended with theirs. It no longer felt controlling, just…influencing…coexisting.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”

“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”

“It seems that way,” he said, looking left and right, and pausing to think about what was going on. “Still, this is all too easy. I mean, they had total control over us, and now they’re just letting us go free? This is too good to be true. I still have my doubts.”

“Umm, Peter, are you having any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him. “Surely your doubts would be giving you a splitting headache right now, wouldn’t they?”

“No,” he said, then took a deep breath. “In fact, I’ve never felt better.”

“Then stop worrying about it.”

“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“

“Oh, please, Peter! They aren’t manipulating us. It’s a kind of…mystical oneness, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I guess. OK.”

The little lights were all outside now.

She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.

The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.

“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.

“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.

How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.

“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”

All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.

Every single person was grinning.

‘The Splitting,’ A Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Expanded Version, Book III

Book III

Chapter One

2032, Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas, Venezuela

Sergeant Dan Miller, of the United City States Army, Exxon-Mobil Division, saluted Captain Finch as both of them were about to enter their office in their five-year-old military installation. Both men had coffees in their hands, and they’d just finished lunch.

“Did you have a good lunch, sir?” Miller asked as his saluting hand came down.

“Yes, I did, Dan,” Finch said as his came down and they entered. “How about you?”

“Oh, fine, sir. I must say, I like the food here much better than I did in the Samsung base in Seoul, where I was posted a couple years ago. I hate kimchi, but the corn, rice, and beans here are a lot better. I’m so glad we kicked all the commies out of this place, that old Maduro government, and that Exxon-Mobil is running things in Caracas.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Finch said, looking away and his smile fading. “This whole continent is our backyard. The changes made in every city here have made the whole place unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago, but the changes have all been good ones. We have far better use for the locals’ oil reserves than they do. Anyway, have those reports on my desk by 1400J.”

“Yes, sir,” Miller said, and went over to the filing cabinet, which was on the wall opposite to Finch’s office, where Finch went in and closed the door.

A minute later, Sergeant Judy West, of the Shell Oil Company’s air force, entered the office. “Good afternoon, Sergeant,” she said.

“Hi, Sergeant,” he said, looking away from his files. “How can I help you today?”

“Oh, I was just wondering if you were aware of any reports of alien activity here in Amazonas.”

“Not much of anything,” he said. “How’s things going in Africa, with the airstrikes and the drones spraying those glowing little bastards?”

“Well, after a year of it, we’ve killed many of them, but they’ve killed many more of ours,” she said. “At best, it’s been a stalemate; at worst, it could become Vietnam and Afghanistan, all over again.”

“Fuck,” he grunted. “Why can’t the good guys win, for a change?”

“I know how you feel,” she said, looking away and frowning. “Anyway, do you know of any rumours that there could be carriers of the aliens among us? Not necessarily here in this base, but maybe in other bases in South America, American soldiers who could be possessed by those little balls of light?”

“I’ve heard a rumour or two, a few suspicions, but nothing more than that.”

“Can you name any names of suspected military people?” she asked. “Even the vaguest lead could help.”

“No, no names, sorry. I wish I knew some, I really wish I did. I’d love to have an opportunity or two to fuck them up. I hate those sons o’ bitches.”

“Oh, I know the feeling,” she said with a sigh and a scowl. “If you learn of anything, just let me know. Here’s my name card.” She gave it to him.

“Thanks,” he said, taking it and putting it in his pocket. “In the meantime, though, I have my trusty can of bug spray here.” He gestured to it, fastened to his belt, as was standard for all military uniforms. “The very second I see any of them, my first reaction won’t be to call you, understand. Instead, I’ll zap the shiny little cocksuckers. Watch ’em die like the little cockroaches they are.”

“Well, you may encounter them pretty soon in the future,” she said. “We have intelligence that they’re infiltrating the whole Global South: not only here and Africa, but also Southeast Asia.”

“I’d enjoy a chance to kill some of ’em,” he said, with his back to her and looking at his files again. “Bring ’em on.”

“You may get that chance sooner than you think.”

“Oh?”

He looked behind.

His eyes and mouth widened.

Those glowing little bastards were flying from her fingers.

He got out his can of bug spray as quick as lightning and sprayed the half dozen of them that flew out in front. They all fell, tapping and bouncing on the wooden floor beside him.

“You little whore!” he shouted, reaching for a pistol he had hidden in the filing cabinet, in case of an alien carrier emergency. He pointed it at her. “Now it’s time for you to die, you alien carrier bitch.”

But before he could pull the trigger, Bolshivarian balls of light were entering him in his back. Shaking and grunting in pain, he pointed the gun up to the ceiling and pulled the trigger.

Click.

He still had the safety on.

Still shaking and grunting, he dropped the gun and fell to the floor. The familiar red cracks were showing all over his face and hands. Bulges in his bruised skin were ripping holes in his uniform.

Luckily for his assailants, his grunts of pain weren’t loud enough to attract the attention of anyone outside. West and Finch approached Miller, looked down with blank expressions at him from either side of his fidgeting body, and watched him begin to rip apart, tearing more, and bigger, holes in his uniform.

“Open the window,” Finch told her. “We need to get the toxins out of the room.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, walking around Miller and the sprayed area to get to the window.

Finch watched as Miller’s flesh was ripping open, exposing his brain, trachea, stomach, bladder, and leg muscles. His ribcage was broken out wide open, like two doors to a welcoming entrance, to expose his heart and lungs. His uniform shirt and pants were in shreds.

The torn-open innards had mouth-like holes formed in them, grunting, “No. No. No. No. Get out. Get out of me.”

“It’s a good thing most of everyone else is still at lunch,” Finch said. “We can’t have anyone seeing this.”

Miller’s body exploded, spraying his blood everywhere. Finch and West dodged the red spray in time, getting only a minimal amount of tiny dots of blood on their uniforms.

“I’ll go outside and use our energy to influence everyone to stay away from this office,” Finch said, heading for the door outside. “Our Bolshivarian technology fortunately can clean up this mess far quicker than human hands. Then we can honour our fallen ones lying there among his body parts.”

“Yes, sir,” she said in a choked-up voice, watching him go out the door.

The remaining balls of light came out of her, careful to keep their distance from the bug spray toxins still in the air. The lights pushed the toxins out the window; then they made the blood disappear off the walls, Miller’s desk, her uniform, and the floor. It was a slow fading away of red, but it was ultimately faster than rags, a bucket of water, and mops would have been.

Once Miller’s body parts were picked up and disposed of, she had time to look at the marble-like balls on the floor, those that used to glow with life.

Before picking them up for burial, she needed a moment to weep for them.

Chapter Two

“Friends, brothers, and sisters, thanks for attending tonight’s meeting,” Lenny Van der Meer said to all the carriers and sympathizers sitting in attendance, including Peter, Michelle, Pat, Valerie, Wendy, Sid, Tory, and Karen. They were in the spacious basement of a gym on the opposite side of town from that military base, on the night of the same day as the incident with Miller. “Before I begin our discussion of our recent progress, I’d like to introduce my second-in-command.” Lenny gestured to a large man with short, slicked back brown hair and a moustache. “This is George Villiers-Joseph, who in the event of my death will be your new leader. Trust him as you would trust me.”

George stood up, and everyone clapped for him. Michelle clapped enthusiastically with the carriers and most of the non-carrying sympathizers in attendance; Peter, Pat, Valerie, Tory, and Karen clapped politely, but not so enthusiastically. George sat down.

“Now, let’s begin,” Lenny said. “As you know, our plan has been to take control of South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, but far more surreptitiously than had been the case with Africa, which was taken almost in a panic, upon the world learning of our presence as extraterrestrials rather than as a virus. If only we hadn’t taken Africa in such a rushed, clumsy way, we might have avoided the war that’s been going on there for the past year, and prevented so many deaths on our side.”

At one point, Michelle’s eyes drifted over to Karen and Valerie, who seemed distracted. Instead of listening to Lenny, they were watching his bodyguards. Michelle furrowed her brow, then turned her eyes back to him.

“Much progress has been made,” Lenny continued. “We’ve made inroads in controlling the Exxon-Mobil base on the other side of this city earlier today. We’ve become better able to stop and reverse flooding in many parts of South America. We’re controlling the wildfires at the edges of the rainforest and on the savannas without arousing suspicion among the UCSA and NATO militaries. But mistakes have been made elsewhere on the continent. A heightened military presence in Quito, in the form of the Chiquita Brands International armed forces, in Santiago’s Codelco military branch, the military division in Buenos Aires’s British American Tobacco, and Tesla’s military in La Paz, have all been provoked by sloppy attempts by our comrades to pass on our Bolshivarian light to those in the city-state governments/corporations, and among some in their corporate militaries.”

Michelle looked over at Karen and Valerie again. The two women still seemed to be interested more in Lenny’s bodyguards than in his words.

“This clumsiness, I’m sorry to say, has been the inevitable result of our Bolshivarian consciousness being merged with, no offence to our non-carrying sympathizers, the limitations of the human mind.”

“Oh, no offence taken,” Peter snorted. “Arrogant little glowing bastards.”

“Agreed,” Pat whispered to him.

Peter added,“They’re so superior to us.”

“Well, aren’t they?” Michelle whispered. “If it weren’t for their medical superiority, we’d be dead in Luanda, wouldn’t we?”

Peter’s only reply was a scowl that acknowledged her point.

She then took a third look over at Karen and Valerie, who were still watching the bodyguards while Tory was listening to Lenny with a grin of contentment. “Karen? What is it? Why are you and Valerie always watching Lenny’s bodyguards?”

“Hmm?” Karen said in confused surprise at Michelle’s question. “Oh, we’re just worried that Lenny’s security might not be tight enough. He needs more men, I’d say.” She let out a little giggle.

“Oh,” Michelle said, then resumed listening to Lenny.

“Still, it would be unfair to blame all our flaws on the human brain; much of the fault of our mistakes is our own,” Lenny said. “We’re not perfect. We’re only Bolshivarian, after all.”

This got a few chuckles from the non-carrier listeners.

“Anyway,” Lenny went on, “we must keep aware of any new developments. Watch the news, as biased against us as the media is, and find online videos showing what we’re doing to help the people, where we’re succeeding and failing. We must be prepared to react to any new problems and challenges as they arise.”

Yes, Michelle thought. We need to know what that bitch Price is planning against us.

I really want to believe the Bolshivarians are sincere when they say they are working to help people here, Peter thought. Over the next few days, I’ll be looking for those online videos on my phone…if they exist.

Pat and Valerie had similar doubts, and similar hopes that they were wrong to doubt.

Chapter Three

The afternoon of the next day, Peter and Michelle were in their apartment across the road from the gym in the basement where they’d attended the meeting with Lenny and George.

They went into the living room. “Let’s see what’s on the news,” Michelle said, reaching for the remote and sitting next to Peter on the sofa. “After what Lenny said about heightened military presences in South America, I’m a little worried. They might know about the carriers in the military base on the other side of town.”

She turned on the TV and switched it to CNN. President Price was in the middle of another press conference.

“So, the status in Africa has still shown no signs of improvement?” a reporter asked her.

“I wish I could say we have seen such signs, but sadly, no,” Price said. “Our attempts to wipe out the alien menace in Africa have been, to be perfectly blunt, frustrating. We manage to kill so many of them, yet thousands of those little lights rise up to take their places.”

“Making friends with them, of course, is out of the question,” Peter said.

Michelle frowned at him, wishing he’d remain quiet during the press conference.

“What’s worse, there are more and more reports that the aliens are being spotted taking over populations in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Just yesterday afternoon, an administrative clerk in a base in Venezuela suddenly went missing, though he was known to have arrived for work that morning. There was no reason for him to disappear, so already there are suspicions that that base has been compromised. We may have to send troops there to confront the alien menace.”

“Oh, my God,” Michelle said. “Could that be the same base here, the one Lenny was talking about last night?”

“Could be,” Peter said.

“If our suspicions about all these reports are true,” Price said, “I must stress that the international community will not and cannot tolerate this growing threat to our interests.”

“Of course not,” Peter said. “If the Bolshivarians keep on taking control of everything, the ‘international community’ can no longer make money from all the oil it sucks out of Venezuela.”

“Shh!” Michelle said. “We’ve gotta listen.”

“Defeating this menace, I’m afraid, will require more radical, sweeping action than what we’ve used up to this point,” Price said.

“You’ve said ‘radical’ and ‘sweeping’ a number of times over the past year, Madame President,” another reporter said. “But you never elaborate on that. What exactly might these ‘radical’ and ‘sweeping’ measures entail? How much longer are we going to hear that they are classified?”

“Well,” Price began with a sigh and a pause, “I’m not saying we’re going to use nuclear weapons…”

“Oh, my God!” Michelle gasped.

“…but that option is not being ruled out any more,” the president went on. “If, and I do mean if, it is ever considered, I assure the world that it will be only as a last resort…and an extremely last resort at that…”

“It’s extreme, all right,” Peter said with a sneer.

“…one I’d be loath to have to use,” Price went on, “but one we can no longer dismiss as a resort never to be considered.”

“You bitch,” Peter hissed.

“Could we dismiss you as a resort never to be considered, Madame President?” Michelle said.

Chapter Four

The next day, Peter was in their bedroom looking at his cellphone.

Again, I’ll take another look for videos of the Bolshivarians doing good deeds for the Earth, as I did yesterday, he thought as he did a search for relevant videos. I didn’t find much to convince myself yesterday, so I’ll try again today. I’ve just got to be sure that when they say they are working to improve life here, that they mean what they say.

The search included a video with this title, uploaded a few hours before his search: “Aliens reversing flooding near Rio de Janeiro, interrupted and attacked by Lloyd’s of London military.”

OK, he thought. I’ll check this one out. He clicked PLAY.

Indeed, the video showed a swarm of the floating dots of white light near a neighbourhood with flooding almost up to the second floor of the houses. The video went on for a period of about twenty boring minutes, but near the twenty minute mark, one could see the water level begin to recede ever so slightly. After another five to ten minutes, the water level was significantly lower than that.

One could tell by noting that the water, having risen up the wall of a house several yards away from the person getting the video, had covered almost all of the house’s first-storey window. (This house, and all those of the flooded neighbourhood, were a few yards in front of an elevation of land slightly higher than the flooding, where the person getting the video was standing.) The surface of the water had now gone down to reveal the upper half of the window by the twenty-five minute mark. By the thirty minute mark of the video, all of that window was showing.

“The Bolshivarians really are helping us,” he whispered.

A minute or so after that, he suddenly heard shouting in British accents: “It’s the aliens! Kill them! Fire your bug spray! Now!” Then the sound of bug spray could be heard hissing all over the area. The shaky cellphone camera swung around behind to get video of men in Lloyd’s military uniforms spraying in the direction of the one holding the cellphone and at the Bolshivarians behind him or her. Since this person didn’t fall down and die, dropping the cellphone, he or she obviously wasn’t a carrier. Coughing from the spray was heard, though.

Whoever made this video isn’t a carrier, and so probably isn’t presenting pro-Bolshivarian propaganda, he thought.

The camera swung back in the direction of the house to show the balls losing their light and dropping dead to the ground. The flooding waters began to rise again; the rising had been apparent after only a minute, for that window was covered up a third of the way already with water.

“You stupid bastards!” the cellphone camera holder, still coughing and with a male voice, said of the British troops. “Are you so blind…” [coughing] “…as to how they’re helping us?”

Screams of those troops could now be heard. The cellphone camera swung back around to show other dots of light, coming from behind and entering the troops. From a distance of about ten yards away, one could see their bodies ripping out of their uniforms and flesh tearing open to show internal anatomy. A lot of dark red poking out of green camouflage, but no rivers of blood, until the bodies exploded.

The cellphone camera followed the dots of light as they floated over the carnage and, at a safe distance from where the bug spray toxins were still in the air, they resumed reversing the flooding. The cellphone camera resumed getting video of that house. After a few minutes, Peter saw the water go down below all of that window again.

“Well, thank God for that,” he said.

“Peter!” Michelle called to him from the living room, startling him. “Come watch this!”

He left his cellphone on the bed and came out of the bedroom to see what she was watching on the news. President Price was at her desk in the Oval Office.

“We know there are some people out there, not carriers of the aliens, but sympathizers with them,” she said. “They would have you believe that the aliens are our friends, here to help us. Well, I’m telling you now just how wrong, misguided, and outright mendacious such a notion is. In fact, such false information is dangerous. We have video, taken just today in Brazil, just near Rio de Janeiro, that will show you how wrong it is to believe the aliens are a force for good.”

The TV switched away from Price to video that looked exactly the same as what Peter had just watched…

…well, almost the same.

Now, instead of the water level going down to reveal more and more of that window, he saw the water going up.

Peter and Michelle heard Price say in a voiceover, “Notice how the aliens are raising the flooding water, exacerbating the flooding of the world, not lowering the water, as their apologists claim they do.”

“That’s not true,” Peter said. “Someone has tampered with this video.”

“How do you know?” Michelle asked.

“I’ll show you in a minute,” he said. “Let’s just see where they’re going with this bullshit.”

Soon, they heard the voices of troops, but with American accents instead of British ones, saying, “The aliens are flooding the area! Spray them before they kill those people!”

The cellphone camera swung around to show the troops, who were now seen in the uniforms of the military division of Newmont Mining.

“They altered the uniforms, too,” Peter whispered.

“As you can see,” Price said in the voiceover, “our brave American servicemen and women tried valiantly to stop the alien menace…”

“You lying bitch,” Peter grunted, scowling at the TV.

“…but alas, they couldn’t,” the voiceover continued. “It is the formidable nature of this foe that shows we may need to take more drastic action than we have.”

Now the video showed the Bolshivarians entering the troops and tearing up their…American…uniforms. At the first sight of red internal organs, the video stopped abruptly. Price was seen in the Oval Office again.

“In heated discussions with the members of my administration, I have been strenuously arguing the case against the use of nuclear weapons, and I will continue to do so,” she said. “But the seriousness of this menace is making it harder and harder to argue my case.”

“Bullshit,” Michelle said. “You’ve wanted to nuke Latin America and Africa from the beginning. You’re just rationalizing with this propaganda, and preparing the world for the worst, bit by bit.”

“I’ll prove that what you saw is all lies,” Peter said. He ran back into the bedroom to get his phone while saying, “I was just watching the original video when you called me over to the TV. I’ll replay it for you.” He came back into the living room with his phone. “The Bolshivarians were lowering the water, not raising it; and the troops were British, not Am–“

His phone indicated that the video was no longer available.

Chapter Five

The night of the next day, Lenny Van der Meer chaired another meeting in the gym basement. George Villiers-Joseph sat by him while he stood at the podium.

Peter and Michelle sat with Tory, who came alone.

“Where’s Karen?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, she decided to stay home tonight,” Tory said with a frown. “She told me she wasn’t feeling well.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Michelle said. “I hope she gets better soon.”

“Thanks,” he said. “She’s been acting funny the last couple of days. Moping, depressed, angry.”

“Why’s that?” Michelle asked. “Is it frustration with the growing military threat here?”

“She wouldn’t say,” he said with a sigh. “I asked her, and she remained all quiet and morose. I imagine it’s the fear of another war, like in Africa, but if so, she surely would have just told me. She seems to be burying her feelings so deep down, even I can’t figure out what’s bothering her. She still grieves over our boy Cameron, but so do I, and I’m carrying on OK, as you can see.”

“Doesn’t she get any comfort from communing with his psychic energy?” Michelle asked. “I get that every night from the spirits of my mom and dad.”

“You’d think she’d get such comfort, but I suspect she doubts that the apparitions of Cameron, his energy, is real,” Tory said. “Pat and Valerie say they sometimes doubt it’s real. I don’t doubt its reality; Karen’s never said she doubts it, but I suspect she does. In any case, I really don’t know.”

“Lenny’s about to start,” Peter whispered. I, of course, share those doubts, too, he thought. But I don’t want to say anything about that here. Michelle will get upset if I do.

“Friends, brothers, and sisters,” Van der Meer began, “recently, there has been an alarming set of developments. The United City-States of America and their NATO allies are growing more and more aware of our activities here. Not only do they know of our attempts to reverse the flooding in the Rio de Janeiro area–you may have seen the video of the Bolshivarian confrontation with Lloyd’s army division yesterday, which the UCSA doctored to make it look as if we were worsening the flooding.”

“Oh, yes, that,” Tory said. “That was despicable propaganda.”

“Yes,” Peter said, “I saw the original video online.”

“Me, too,” Tory said.

“Guys, let’s listen,” Michelle said.

“Also, our enemies learned that we’ve infiltrated the Exxon-Mobile army base here in Puerto Ayacucho,” Lenny went on. “They discovered the mutilated remains of Sergeant Dan Miller, who refused to join us as Captain Finch and Sergeant West had. Both Finch and West were discovered…and killed. All the Bolshivarians housed in their bodies were slain with the toxins in the bug spray.”

A mournful energy permeated the basement during the next several seconds. Lenny and George appeared on the verge of tears.

“But none of this, as regretful as it is, is the worst,” Lenny went on. “Just as we’ve had to endure a year of war in Africa, so will we have to prepare for it here. Recall also the thinly-veiled nuclear threat. We must be steeled and ready.”

In a corner of the basement, about two o’clock from where Lenny was standing, were stacks of chairs and tables piled high enough to create a shadow large enough to hide someone. From that shadow, a hand holding a pistol emerged.

No one was paying attention to it.

Least of all, Lenny’s bodyguards.

All eyes were on him.

“We must continue watching out for any danger,” Lenny said. “The UCSA and NATO have spies everywhere. Someone informed them of our hideout in Angola, recall–that warehouse.”

And our hotel in Luanda, Peter and Michelle remembered.

“Now, we assume that the spies in Angola weren’t among us during our meetings,” Lenny cautioned. “But however unlikely it may be, it isn’t impossible for one of our people here, a non-carrier who pretends to be a sympathizer, even consciously thinks like one, to evade Bolshivarian detection, by burying their feelings deep down–“

Just as the shooter of that pistol was doing a burying of feelings.

The bullet shot through Lenny’s left side diagonally from the back and into his heart. He fell to the floor to the right of the podium. The balls of light left his body as quickly as his blood began to flow.

A sea of screams flooded the basement. Everyone stood up to get a look where the shot had come from. The lights leaving Lenny’s body flew right over to that corner to get their revenge.

“You killed my son!” the assassin screamed as she emerged from the shadows spraying bug spray at the lights.

“Oh, my God!” Tory screamed as he looked over to that shady corner. “Karen…NOOO!!!

Michelle put her arms around him, saying, “Tory, don’t look.”

Indeed, he wouldn’t be able to bear seeing his wife’s body torn to pieces, so he closed his eyes tight and let the tears roll down his cheeks.

Karen resisted the Bolshivarians as best she could at first, aiming her shaking pistol arm at George, but firing two bullets into the ceiling before dropping it. The hand holding the bug spray was more successful, hitting the first dozen of Lenny’s dots of light and dropping them to bounce lifeless on the stage.

Other Bolshivarians managed to evade the toxins and enter her. Michelle and Peter watched in horror as Karen’s body ripped through her dress and explode in a huge splash of blood. Michelle held Tory’s shaking body tightly as he wept.

Was she the one who told the UCSA army where our hotel in Luanda was? Peter wondered. We told her about it. No, wait: we told Pat and Valerie, who told her—that’s right.

George stepped up to the podium as Lenny’s bodyguards picked up his body and carried it away.

“We must have order!” George said, his eyes wet with tears. It was difficult for him to keep from sobbing. “We will bury…our comrades, Lenny and the Bolshivarians…who inhabited his body, and we will honour them all. But this act of treason…instead of distracting us from our cause, must keep us focused on it. We must prepare for war, and immediately.”

“What of our other projects?” a carrier standing at the front of the audience asked. “The quenching of wildfires, the reversing of flooding, the providing of healthcare to the poor?”

“Fear not, Karol,” George said. “Our preparations for war will not retard our progress in those areas by the slightest bit.”

“And who are the friends or family of the traitor?” Karol asked, looking back at the audience. “She was one of the non-carrier ‘sympathizers,’ was she not?”

“Yes,” George said, also looking out at the audience and frowning. “We will investigate the matter immediately.”

A swarm of dots of light flew right at Peter, Michelle, and Tory.

Chapter Six

Peter and Michelle went with Tory Lee to his home right after the meeting in the gym that night. His home was across the road from the gym, but on the side opposite to that of Peter’s and Michelle’s apartment. That he needed human company was obvious after what had happened to Karen only an hour before.

“Thank you for taking me home and being here with me,” Tory said, in a state of emotional exhaustion. “It’s gonna be rough, being all alone now. It’s good to have friends.”

“It’s also good no longer to be probed by Bolshivarians,” Peter said, with more than a hint of annoyance, as the three of them went through the front door. “Oh, those little lights passing into our brains like that, monitoring our every thought and feeling, searching for signs of treasonous ideas in our heads! It felt like being strip-searched, standing naked before the Bolshivarians, only it was our minds instead of our bodies. That was awful! They have no respect for our privacy.” They passed through the kitchen.

“I had only grief in my thoughts,” Tory said. “I couldn’t think of anything else if I tried. The Bolshivarians wouldn’t have found any treasonous thoughts in my mind, even if I’d actually had them hiding in the deepest shadows of my unconscious. They’d never have found them even if they’d tried their damnedest, and if the thoughts were actually there. Still, that was a horrible ordeal, especially after…Karen’s…” He began to sob.

“I’ll admit that that was the worst thirty minutes I’ve been through since my mom was killed,” Michelle said as they came into the living room. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Tory, especially after…what happened to Karen. Still, as hard as it was, I can understand why the Bolshivarians wanted to test our loyalty. They’re grieving over their losses just as we’re grieving over Karen. The pain of losing Cameron must have been too much for her.”

“It drove her mad, I hate to say,” Tory said as all three of them stood before shelves on a wall with a number of photos of him, Karen, and Cameron at various ages on them. “I knew she found Cameron’s loss overwhelmingly painful, but I’d never have guessed she’d had revenge on her mind. It wasn’t in her nature–isn’t in mine.”

As they walked through his living room, Peter noticed Tory’s desktop computer. Peter bumped his hip against the desk, and the monitor lit up, showing video editing software.

Next to the computer desk was a bookshelf. Peter gave it a quick scan, seeing these titles: The Revolution Betrayed, Animal Farm, Brave New World, The New Class, Nineteen Eighty-Four, In Defence of MarxismConversations With StalinThe Struggle Against Fascism in GermanyDown and Out in Paris and London, and Island.

“It was tough losing Cameron those two years ago,” Tory said. “But I always understood that getting rid of the corrupt, capitalist governments of the world was necessary. Nobody, and I mean nobody in the Western world has any revolutionary potential, and that’s where the revolution has to come from. Nobody here in the Third World has the wherewithal to make revolution happen. It has to come from the richer parts of the world…and the people in our parts of the world–New York City for Karen and me–are too damn comfortable, too complacent, always staring at social media on our computers and cellphones, to rise up.”

“I agree,” Peter said. “Michelle and I are from the Toronto and Mississauga Districts, and we’re far too comfortable, too smug and self-satisfied, to do anything about the corruption in the world.”

“Though I lost my son, I’m still grateful that the Bolshivarians came. They are providing the revolutions we need to keep happening, to save the world. They merge with the minds of the people, and when the people accept the new way, the Bolshivarians can give them the impetus to become revolutionaries. Cameron should have seen the light–he wouldn’t, so the lights sawed him…to pieces.” He broke down and cried again.

Now they’ve sawn Karen to pieces, Michelle thought. Still, that’s what you get for turning traitor, not that I’d ever say that to poor Tory. “Again, I’m so sorry, Tory.” She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.

Tory regained control and said, “Now, I’m not without my criticisms of the Bolshivarians. I’d watch what George is about to do, if I were you, now that he’s the new leader. I wish he’d focus on causing more and more uprisings around the world, which he seems less inclined to do, as I’ve learned from conversations with him over the months. I disagree with the direction he’ll want to take us in. We can rebuild the world after tearing down the old system. We don’t have time for rebuilding right now.”

“I have my share of criticisms of the Bolshivarians, too,” Peter said. “But they won’t kill us for that.”

“They never kill us,” Michelle said. “We let ourselves die for not accepting the new way.”

Peter sighed in annoyance at these words.

“It’s true,” Tory said. “Karen wouldn’t accept the new way. If only she’d been able to control her grief.”

“I know,” Michelle said with a sigh. “It was hard for Peter and me to accept the new way, too, after the deaths of his parents and my dad, and my mom killed by a government agent in Canada; but there are greater issues to deal with than just our personal problems and our families.”

“That’s right,” Tory said. “We mustn’t lose sight of that. We must all pull together, or else man is going to destroy the planet with war, global warming, and the kind of poverty we see all around us in this city, with its beggars on the streets and its slums and barrios. We can’t afford to be selfish, the way the oligarchs are, caring only about their families and not about the families of the rest of the world. If only Karen…could have understood better…” He broke down again and wept.

“And the Bolshivarians psychically grilled him, as if he were a Nazi war criminal or something,” Peter said.

“They had to, Peter!” Michelle said.

“Right at the height of Tory’s trauma and grief?”

“They’re grieving for their own, too!” she said.

“She’s right,” Tory sobbed. “As hard as it was, they were justified in their suspicions. She was my wife; they had to make sure I’m not a traitor, too. For all they knew, I could have been plotting assassinations with her. I wasn’t, of course, but they didn’t know.”

Peter sighed. “Well, I guess so.”

“Anyway, I’m pretty exhausted,” Tory said. “The only thing I can do now is sleep off this sadness. You both can go home now. I’ll bet you’re really tired, too.”

“Yeah, we are, but will you be OK?” Peter asked.

“Oh, yes, I’ll be fine. I just need some time.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Don’t worry about me. You’ve already done a lot for me by coming here. Good night, and thanks again.”

“OK, Tory, good night,” she said as she and Peter left the living room and approached the front door. “If you need anything, just call us.”

“OK,” Tory said. “Good night.”

“Bye,” Peter said, and he and Michelle left.

Chapter Seven

The following week, the carriers and sympathizers had their next meeting in the basement of the gym, chaired by their new leader, George Villiers-Joseph. His close friend and associate, Karol Sargent, sat by him as he stood at the podium.

George’s bodyguards were double the number that Lenny Van der Meer had had, for obvious reasons. Though George tried to keep everyone’s spirits as raised as possible, there was an undeniable energy of paranoia spread throughout the room.

“Comrades, brothers, and sisters,” he began with a big smile under that moustache. “Now that we have mourned our fallen from last week, and have determined that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Karen Finley acted alone in perpetrating the tragedy last week…”

Peter and Michelle took a quick glance at Tory, who sat to their left, to see his reaction to George’s words. He seemed unaffected, paying close attention to every syllable that came out of George’s mouth.

“…we can finally turn the page of that sad chapter in our community’s history, and look ahead with cautious optimism to our future,” George went on. “First, I’ll discuss our progress, then, our challenges. Not only have we made significant reversals in rising sea levels and flooding here in South America, but also in many of the City-States in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Wildfires around the world have been fewer, too, thanks to Bolshivarian efforts. The ruling classes of the Earth have actually stopped interfering with us in these areas: not out of a spirit of goodwill or compassion, but because they plan that, once the whole Earth has been rejuvenated, their big business/governments can resume raping the Earth and profiting from such ravaging to the maximum.”

Tory leaned over to Peter’s ear. “This is part of where I must criticize George,” he said. “As soon as the healing of the Earth is finished, the capitalists will start destroying it again. I believe we should crush the capitalists first, all of them, then repair the Earth, when there won’t be anyone else to harm her again.”

“What was that?” Michelle asked.

“He was just saying he doesn’t like how George is managing things,” Peter told her.

“Why?” she asked. “Don’t all Bolshivarians have the same agenda, no matter who the leader is, Tory?”

“The Bolshivarian consciousness merges with the human brain of the carrier,” Tory said. “Just as the limitations of the human mind affect the Bolshivarians’ judgement, so do the biases of the human personality affect it. I think George’s personality might not be suited to lead our cause.”

Frowning, the three of them resumed listening to George.

“So we have done a good job of cooling the planet and eliminating pollution, too,” George said. “We’ve also made considerable progress in teaching South Americans about our advances in medical technology, healing the sick here, educating the people in general, providing housing and employment, and replacing fossil fuels with solar and wind energy.”

“All wastes of time and energy,” Tory whispered. “Revolution first.”

Peter turned his head slightly towards Tory when he heard that.

“So, that was the good news,” George said. “Now for the challenges we face. We have begun training and preparing the people, carrier and non-carrier alike, for the imminent invasion by UCSA and NATO forces, all the military divisions of their multinational corporations.”

“Now, that’s more like it, George,” Tory said. “Keep the revolution unending ’til we win.”

Peter and Michelle smiled at those words.

“We have plans to protect ourselves and survive a nuclear attack if it comes to that,” George went on. “We have been largely successful in the war in Africa, despite heavy Bolshivarian losses, repelling the fighter jets and bug spray attacks from drones, so we should have similar successes here in South America if they try attacking us that way.”

The energy of the room was improving.

“Finally, as you can see here, I have doubled my security in case of another treasonous attack,” George said. “The Bolshivarian lights you all see floating over your heads are monitoring the thoughts of everyone in the audience, as I speak. Have no fear: if your intentions are good, you’ll be perfectly safe.”

I don’t like the sou– Peter began to think, then, looking up, thought, Shut up, brain. 

He looked behind at Pat and Valerie, whose frowns looked like expressions of suspicion.

“And in the event of my death,” George went on, “my good friend, Comrade Karol Sargent, will take my place as leader.”

Tory’s eyes lit up at the sound of those words.

Pat and Valerie frowned a bit more.

Chapter Eight

The next day, Peter and Michelle were in their apartment watching the news on TV. President Price was in the Oval Office, at her desk, frowning as she spoke.

“New video has been sent to us from the City-States of Venezuela,” she said. “This video was taken by a member of the underground resistance there who, as a spy, has put himself at great risk to give us this information.”

“Translation: this propaganda,” Peter said with a sneer.

“Shh!” Michelle said.

“The video we’re about to show you will be disturbing to watch,” Price said, “but it’s proof that must be given the widest circulation, proof of the danger that the aliens present to our freedom. Proof that they must be stopped.”

“Get ready for state-of-the-art production values,” Peter said.

“Peter, we all know it’s lies,” Michelle said. “But we’ve gotta listen to know what they’re planning.”

“Apologists of the aliens, preferring to call them ‘Bolshivarians,’ to make us want to sympathize with beings that shouldn’t be sympathized with, claim they’re trying to improve life on our Earth,” Price said. “But does this look like an improvement?”

The video switched from Price to a group of people, about fifty in number, seen from a bird’s-eye-view in a forest…a forest in which a wildfire could be seen blazing. The flames were surrounding the group of people, closing in on them, though they didn’t seem at all concerned.

The video cut to a closeup of the people. They looked as if they were in a trancelike state. The flames could be seen in the background, though the zombie-like people were showing no awareness of the burning trees, or the smoke in the evening sky. The entranced people seemed to be chanting something.

“As you can see,” Price said in a voiceover, “the aliens aren’t keeping their promise to reverse climate change.”

“Wait a minute,” Michelle said, leaning closer to the TV. “One or two of those faces look familiar.”

“Yeah,” Peter said, also leaning closer. “This is supposed to be in Venezuela, right? Hey! That’s Wendy! Recognize her, Michelle?”

“Oh, my God!” Michelle said. “Yes, that’s her! Wendy Callaghan!”

“And there’s Pat! And Valerie! And Sid!”

“They’re all people from our group in the gym basement. We never meet in the woods, let alone in a wildfire.”

“This is obviously faked,” Peter said. “Yet faked well. The editing is seamless. It really looks as if we’re in the w–“

We are in it!” Michelle said. “Look!”

Indeed, they saw themselves among the mesmerized–far off in the background, yet close enough to be recognized.

“Whoever got this video obviously got it when we were meditating with the Bolshivarians,” Michelle said. “That’s why we all look so spaced out, mumbling.”

“And there’s Lenny and George,” Peter said. “This is an older video, taken before the assassination, and visually manipulated since.”

“Before the Bolshivarians got suspicious of everyone. While their guard was still down, and they trusted us.”

“Hey, there’s Karen’s face…but where’s Tory?

“This video was taken while Lenny Van der Meer was still alive, as you can see,” Price said in the voiceover. “Note the man with the moustache, next to Lenny. George Villiers-Joseph, their new leader. He’s a man much more ruthless than Lenny ever was. Beware of George. He’s very dangerous. He’s why we must go to war in South America.”

Peter ruminated on these words.

“Well, I don’t really like George all that much either, but still…,” he said.

“Peter?” Michelle said.

“I have an idea,” he said, then went over to the bedroom to get his cellphone.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked.

“I can’t explain right now, but trust me,” he said, dialing Tory’s number. “Hi, Tory? It’s Peter. How are you doing?…Yeah? Good. Look, I’ve been thinking about your criticisms of George Villiers-Joseph, and I must say that I agree with you. He’s messing everything up. If we let him continue leading everything, he’s going to get us all into a nasty war with the UCSA…Yeah, I was thinking that, too. I don’t have a weapon–well, there’s an axe in our closet, but I don’t have a gun…You have a gun? Good. I’ll come over to your place and we can work out a plan…Good. See you in ten minutes. Bye.” He hung up.

“My God, Peter!” she said, having listened to his end of the conversation. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking of…”

“Don’t worry, Michelle,” he said, then kissed her on the cheek. “I know what I’m doing. I’ll explain everything later. For now, just trust me.” He went out the door.

She just stood by the door, stunned.

Chapter Nine

The week after, George chaired another meeting in the gym basement. The energy pervading the room was tense. Still, George smiled and tried to keep things positive.

“Our efforts in improving life here in South America have gone on uninterrupted, as you know,” he said. “The ruling classes of Earth are content to let us repair the damage they’ve done to the planet, as long as they don’t give us credit for these improvements. In fact, as we’ve seen on the news on TV over the past week, their media has tried to blame us for worsening the wildfires, flooding, and rising sea levels, while they take credit for any improvements. Videos that have been tampered with, manipulated to make us seem guilty of worsening things, and have been sent to their media for propagandistic purposes. Some of these videos were recorded among us!

There was no shocked reaction among the audience, as all of them, over the past week, had seen these videos on the news, as Michelle and Peter had seen. They recognized themselves in the videos. 

Michelle sat among such non-carriers as Wendy Callaghan, Valerie, Pat, and Sid, trying not to let anyone see her nervousness, and hoping neither the carriers nor the floating dots of light above would sense her tension. Burying feelings was hard for her, though she managed it.

She looked over at the others, and noted similar feelings of tension on the faces of Wendy and Sid, though less tense than her own. Valerie and Pat were actually smiling, as if they knew something good was going to happen.

“Hey, Michelle,” Wendy asked. “Where’s Peter?”

“Oh, uh,…” she began, trying not to stammer. “H-he hasn’t b-been feeling well today.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Wendy said. “I hope he gets better soon.”

“Thanks.”

“Have you heard from Tory?”

“Well, he’s still recovering from the loss of Karen,” Michelle said. “That was quite a shock, a few weeks ago.”

“Yeah, he’s gonna need time,” Wendy said. “He was here last week, though. He seemed better. But I guess the grieving process has its ups and downs.”

‘Yeah,” Michelle said, hoping her smile didn’t look as forced as it felt. She and Wendy resumed listening to George.

“They have already begun the war here in South America, but they are being more covert about it this time, as opposed to their clumsy attempts in Africa,” he said. “There is an even greater troop presence in all of the military bases than the increase of the past few weeks, and they’re trying to root us all out quietly. They stake out the bases and wait for us to feel safe and let out our Bolshivarian lights. They’ve had some success with this tactic, but…”

Michelle raised her head to look behind George, in the shadows of the corner opposite where the chairs and tables were stacked, a corner where boxes, instead, were stacked. A few drops of sweat went down her forehead.

She strained her eyes to see what was in the darkness. Then she saw it. A hand holding a pistol.

It was pointing straight at George’s head.

Though she was too far away to see in detail, she felt as if she could see the finger beginning to pull back on the trigger. Trying not to shake, she licked her lips.

“Ungh!” was heard from that corner. The assassin’s arm swung down to the floor, into which he fired a bullet just by George’s left foot. Screams pierced the ears of everyone in the room.

The assassin fell forward, the light revealing an axe blade in his head. A pool of blood grew around the body. The balls of light flew out of George and into the dark corner, lighting it up to reveal Peter.

Amid the screams and pandemonium, Michelle got up, waved her arms around to get everyone’s attention, and yelled, “Don’t hurt Peter! He saved George’s life! Tory was a traitor!”

A swarm of lights flew over to her. She felt their warmth. A mental message was sent to her.

Have no fear, Michelle, they told her in her mind. You and Peter told us of Tory’s treasonous intent last week. We all agreed to allow Tory to think he’d be safe hiding in the shadows with Peter, since Peter convinced Tory that he agreed to help assassinate George. Since there’s been so much burying of human feeling beyond Bolshivarian detection, we decided to let Tory and Peter hide in the corner, to test not only if Tory really was a traitor, but also if Peter was truly loyal. Your boyfriend has proven himself honourable.

“Everything is OK,” George said to the audience. “You can all sit down now. Our suspicions have been confirmed tonight. Though Tory Lee cleverly hid his true feelings beyond our probing’s ability to detect them, he has proven himself no less a traitor than his wife, Karen Finley. Both of them, out of a repressed wish to avenge the death of their son–a death caused by the boy’s rejection of our way, not a death caused by us–plotted against us Bolshivarians, revealing our hideouts to the UCSA and NATO armies, informing them of the identities of carriers hiding among their armies, and sending propaganda videos of our meetings to the ruling classes’ media.”

Peter then took the microphone to explain himself. “I’ll admit I’ve had my doubts about the Bolshivarians,” he said, “but I’ve never doubted the evil of the ruling classes of the Earth. Anyone who helps them is my enemy. That’s why I killed Tory. I pretended to sympathize with him to gain his trust, just as he and Karen had pretended to sympathize with us to spy on us. Look down at his body: this is what will happen to anybody…anybody…who endangers our lives and our hopes to save the Earth!”

The entire room exploded with cheers and the clapping of hands.

I just hope George will not disappoint me in the future, Peter thought amidst the noise.

Wendy and Sid were clapping and cheering with wide grins on their faces. Pat and Valerie were clapping, too, but not smiling.

Chapter Ten

The afternoon of the next day, Peter and Michelle were in the living room of their apartment watching the news on TV.

President Price was giving another press conference.

“It causes me great pain to say this,” she said, “but all our efforts to eliminate the alien menace in Africa, through the use of airstrikes and drones, have failed. What’s worse, it is clear that the aliens have taken control of the vast majority of not only Africa, but also most of Latin America and Southeast Asia. Even our covert attempts at rooting out the aliens and their human carriers have been nothing less than frustrating.”

“So, what are we going to do, Madame President?” a reporter asked.

She let out a sigh, then said, “The time has finally come for more radical and sweeping measures to wipe out this menace.”

Gasps were heard among the reporters.

Peter and Michelle almost jumped off their sofa.

“Will these measures include…the use of…nuclear weapons?” the same reporter asked, with the deepest dread.

Price let out another sigh. “I’m…afraid so,” she said.

More gasps were heard…including in the living room.

“We’ll have to hit specified targets…in all three continents…to maximize the annihilation of the aliens while minimizing loss of human, animal, or plant life,” the president said, with more sighs.

More gasping, with indistinct chatter among the reporters.

“For fuck’s sake!” Peter said, shaking.

“Please, somebody, wake me up from this nightmare, now,” Michelle whispered.

“Where will the targets be?” another reporter asked.

“If I were to answer that question, Ted, the aliens would know, too,” Price said. “They’re following these news reports even more attentively than the average viewer is, for obvious reasons. But suffice it to say, our intelligence will know where the aliens are most concentrated.”

“In the Amazonian rainforest?” Peter shouted. “As if climate change wasn’t bad enough already. Apart from the fallout, think of the destroying of all those trees! There’ll be carbon dioxide everywhere!”

“The UCSA governments have gone insane,” Michelle said.

“I assure you, ” Price said. “We will use newly-made, miniaturized nuclear warheads, of roughly the size and power of the W54, which will do a minimal amount of damage, leaving a minimal area of fallout while effectively hitting their targets.”

“Somehow, I don’t find that very reassuring, Madame President,” Michelle said.

Chapter Eleven 

“Why are we all meeting here, in Tory’s and Karen’s house, of all places?” Michelle asked Karol Sargent the morning of the next day.

“Because their loyalty to the UCSA and NATO makes their home one of the safer places,” he told her. “The last place they’d think we’d be hiding in is the home of traitors to us. What’s more, they know of our use of the gym as a hideout. Traitors like Tory and Karen told them.”

“Could there be other traitors among us?” Peter said.

“That’s more of a probability than a possibility,” Karol said. “We’re trying to find them, but they’re good at burying their feelings.”

A mob of carriers, including Karol and George, and non-carrier sympathizers, including Peter, Michelle, Wendy Callaghan, Pat, Valerie, and Sid, were crowding Tory’s and Karen’s living room. Others, just arriving at the time, were flooding the house by coming in through the front door and filling up all the space in the front hall and the kitchen.

“Come on in,” Karol said, gesturing to have people move towards the back of the house. “Let everyone in. We don’t want a lineup of people outside. The invading soldiers will see them and suspect us.”

“What happened last night?” Wendy asked.

“George and I were in the gym basement with a few dozen carriers, making plans to repel the invaders, when a drone flew by with some American soldiers coming on foot. They broke a basement window, and the drone sprayed bug spray into our meeting area.”

“Oh, no!” Wendy and Michelle said together.

“Many Bolshivarians died in the basement,” George said with a frown. “Since humans who have been carriers of Bolshivarians for a long time feel their life force inextricably connected with ours, those human carriers exposed to the bug spray toxins also died. Fortunately, Karol, myself, and several other carriers managed to escape.”

“So, what are we going to do?” Peter asked.

“All non-carrying sympathizers must leave South America immediately,” George said.

“Why?” Peter asked. “We wanna help you.”

“No,” Karol said. “You’re far too valuable to risk being killed. We need to have as many non-carrier sympathizers as we can, to counter all the propaganda against us in the northern continents. All carriers must stay here to help us fight off the invaders. Many of us will die. The surviving carriers will have to confront a new testing process that reliably determines if a human is a carrier or not.”

“But what about the vaccines that MedicinaTech has made under their CEO, Wayne Grey?” Peter asked. “He’s a carrier, as you all should know. His vaccines are supposed to be a kind of ‘cloaking device,’ hiding the carrier status of people.”

“No,” George said. “This new test has rendered his vaccines ineffective. New reports have come out to confirm the new tests. Grey has been discovered to be a carrier, and they have killed him.”

Peter’s and Michelle’s jaws dropped.

“Holy shit,” he said. “Does that mean…?”

“Yes,” George said. “You, Peter, are to be the new CEO of MedicinaTech; and you, Michelle, are to head your parents’ newspaper, The Mississauga Exposé.”

“You mean, the current CEO of the newspaper was…?” Michelle began.

“Yes,” George said. “He was discovered to be a carrier, and he was killed.”

“Oh, my God,” she said with agape eyes.

“Those of us carriers who survive this onslaught will have to go underground,” George said. “You and Peter are to return to southern Ontario immediately. In public, pretend to comply with the ruling classes. In secret, do as we wish until we can change the situation. For now, things have become too dangerous for us to carry on as we have.”

“How did you and Karol manage to escape the ambush in the basement?” Pat asked.

“Bolshivarian lights hid in the bushes and trees outside,” George said. “They came at the soldiers and drone from behind, causing the men–who as you know would never accept the new way–to split into pieces.”

“Other Bolshivarians flew into the drone from behind, took control of it, and flew it into a corner wall of the gym, blowing it up,” Karol said. “George and I got into our cars and drove away. When the coast was clear, we drove here, then called all of you to meet us here.”

“We’ve heard reports of the UCSA and NATO armies warring tirelessly all over the continent,” George said. “Many of us have fallen, inevitably, but the reports say we have so far defeated most of them.”

“Still, there are the nuclear strikes planned,” Karol said. “And they will come any time now, so we must get you sympathizers to safety. Especially you, Peter and Michelle, who have proven your loyalty so fully.”

“Well, speaking of loyalty, I’d like to stay and help,” Peter said.

“Me, too,” Michelle said.

“Me, three,” Wendy said.

“My wife and I, too,” Pat said of himself and Valerie.

“And me,” Sid said.

“That’s commendable of all of you,” George said. “But you cannot help us here. You’re far more helpful back in your home countries in the north. Air travel has been arranged for you, and it is with the governments on the other side. They’ll test you, find no Bolshivarians in your bodies, and you’ll be taken home safely. Now, hurry. We have cars to take you to the airfield.”

“No!” Michelle said. “We don’t wanna leave you!”

“You must,” Karol said. “The cars are waiting outside.”

“No!” Peter said. “We won’t g–!”

Suddenly, a rock was thrown through the living room window, smashing it and startling everyone inside. The hissing sound of bug spray, coming from a drone floating over the front lawn, brought screams and yelling from all inside.

“Quick!” Karol said. “Evacuate the house!”

Coughing, they scrambled to get the non-carriers out of the house by the back door. A number of carriers fell and died from exposure to the toxins, making it harder for the rest to move through the crowd and get to the back.

Bolshivarian lights flew out of the bodies of some of the carriers in an attempt to confront the drone and troops, but bug spray shot right at them, killing them and making the lightless balls fall to the floor like pebbles. Some trying to get to the back of the house slipped on the little balls and fell; some of the fallen got trampled on in the panic to get out, killing more.

Other Bolshivarian lights flew at the drone and troops from behind. Screams from the soldiers being torn up could then be heard; some of those trying to get out of the house looked back to see the dying soldiers and smiled at the sight of the carnage.

As for the drone, a few Bolshivarian lights entered it from behind. They took control of it and smashed it into a jeep of soldiers, killing them all.

Peter and Michelle were taken outside and over to a car on the side of the road.

“Please, both of you, get in,” Karol said.

“No!” Peter said. “We want to stay with you.”

“There’s no time to argue,” Karol said.

“But we don’t wanna–” Michelle began. Then she heard a familiar voice in her head.

Michelle, you must go, Siobhan’s voice said.

You, too, Peter, the voice of his mother said in his mind’s ear.

“But, Mom,…” Michelle said.

We’ll be with you in Canada, Siobhan’s voice said in Michelle’s mind. We’ll never leave you.

Peter and Michelle got in the back of the car. It drove away.

Chapter Twelve

The citizens of the city-state of Santiago looked up into the sky. A huge bomber plane of the Amazon Air Force was flying over the city. The people had little idea what it was doing there (they’d never seen an Amazon bomber plane before), but they were more concerned with the sight of Bolshivarian lights flying up, mostly from outside of the city, in a swarm at it.

The sight of dozens of drones accompanying the bomber wasn’t apparent until they started spraying on the Bolshivarians, causing them to fall like hail from the sky and pelt the onlookers on the head. 

“What’s going on?” one of the people asked. 

Then, the bomb fell out of the plane. As it got closer and closer, the people’s screams of terror grew louder and louder. This crescendo of voices was cut short from the blast, and the mushroom cloud that came afterwards.

*************

“OK, they’re clear,” said the corporal of the ExxonMobil military division, who’d just finished testing Peter and Michelle. “Neither of them are carriers. Get ’em in the van.”

Peter and Michelle, frowning the whole time, got in a van to take them to an airfield just a few miles outside of Puerto Ayacucho, where they understood they’d be flown back to the city-states of Toronto and Mississauga. A private sat near them, sneering at them.

“Can we watch videos on our phones of what’s going on?” Peter asked.

“Sure,” the private said. “You’re harmless now, traitors to the human race that you are.”

“Fuck you, ya mindless army grunt,” Peter growled.

“You wanna go, fuck-head?” the private said, looking Peter hard in the eyes with his fists ready to swing.

Peter stood up, staring down the private. “C’mon!”

“Peter, stop,” she said. “You don’t have to prove anything to this asshole.”

Peter sat back down.

“That’s it, pussy-boy,” the private said. “Obey your girlfriend.”

“Suck my dick!” Peter shouted.

“Well, c’mon then!” the private said, standing up.

“Will both of you sit down and shut up!” a corporal, the driver, shouted from the front of the van.

Peter and Michelle got out their cellphones and found video of the fighting between the armies and the Bolshivarians. It took little more than a minute for them to find something that widened their eyes. Peter’s video showed a nuke dropped on Santiago. It was noted that there was no evacuation of the population. Michelle’s video showed the same atrocity happening in Lagos. Again, the maker of the video emphasized that there was no evacuation of the city. Furthermore, neither video showed there to be any Bolshivarians floating and glowing anywhere in either area. The only deaths had been human ones…and many of them.

“I think we know who the real traitors to the human race are,” Peter said, scowling at the private.

“You murdering bastards,” Michelle hissed.

“What?” the private said.

“Your militaries aren’t targeting Bolshivarians,” Peter said. “There are no concentrations of Bolshivarians in Santiago. We know from what they told us.”

“There are no large Bolshivarian populations in Lagos, either,” Michelle said.

“Stop calling them ‘Bullshit-variants’,” the private said. “Call them alien cockroaches, like everybody else.”

“Your armies are targeting civilian populations!” she shouted. “You’re killing millions of innocent people, you bastards!”

“They’re a necessary sacrifice,” said a captain sitting in the passenger seat at the front. “We’re drawing the glowing cockroaches out into the open with the nukes. We’ve tested radiation on them; it doesn’t kill them. Bug spray toxins kill them, pyrethrins, but not radiation–the weirdest thing. That’s why we call ’em cockroaches.”

“Should we be telling them that, sir?” the driver asked.

“Don’t worry, corporal,” the captain said. “There’s no way they could use this information to stop us.”

“The Bolshivarians naturally will come out in maximum numbers, to use their technology to undo the effects of the fallout,” Peter said. “Their natural empathy for all life will compel them to.”

“Exactly,” the captain said, looking back at Peter and Michelle with a cruel smirk.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped.

“Their compassion will be their undoing,” the captain said. “All of them will come out of their hiding spots in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia in an effort to reverse the effects of the fallout. We’ll let them do that, of course. Then…”

“When the reversing is all more of less completed, you’ll send out bug spray drones in the thousands,” Peter said.

“Yep,” the captain said. “Drones, like Raid. They kill Bolshivarian bugs dead.”

“You bastards,” Peter hissed. “With all they’ve done to help the world, and you…”

“They killed our soldiers!” the captain shouted.

“Exactly!” Peter shouted back with a smile imitating the captain’s.

“I oughta punch you out,” the private said.

“I’d like to see you try it,” Peter said.

Peter and the private got up, balling their fists.

“Stop it, both of you!” Michelle shouted.

“Oh, shut up, bitch,” the private said. “I’ll put my cock in your mouth. That’ll quieten ya.”

Peter punched him in the jaw, making him fly into the wall of the van.

“Knock it off, you two!” the captain yelled. “Jones, cool it!” he told the private. “The traitors are gonna get theirs, don’t you worry about that.”

“What are you talking about?” Michelle asked. “We’re going back to Canada to head our parents’ companies.”

“Yeah, that’s the bullshit we promised your alien cockroach carrier-leaders we’d let you do,” the captain said. “They’re either really gullible, or they don’t care about you at all. Why would we let you two traitors walk the streets freely? You’re in jail, for the rest of your sorry-ass lives.”

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Peter said.

Michelle’s head dropped into her hands.

“Watch your cellphone videos,” the captain said. “That’s all you’ll ever get to do…in your cells. Apart from hard labour, of course.”

“Hard labour?” Peter said.

“In Leavenworth,” the captain said. 

The private rubbed his jaw with his left hand, gave Peter the finger with his right, and grinned at him.

‘The Splitting,’ A Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Expanded Version, Book II

Book II

Chapter One

2031, Mississauga

Michelle Buchanan was in her living room, watching the news on the TV while her mother, Siobhan, was in the kitchen peeling and slicing apples.

“Well, worldwide there have been no deaths from The Splits in almost six months,” a reporter said while interviewing Wayne Grey, head of MedicinaTech. “And there have been very few infections, all of which have been quickly dealt with, now that the protocol has been established for quarantining and vaccinating new cases. Have we finally flattened the curve? Is this pandemic finally over?”

“Pretty much, I’d say,” Grey said with a smile that some might have thought overconfident, but in which Michelle saw a possible lie. “Our vaccine, Merginin, which came out on the market about eight months ago, and which has been crucial in flattening the curve, has been sent to countries all over the world and eliminated the symptoms of millions of people. I’ve taken the shot myself, as many have who are unsure whether or not they’re carriers.”

“You have, have you, Wayne?” Michelle whispered as she watched the program with her head tilted to the side. Then she looked back, with a somewhat paranoid eye, to see what her mother was doing—still preparing the apples in the kitchen. She looked back at the TV.

“Why is the vaccine called ‘Merginin?” the reporter asked.

“Well, the disease is aptly called ‘The Splits,’ since it causes a splitting of the victim’s body and mind,” Wayne explained. “So the cure is a merging of the split body and mind…hence, ‘Merginin’.”

“A lot of people aren’t wearing those protective suits anymore,” the reporter said.

“As we aren’t!” Wayne said with a laugh, noting also the reporter’s not wearing of a protective suit. “No, I don’t think we need them anymore. And since all those earlier viruses, those coronaviruses, have pretty much disappeared off the face of the Earth over the past year, again, thanks to MedicinaTech’s latest vaccines—I don’t mean to brag—I think we can finally say we can all stop worrying about this plague of diseases we’ve been suffering over the past ten-to-eleven years.”

“Wait, wait, Mr. Grey,” the reporter interrupted. “You don’t want to upset your investors and stockholders now. You don’t want MedicinaTech to go out of business, do you?”

“Oh,” Wayne said with a chuckle. “I didn’t mean that we’ll never ever have diseases again. I just meant that we can all calm down about pandemics…for the time being, anyway.”

“What about maintaining MedicinaTech’s profits?” the reporter asked.

“With the creation and sale of Merginin, MedicinaTech has made such a mountain of profit that we can feel fiscally secure for a long time,” Wayne said. “In any case, I personally am not so worried about profits as I am about ensuring global health.”

“Why do I find that not so easy to believe?” Michelle said. “Sounds too good to be true.” Then she cupped her hand over her mouth at the sound of shuffling feet behind her. She didn’t like her mom to know too many of her private thoughts…and that went double for the little lights inside Siobhan.

Her mother came in the living room with a plate of sliced apples. She set it on the coffee table by Michelle.

“Here you are,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, Mom,” Michelle said, looking up at that smile and scanning it for sincerity. “So, a week ago, you got a shot of that Merginin vaccine, eh?”

“Yes, I did,” Siobhan said. “I feel much better now, too. As you’ll recall, I felt a little nauseous for the first few days, a typical side effect many vaccinated people feel at first. But I’m all good now.”

Michelle looked deeply into her mother’s eyes. “I miss Dad,” she said.

“I do, too,” her mom said, seeming to be getting choked up about her husband’s death for the first time. “When he died, I had that…virus…inside me, clouding up the expression of my feelings. But now that I’ve been vaccinated, I’m feeling emotions more freely. Last night, in my bedroom, I looked at our picture together on our bedside table, the one taken during our honeymoon, and I lay in bed staring at him in the photo, weeping myself to sleep.” A tear ran down her cheek.

The feeling looks sincere, Michelle thought. I guess.

“As bad as it is that your father is gone, though,” Siobhan went on, “at least we have been able to make some democratic changes in our governance of Mississauga. Your father would never have allowed it, but more tax money is going into providing welfare and subsidized housing for the poor.”

“Peter says he’s seeing that happening in Regent Park, too,” Michelle said. “He can’t believe MedicinaTech is actually using some of its revenue for the homeless over there. Maybe Wayne Grey really doesn’t care all that much about maximizing profits.”

“In spite of the pain we’ve suffered, things overall are changing for the better, Michelle. Little by little, but things are getting better. Believe me.”

Michelle looked carefully at her mother’s face again. That smile she saw looked sincere…maybe…or was she just seeing what she wanted to see?

“Sometimes we have to look beyond the immediate needs of our individual families, and be more concerned about the greater good of the world, of all of humanity,” her mom said, still with that smile.

Michelle’s phone rang. “It’s Peter,” she said. She picked it up and ran out of the living room. “Hello,” she said as she went up the stairs to her bedroom.

“So, The Splits is over, eh?” Peter said.

“Apparently,” Michelle said as she entered her room.

“‘Apparently’ is the key word,” he said.

“The news does seem too good to be true,” she said.

“How’s your mom?”

“She seems OK.”

“‘Seems’ is another key word. Be careful. The aliens wouldn’t have given up the fight so easily.”

“Well, I’ve looked in my mom’s eyes carefully many times over the past week or so, and her feelings have looked–well, more genuine since she got the jab.”

“Maybe the aliens are becoming better actors.”

“OK, let’s be careful, but not outright paranoid.”

Peter sighed, then said, “Look, I understand how you’re feeling, Michelle. She’s your mother, and you love her. It’s only natural that you want to believe she’s back to normal. But you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment, either.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“And ‘paranoid’ is just good thinking these days. I still don’t trust Grey. I’ll bet that ‘vaccine’ of his just hides the presence of the aliens inside the carriers.”

“OK…and how do you explain the fact that there haven’t been any more deaths in so long?”

“A media cover-up is the more than likely explanation. The journalists are probably all carriers by now. We’ll need to develop, like, a Voight-Kampf test to know who’s an Earthling and who’s an ET.”

“Maybe,” Michelle said, then walked out of her room, crept down the stairs, and looked at her mom serenely watching the TV, with that all-too-familiar smile on her face. My mom’s in there, somewhere, she thought. She must be in there.

Chapter Two

A few days later, Peter sent Michelle an email with a video attachment. The email read:

Michelle, watch this video NOW, before it gets taken off the internet. Note that it’s dated 3:34 PM today, when I sent it. It confirms my suspicions that many, if not most, or all, of the people in the mainstream media, the WHO, and the CDC worldwide are secretly possessed by the aliens, and are lying that the “virus” is no more. I’ve seen a number of other videos like this one, but all the others were taken down within an hour or so of being published. Only this one remains, as of my typing this. Please watch it immediately.

Love,

Peter

In her bedroom at 3:38 PM, Michelle clicked PLAY on her smartphone.

[She saw the POV of the carrier of a smartphone set to camera. The image jiggled as it would when someone walks while getting video of something. Michelle could barely make out the edges of thumbs at the bottom centre of the rectangular frame of the video.

The carrier of the smartphone was walking with a man down a long, dark hallway to a door on the right side. The man, seen at the far right border of the smartphone, was wearing a protective suit.

“I’m telling you, Greg,” the voice of the smartphone carrier, a woman’s, said. “That suit won’t protect you. I’ve seen those little lights fly into a wearer of a suit, go right through the material as if it wasn’t even there, and tear the guy to pieces. Too bad I hadn’t filmed it then; of course, I was too scared to think of it at the time, but not now.”

“If the suits don’t work, Lisa, then why is it only now that they’re penetrating the material?” Greg could be heard to ask.

“I don’t know,” Lisa said as she pointed the smartphone camera at his hand to record him unlocking the door with a skeleton key and turning the doorknob. “Maybe at first they wanted to give us a false sense of confidence, and only now are they hitting us hard. All I know is that the guy who works here has those things inside him. I saw them fly out and kill someone in a protective suit covering him from head to toe. This time, I’m willing to risk my life to get video exposing him. All I can say is thanks for your help, and I hope they don’t get you.”

“With a little luck, only one of us will be attacked, while the other runs away with the video recording,” he whispered, just audibly enough for the smartphone audio to record him clearly, after they slowly and quietly entered the dark room, and she was heard to shut the door behind them. He flicked on a light switch just as the door was closed. “We should have brought more people to help.”

“There are no other people,” she whispered as they walked through the room, her smartphone getting a shot of the living room. “No one else believes me about the aliens.”

“Then we shouldn’t have talked about alie–” he began, just when the man she was looking for appeared, coming out of his kitchen and into the centre of the smartphone’s POV.

“What are you two doing here?” the man asked with a frown. “This is my home.”

“What are all of you doing here?” she was heard to ask in a challenging voice. “The Earth is our home.”

The man stepped towards the smartphone POV, as if to grab Lisa, but Greg’s arm appeared from the right; it grabbed the man’s arm to stop him. Little glowing white dots of light flew out of the hand of the grabbed arm and, sure enough, flew through the protective suit and into her friend’s body.

“Ungh!” Greg grunted in pain, let go of the arm, and fell to the floor.

“I’m sorry, Greg.” The video POV pointed down at her shaking friend. Red cracks appeared all over his face, his body then splitting into pieces and ripping large holes in the suit.

Get this out of me! he thought as he fidgeted in a panic on the floor. Get it out! “Aaaah!” he screamed, trying with his mind to will the dots of light to leave his body. 

The smartphone was kept as still as possible in her hands, and she let out only little gasps, always keeping the smartphone POV on him. “I’m sorry,” she was heard to say again in sobs.

The chest part of the suit came right open, with his ribcage breaking open and ripping a huge hole in the suit, exposing the insides of his entire front torso. A gasp from Lisa was heard again, but the video POV stayed on the horrible sight. A long tear in his skin, all the way from the top to the bottom of his front torso, showed his inner organs: his lungs, his still-pumping heart, his stomach, and his intestines. Oddly, no blood sprayed anywhere.

“Why don’t you stop me?” her trembling voice was heard to ask the man possessed of the aliens. “Why don’t you send those things inside my body?”

“We don’t need to,” the carrier said. “Deep down, you sympathize with us. We can sense it, even if you don’t know that yet.”

“But I’m exposing you to the world. How can I be sympathizing with you?”

“Nobody in the media will show that video,” his voice was heard to say. “Go ahead and try. Within an hour of your sharing it on social media, we’ll take it down. We control all of the media, and the WHO, and the CDC. You won’t stop us. Our outreach has gone all over the world by now.”

Just then, her friend’s body exploded into pieces. The little dots of light flew out of the motionless pieces of what was left of his body. Only now did blood spray out everywhere, some drops of it splashing on her smartphone screen. A scream from her was heard.

The white dots all hovered in the air in front of her smartphone. The POV, with little spots of blood on it, showed no eyes, but the feeling was as if all those tiny glowing balls were eyes, staring at the viewer, getting ready for attack.

They began to fly towards the smartphone screen, then the video became unwatchable in its shakiness, for it was apparent that she’d run out of the room. The video stopped abruptly there.]

“Oh, my God!” Michelle said loudly enough to be heard in neighbouring rooms.

Her mother heard her. “Michelle?” she asked. “Everything OK in there?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, Mom,” she said in a shaky voice. “I gotta go out and see Peter.”

She rushed out of the house.

What if I see those things fly out of my mom one day? she wondered.

Chapter Three

The next day, Peter sent another video to Michelle’s phone. He added this message:

Have you seen this on TV, Michelle? I suspect your mom would have made sure you didn’t, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, if you’d watched it and she caught you, it might have been dangerous. The guest on ‘Toronto This Morning’ is named Lisa, also the name of the woman who got that video I sent you yesterday. Judging by what she says in this video, I’m sure it’s the same woman. Watch it and tell me what you think. Love, Peter

Michelle clicked PLAY on the YouTube video, a recording from a local talk show that had been live earlier that day.

HOST: Welcome back to Toronto This Morning. Our next guest says there has been…get this…an alien invasion [sarcastic moaning among the others in the studio]. Remember those tiny white dots of light we used to see giving people The Splits? Well, now they are the aliens our guest wants to warn us about, apparently [tittering among the others]. Our guest says the little lights either kill us, or take control of us. Many of us, she says, are already secretly being controlled by them, mixing in with the public and influencing everything around us. [more sarcastic moaning] Who knows? Maybe I am one of them [more moaning]. [Pointing at the screen with widened eyes.] Maybe you are [laughing]. Anyway, to tell us herself, here’s our guest, Lisa Merrick.

[Everyone in the studio applauds as Lisa walks in and sits next to the host. The applause ends.]

HOST: Good morning, Lisa. Thanks for joining our show.

LISA: Thanks for having me, Mary.

MARY: So, it is your conviction that The Splits was never a virus, but was aliens infiltrating human bodies. Is that right?

LISA: Yes.

MARY [smirking]: …and where do you think they came from?

LISA [with a furrowed brow]: Where do you think aliens usually come from?

MARY: In this case, Santa Mira, perhaps?

[laughter from the others]

LISA: Hannah Gould, widow of Derek Gould–the former CFO of MedicinaTech, who, you’ll recall was the first to die of The Splits–she became a carrier of the so-called virus. She told a few people, including a Doctor Phil Gordon, who treats patients in Regent Park, that she saw the white dots of light fly down to Earth from the night sky.

MARY: Yes, told a few people–a few conspiracy theorists

LISA: Oh, yeah, never believe those wackos…

MARY: Some people claim she said that. Here’s video of her from a week ago.

[Cut to video of Hannah, who with a grin reminding Michelle of her mother’s, says, “Oh, nonsense. I never said anything about tiny white dots of light flying down from space. When they hit my husband, they flew out from the trees we were walking by in Queen’s Park. I don’t know where people get these stories from.”]

LISA: She’s one of them. Of course she’ll deny it.

MARY: Then why would she have told anybody before?

LISA: Sometimes they confess who they are to people they think will sympathize with their cause, but never to the general public.

MARY: And what ’cause’ is that? Global enslavement?

LISA: We don’t know, but if some of us, if any of us, sympathizes, I don’t think the agenda is enslavement.

MARY: If that’s not the agenda, then what is it?

LISA: I don’t know what their agenda is, if there even is an agenda, but I do know that there are some people they won’t attack and try to get to assimilate, and the only logical reason for that is that either they know we, those not attacked, sympathize with their secret plans, or they at least think we do. I don’t consider myself sympathetic, but whenever those little glowing things appear, they never enter my body, which is really easy for them to do. They’ll hover before me, like they’re studying me, but they don’t come inside me.

Michelle nodded in total agreement with her.

MARY [exasperated]: Look…do you have any proof of any of this?

LISA: I…used to. I posted a video, from my smartphone, of myself and a guy named Greg Ballantine sneaking into the apartment of a guy I know is a carrier of those aliens. When we confronted him, the things attacked and killed Greg, and this was the second time I’d seen them, and they didn’t enter me. [Weeping] Poor Greg. He left a widow and…two little kids.

[A shot of Mary looking at Lisa with no empathy or emotion. Just that all-too-familiar smile.]

Michelle’s eyebrows rose at the sight of Mary’s facial expression.

LISA [sobbing]: I feel responsible for his death. If I hadn’t made him come with me, he’d still be alive. He had big ambitions. He was going to start a business in smartphone apps, and–

MARY [shaking her head]: What happened to your proof?

LISA: I posted it on YouTube. It had about a thousand views before they took it down.

MARY [sneering]: And your original video? If you have your phone on you, we could show it here.

LISA [hesitating, with a look of embarrassment]: I…was going to show you the video here…but when I got in my car,…the white lights flew in and got at my phone.

MARY [chuckling]: They erased your video?

LISA: Y-yes. [She’s looking down at her shoes.]

MARY [gloating]: Well, you seem to have an excuse for having no proof for your fantasies–isn’t that convenient?

LISA [scowling]: Actually, it’s very inconvenient. I really wanted to show everyone the proof on live TV. Get the message out to millions of people, so by the time it got pulled off the air and deleted by YouTube, it would be too late for the aliens to keep their secret.

MARY: Oops! Tough luck. [laughing]

LISA: Tough luck for me, but very convenient for you, wouldn’t you say, Mary? [Looking deeply into Mary’s eyes, with suspicion in her own.]

MARY: Why are you looking at me like that, Ms. Merrick? Do you think I’m one of the pod people?

[Sarcastic moans from the people in the studio.]

MARY [looking at the others in the studio]: Seriously, I think she’s going to reach at me, tear off my human face and reveal my green reptilian form.

OFF-SCREEN MAN’S VOICE: V for Victory! [Loud laughter from all, except Lisa.]

LISA [glaring}: Seriously, if you were one of them, you’d never show it on TV.

MARY: You know, it’s funny. I heard just last week, from one of you conspiracy theorists, that there’s an easy way to kill the aliens. [Grinning facetiously] Just spray them with bug spray, and they all drop–

LISA: Yes! That’s right! [Jumps up from her chair.]

[An explosion of laughter from all around the studio. She tries to speak loud enough to drown out the laughing.]

LISA [very excited]: Spray any kind of insecticide on them, and the little balls of light lose their glow and fall on the floor like pebbles! That will kill them! Really, believe me! A maid working in the White House was spraying bugs when she saw them flying in a swarm into the Oval Office! I saw it in a video deleted by YouTube! She sprayed bug spray on them and, by sheer fluke, they all di–

The video cut off at that moment. Michelle could barely make out what Lisa said over the overwhelmingly loud laughter, but she got the gist of it.

A few minutes later, Peter called her.

“Hello?” she said.

“I assume by now you’ve finished watching the video,” he said. “What do you think?”

“I think I’d better get my hands on some Raid,” she said.

“I already have mine in hand,” he said. “Do you have any at home?”

“Yeah, of course. Two cans in the kitchen cupboard, below the sink.” Still holding her cellphone, she walked out of her bedroom and down the stairs in the direction of the kitchen.

“You might wanna hurry, Michelle. They may have been thrown out by you-know-who. Are they still there?”

“Good question.” Michelle raced into the kitchen. She swung the cupboard doors open.

No Raid.

“Fuck!” she shouted, slamming the doors shut.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Siobhan asked, entering the kitchen.

“N-nothing, Mom,” Michelle said, trying to hide the tension on her face with an uneasy smile.

Her mom smiled back, in her usual way.

“Michelle?” Peter said on her phone.

“Can’t talk now, Peter,” she whispered, her eyes still on Siobhan and making her fake smile seem as sincere as she could. “Bye.” She hung up.

Chapter Four

The evening of the next day, both Michelle and her mom gasped as they heard the TV announcement that the American vice president made at a press conference. Her mother turned up the volume.

“Yes,” Vice President Mary Price said. “President Daniel Trenton, CEO of Amazon, suddenly collapsed from a heart attack late this afternoon, dying within minutes. Sudden cardiac death, the doctor said. He was 77, and had been having heart problems for years, so as shockingly sudden as this was at the time, it wasn’t all that surprising, when you think about it. I’ll be sworn in as your new president as soon as this press conference ends. I felt I needed to inform the American people, and the world, as soon as possible.”

As she continued speaking and taking reporters’ questions, Michelle’s cellphone rang. It was Peter again.

“Gotta talk to Peter, Mom,” she said, then ran out of the living room and up the stairs with her phone.

Her mother was so rapt watching the TV that she barely noticed Michelle leaving.

In her bedroom now, Michelle closed the door. “Hi, Peter. What’s up?”

You know what’s up if you’ve been watching the news,” Peter said.

“Of course,” she said. “President Trenton died of a heart attack. The vice p–“

“Bullshit,” he said. “I just emailed you an audio recording of what really happened. Listen to it with earplugs, in case your ET mom is nearby.”

“Peter! Don’t call her that. She may be a carrier of those things, but she’s still my mother.”

“Michelle, I’m just reminding you not to let yourself be too attached to her. She hasn’t been the same since the aliens entered her body. You know that.”

“OK,” Michelle said with a sigh. “I’ll check out the recording now. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” he said. They hung up.

Peter, why do you have to be such an insensitive asshole sometimes? she wondered.

She found the recording in her email inbox, plugged in her earplugs, and hit PLAY.

At first, she heard only a sea of indistinct voices of men and women in a meeting. Then they quietened down, and a few voices stood out.

“OK,” a male voice said. “Everyone’s here? Good. Let’s begin.” It sounded like the distinctively gravelly voice of President Trenton.

“Now, Mr. President,” a female voice said. Michelle couldn’t tell if it was the vice president’s, or the secretary of state’s, for both women’s voices sounded almost identical to her. “Wait: everyone has a can of bug spray, right?”

Michelle raised her eyebrows at that question. She saw her own can of bug spray poking out of her purse, and she was glad her mom hadn’t found it…yet.

A mumbling of yeses was heard, then the clinking of metal, suggesting the sound of cans of bug spray tapping on tables after having been raised to reassure the female speaker.

“Good,” she continued. “As we all have been briefed, this is the stuff that will kill them, something we’ve learned thanks to the lucky discovery of Miss Arlington, our cleaning lady, whose salary just shot right up through the roof.”

Some chuckling was heard.

“That was quite a misstep on their part,” a male voice said (the secretary of defence?).

“Whose misstep?” another male voice asked.

“Didn’t you hear about that Toronto talk show, the other day, the host–presumably one of…them–revealing what will kill them, and thinking by laughing it off, that the world would dismiss it?”

“Oh,” a number of voices could be heard to say.

“Still,” another voice said, presumably Trenton’s, “we don’t want this whole thing to spiral into a global panic. It was bad enough putting up with that ‘Splits’ epidemic last year, and I’m sure glad that scare is over–“

“Sir,” a male voice said, “this is the same problem as–“

“I know that!” the president snapped. “I’m not that senile, for Chrissakes! I mean that I’m glad the scare is over, and I don’t want the scare returning until we know how to handle those al–oops!…gotta watch my words here–voices carry. You know, those things.”

“Of course, we have no way of knowing who among us has been compromised by ‘those things’,” a female voice said. “We all have cans of bug spray, but do all of us here need them?”

“That’s a good question,” another female voice said. “Many of us have good reason to suspect that the staff of both the WHO and CDC are headed by people who are possessed by those things, if not the entire staff, without exception, of both. I’ll bet the ‘vaccine’ they created just helps to hide them, so our testing can’t detect their presence in their carriers’ bodies.”

“Clever little glowing bastards,” a man (Trenton?) said.

“Clever, but not all that clever,” another man said. “Remember the host of that Toronto talk show, the one who blabbed about the bug spray, hoping to make people disbelieve it kills those things, but probably making many people believe it, instead. The host could be one of the carriers.”

“Or she could just be one of us, one who disbelieves the conspiracy theorists,” a woman said. “I watched a replay of that show on YouTube, and she looked OK to me.”

“I don’t think she was one of us,” the (presumably same) man said. “I watched the program when it was live. The scorn and disbelief of the host and those in the TV studio, in their response to what the conspiracy theorist guest was saying, seemed overdone, almost forced. I’ll bet they had those little things in their bodies. They abruptly cut to a commercial when the guest was raving about the bug spray. I think they realized they’d made a mistake, panicked, then pulled the plug on the show.”

“So, what’s your point?” a woman asked.

“Those things make mistakes, just like we do,” he said. “They aren’t omniscient or omnipotent. We can defeat them. We shouldn’t lose hope.”

“OK, so what do you think we should do, Mr. President?” a woman asked.

“Guard your bug spray with your life,” Trenton said. “Trust nobody else with it. Sleep with it under your pillow. And if those things fly out at you, and you succeed at spraying them all and killing them, arrest the carrier and take him or her to one of our labs, where the carrier can be experimented on, tortured if necessary, to get information.”

“Remember that you don’t have to spray every single one of those things,” a woman said. “Spray a cluster of them, and the neighbouring ones will all fall and die with the sprayed ones. They seem to have a symbiotic, mutual dependency on each other to survive.”

“Does anyone have any questions?” another woman asked.

A moment of silence.

“Good,” said the president. “One more thing I want to say…where’s my head? I almost forgot, and it’s one of the most important things I wanted to say at this meeting. Recall I said I don’t want what we know about the ali–uh, those things!…to be leaked to the general public. I don’t want to stir up a global panic–“

“You already mentioned that, sir,” a man said (the same corrector as before?).

“I know that, Goddammit!” Trenton snapped. “Don’t interrupt me. I was just repeating that. I meant to add that…because The Splits epidemic at least was useful as a distraction from all the stuff the dumb masses are always complaining about–you know, the usual shit: poverty, homelessness, the wars, global warming, the forest fires, yada, yada, yada–this controversy, the conspiracy theorists vs. common sense that there’s no aliens, will be a good media distraction that should buy us time ’til we’re ready to do battle against those things. Tell our media people to frame the narrative around the controversy, always making fun of the conspiracists, of course.”

“Yes, sir,” a man said. “Our people are already on it.” The sound of shuffling feet suggested people walking out of the room.

“Good,” said the president. “We’re running out of distractions to preoccupy the millions of dummies out there. Me and my donors–to say nothing of the Amazon government here in DC–are getting really worried about the rioters here, there, and everywhere. Many cities are poised to have general strikes, as you all know. The tension out there can be cut with a knife. Not even the vaccines are calming them down or making them docile. It’s like they’re wearing off or something; I sometimes wonder if the al—uh, those things are making the vaccines no longer effective in controlling the people. I don’t know how much longer we can hold off those poor dummies, and now with the menace these ali–“

“Sir, look out!” a man shouted.

Michelle heard a hoarse, gravelly scream–it had to be the president’s. A muddle of shouts, screams, shuffling of feet, and bumping into furniture and walls came next. Spraying sounds dominated the audio after that, with the sound of what had to be the little balls of light hitting and bouncing on the hard (wooden?) floor like marbles, but it was too late.

Michelle gasped when she started hearing those all too familiar sounds: the tearing of clothes and flesh, the president’s screams of pain, and, worst of all, the cracking sound of broken bones, all of which took her back to that day in the hospital room where her mother, carrier of ‘The Splits,’ had sent the alien dots of light into her father’s body.

Michelle was so distraught with what she heard that she forgot about her mother. Michelle was weeping and screaming; she was reliving her father’s death in her mind.

She heard a quick series of loud knocks on her bedroom door.

The audio ended abruptly, and she pulled her earplugs out. “Yes, Mom?” Michelle was still shaking.

Her mother opened the door. She saw tears in her daughter’s eyes. “What’s wrong, honey?”

A nervous jolt of terror shot through Michelle’s body as her mother walked in the room. “N-nothing, Mom.”

“You’re crying and upset about nothing?” Siobhan asked with a sneer. “C’mon, honey. What is it? Did Peter say something to hurt you?”

“No, uh…,” she said as she, still shaking, wiped tears off her cheeks. “It’s just…something reminded me of Dad’s death.”

“What reminded you?”

“Oh, it just popped into my head again,” Michelle sobbed. “Thinking about the sudden death of the president reminded me of Daddy.”

“Oh, sweetie,” her mom said while taking her in her arms. “He’s gone and he isn’t coming back. We must move on.”

And you killed him, Mom, Michelle thought as she put her arms around Siobhan. The aliens made you do it, I know, but you did it. They have total control over you, don’t they? I wonder if they can read my thoughts. And is my mom really still in there? She must be! I want her to be…I need her to be!

Siobhan, seeming to be able, indeed, to read Michelle’s thoughts, stroked her hair and looked at her face. “What a beautiful young lady you are.”

“That’s ‘cause I have a beautiful mom.”

“Thank you, sweetie. Your hair looks good like that. You should try a darker, purple eye shadow. It would bring out your eyes much better.”

This comment struck home with Michelle. It reminded her of her teen years, when her mother really started to give her beauty tips, what clothes would look best on her, how to do her hair, what makeup to wear, all of it boosting her self-confidence. Hearing it now was especially touching for her, though. She’s in there, Michelle thought. Deep down, under the alien fake grins, my mom is still in there. Thank God! A tear ran down her cheek.

They hugged each other tighter. Siobhan kissed Michelle on the back of her head, right behind her right ear. There was a good, loving energy between them, for the first time in a long while.

Every time she hugs and kisses me, Michelle thought, she never sends out the aliens. She doesn’t want to scare me with them. She really is in there still. 

But then, Siobhan looked over her daughter’s shoulder and saw something that made her shudder.

“I love you, Mom,” Michelle told her, then looked up into her eyes, where she saw some disquieting doubt that broke off the loving energy they’d just shared. “Really, I do. I care about you.” Her fear made her words no less sincere; the fear wasn’t just for herself, but for her mom, too.

Siobhan looked down at her and gave her another one of those questionable grins. “I love you, too, sweetie.” Questionable, but also questioning

“You’d never wanna hurt me, would you, Mom?”

There were an uncomfortable four seconds of silence.

“Of course not. Why’d you think I would?”

“I don’t know. I’m just scared. It’s hard to think straight sometimes.”

“Michelle, your father died of The Splits, which I deeply regret having given him. I never meant to hurt him. You know that.” With raised eyebrows, she looked over her daughter’s shoulder again. “You wouldn’t want to hurt me, would you?”

Shaking even more, Michelle said. “Of course not. Why would I?”

Then she remembered, with an even greater shudder, that can of bug spray visibly sticking out of her purse behind her.

Chapter Five

Peter and Michelle were sitting at a table in Starbucks, sipping coffee.

“Funny thing,” he said after taking a sip. “This is the same Starbucks we were in almost a year ago, when I’d first heard about the death of Derek Gould, and his wife being a carrier of those things. Everyone, including you, had masks on, while I thought it was all bullshit–“

“You still think the coronaviruses were all bullshit,” Michelle said, with a distracted look on her face.

“Yeah, but I changed my mind about The Splits, remember?” he said, annoyed at her interruption. “Now that the fake pandemic scare is gone, and no one’s wearing a mask or a protective suit, no one thinks we’re in danger–“

“Except the ‘conspiracy theorist wackos’ who can’t get a cellphone-recorded video in edgewise on YouTube,” she said.

He scowled at this second interruption (Like you won’t let me get a word in edgewise, he thought.), then said, “And we’re in far more danger now than ever before.”

“Well, we are safe, apparently. Those things don’t feel they need to enter us.” She was frowning, giving her reassurances a bitter irony.

We’re OK, it seems, but there are other considerations. Your mom–“

“I got the bug spray out of our house, Peter. She didn’t take it away from me.”

“Stop interrupting! I’m not talking about that. I’m actually worried about her now.”

“Wow, you’re joining the club now, eh? Why are you worried about her? I thought she was just an ‘ET’ to you.” Now she was scowling.

He sighed.

“I watched another video today, just before we got together here. Now, listen–this is important, and it directly affects you and your mom. The video was of a meeting of the heads of the Ottawa District/Shopify Incorporated. They, too, secretly know of the alien invasion. They’d spoken with our brand-new American president Price about plans to deal with ‘those things,’ as the aliens are being officially referred to.”

“And what does all that have to do with my mother?”

“The plan is to go after anyone who is, or is suspected of being, a carrier. Targeted assassinations. They know the aliens tend to go for rich and politically powerful people. They revealed at this meeting that the carrier who let loose the aliens on the late President Trenton was his secretary of state.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Wait for when the news announces her fake cause of death.”

“Her fake cause of death? How did she die, and what are they going to say she died of?”

“They haven’t decided what it officially will be yet. After the audio recording got cut off, it seems they tried to arrest her, those things flew out again, and a man in security pulled out his gun on impulse and put three bullets in her chest. The Ottawa people said as much in the video.”

“Wow.” Michelle was already shaking at the implications this news had for her mother.

“Now, I don’t know if the people in that Ottawa meeting know your mom’s a carrier, but someone there surely knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows she is. In any case, they’ll have medical files of everyone known to be a carrier from last year, and they’ll have a file on your mom for sure. So just be careful with her, if you want her to live.”

Michelle shuddered. “How am I going to warn her if talking to her about aliens is itself a dangerous thing for me?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But I assume that, underneath the alien possession of her, your real mom is still in there, buried deep inside.”

“Of course she’s still in there!” Michelle shouted, then covered her mouth and blushed from all the customers and Starbucks staff who heard her outburst. A tear ran down her cheek. “She may just be an ET to you, but she’s still my mother.”

“I’m sorry, Michelle,” he said. “I know I’m tactless sometimes. But believe me when I say I care about you and her. Please be careful with her. Watch if anyone suspicious seems to be following her.”

“Oh, what am I gonna do?” she sobbed. “And those things are supposed to have our sympathy?”

“I know.” He put his arm around her. “What do those little lights want from us?”

Chapter Six

Michelle returned home that night to see her mom watching TV. Instead of having that unnatural-looking smile on her face, her mother seemed worried about what she was watching on the news.

“Hi, Mom,” Michelle said in a shaky voice.

“Hi, sweetie,” her mom said, still frowning at the TV screen.

“What’s on the news that has you so worried?”

“Oh, it isn’t so much worrying me as it’s just…this nonsense so many people believe about an ‘alien invasion.’ Ridiculous.”

“Oh, you mean those wacko conspiracy theorists?”

“Yes, dear,” her mom said, turning off the TV and standing up. “People are saying that The Splits was really aliens entering people’s bodies instead of the virus it actually was. How can anybody believe such rubbish?”

“I know,” Michelle said, avoiding Siobhan’s eyes. “There are a lot of dumb, crazy people out there.”

“You wanna know what their ‘proof’ is, Michelle? People possessed of the aliens show little to no emotion.” Siobhan let out a loud laugh, which seemed forced to Michelle. “As if there’s no such thing as ordinary people not showing emotions, especially in today’s world, when all those vaccines from MedicinaTech, your boyfriend’s parents’ company, were draining people of their energy and making people plod around like zombies. You and Peter have noticed that.”

“Yes, we have,” Michelle said, frowning and still avoiding her mother’s eyes.

“And those vaccines, given out years ago, are still showing those effects, to this day…to varying extents, but still to at least some extent. So why make a big deal about lots of people showing no feelings?” Her mom had a huge, ear-to-ear grin, which was supposedly to show how absurd she thought the conspiracy theories were, but which really just looked fake, as if painted on her face. “They say the governments know about the aliens, and are doing a cover-up.”

“Yeah, but some people in those governments really believe this is happening, and they’re sending out assassins to kill anyone they think is possessed of the aliens.”

“Really? Did Peter tell you that?”

“Yes, Mom. Just today. He says he watched a video of Ottawa politicians discussing this plan to kill anyone known to have had The Splits.”

“Now, Michelle, surely you must realize by now that Peter, as much as you love him, isn’t always a reliable source?”

“No, of course he has his loopy moments, more than I care to admit, but if he’s right this time, we need to be careful with you.”

Her mom stared into her eyes with a frown of suspicion for several seconds.

“It’s not so much that I believe his every word. It’s just that I care about you and want you to be safe.”

Siobhan still suspected insincerity in her daughter’s eyes.

“What are your thoughts about this ‘alien’ business?” She continued staring hard at Michelle. A touch of anger was on Siobhan’s lips.

“I–I don’t know what to think.” Michelle began sobbing.

“What nonsense is Peter telling you about me?” Siobhan asked, looking down at Michelle’s purse, with what looked like a tall can of bug spray poking out in a bulge at the side of her purse. “Some of the conspiracy theorists claim that bug spray is what kills the aliens. Surely you don’t believe such nonsense, do you?”

“No, of course not,” Michelle sobbed. “It’s just that I…I…”

“If you don’t, then why have you been carrying bug spray in your purse?” her mom asked with more than a tinge of angry tension in her voice and face. “You aren’t planning, in your paranoia, on spraying your own mother in the face with that, are you?”

“If the theories are so ridiculously untrue, why are you so nervous around bug spray, Mom?”

“I just told you. I don’t want my obviously paranoid daughter spraying it on me.”

“It isn’t sprayed on the people, Mom. When those little lights fly out at us, we spray them, not the carriers.”

“How do I know you’re not going to get nervous around me, think I’m going to send those things out at you, make you fumble in your purse for the spray can, then spray those toxic chemicals in my eyes as a spastic reaction?”

“Because you’re my mom, and I love you!” Michelle sobbed.

Am I your mom?” Siobhan asked with a sneer. “Or am I one of the ‘pod people’? What is Peter making you think about me?”

“I only plan on using it on other people,” Michelle said. “I’ll tell you another reason I won’t use it on you.”

“Oh? And what’s that?” Her mom crossed her arms in front of her chest. “This should be interesting.”

“The aliens won’t come inside me or Peter. We’ve confronted the dots of light several times, and they never enter us or try to take control of us. They just hover in front of us, as if they’re studying us.”

Siobhan was calming down. “Why won’t they go inside you?”

“Peter and I believe they think we’re sympathetic to their ’cause’.”

“That’s right,” her mom said after a huge sigh, then uncrossed her arms and felt herself completely calm now. “We know you’re completely sympathetic, though you don’t know why, and it isn’t yet safe to tell you all the reasons for that sympathy.”

“Mom?” Michelle’s mouth and eyes were wide open.

“I just needed to be sure for myself that you weren’t going to do anything on me with that bug spray.” Siobhan spread her arms out to her sides, and dozens of tiny glowing balls flew out of her hands and hovered in front of Michelle. She froze in controlled fear; she was getting used to knowing she didn’t need to fear them. “That’s right, sweetie. They won’t hurt you.”

“But they will hurt other people. They hurt you. They killed Dad. I don’t want them to kill any more people.”

“They don’t actually kill people.”

“Oh, really? What would you call it?”

“Anyone who rejects what we want to do dies of his or her rejecting of our plan. Those who die kill themselves, essentially, out of their own closed-mindedness and selfishness.”

“That sounds like blaming the victim, Mom.”

“Those ‘victims’ are also victimizers, or at least potential victimizers.”

“That sounds like a rationalization. Are you saying that Dad was a victimizer?

“Yes, I’m sorry to say. I was, too, helping him run that…propaganda-spouting company and ruling over Mississauga, making people think MedicinaTech was the only problem in the world, and distracting people from how we were all part of a much bigger problem, the immiseration of the global poor. Fortunately, when the extraterrestrials entered me, and I went through that painful ordeal, I was open-minded enough to accept the changes they want to make to the world; the sedative the paramedics gave me probably also helped, making me calm down and just accept the aliens’ entry into my body. And so when I got better, I began making democratic changes to the governance of Mississauga and to the management of the newspaper, things your father would never have allowed.”

Something Peter’s parents would never have allowed, either, Michelle thought. “But…you let Dad die,” she sobbed.

“Yes, sweetie.” Siobhan let out a big sigh. She looked off to the side with a sad face. “That was hard. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But there are greater, global needs, more urgent than just those of our family. The needs of poor, starving families on the other side of the world, people we’ve never met. Just because they all aren’t our flesh and blood doesn’t mean that they don’t matter…and for far too long, they haven’t mattered.”

I can’t help thinking Mom’s been brainwashed, Michelle thought. Killing Dad didn’t seem so hard to her when she did it in the hospital. And this ‘save the world’ stuff could be a trick, something they’re trying to get Peter and me to go along with while the aliens plan to do something far more evil.

Standing outside their house and looking through the large living room window at them, a man in his thirties was clutching his pistol, debating in his mind whether or not to pull it out of its holster. I can’t get a clear shot at Siobhan with her daughter standing in the way, he thought. I guess I’ll try tomorrow. I wouldn’t want her daughter to see her mother shot, anyway. It would be too upsetting for her.

Chapter Seven

The morning of the next day, right after Michelle left the house to get together with Peter, Siobhan was sitting on her bed with her eyes closed in a meditative state. The little dots of white light were hovering all around her as she sat there, psychically linking with her surroundings.

Somebody was outside last night, watching us, she thought. Someone unfriendly. The vibes of all the carriers I’m communing with are telling me that they have had the same experiences. Michelle was right. The government is sending people out to kill us carriers. I’ll have to be careful. I’ll arrange to have bodyguards monitoring every inch of the newspaper, and I’ll hire two to escort me everywhere.

She noticed how the divide between her and the tiny alien residents in her body wasn’t so clear anymore. It was less than even a blur. Some of this fusion was due, no doubt, to Wayne Grey’s Merginin vaccine, but most of it was simply her full psychological reconciliation with her little alien inhabitants. She felt at one with them, from head to toe. 

And she was fine with that.

It was a relief to her that Michelle had accepted the alien presence in her body, and that she felt no hostility to them that would cause her to reject them, tearing her body to pieces. Siobhan didn’t have to do that awkward acting job of being her former self. There was no going back to that now. 

The alien presence in her was so soothing, so peaceful, that she couldn’t apprehend how anyone would want to reject it, especially to the point of having one’s body torn to pieces, just to eject something mistakenly believed to be evil. Her body vibrated calm; it was like having a calm sea for a body connected with the whole, oceanic universe, with gentle winds causing slight, slow-moving waves all through one’s body.

This is how it felt to be half-human, half-alien. 

Not only did she feel calm and sedate, a calmness that inspired nothing but blissful grinning, but she also felt a connection with everyone and everything around her, a oneness of consciousness that inspired love, empathy, and kindness to all. Hence, her wish to help heal the world. 

It made her feel like a Buddha or something.

That connectedness felt like a transcendence of the limitations of her human body, a fusion of her own energy with that of her entire environment. Sometimes her connectedness with everything…and everyone…around her caused her to feel the consciousness of others, including people understood to be dead. She occasionally felt Don’s ghostlike presence, and even the psychic presence of Ray and Donna, Peter’s dead parents, with whom she now felt reconciled. Indeed, it seemed that, through this shared, common consciousness, the aliens had given her, Don, and Peter’s parents the possibility…the potentiality…of immortality.

Not an immortality in her body—that, for sure, would die one day; but the connection with the aliens, provided they weren’t ever killed, would make possible that her consciousness would never die, as long as it was connected to them. Indeed, she didn’t fear a bullet being put in her heart. She feared bug spray killing all those glowing lights within her.

And so, a good thing about that connectedness was that it also sometimes gave off psychic warnings of danger…sometimes, not always—it depended on how attentive one was at any given time. Last night, she had that attentiveness, and now she would contact her network of other alien carriers and get some security walking about and monitoring The Mississauga Exposé

In her meditation, she sent out some vibrations to let other carriers know she needed protection. It was wonderfully convenient to be able to communicate with people far away without needing a smartphone or computer. Within a few hours, it would all be arranged. 

She opened her eyes, got off the bed, and put on an outfit to go to the newspaper in full confidence that her carrier comrades would provide protection. 

She just needed to go out to her car without that man outside waiting to get her…with a can of bug spray.

************

Early that afternoon, Peter and Michelle were walking in a Toronto shopping mall.

“I can’t believe those things in your mom went ahead and revealed themselves to you like that,” he said.

“Her identity has been fused with that of the…aliens,…it seems,” Michelle said, whispering aliens. “She trusts me as her daughter, but they needed to gain my trust.”

“OK, but she’s aware…and they are aware…of the danger of these government assassins, right?” he asked.

“If there even are government assassins. But yeah, she just texted me that she has armed security patrolling the newspaper, just in case you’re right. I’ll see them there, she assures me. I’m sure glad she isn’t using those horrible armed robot-dogs; it’s a sure sign she’s trying to make things better in Mississauga, getting rid of those evil four-legged things. In any case, she should be OK, for now, at least. I’ll wanna be with her when she goes home tonight, though.”

“And what if an assassin tries to shoot her, but you get caught in the crossfire and he hits you instead? I don’t wanna lose you any more than you want to lose her.”

“If she gets shot, I don’t wanna learn about it on the news. I wanna be there with her.” Michelle began to sob.

“Hey, c’mon. Don’t start crying.” Peter put his arm around her. “Look, I know it isn’t easy talking about this, but…how much of her do you think is her, and how much do you think is…alien?” He whispered the last word.

All of her is my mom!” Michelle shouted, then covered her mouth in embarrassment at all the faces in the mall looking at her. “The…alien part” [whispered] “…is so fully spread around in her, she says, that there’s no distinguishing the one from the other. It’s like…syrup on pancakes, you know? You can’t separate them once the one is poured on the other. What’s more to the point, though, is that, maybe, just maybe, I really am beginning to sympathize with…those things, despite what they did to my dad.”

“That’s your attachment to your mom speaking, I’m afraid.”

“It’s more than that!” Again, Michelle caught herself after shouting. “She’s made genuine changes to the paper, and to the governance of Mississauga District, changes she’d never have made before those things got inside her. Pay raises to all her employees, new health benefits for them, cleaning up the air, new regulations about garbage disposal that won’t hurt the environment, more aid given to the firefighters fighting the forest fires, better welfare, lots of things like that, obviously the influence of the…aliens.” That last word was whispered again.

“Wayne Grey’s been doing all that in MedicinaTech, too,” Peter said. “When he talks about not caring about profits, he seems to mean it, as do all those on the Board of Directors, who by now have surely all been compromised by the…aliens.” [whispered] “…Since they won’t come inside me, I can go back there and talk with the staff in all civility. The things fly out of everyone, but they don’t enter me. They just hover in front of me, you know, the way they always do to us. But I’ll bet there’s another reason these people with those things in them are being assassinated: the capitalist governments of the world want to stop these good reforms. I really think those things only kill the bad guys…”

Michelle scowled at him for that last remark, remembering her dad.

“…O-or change the bad into the good, as they did your mom,” Peter said in an awkward attempt at self-correction. “Hey, I include my own mom and dad among the bad guys.”

Michelle continued scowling at him. “My mom may have been misguided in her running of the newspaper and the city, as were your late parents in MedicinaTech, but my mom was never a bad person, Peter. And you shouldn’t talk that way about your parents, as flawed as they were.”

“OK, bad choice of words. I’m sorry, but you know what I was trying to say.”

“Yeah, but still, I’m not so sure if these changes for the good really are well-intentioned,” Michelle said. “I mean, what if those things are really just trying to win our sympathy and support, to gain our help, then when they’ve totally taken over, they start to do really evil things, and it’s too late for us to stop them?”

“I’ve thought of that, too,” Peter said. “Believe me.”

They were approaching a public washroom. “Wait a sec,” she said. “I gotta pee.”

“So do I,” he said.

She went in the ladies’ room followed by three other women. She and one of them immediately went into stalls while the other two were checking themselves in the mirror.

A few seconds after the first tinkling of piss could be heard, the woman at the mirror to the left released the dots of light from her right hand. As soon as the lights entered the woman to the right, she dropped her tube of lipstick and fell to the floor.

Michelle and the woman in the other stall could hear grunts of pain over the sound of their pissing, but felt powerless to help until emptying their bladders, so full were they. They pressed and tried to go as fast as they could to be ready to help, but by the time Michelle had pulled her pants up and opened her stall door, the grunting woman was up on her feet again and grinning one of those creepy grins at the carrier woman, then at Michelle.

“Are you OK?” Michelle asked her. “I heard grunts of pain.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” the still-smiling woman said, then gave a fake-sounding laugh. “I just had a sudden pang of pain in my stomach. It happens to me once in a while. I took a pill, and it kicked in immediately.”

Michelle stared in her eyes for a few seconds. “Really?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said with another fake laugh and that grin never leaving her face. “Don’t worry, I’m OK.” Her grin wavered a bit as she saw that Michelle clearly wasn’t buying her story.

“Really, Miss,” the first carrier said, also with a fake smile. “It happened just as she said it did.”

“I don’t believe either of you,” Michelle said, now looking at the first carrier hard in the eyes. “I know what really happened, and I know what you are. And you know exactly what I mean by that.”

The woman in the other stall stayed quiet, but was watching everything through the crack in the door.

“Really?” the old and new carriers said together, then released the lights on Michelle. They, of course, just hovered in front of her as usual. “Oh, you’re an ally,” the carriers also said together, speaking in such unison and synchronization as to seem to possess only one mind between them.

“An ally?” Michelle said with a sneer. “I don’t see myself as an ally of yours. Believe me.”

“You will one day,” the first carrier said. “So will your boyfriend, when all is revealed. But not now. You still aren’t ready to understand what has to be done.”

“Ready?” Michelle asked. “And how do you know about my boyfriend? What do you want from us?” She came out of her stall. The dots of light retreated, returned to, and reentered their carriers.

“You’re not ready to be told everything,” the new carrier said. “Nor is your boyfriend ready for the burden.”

“You’ll know soon enough, though,” the first carrier said.

“How do you know about my boyfriend?” Michelle asked. “Did you see us together out there?”

“We didn’t need to see you together,” the first carrier said. “We know a lot of things you don’t need eyes, ears, or the sense of touch to learn of. But you will like what we will–“

Suddenly, a gun with a silencer went off, the bullets hitting both carriers in the heart and killing them. Michelle screamed and jumped, then looked back.

“They needed their eyes and ears to know I was coming,” the woman in the stall said. She came out with the pistol in her right hand and a small can of bug spray in her left. “They’re nowhere near omniscient.”

The lights flew out of the dead women’s bodies and at their assassin. 

Michelle, a voice in her head said, sounding exactly like her father’s, run. Get out of here. Fast!

“Dad?” she whispered, trembling. The stress is making me hear things again.

Michelle, go! the voice said again.

The assassin sprayed the first half-dozen or so of the sparkling lights. They all lost their glow, then fell to the floor, hitting it with a sound like dropped pebbles.

“And now, it’s your turn…,” she said, but Michelle had already run out of the washroom. “Oh, shit. Can’t go after her. Gotta dispose of these two.” She walked over to the bodies.

As soon as Michelle had thrown open the washroom door, she saw Peter walking past it. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along.

“Hey, Michelle!” he said. “What is it? Where are we going?”

“To Mississauga!” she said, still with her hand tightly holding his and making him run with her.

“Mississauga?”

“Yes,” she said as they were approaching an exit. “To the newspaper. Those assassins you were telling me about are real!”

Chapter Eight

About thirty minutes later, Peter and Michelle were pushing open the front doors of the Mississauga Exposé building. The first floor lobby area was a huge space, with a sea of employees walking here and there.

Peter remembered how, just a year ago, his visits of the place always showed him a virtually empty lobby, due to the former lockdowns. The few people there then all had masks on, and he could almost see through the masks to sense their scowling at him for not wearing one. At least he didn’t have to put up with any of that now; still, the current alien presence and assassin danger made the lockdown and mask issue a triviality. 

Masks and lockdowns were the last thing on Michelle’s mind, of course. Her agitated eyes were darting around, spotting all the female heads and hoping to find her mother’s among them. She noticed some of the newly-hired security men in their distinctive black suits walking about, too, but they gave her little reassurance of Siobhan’s safety.

“Oh, where is she?” Michelle asked in a shaky, breathy voice.

“Chances are…she’s upstairs…in her office,” Peter said in pants.

“Yeah, but sometimes…Mom comes down here…to chat…with her employees…about something,” Michelle panted, her head always shifting from left to right and back again, tirelessly trying to find Siobhan. “And sometimes…she leaves the building…on an errand. If she’s about to do that, I don’t want…to miss her…as she walks out the door.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You keep looking…among these people, if that’s what you want to do; I’ll go ask…the receptionist…if she knows where your mom is.”

“OK, thanks, Peter.” He left Michelle as she looked around, especially by the front doors. “Where are you, Mom?”

Peter reached the receptionist after fighting his way through the crowd; her desk was way off at the back of the lobby. You’d think her desk would be closer to the front doors, he thought.

“Hello,” she said. “How can I help you?”

“Yes,” he said. “I need to talk to…Siobhan Buchanan.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asked.

“N-no, but this is urgent,” he said. “Her daughter, Michelle, needs to talk to her. I’m Michelle’s boyfriend.”

“Where’s Michelle? She’s free to see her mom whenever she wants, but unless I see her confirming you’re with her, I can’t let you see Siobhan. There are fears of security breaches. This may surprise you, but there are actually possible death threats against her.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said, finally catching his breath. “That’s why we want to talk to her.”

“And that’s why we have to be careful with anyone who can’t be vouched for,” the receptionist said. “Sorry.”

“W-wait–Michelle is with me. I’ll go get her.”

“OK.”

Peter looked around behind him, but Michelle was nowhere to be seen among all those people walking about in the lobby.

He left the receptionist’s desk and slipped back into the crowd to find Michelle. The jostling people were making it difficult for him to return to the front door area.

Finally, when he got to a clearing of the people, he heard Michelle shouting, “Mom! Wait, it’s me, Michelle! I wanna talk to you! Peter, I found her!”

Siobhan was approaching Michelle with two security men walking on either side of her, their pairs of beady-brown eyes always on everyone else in the lobby; with short, dark brown hair, the two men, in their nearly-identical black suits, looked as if they could be twins. Peter raced over to stand beside Michelle.

When Siobhan was three or four feet away from Michelle and Peter, she and the two men stopped walking.

“What is it, sweetie?” she asked. “Why do you and Peter look so agitated? What’s wrong?”

“We–I mean, I just saw an assassin shoot two women–carriers of The Splits in the ladies room in the Northeast Mall just now,” Michelle said. “What Peter told me is true. You’re in danger.”

“Well, that’s what I have these security men here for,” her mother said. “As you can see, they’re watching the whole area like hawks, and I have others in the lobby looking out for me and on the other floors of the building. Remember that I’m not the only one in danger from those hired assassins. Many, if not most, of the employees here had The Splits, and the assassins will be after them, too.”

“Yes, well…I just wanna be with you, Mom,” Michelle said in a trembling voice. “I’m afraid for you. If something happens to you, I wanna be there.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“That’s very sweet of you, Michelle, but I should be OK with these two men here,” Siobhan said. “Now, we have to get going. I have an important meeting to chair in ten minutes in North York. I’m going to be late as it is. I can’t stay and chat. I’ll see you tonight at home. Bye.”

“No, Mom, please!” Michelle sobbed as she saw her mom walk past with the men. “Let me go with you.”

“Sweetie, I’ll be OK,” Siobhan said. “Don’t slow me down. I’m in a hurry.”

“I won’t slow you down, Mom.” Michelle ran over with Peter in front of Siobhan. “Just let me go with you.”

They were all by the front doors now.

“Do you have your own transportation?” Siobhan asked with a sigh, gently moving Michelle to the side. “If Peter didn’t bring his car, we won’t have enough room in mine for him, you, and my two men here.”

Just outside the front doors was a familiar man with his right hand inside his blazer and his left inside his left pants pocket. Siobhan’s daughter is with her again, he thought. But she isn’t in the way of my line of fire this time. I may have to upset her daughter after all.

“Oh, your car is big enough,” Peter said. “We should all be able to squeeze in.”

Siobhan opened one of the doors. “Oh, this is getting ridiculous,” she said. “With us all squished in like that, it will be awkward and uncomfortable. You worry too much, Michelle.”

The man was standing right in front of Siobhan.

“Mom, please,” Michelle sobbed. “For my peace of mind,–“

The man began slowly pulling his pistol out of its holster in his blazer. The other hand was fumbling with a small can of bug spray in his pants pocket.

The security men’s eyes widened at the sight of the emerging pistol. They reached for theirs.

“I’ll tell you what,” Peter said. “I won’t go. That’ll leave some room in your car, Ms. Bucha–“

The man fired a bullet in Siobhan’s chest.

“Mom!” Michelle screamed.

Peter was so shocked, he almost lost his balance, barely keeping himself from falling.

The can of bug spray fell out of the assassin’s fumbling fingers and dropped to the ground.

The dots of light flew out of Siobhan’s body as she fell to the ground. They also flew out of the hands of the two security men, who no longer needed their pistols.

Those lights entered every inch of the assassin’s body, as others flew in from other nearby carriers both inside and outside the building. He dropped his gun.

Gunshots from other assassins in the area killed a few other carriers, but the other assassins were no more adept at getting out their cans of bug spray than Siobhan’s killer was.

Swarms of light dots were flying into the bodies of the other killers. Smiling with vengeful thoughts, Peter watched the tearing-up of their bodies as his eyes moved around the area to see the whole spectacle; but Michelle, her eyes flooding with tears as she held her mother’s bloodied body in her arms, focused on the ripping-up of her mother’s assassin’s body.

Yeah, aliens, she thought as she wept, tear that bastard to pieces. Go, aliens, go. You have my sympathy now.

The remaining aliens inside Siobhan’s body were giving her temporary extra life, just enough to let her communicate with Michelle one last time.

“Michelle,” she gasped after coughing out some blood. “Now, you know…who your enemies…are. Fight…them…with us.”

“Yes, Mom,” Michelle sobbed. “I’ll do it for you.”

“No,” Siobhan panted. “Not…for me. For…the world.”

“Mom, don’t die. Can’t the aliens heal you?”

“No….It’s too late…for that now…but it’s OK, sweetie. I’ll always…be with you…Let me go. It’s for…the cause.”

It’s OK, Michelle, that voice of her father said in her mind. Let your mother go.

Michelle refused to listen to what had to have been a stress-induced hallucination. Shut up, stress, she thought.

“It’s OK, sweetie,” her mother gasped out. “It’s…O…K…”

Her body flopped down and stopped moving.

Michelle screamed a mix of grief and rage. She reached for the gun of the assassin, whose body was tearing out of its suit and exposing his brain, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and thigh muscles. The widening and narrowing of those huge tear-holes in his body persisted long enough for her to point his gun at his heart; but before she had time to pull the trigger, his body blew to pieces, spraying his blood everywhere, soaking her and Peter in red.

“Eww, God,” he grunted, then looked over at her. “I’m so sorry, Michelle.” He put his arms around her. She hugged him back, bawling hoarsely.

The security men felt the lights fly back into their bodies. They looked around at all the screaming people, obviously non-carriers.

“We won’t be able to hide this,” one of the two said. “Someone will have filmed it on their phones, for sure. It’ll be sent to the media; social media, too. Published too quickly and circulated everywhere for us to stop it. We’ll have to accelerate our plans.”

“Yeah, the news media and governments can no longer pretend this is all just a conspiracy theory, either,” the other man said. “They’ll be accelerating their plans, too. Get ready for a war. A global one.”

Chapter Nine

In Michelle’s home that night, she and Peter sat on the side of her parents’ bed. He had his arm around her. Her face flooded with tears, she barely moved, except for a self-soothing, slow and gentle rocking back and forth.

Her eyes would sometimes drift over to the photos on the dresser and bedside table. Photos of her mom and dad at various ages, sometimes with Michelle as a little girl, as a teen, or when she’d graduated from university, this last one with Peter, too, these were all bittersweet memories now.

He looked at the photos, too, having seen her look at them. “Sometimes I go into my parents’ room,” he said. “I’ll stare at their photos and remember when they were alive, thinking about the minority of my memories with them that were good. Then I’ll feel guilty for not thinking of the good memories as a majority. You had your differences with your mom and dad, too, but you had a lot of good memories with them, a lot of happy moments. They were kinder to you than my parents were to me, and by a long shot.”

Michelle remained silent. Her head was slouched down to her shoulders, her eyes on her feet. Her hair was hanging down, obscuring her face.

“Hey, Michelle. Can I see your face again? Don’t hide it from me.”

She kept looking at her feet. That hair stayed where it was.

“Michelle! Peter!” a man’s voice shouted from the first floor. “Come down here! You’ll wanna see what’s on the TV now!”

Peter got up, but Michelle was practically frozen sitting on the bed. “Michelle?” he said.

She still wouldn’t say or do anything.

“Well, I wanna know what your late mom’s two bodyguards are watching on TV,” he said, bending down by her. “They may have failed to save her, but they’re here to protect us from any attempt on our lives by anyone who thinks, however mistakenly, that the alien dots of light are inside our bodies. The way you are now, though, I don’t want you left all alone; so you’re coming with me.”

He gently slid his right arm under her legs, put his left arm on her back, and picked her up. He carried her out of her parents’ bedroom, down the stairs, and into the living room. The two security men were watching the new US president making a speech.

“I knew it,” one of the men said. “There’s going to be a war.”

“I want to apologize to you, the American people, and to the world, for not being honest with you about what’s been happening until now,” President Price said at her desk in the Oval Office, looking directly into the camera in a way that reminded Peter of old video from 2003 of Bush looking into the camera and justifying the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t want to cause a worldwide panic; we needed time to plan our response to the alien attack while debates about ‘conspiracy theories’ of aliens softened the shock for all of you. Such planning necessitated keeping our knowledge of the aliens classified information.”

“Oh, of course, Madame President,” Peter said as he laid still-unmoving Michelle in a chair. “You’ve had nothing but the noblest of intentions, haven’t you?” He sat on the floor by Michelle’s feet.

“But now, of course, we can no longer conceal the truth from you,” Price went on. “I assure you, though, our plans are thoroughly worked out, fortunately in time when all of this was so suddenly revealed.”

“Oh, how fortunate,” Peter said with a sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the men said. “We need to pay attention to every detail, to know how to respond ourselves.”

“Sorry,” Peter said.

“All those formerly diagnosed with what was called ‘The Splits’ were and are actually people possessed of those aliens…the surviving carriers, that is. I know it will be hard to hear this, especially for those of you who have family and friends who are carriers, but these people are thoroughly compromised. They may still look human, they may sound like the same people you’ve always known and loved, but the alien in them has completely taken them over. The human soul in them was gone long ago, in spite of how well they may imitate human speech and behaviour. This is hard to hear, but you must steel yourselves to hear this and understand. These carriers are not human.”

“You bitch,” Peter hissed at the TV.

“This is an enemy that hides,” the president went on. “It hides in plain sight, in human form. It can imitate human thought, but it has no real human thoughts. Each and every carrier who is possessed of the aliens is completely given over to their agenda. All that the carriers do is in service of the aliens, not in the service of humanity.”

“Oh, and you serve humanity, Madame President?” Peter said with another sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the security men said.

“When the carriers, those in high-ranking government/business positions, claim they are making democratic changes to society, improving the lives of ordinary, working-class people, whatever you do, don’t believe them!” Price warned. “All that talk is just a front, a con game to trick you into thinking they are our friends.”

“Right,” Peter said. “Your hegemony is so much better for us all, isn’t it Madame Pres–“

“Peter, we must hear her!” the other bodyguard said.

“Why?” Peter asked, with a sneer now for him. “Is what she’s saying trueIs it all a con game?”

The bodyguard frowned at him and gave no answer.

“I know that it’s hard,” Price went on, “if one of the carriers happens to be your mother, your father, brother, sister, cousin, or a close friend. What you must try to understand is that that carrier, as soon as he or she became a carrier, was as of that time no longer your mother or–“

“Bullshit!” Michelle shouted, jumping up from her chair and startling the three young men, whose eyes darted away from the TV screen and back up at her. With new tears running down her cheeks, she bawled, “She never stopped being my mother, aliens or no aliens! She was my mother right up until she died, when your people murdered her!”

“Please, Michelle, calm down,” the first of the security men said. “We need to hear all of the president’s speech to know how best to react to their plans.”

Peter got up, put his arms around her, and held her as she sobbed on his shoulder. “They murdered her, Peter! They murdered her!”

“I know, sweetie, I know,” he said, rubbing one hand on her back and stroking her hair with the other. Well, at least she’s finally responsive, he thought.

“Behind the mass deception that they’re improving the lives of humanity is a plan for world domination,” the president continued.

The two security men chuckled at this assertion. Peter looked at them and hoped their laughing response to the president’s words was sincere.

“Everyone must be the same as the aliens,” Price said with a hint of sarcasm. “No one is allowed to be different, or to think for themselves. Everyone must think the same thoughts, have the same opinions. If you don’t agree with the aliens’ plans, they’ll kill you, tear your body up in that horrible, violent way we all originally thought was a disease called ‘The Splits’.”

“Where did she get that idea?” the second bodyguard whispered.

“It’s a lie,” the first said. “Don’t believe her, Peter. Neither of you agreed with us at first, but we didn’t kill you. Remember that.”

“We have been studying, scrutinizing the carriers we’ve had to detain in order to learn as much about them as we can,” Price said. “Over the months, we’ve even experimented on them to extract whatever knowledge we could. We have learned that the aliens hate individuality, free thought, and ambition to rise high in a freely competitive environment. When the carriers talk to you about the ‘collective good,’ what they’re really talking about is mass conformity. I, as leader of the free world, can’t and won’t allow that to happen.”

“Free world,” Peter scoffed. “What free world?”

“One of the carriers we’d caught and detained, Lenny Van der Meer, escaped a month ago and is hiding, we believe, somewhere in Africa with other carriers,” Price said, with a photo of Van der Meer showing beside her, in his forties, bald on top with dark brown hair on the sides, and a moustache and goatee. “Here we’ll show you a brief video of him so you can see the kind of ‘people’ these carriers are. I have to warn you, though, that it will be disturbing to watch.”

“The agitprop thickens,” Peter whispered.

The TV cut to a shaky video showing a dimly-lit room with Van der Meer, a blonde woman in a business suit crouched in a corner, and a few black men and women standing around her. She was in about her mid-thirties, shaking, and in tears.

“You work for the IMF, do you not?” Van der Meer asked her. “Your loans keep poor countries like this one we live in forever in debt, don’t they?”

“Look, if they can’t pay back their loans,” she said in a shaky, sobbing voice, “It’s out of my han–“

Suddenly, the dots of light flew out of his hands and out of those of the other people in the room. The little lights went inside her body, and red cracks appeared all over her bulging, bruising face and hands. She shook and screamed in pain for a few seconds before the video was cut off.

The TV showed President Price again.

“As you can see,” she said, “this is not the kind of man we should be sympathizing with.”

“I beg to differ,” Peter said. “I hate the IMF.”

“Remember that every carrier…every carrier in the whole world, has the exact same agenda as Lenny Van der Meer,” she continued. “Make no mistake. The carriers all think with the same mind. They’ll kill anyone who stands in the way of their alien masters. This is why we must stop them–for the very survival of the human race. So report all known carriers in your area to the local authorities. They’ll do the rest. As we learn more about the latest moves of the aliens and their once-human carriers, we’ll inform you of these latest developments. A full military confrontation is being planned, which will eliminate this menace while ensuring minimal human casualties. For security reasons, I cannot at the moment discuss any of the details of these plans, as it’s classified information.”

“Of course not,” Peter said. “War crimes are best kept as secret as possible.”

“So please have faith in the judgement of this government, as well as the governments of the world cooperating with us, to do the right thing,” she concluded. “God bless America, and God bless our Mother Earth.”

One of the bodyguards turned off the TV.

“So, what do we do now?” the other bodyguard asked.

Go to Africa, Michelle heard her father’s voice say. She didn’t ignore it this time. Find Lenny Van der Meer. 

“Go to Africa,” Michelle said in a monotone, almost trancelike voice. “Find this Lenny Van der Meer.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Peter said. “But how are we going to get there with all this global surveillance and security asking questions about our destination and the purpose of our travels?”

“We still have the private planes of our dead parents,” she said, still in a monotone voice, staring straight ahead in a trance.

“Yes, but people working for the global governments/corporations will still be getting in our way,” Peter said. “After all, they’ll know your mom was a carrier, and they’ll suspect we are carriers, too, as you two men definitely are.”

“Many of those people in the governments/corporations are secretly carriers,” the first bodyguard said. “The two of us can network things so that when you go through customs and checkpoints, you’ll encounter only our people.”

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Peter said with a smile.

“I guess it does,” she said, still looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

Glowing dots of light floated out of the pores of the bodyguards and lit up the living room. Neither Peter nor Michelle even flinched.

A man in a suit, watching from outside and with a pistol hidden in a holster in his blazer, flinched, though.

Chapter Ten

Three days later, Peter, Michelle, and the two bodyguards had arrived in Angola, and were driving in their rented car through the streets of Luanda.

Michelle, in the back seat with Peter, was looking at photos of Luanda on her phone and comparing them with what she saw out the car window.

“Wow, Luanda looks really different from what I see in these pictures, and from how I remember friends of mine who’ve been here had described the city,” she said. “I remember how they described the place in minute detail. If they were to come here now, they’d think it was another city if they hadn’t known better. Nothing, from the airport to these streets, would be even remotely recognizable to my friends.”

Peter looked at the photos on her phone. “Oh, those photos must be really old ones. When did your friends come here?”

“Oh, years ago,” she said. “About seven or eight years ago, at least. What I see in the photos confirms how my friends described Luanda, but what I see out the window denies all of it.”

“Well, that explains the difference,” he said. “So much has changed over the past ten years, with the restructuring of all the cities into their own individual city-states, and with the tearing down of old buildings, many of which had gone out of business because the big corporations either crushed, merged with, or acquired them, replacing them with new ones to accommodate the corporate takeovers of local governments all over the world. Even many streets and roads have been totally redone with all these changes. This has happened everywhere; remember Mississauga when you were a kid?”

“Oh, totally different from now, structurally and in almost every other sense,” she said. “If I were there as a little kid now, I’d be totally lost.”

“That’s right,” he said. “Just like Toronto. I’ll bet there isn’t a city anywhere in the world that wasn’t radically remade in the mid-2020s. If someone back in the 2010s, or early 2020s, were to have gone in a time machine to today’s world and looked around their own city, they’d scratch their head and think, ‘Where the fuck am I? This isn’t my town!’”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said.

“It’s true,” one of the bodyguards said, the one on the passenger side at the front. “We’re from Hamilton. We lived there our whole lives. The Hamilton of our childhoods was a totally different city, structurally and otherwise, from the Hamilton of today.”

“That’s right,” the driver said.

After about another ten minutes of driving around, they arrived at their hotel. They went up to their rooms. The couples’ rooms were right next door to each other.

“Remember,” one of the bodyguards told Peter and Michelle before putting the key into the door of his room. “If you need us urgently, bang on the wall, and we’ll be right over.”

“OK,” Michelle said as she put the key into the door of her and Peter’s room. “Thanks, Bob.”

“One of us will guard you as you sleep,” the second bodyguard said as Bob opened their door. “Me, tonight. Bob, tomorrow night, and back and forth between us, night after night.”

“Thanks, Phil,” Peter said as she opened their door.

“We’ll put our bags on our beds, then come right over to your room to discuss our plans to meet up with Lenny Van der Meer,” Bob said. “We won’t be long discussing it, as we know how tired you two are.” They went in their rooms and closed the doors.

“I’m amazed at how well they were able to get us out here so fast,” Peter said as he and Michelle put their luggage on their bed. “There really are a lot of carriers out there in so many parts of the world.”

“And they all link together so well,” Michelle said. “Those little balls of light in their bodies seem to be able to feel each other’s presence from miles away.”

“It’s like they’re using the Force, or something,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they chose such a cheap hotel for us. We have money; we could have gotten something much nicer.”

“They said they had a reason for choosing this place,” she said. “We’ll know why soon enough.”

They heard a knock on the door. Peter hurried over to open it.

“Wait, be careful,” she said. “Look through the peephole first. Remember that guy who seemed to be following us all the way from Pearson Airport. Bob and Phil think he’s another assassin waiting to strike.”

Peter looked through the peephole. It was Bob and Phil.

“It’s OK,” he said, and opened the door for them.

“Our contacts tell us we’ll be able to meet with Lenny tomorrow afternoon at about three in their hideout just a mile outside of Luanda,” Phil said as he and Bob walked into the room. Peter took a quick look around the empty hall before closing the door.

“It’s great to have you two to give Lenny and his people assurances that we’re on his side,” Michelle said.

“What about that assassin, though?” Peter asked. “Are you sure he’s an assassin? How do you know he’s not someone who by coincidence was just coming to Luanda on our flight?”

“We know,” Bob said, with a hard look of self-assurance in his eyes. “We knew he was outside your house the night we heard the president’s speech.”

“And you lit up the room with your dots of light, so he’d know who to target?” Peter asked with a sneer.

“He already knew about us,” Phil said. “His people killed Siobhan…”

Michelle shuddered when she heard that.

“…knowing she had us to protect her,” Phil continued, “and now to protect you. We didn’t reveal anything to him that he didn’t already know; we weren’t in any less danger before the lighting up than after it.”

“We were taunting him, if anything,” Bob said. “We were hoping he’d strike that very night, when we were ready for him. All alone in your house, without anybody outside knowing about it.”

“Unfortunately, his stalking us like this is dragging it out,” Michelle said. “I hope he doesn’t strike when we meet Lenny tomorrow.”

“He’ll want to strike in a public place, to expose us,” Phil said.

“Still, if he strikes in Lenny’s hideout, he’s stupid,” Bob said. “With so many of us to protect Lenny, the assassin will be split up into pieces almost instantly.”

Michelle turned on the TV. “Let’s find out what’s going on in the world,” she said.

“I’m hot,” Peter said, reaching for the hotel phone on the bedside table. “I’m calling room service for some drinks. What d’you want, Michelle?”

“Ginger ale, if they have it,” she said as she went through the channels to find the news.

“You guys want anything?” he asked them.

“I’m OK, thanks,” Bob said.

“Me, too,” Phil said.

Michelle switched the TV to CNN. It was showing a live press conference with President Price, who was listening to a reporter’s question. “BREAKING NEWS” was showing in big letters along the bottom of the screen, with “ALIENS ATTACK AFRICA.”

“What?” Michelle said, wide-eyed and her jaw dropping. She turned up the volume.

“What is the plan for dealing with all the American troops suddenly killed in all of these military bases?” a reporter asked the president.

“Our first plan is to send deployments of our air force to the bases and surrounding areas,” she answered. “Including drones. We will start with airstrikes in the areas most severely hit, places like Burkina Faso, Angola, and Zimbabwe. If the airstrikes are successful, we will do the same to the other, less severely hit areas. If not successful, we’ll have to consider…well, a more sweeping response.”

“Which is…?” the reporter asked.

“That is something I’m not at liberty to talk about at the moment,” the president said, then left the podium and began leaving the room. “We’ll update you as soon as we’ve gotten word on the outcomes of the airstrikes. Thank you.”

“Madame President?!” another reporter shouted, but she had already left the room.

“Holy shit,” Peter said. “We just entered a war zone.”

“The war has begun,” Bob said. “Just as you said it would, Phil.”

Michelle continued following the developing news story; her eyes were glued to the TV.

“Do your connections know about this?” Peter asked. “Have they told you about their plans?”

“We know of a general plan to make carriers of all the people in developing countries,” Phil said. “Not much more detail than that.”

“Certainly nothing about hitting American military bases,” Bob said. “We should have thought twice about coming here, given the planned American response.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” Peter said. “I feel more comfortable being around you than around the powers-that-be back at home.”

“Thank you, Peter,” the bodyguards said in perfect unison and synchronization.

Wow, Peter thought. Their voices sound like that of one man. Do they lack individuality, as the media claim they do?

The doorbell rang. “Room service!” a male voice with an African accent said.

“Our drinks!” Peter said, rushing to the door. “Good!”

Michelle was still distracted by the TV, but Bob and Phil looked over at the door with frowns.

Peter opened it wide. A black man held, not a tray of drinks, but a pistol.

“Shit!” Peter shouted, then jumped out of the way and fell on the floor.

Michelle looked behind her, her eyes and mouth even more agape.

Bob and Phil pulled out their pistols. Phil ran for the door and let out his dots of light.

“No!” Bob screamed, aiming at the assassin.

But the assassin shot first, hitting Phil in the chest just as he’d reached the doorway. He fell on his back, and the dots of light flew at his killer.

Not missing a beat, the assassin pulled a small can of bug spray from his left pants pocket with his free hand, and he sprayed the first several balls of light coming at him. All the lights dropped like marbles on the floor.

Before he could shoot or spray again, Bob fired a bullet in his forehead. He dropped on his front, right by Phil’s feet, with his own legs still outside the door and in the hallway.

“Peter?” Bob said, bordering on sobbing. “C-could you please pull the killer’s body into the room for me? I can’t risk getting too close to it, with that toxic spray in the air.”

“Sure,” Peter said, then went over and pulled the assassin’s body in, getting his feet past the doorway, and closed the door. Bob pulled Phil’s body further into the centre of the room and away from the assassin’s body. He knelt before Phil’s head and wept.

“Was he your brother, or something?” Michelle asked, noting Bob’s and Phil’s similarity of appearance; they looked, in her opinion, practically like twins.

“My lover,” Bob said, tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. They have feelings no less than we do, she thought. The aliens inside them don’t diminish human emotion; they may be odd in expressing it, but they don’t feel it any less.

“What about the rest of the people in the hotel?” Peter asked. “They’ll have heard the gunshots.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Bob said. “Everybody in Africa is being made a carrier, or being torn to pieces if they reject us.” He closed Phil’s eyes. “That’s what hitting the US military bases was all about. If we can succeed in taking all of them out, then taking out, or converting, the rest of the African population will be all the easier.”

Suddenly, they heard a man screaming from down the hall.

The three of them ran out into the hall in the direction of the voice. They turned a corner and found the man who’d gone with them on the plane from Toronto.

“We told you he was an assassin,” Bob said after seeing the man’s pistol and can of bug spray lying on either side of him on the floor.

He lay there on his back, shaking and screaming, his body ripping open wide enough to tear holes in his shirt and pants legs. His heart, lungs, and stomach were showing behind his ripped-open ribcage, and his leg muscles were showing. Though he had the bruises and red crack marks on his face, since he hadn’t opened up there yet, he was recognizable to Bob, Peter, and Michelle.

A crowd of guests and hotel staff were standing in a circle around him, staring down intently at him. The glowing little white balls were hovering everywhere among and around their carriers.

The man’s head was ripping open now, exposing his brain. After one last scream, his body blew apart, spraying blood everywhere.

“He must have provided our ‘room service’,” Peter said.

“No doubt of that,” Bob said. “And now you understand why we chose this cheap hotel to spend the night. Our people are everywhere in it. People in a richer hotel would have been more resistant to us, and therefore it would have been harder to gain control of it. And assassins like him would have found it easier to get at us. Anyway, now that he’s out of the way, we should be safe to stay here until we go to meet Lenny Van der Meer.”

“Then we’ll just have to worry about the coming airstrikes,” Michelle added.

Chapter Eleven

None of the three of them slept well that night. Bob could feel, through the energy of the alien balls of light in his body, the psychic presence of Phil trying to console him, though it wasn’t enough to stop Bob’s sobbing or to help him sleep.

All Michelle could think about was the impending air strikes. Actually, she was trying to think only about that looming danger, because it was taking her mind off of something far more painful. She was trying not to think about her dead mother, though the killing of Phil, and how it reminded her of her mother’s killing, was making it difficult to forget. Only her worries about the American air force and drones bombing where they were could approach helping to take her mind off the loss of her mother…and those worries did nothing to help her sleep.

Peter, who held Michelle’s trembling body in his arms in bed, and stroked her hair, still found himself unsure if he could trust Bob and the aliens. He wanted to trust them…needed to trust them, for Michelle’s sake…but he couldn’t completely. The only way he could reconcile himself to them was to know he trusted the Anglo-American empire far less.

The next day, Bob drove them east out of Luanda in their rented car to the hideout where Lenny Van der Meer and his army of human carriers–of the tiny, white balls of light–were. On the way, Peter and Michelle looked out the window and saw a wildfire the local firefighters were desperately trying to put out. They arrived at the hideout at about 2:55 pm.

The place was a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere: it was surrounded by a flat, empty landscape of pebbly ground dotted with occasional tufts of grass and even more occasional, isolated trees. Two people were standing at the entrance to the building. A parking lot was filled with cars. Bob parked there, and he, Peter, and Michelle got out of the car.

Bob was the first of the three to approach the two at the large doors in the front centre of the building. He let out the balls of light to assure the two that he, Peter, and Michelle were friends. They were let in.

Inside were aisles of pallet racks filled with stored goods in boxes throughout. No employees were anywhere to be seen, though.

“Where is everybody?” Peter asked.

“Downstairs,” one of the two at the door said, gesturing with his outstretched arm at a stairway to the basement at the far left of the warehouse. “Go that way.”

“Thanks,” Michelle said, and she, Peter, and Bob walked over to the stairs.

As they approached the stairs, they could hear a crescendo of buzzing voices speaking indistinctly as a group. Obviously there was a large group of people down there.

They went down to the bottom of the stairs, where they pushed two large red doors forward to lead them into a huge basement filled with people. The glowing dots of light were floating above the heads of everyone, illuminating the entire basement so well that the electric lights had been left off the whole time.

Peter, Michelle, and Bob walked through the sea of people with no resistance from anyone. In fact, every face that looked at them greeted them with a smile.

“I’ve almost forgotten the days when those lights actually used to scare me,” Peter said loudly in Michelle’s ear.

“Me, too,” she said in his with equal loudness, as if in revenge for his hurting her eardrum.

“We know the feeling, too,” a middle-aged man Peter was passing by said to him.

“What?” Peter asked him.

“You aren’t a carrier of the alien lights, are you?” the man asked, to which Peter and Michelle shook their heads. “Neither are we,” he said, gesturing to a middle-aged woman standing with him. He shook Peter’s hand, and the woman shook Michelle’s. With greying hair, they were twice Peter’s and Michelle’s ages.

“I’m Peter Cobb-Hopkin. This is my girlfriend, Michelle Buchanan.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Tory Lee, and this is my wife, Karen Finley.”

“You kept your surname,” Michelle noted with a smile.

“Yes,” Karen said, grinning back. “It’s the feminist in me.” She gave a little chuckle.

“My dad was the Cobb, my mom the Hopkin,” Peter said. “She thought similarly. So, the lights never go inside you two either, eh? They know you’re sympathetic to their cause?”

“We were sympathetic right from the beginning,” Tory said. “We took note of who the victims of ‘The Splits’ were right away–either wealthy, powerful people, or their bootlickers.” He then frowned slightly.

“And we never bought that story that ‘The Splits’ was a new virus,” Karen said, who also frowned slightly at Tory’s last words. “We caught on early that it was an alien intervention.”

“I didn’t know about aliens, but I’d been skeptical that The Splits was a virus from Day One,” Peter said. “That’s because I’d been skeptical of all those ‘coronavirus variants’ that had come before.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tory said. “Those were all obvious government psy-ops.”

Two men and two women walked over to them.

“Oh, Peter and Michelle, let me introduce you to some more non-carrying sympathizers,” Karen said. The four people put out their hands to shake Peter’s and Michelle’s. “This is Wendy Callaghan, Pat, Valerie, and Sid. Wendy, Pat, Valerie, and Sid, this is Peter and Michelle.”

After all the handshaking, Pat asked, “So, where are you two from?”

“Toronto,” Peter said.

“Mississauga, Ontario for me,” Michelle said. 

“Really?” Sid said. “I’m from Brantford.”

“Wow!” Michelle said. “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Sid said. 

“How long did it take for you to realize ‘The Splits’ wasn’t a disease, but really an alien inva—er, intervention?” Pat asked.

“Oh, quite soon,” Peter said. “I hadn’t caught on to the aliens right away, but I didn’t buy the idea that it was a disease.”

“Hey, listen,” Valerie said. “They’re starting.”

The dots of light were humming a soothing middle C, getting everyone’s attention and stopping the talking. They then lessened their glow, dimming the room and making everyone look towards a podium with a spotlight.

Lenny Van der Meer stepped onto the podium.

“There he is,” Tory whispered.

“Who?” Peter asked, not recognizing Lenny’s face from far off.

“Lenny Van der Meer,” Karen whispered. “Our leader.”

“Friends, brothers and sisters,” Lenny said into a microphone. “Let us all remember why we’re here; and for those humans who haven’t been altered by us from the planet Bolshivaria, those honorary humans with no need of a purging, we Bolshivarians will allow you to receive our communication as we would communicate with each other, for ease and clarity of understanding, without the limitations of human speech.”

“That sounds a bit arrogant,” Peter said.

“Agreed,” Pat said.

“Peter, shh!” Michelle whispered, frowning at him.

“Let’s all close our eyes, clear our minds, and listen,” Lenny said. “Relax, take deep breaths, and let us come inside you humans. We won’t hurt you; don’t be afraid. Remember, we’re your friends.”

I want to believe you, Peter thought. But I’m still not sure. Well, I’ll open my mind and give you a chance.

He, Michelle, Tory, and Karen, as well as all the other non-carriers in the basement, felt the lights enter their bodies. They felt no pain at all; in fact, the gentle vibrations felt from head to toe were quite soothing.

Indeed, the Bolshivarians’ intentions were communicated with a clarity and precision that no words, of any verbally expressed language, could ever convey. One didn’t hear or see a language: one felt it.

The Bolshivarians’ mission was to save the Earth from her Earthlings. Not only would they rid humanity of corrupt, warmongering politicians; not only would they eliminate world poverty, homelessness, and inaccessibility to healthcare and education; not only would they purge the world of the greedy rich. They would end the ecological destruction of the planet. The oceans, land, and air would be purged of pollution. No more wildfires. No more rising sea levels. Global warming wouldn’t only be stopped…it would be reversed.

This seems too good to be true, Peter thought. Pat and Valerie had the same doubts, as did Tory and Karen, though they all wanted to believe it as much as Peter did.

Michelle fell in love with the message vibrated throughout her body, as did Wendy and Sid.

The Bolshivarians’ message continued to be sent directly into the brains of everyone in the basement: no more city-states, each governed by a corporation. The numbing, apathy-inducing effects of vaccines imposed on world populations would be nullified. No more loneliness. No more alienation, no more mutual hate and anger, but communities of loving people, working and helping each other. We Bolshivarians can transform your world. We are your salvation.

This, from the aliens that killed my parents? Peter wondered.

This, from the aliens that killed my best friend? Valerie asked herself.

This, from the aliens that killed my kid sister? Pat asked himself.

I watched our 22-year-old son get torn to pieces, Karen thought. He was an ambitious yuppie, but did he deserve to die because of ambition? Did our salvation really necessitate his death?

We’ve had to bury our feelings deep down, just to survive, Tory thought. Just to escape our son’s fate.

Now the message changed from promises of an improved world to a kind of communion with the Bolshivarians, a shared consciousness. Vibrations passed from person to person in waves moving from one side of the basement to the other. A collective empathy washed over all of them in a cool cleansing.

Oh, this feels wonderful! Michelle thought, grinning. Beautiful!

All in attendance experienced a peaceful, oceanic state. Ripples of soothing vibrations flowed back and forth, left and right, among all of them. They were no longer separate entities: they were all one. Even Peter, Pat, Valerie, Tory, and Karen let go of their doubts and began to enjoy the experience.

Not even acid feels this good, Tory thought.

Oh, this feels like heaven! Valerie thought.

Nirvana, Pat thought. Sheer nirvana!

What peace! Karen thought.

I am loving this, Wendy thought.

Everyone, always with his or her eyes shut, always breathing in and out slowly and deeply as if meditating, fell into a dreamlike state. They all started seeing familiar faces from their pasts.

Bob saw Phil approaching him. I miss you so much, Bob thought, a tear running down his cheek. It’s as if you’d been gone for years.

Don’t feel with your human body, Phil told him in his thoughts. Feel through the Bolshivarians inside you, and it will be as if I’d never left you. We’re all united through them. You know that.

Tory and Karen saw the face of their son. Cameron! mother and father shouted out to him in their thoughts.

Don’t be angry with the Bolshivarians on my account, he told them mentally. They didn’t kill me. My rejection of their values did. I lived a greedy, selfish, ambitious life. They gave me a chance to rethink my attitude, to reject my greed, and I refused to. It’s that kind of selfishness that’s destroying all life here. Better that a few of us should die than everybody. If only I’d had the eyes to see where I was going wrong, while I still had the chance. I failed you both. I’m sorry.

Both parents’ faces were soaked with tears.

Joyce! Valerie said in her thoughts. You’re back!

Gabriella? Pat sobbed in his mind. Is that you?

Peter saw his mom and dad before him. His heart thumped harder and faster. So, when I’ve heard the voices of my parents from time to time, I wasn’t hearing things? he thought.

You were right, son, his father told him. We should have listened to you instead of chasing money and power. And I’m sorry for all the mean things we said to you all those years. It was hard for us dealing with your rebelliousness, but that didn’t give us the right to treat you as we did.

Yes, Peter, his mother echoed in his thoughts. We are so sorry. The Bolshivarians tried to show us the way, and we wouldn’t open our minds to it. Our deaths were all our fault. Don’t blame them.

As touching and healing as this communication felt, Peter tried not to let it seduce him. Are these really my parents’ spirits? he wondered. I’d really like to believe it’s them…I so, so want to believe it’s them!…but is it an illusion the Bolshivarians are pushing on us to make us all side with them? Was President Price right in warning us of their attempts to get us on their side, or was she lying, the way the American government always lies? Again, the only thing making me side with the Bolshivarians is my hate for the political establishment of our world, which has already proven itself the worst that anything could possibly be. But can there be anything worse than that?

Finally, Michelle saw her father.

I’m so sorry for not listening to you, Michelle, Don told her psychically. I brought my death onto myself. It was all my fault.

“Oh, Daddy, don’t blame yourself,” she whispered, her closed eyes letting out a few tears. “You didn’t know.” So, the occasional voices of my parents in my head were real, and not hallucinations brought on by stress? she wondered.

I refused to allow myself to know, Don said in her mind’s ear. Your mother did, and she allowed herself to adapt, as I should have done.

Then Siobhan appeared, standing next to him in Michelle’s vision.

“Mom!” Michelle sobbed audibly. “How are you two here?”

(Peter heard her, turned his head in her direction, then resumed listening to his parents, his eyes kept shut the whole time.)

When the aliens came inside us, they absorbed our energy, her dad said. We are part of the Bolshivarian collective consciousness, even in death. We’ll always be with you, Michelle.

We’ll never leave you, sweetie, Siobhan said. Don’t grieve.

Michelle was sobbing louder.

Just let the balls of light come inside you, and you can commune with us anytime, Don said.

It’ll be as if we never left you, Siobhan said.

“Yes,” Michelle sobbed. “So when I’ve heard your voices, it was really you, not me imagining things?”

Yes, of course it was, her mom said. We never really died, sweetie. We died only in body.

“I love you,” Michelle sobbed.

We love you, too, her father said. Now, to show us your love, do as the Bolshivarians wish.

“I will,” Michelle said, wiping the tears off her cheeks.

It’s for the good of humanity, Siobhan said.

The apparitions vanished. The dots of light came out of everyone, they rose up above the people’s heads, and everyone opened his eyes. All eyes were now on Lenny again.

“Friends, brothers and sisters,” he said into the microphone. “It is time to band together. Our enemy is about to strike, and we must be ready.”

OK, Peter thought. I just hope that you won’t become an even greater enemy.

Chapter Twelve

Back in their hotel in Luanda that night, Peter, Michelle, and Bob slept much better than the night before. The Bolshivarian lights in Bob’s body gave him a psychic connection with Phil that soothed him to sleep; some of those lights also flew into Peter’s and Michelle’s room to soothe them to sleep with the energy of their parents.

Michelle especially slept like a baby. Her connection with her parents felt so comforting, it was almost as if they’d never died. She felt the Bolshivarians to be the surest of friends.

Peter enjoyed no less restful a sleep, hearing the now-loving words of his parents’ energy calming him. He felt them telling him that they were sorry for all the times they’d berated him, from his childhood until his adulthood, and that they should have listened to him more. This mental communication of theirs, again, as agreeable as it was for him to experience, still seemed too good to be true. Indeed, though he enjoyed his sleep and woke up the next morning thoroughly refreshed, he wasn’t sure if it was his parents that had lulled him into such a perfect sleep, or just the skillful, yet deceptive, charm of the Bolshivarians.

The next morning, after breakfast, Bob apprised Peter and Michelle of the situation regarding the American response to the Bolshivarian takeover of Africa.

“The first of the airstrikes is coming today,” he told them. “The Bolshivarians informed me of their plan to engage the fighter planes and drones, which will hit us not only with missiles and gunfire from the planes, but also with bug spray from the drones.”

“How will the Bolshivarians be able to counterattack with bug spray shooting at them?” Peter asked.

“They didn’t tell me exactly how they were going to avoid the bug spray, but they’re aware of the danger and planning a way to evade it,” Bob said. “Don’t worry: the Bolshivarians are clever enough not to let themselves be exposed to the drones’ spray guns, which our intelligence tells us will all spray only forward. We can sneak up from behind and their radar won’t pick us up. The American and NATO forces are the ones who need to be cleverer, not our side.”

“How will the Bolshivarians fight them?” Peter asked.

“They’ll fly into the planes’ cockpits and into the bodies of the pilots,” Bob said. “You know what happens next.”

“What if the pilots wear those protective suits?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, everybody knows by now that those suits never worked,” Bob said. “Bolshivarians can fly through them with ease, just as they can through the jets and drones.”

“If so, then why did they let people think they were safe in the suits last year?” Michelle asked.

“For several reasons,” Bob explained. “First of all, we wanted humans to have some sense of hope, so they wouldn’t feel all hopeless and despairing. Secondly, we came to Earth right when you humans were so worried about all those coronavirus variants. We wanted you, for the time being, to think our presence was just another disease, to distract you until enough of us had settled in and established enough carriers around the world so we could move around among you and blend in with you, so you wouldn’t be able to tell which ones were carriers and which ones weren’t.”

Clever plan, Peter thought, and devious.

Bob looked at him as if he’d heard Peter say those words out loud. “We’re here to help you, Peter, not to dominate you. Our ways may be strange to you, but that doesn’t mean we have ill intentions.”

Whoa, Peter thought with widened eyes. The Bolshivarians can read my thoughts. I’d better bury my feelings deeper down in my mind from now on.

“We know your doubts, Peter,” Bob said. “But we don’t doubt you. Don’t worry.”

“I don’t doubt you,” Michelle said.

“Even though they killed your dad, my dad, and my mother?” Peter said, glaring at her.

“You know the real reason they died,” Bob said.

“I know your rationalization for it,” Peter said, and then with sarcasm, “‘They rejected the new way, so their deaths were their fault, not yours’.”

“Our parents still exist in spirit, Peter,” Michelle said. “Didn’t you feel them last night?”

Did we feel their spirits, or did we feel hallucinations?” Peter asked, looking hard at Bob.

“Peter, if we Bolshivarians had wanted to kill all of humanity, we could have done it like that!” Bob said with a snap of his fingers. “If we’d wanted to take control of all of your bodies and enslave you, we could have done it like that!” He snapped his fingers again. “But we didn’t. We could have gotten through every protective suit and either controlled or killed every head of state in your world, every CEO/leader of every city-state government, with none of you able to stop us, in the blink of an eye! But we didn’t…and many, many Bolshivarians have died because of the fluke discovery of bug spray toxins.”

Now Peter looked down at his hands.

“We want to save your planet and your people from destruction, but before we can do that, we need to gain the trust of at least a reasonable number of you, and gain the willful cooperation of enough of you. We’ve given as many of you as we can a chance to choose either to work with us or against us. We’ve allowed many to be non-carriers, because we want your friendship by free will. Even those who’ve died, like your parents, can still communicate with you through our collective psychic energy. Can you please try to trust us, Peter?”

Peter looked at Bob for several seconds.

“They cured the world of the coronaviruses, didn’t they?” Michelle added. “You, Peter, of all people, should be grateful to the Bolshivarians for doing away with the masks, lockdowns, and vaccines, right?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Peter said. “Wayne Grey did pull all of that off. I’ll give him that. I wish I hadn’t punched him.”

“And those were not hallucinations of my mom and dad,” Michelle said in a shaky voice, looking in Peter’s eyes with pain and conviction.

Can you try to trust us, Peter?” Bob asked again.

“OK,” he said. “I’ll try. The governments here on Earth have certainly proved themselves untrustworthy.”

“Good,” Bob said. “Now let’s get ready for those airstrikes.”

************

Four hours later, Bob was in his room, sitting crosslegged on his bed in a meditative position. The balls of light were floating on all sides around his body. He could feel the messages the Bolshivarians from other parts of Angola, including those of the warehouse hideout, were sending him.

Oh, no! he thought.

Peter and Michelle were in their room, too, lying on their bed in each other’s arms and waiting for Bob to tell them what was going on.

From outside their window, they could hear approaching planes.

Just as they got off their bed to look out the window, Bob rushed into their room.

“Hey, Bob!” Michelle shouted in annoyance. “We could have been indecent in here!”

“Sorry,” he said. racing for that window. “I didn’t have time to knock.” All three of them looked out the window.

Four fighter planes were approaching, accompanied by half a dozen small, brown ovoid drones with spray guns on them.

“Just as I feared,” he said. “Not only did they know that Lenny Van der Meer and the other Bolshivarian carriers are hiding out in that warehouse, but they know we’re here, too!”

“Who informed the Americans?” Peter asked. “Were there spies hiding out in that basement? Are there spies here in this hotel?”

“Unlikely, bordering on impossible,” Bob said. “We’d have been able to sense treason among us; it would take an extraordinary ability to bury one’s feelings for us not to sense traitors. Spies must have been hiding out among the trees or bushes outside.”

“There aren’t many trees or bushes to hide behind around here, or near that warehouse,” Peter said. “Years of global warming and wildfires have ensured that.”

“Not many trees or bushes, but enough for, say, one or two spies to hide among,” Bob said. “In any case, somebody from outside, somewhere, found our people there…and here. We’ve gotta get out of here. Move!

The three of them rushed out of the room, down the hall, and down a flight of stairs to the ground floor. Just as they were making a run for the front doors, the striking of the first missile shook the building.

“Oh, shit!” Peter shouted.

“Are these the same fighters and drones that hit the warehouse, do you think?” Michelle asked.

“No,” Bob said. “Lenny and his people took them all out as I described before.”

“So, Lenny’s still alive?” Peter asked.

“As far as I know, yes,” Bob said. “Let’s just hope the Bolshivarians here can be as successful.”

Three more strikes shook the building, causing it to collapse. Peter, Michelle, and Bob screamed before losing consciousness and being buried in rubble by the front door.

Outside, drones were shooting bug spray at swarms of dots of light flying at them; after a dozen or so of lights flying in front were sprayed, all of them lost their light and fell like marbles on the ground, all lifeless. Then, the fighter jets shot at the carriers who’d been sending up the lights. They all lay on the ground in a bloody lake.

These victims, however, were just a sacrificial distraction.

A swarm of Bolshivarian lights far greater in number were flying behind all the jets and drones. None of their radar could detect the approach of the lights, whose advanced alien technology could easily evade being picked up by radio airwaves.

The overconfident pilots had no idea what was coming at them.

The first man to feel the tiny lights entering his body screamed. His jet veered to the right as he fidgeted and struggled in his seat, feeling his body tearing to pieces and ripping out of his uniform.

“James, what’s wrong?” the pilot to his right said; but before he could say any more, James’s plane crashed into his. A huge explosion lit up the sky. Three drones flying nearby also got destroyed in the explosion.

A number of carriers looking up from the ground cheered when they saw the explosion.

“Half of the threat gone, all at once!” one of them shouted.

Sadly, he was gunned down, seconds after, by one of the two remaining fighter jets.

The remaining carriers sent up their balls of light; one of the drones sprayed them, causing them all to drop on the ground, as lightless and lifeless as the other ‘marbles.’ Then the fighter jets shot at the carriers and left them all in a pool of gore.

Meanwhile, the other two drones turned around to face the swarm of lights behind. They sprayed at the leading dozen or two of them, causing them and many more behind to fall on the ground. The third drone turned around to help the other two.

Now, the remaining carriers were free to shoot their lights up at the two fighter jets.

As the pilots screamed, fidgeted in their seats, and felt their splitting bodies rip out of their uniforms, the lights took control of the jets, aimed their guns at the three drones, and shot at them.

The carriers cheered as they saw the drones explode up in the air. Then they dodged out of the way when the two jets fell to the ground, a few feet away on either side of the hotel, and blew up in flames.

The surviving Bolshivarian lights flew over to the rubble of the hotel, soon to be joined by the surviving carriers, who ran over. The lights scanned the rubble for signs of life: only three were found to be still alive, and barely so–Peter, Michelle, and Bob.

The carriers, about a dozen of them, worked fast to pull the pieces of brick off the bodies of the injured three. Bob was unconscious, approaching death; Peter and Michelle lay there, hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness, moaning and sighing.

The lights hovered above and around the three. Their light and warmth touched the three hurt bodies.

Bob, being the closest to death, was the priority. The lights scanned his vital signs: his pulse was extremely weak and rhythmically irregular. He had broken bones all over. He was bathed in his blood; his life was fading fast.

Even with all the Bolshivarians’ medical knowledge, centuries in advance of that of humanity, they couldn’t save Bob. Since Peter and Michelle also urgently needed help, they switched their focus onto them. They weren’t as near death as Bob had been, but they weren’t much further away from death, either.

A crowd of people, carriers and non-carriers, watched the process of treating Peter and Michelle. Their eyes were locked on the two injured–eyes full of worry. A tense several hours ensued.

Peter’s and Michelle’s broken and fractured bones, their cuts and bruises, were hardly fewer than those on Bob. All onlookers, including the carriers, who knew of the Bolshivarians’ abilities, and even the Bolshivarian lights themselves, were full of doubts as to whether or not they could save the two.

Their pulses, though not as bad as Bob’s, were still weak and irregular. They showed considerable shortness of breath. The struggle to heal them involved a back-and-forth movement between weaker and stronger pulses, more and less irregular pulses, and greater and lesser shortness of breath.

Broken bones were set, fractures were healed millimetre by millimetre, bruises and cuts ever so slowly faded away–the bloody red slashes lengthening, shortening, and lengthening and shortening over and over again, the blotches of black, blue, and purple shrinking, growing, and shrinking again and again.

But finally, the white lights’ healing efforts succeeded here where they hadn’t been able to with Bob. Non-carriers–local Angolans as sympathetic to the Bolshivarians as Peter and Michelle–watched with dropped jaws and agape eyes at the aliens’ ability to bring Peter and Michelle fully back to health, all in only three to four hours.

Peter and Michelle, of course, were no less amazed.

“What?” he said, getting up slowly and awkwardly.

“We’re better?” Michelle said, also getting up and testing her arms and legs by moving them around. “So quickly? How could they do that?”

“To explain to you what Bolshivarian medicine can do,” one of the carriers said, “would be like explaining computers to cavemen.”

Peter and Michelle looked down at Bob’s lifeless body.

“He didn’t make it?” Michelle asked.

They could feel a sad answer in the negative from the floating lights.

Peter moved his body around, to test how well he’d been healed. “Wow,” he said. “The Bolshivarians make our doctors look like…well, witch doctors in comparison.”

Now do you trust them?” she asked with a sneer.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” he said.

“If only their skill could have saved my mom,” she said with a frown. “I guess she was as close to death as Bob here, too close to be saved.”

Peter’s cellphone rang. “Wow,” he said as he pulled it out of his pants pocket. “My phone didn’t get damaged. Hello?”

“Peter?” a woman’s voice said. “This is Karen Finley. It’s a good thing you gave us your cellphone number yesterday. Are you and Michelle OK? We know about the attack on your hotel.”

“Oh, hi, Karen,” he said. “We’re OK now. The Bolshivarians just saved our lives after the fighter jets hit our hotel. They’re the most amazing doctors.”

“I’m glad for that,” she said. “That’s so awful, what happened to you there. I’m so sorry.”

“How did you know the jets attacked us here?” he asked.

“Pat and Valerie told us,” she said. “They found out from the Bolshivarians, who as you know can find out anything, you know, if they focus on it. First, we learned about the warehouse being hit, then Tory and I wondered if you two were OK, so we asked Pat and Valerie.”

“Actually, Pat and Valerie asked us where we were staying, so we told them,” he said, then wondered why Karen said the Bolshivarians told them. “But thanks for your concern.”

“Wait,” she said. “Tory wants to talk to you.” She gave her phone to her husband.

“OK,” Peter said. “Hello, Tory?”

“Hi,” Tory said. “Lenny says we’re all going to have to get out of Africa. More airstrikes are planned. Now that we’ve seen how badly the Americans and NATO can hit us, how well they can find us, thanks to their spies, the plan is to go to South America, where the Bolshivarians have many contacts who will help us. Lenny and his contacts here have arranged airplanes to take us there. There’s an airbase not far from where the warehouse was. The Bolshivarians can guide you to it. We all have to hurry, though, OK?”

“OK,” Peter said. “Thanks for the call. We’ll get over there right away. Bye.” They hung up.

“What’s the plan?” Michelle asked.

“We’re going to South America.”

“South America?” she asked.

“Yes, and we gotta hurry,” he said, taking her by the hand. “I’ll explain on the way. Let’s go.”

“B-but Peter?…” she said.

Michelle, Bob’s voice said in her mind. Go!

Yes, Michelle, Siobhan’s voice now said. Go with Peter.

Peter and Michelle started running towards a car one of the carriers was gesturing to.

‘The Splitting,’ A Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Expanded Version, Book I

Book I

Chapter One

2030, a summer night in Toronto

Mr. and Mrs. Gould looked up at the stars as they were walking on a walkway towards the 48th Highlanders Regimental Memorial at Queen’s Park. A soft breeze caressed the leaves on the trees and their faces.

“What a beautiful night,” she said, then took in a deep breath of the fresh air. “And to go outside and enjoy the air without having to wear a mask.” She said this with a bittersweet attitude: happy for herself, but not so much for most other people.

“Yes, it’s a lovely night,” he said, then he took in a deep breath, too. “Especially with it so quiet, with nobody else around.”

“Thanks to the latest lockdown.”

“Yes.” He smirked as he looked at her.

“It really isn’t fair, you know. Everyone else stuck inside their homes like prisoners, except for ‘essential people,’ and even they are usually out only to work or to buy what they need.”

“They aren’t of the same quality as we are, Hannah.”

“I don’t care about people’s ‘quality,’ Derek,” she said with a frown. “They have to wear those uncomfortable masks, just to go outside, and we don’t have to? They’re fined if they don’t comply? They can’t find work if they don’t get vaccinated?”

“Peter Cobb-Hopkin’s lucky,” he said. “He refuses to wear a mask, get vaccinated, or obey the lockdown, and his dad squares it with the police.”

“That’s because his dad is your boss, Derek. And the head of the Toronto government.”

“Because he’s of our quality, Hannah.”

She sighed. “Those not of ‘our quality’ have to be given shots of that vaccine your company makes, while we’re given their money, and we don’t have to take the needle in our arms? It isn’t right.”

“None of the world’s armies or cops need to take the vaccines, either.”

“That’s because those…automatons…have already had the disobedience beaten out of them. We get richer, and everybody else gets poorer.”

“You enjoy the benefits of getting that money as much as I do. Why are you complaining?”

“I just feel…bad for them. You know the side effects of the vaccine: the way it makes people more passive and lethargic. It’s as if something else has been secretly put into the vaccines, something unrelated to preventing getting viruses. Something added just to keep people under control. And everybody knows it doesn’t guarantee full protection against viruses, or prevent transmission of them. Sometimes I think it’s designed deliberately to keep the people under our control.”

“Now you sound like one of those conspiracy theorists. And why do you care? I say if it’s true that they’re designed on purpose to make the poor passive, that’s a good thing. We don’t have to worry about them rising up against us. That’s for your benefit, too. How could you be against that? Enough of this silly talk. Let’s just enjoy the walk, OK?”

“OK,” she said with a sigh.

He looked up at the night sky again. “Wow,” he said. “Look at those beautiful stars.”

She looked up. “Oh, yes,” she said, her eyes and mouth widening. “They’re really glowing.”

“Yeah, especially that cluster just to the left of the moon.”

“Shooting stars? They seem to be coming here.”

“Yeah, they seem to be racing at us.”

She frowned. “I…don’t like this.”

“They…aren’t getting any bigger…as they get…nearer,” he said with a frown of his own. “I don’t think I like this, either.”

“Those aren’t stars, Derek,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I feel…like I can’t.”

A cluster of about a dozen dots of glowing white light flew right at him, staying at about the size of the smallest of pebbles. They seemed to go right through him…but they didn’t.

She shrieked on seeing the impact.

He fell to the ground, shaking as he lay there on his right side in the fetal position. His instincts were screaming all through his body to get those things out of his body, to eject them. He felt them clinging to him, though, not letting go. Still, the urgency to get them out prevailed.

The struggle between ejecting them and their clinging to him could be resolved in only one way: splitting. He felt his skin and innards stretching and pulling, causing a sharp pain all over, and bruises on his skin. He grunted and groaned at the pain, then he felt something inside him begin to tear him apart, the stretches and pulls causing bulges that were ripping through his pants and shirt and exposing the bruised skin of his legs and chest.

“Derek?…Derek!

She saw fiery red lines all over his skin, like cracks in wall paint. His grunts and groans changed to screams as those red cracks thickened. He felt his bones on the point of cracking, of being dislocated. The sharp pains all over were excruciating. 

“What’s happening to you?!”

Even if he’d had control over his body and speech, he couldn’t have answered that question himself. All he knew was that something intolerable was inside him; he felt it was making demands on him that he couldn’t accept. It felt like a foreign substance that urgently had to be ejected from his body. It felt like a poison. He had to get it out…but it kept clinging to every inch of him

His body was beginning to rip apart at those red cracks; the rips would widen, showing off internal organs: his ribcage broke open, and she saw his heart, his stomach, and the muscle and sinew in his legs. Then the tears would narrow, as if he was struggling to heal himself. They widened and narrowed, back and forth, a continuous struggle.

He had to get it out of his body…but it wouldn’t leave without first taking pieces of him with it.

“Help!” she screamed. Why am I not seeing any blood? she wondered. And why am I even screaming? There isn’t anybody out here to hear me.

Next, his heart opened, exposing the chambers; his stomach and intestines opened, too, showing the insides. Still, no blood poured out. Finally, all those cracks ripped right open. His body blew up into pieces, flew out of his clothes and all over the place. 

Her next scream was ear-piercingly shrill. The pieces of his body, what looked like about twenty of them, lay fidgeting on the ground, rocking from side to side, as if each had its own consciousness. More severed internal organs were showing, not just the heart, stomach, intestines, muscle, and sinew, but also the lungs and brain; and yet still, the blood and internal fluids were somehow kept from flowing out.

The fragmented pieces were still trying to get the foreign presence out of them…and still couldn’t.

The openings in those internal organs, where the severing had been done, were now moving like mouths. Grunting noises came out of them, what sounded like an unintelligible, inarticulate language. Eyes agape, she grimaced at the surreal sight.

After a minute or so of these movements, the pieces dulled in colour and lay still. Finally, the blood and internal liquids began to pour out, in ever-widening lakes. Her high heels dodged the flow of red.

She was too distracted by the blood to notice what happened next. The dots of white light came out of the lifeless pieces of what had been her husband and flew at her.

She looked up at the glow. “Oh, God…NO!“ 

She felt their warmth as soon as they entered her.

Now they were vibrating inside her. She was shaking more than he had been. She twitched about spastically, as if that would help her get them out of her.

Then she stopped moving.

Somehow, their presence wasn’t so intolerable for her as it had been for him.

She still felt their warm glow inside herself.

But there was no pain.

Actually, they seemed to feel okay inside her.

She stood there, frozen still. Only her pounding heart was moving.

Her panting was the only sound.

Still nothing.

Just the inner warmth.

Her eyes darted around in all directions, as if something out there would tell her what was going on inside her body. Though she didn’t quite know yet, she was starting to agree with it.

Finally, her heartbeat slowed down, her breathing grew softer, and she walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. She’d waded in the puddle of blood, not caring about the red she got on her shoes.

She sat there for several minutes, just staring straight ahead, as if in a trance.

She’d never been so calm.

Yes, she actually liked it.

She took out her cellphone and dialled 9-1-1. “Hello?” she said in a soft, monotone voice. “I’d like to report an accident.”

Chapter Two

Peter Cobb-Hopkin, 22, was on the other side of town in the early afternoon of the next day, in a Starbucks, reading an online newspaper article on his phone about the incident in the park the night before. Sitting on the other side of his small table was his girlfriend, 21-year-old Michelle Buchanan,. She was wearing a mask, pulling it down occasionally and brushing aside her long, wavy brown hair whenever she took a sip from her coffee. He wasn’t wearing one. Only two other people were in the Starbucks, masked and buying coffees to take home immediately, out of compliance with the lockdown.

He looked up from the article for a moment, and got the evil eye from the two mask-wearing customers who were annoyed at his non-compliance; he scowled back at them, his beady, dark brown eyes burning hate at them. He’d grown so used to this treatment over the years, of never wearing a mask, that he expected it now. He may have not seen frowns on their faces, but he could feel their hostility; it was as if he could see through their masks and see the frowns. He was ready to flip them off if they kept it up. He looked back at the article, then ran his fingers through his short, dark brown hair.

“Oh, look at this bullshit that your parents’ newspaper is publishing!” he said, showing her the article on his phone. “Apparently, there’s a new disease for us to be worried about. ‘Something the likes of which has never been seen before’.”

“What’s that?” she asked, her hand darting out of the way of a droplet from his mouth. “And watch your spitting.” She took a quick look at the title of the article and shrugged, then he brought his phone back to himself.

“They’re calling it, check this out, ‘The Splits’,” he said with a chuckle. “When you catch it, you may show no symptoms, but still be a carrier. Haven’t we heard that old line before.”

“And if you do show symptoms?” she asked.

“Oh, here’s where it gets interesting,” he said, snorting and chuckling. “Your body tears itself to pieces. Splits apart.”

“What?” Her eyes widened.

“According to the article, Derek Gould, the CFO of my parents’ company–which, as we know, has governed this municipality for the past four years–was taking a walk with his wife, Hannah, in Queen’s Park last night…because ruling class privilege means they don’t have to comply with the lockdown.”

“Like you and me, who have the same privilege, through our families.”

“Yes, of course, I wasn’t denying that,” he said. “Anyway, Derek Gould suddenly became infected with something, he fell on the sidewalk, shaking and screaming in pain, then his body cracked open into many pieces…with no blood spraying anywhere, oddly…and then he died.”

“Wow.” Michelle said, then pulled her mask down to sip her coffee. “What else does it say?”

“The infection spread to her, but she hasn’t shown any symptoms. When the paramedics arrived, they found her sitting on a bench, just zoned out.”

“How do they know she’s infected?”

“They gave her tests at the hospital. Also, one of the paramedics got infected, and his body split into pieces in the same horrific way, hence they’re calling it ‘The Splits.’ Small, white dots of light flew from Hannah’s body into his.”

“I see. I guess we’d better be careful.”

guess it’s just more mainstream media bullshit.”

“Come on, Peter. You’re always saying that.”

“Because I’m always right.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Michelle said.

“I never wear masks, and I haven’t caught anything…over ten years.”

“You’ve been lucky. You’ve also been lucky to have parents who rule over this municipality, so they can bail you out when the cops give you a hard time for not wearing a mask.”

“Your parents could bail you out for defying this b.s., too, if you had the guts to, like me,” Peter said. “The media corporation they’re a part of governs your neighbouring municipality, too. We’re not like the unlucky poor people who don’t have family in the corporate city governments. And I’ve been lucky not to get sick? I’ve had my eyes open! All these viral variations of Covid we’ve had over the past decade. It’s just seasonal flu.”

“Oh, not this again. Your bachelor’s degree is in Poli Sci, Peter, not medicine.”

“Yours isn’t in medicine either, Michelle; it’s in English lit. Still, you don’t have to have a degree in medicine to know something fishy is going on here. What ever happened to seasonal flu, Michelle? People used to die of it yearly by the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, prior to 2020, then the global financial crisis hit in early 2020, and the capitalist class needed a distraction: the flu rebranded as a global pandemic. Millions of people plunged into joblessness and poverty, while the billionaire class, now directly our cities’ governments, have made billions more over the years, and everyone’s misery and loss of freedoms can all be conveniently blamed on a virus.”

“The flu disappeared because people, unlike you, were masking up, social distancing, and taking fewer flights.”

“Assuming the flu and the ‘rona are separate diseases, those preventative measures might reduce the flu cases, but we’re talking about a virtual disappearance of the flu, while the pandemic remains unabated, even stronger. I’m not buying it, and I’m not buying into this new one, ‘The Splits’.”

“Fine,” Michelle said, rolling her eyes. “Believe whatever you want.”

Both of them were pouting. He looked over at her, unhappy that he’d annoyed her. Then he remembered something he could always say to charm her.

“Hey, Michelle,” he said in a cooing voice.

“What?” she said, glaring at him.

“Let me see the pretty face you have hiding under that mask.”

She ignored him.

“C’mon,” he said. “I always enjoy seeing your pretty, dark brown eyes, but I see so little of your lovely smile. Lemme see your face again.”

She pulled her mask down under her mouth. She stuck her tongue out at him, then put the mask back on.

He snorted at her.

“As soon as we’re done here, I’m going over to Mississauga District to talk to my mom and dad about this new disease.”

“Same here,” Peter said. “I’m heading right over to MedicinaTech.”

Chapter Three

An hour later, Peter had arrived in MedicinaTech, his parents’ pharmaceutical and vaccine-making corporation, and also the seat of government in his district. He waited in his parents’ office for them to arrive.

As he waited, he looked out the glass walls of the office and at all the masked employees rushing about doing this and that, always careful never to get too close to each other. He sneered in disgust at their, in his opinion, thoughtless compliance to all the rules meant to protect us from the viral variant of the time.

He thought about what had been happening over the past decade. Not just about the viruses, but also about how corporations no longer used the government to protect their interests…how corporations gradually replaced governments. It all started with certain tech companies in Nevada creating their own governments, as proposed by a bill back in early 2021. Over the 2020s, this idea caught on little by little as a way for capitalists to cut out the middle-man of the state.

There was some resistance at first, of course, but gradually people became used to the idea, and just passively accepted it. By the end of the decade, pretty much the whole world was being run by corporations as local district governments; city-states practically replaced federal governments, and countries existed more or less in name only. No longer was it even pretended that governments looked out for the interests of the people: what had once been only implied was now explicitly understood. Corporations were the government, because they were the only thing the government had been there to care for anyway.

Though Peter benefited from the privilege of being the son of governors of his area, he still sighed, sad for all the people, the vast majority, who didn’t get to enjoy his benefits. When his parents died, and he was to succeed them, he planned to give up the whole MedicinaTech company and give the power back to the people…if he could.

Now, sympathy for the people was only part of the reason, a large part, but still only a part of the reason, he’d give up the company and give back the power to them. The other reason, equally, if not more central a reason, was that he’d do it to spite the parents who’d frustrated and hurt him so many times over the years, regardless of the privileges and protections he’d got from them.

His parents arrived after about five minutes of his waiting. Both were wearing masks. His father, tall and thin, followed his shorter and chunkier mother through the doorway, and they saw Peter sitting by their desks. “Hi, Peter,” his mother said, though avoiding his eyes. “What can we do for you?” His parents sat at their desks.

“I heard that Derek Gould died last night,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” his father said without a trace of emotion. He also never looked at his son even once; he just ran his hand over the bald top of his head, then put his fingers through the grey hair on the back of his head, his eyes focused on what was on his computer screen.

“We need to find a new CFO, and fast,” his mother said with an equal lack of emotion. “It’s going to be a real pain.” Her finger moved a lock of greyish-red hair out of her green eyes.

“You two don’t seem too broken up about his death,” Peter said. “He’d only been with this company since it began, hadn’t he?”

“When you run a business, you focus on the business,” his father said. “Not on feelings.”

“And that goes double for governing a district,” his mother added. “Your head has to be clear when dealing with the kind of pressure your father and I have, dear.”

“Yeah, but you’ve never focused on anyone’s feelings here,” Peter said with a hint of aggression. “Not Derek’s or his wife’s, not the workers you overwork and underpay, not–“

“Oh, let’s not start that up again!” his mother said, finally looking at him, but with a scowl.

“This is the influence of your girlfriend’s family’s liberal newspaper, no doubt,” his father said.

“The newspaper that governs our neighbouring district, and that demonizes our company and all the good we do for the world,” his mother said. “And of all the people you could have chosen for a girlfriend, you chose the daughter of the Buchanan family, our enemy. Sometimes I think you chose her on purpose, Peter! To ally with the family that demonizes our good work, just to spite us! Their demonizing turns customers away from us and lowers our profits.”

“Yeah, all the profiting off of other people’s suffering!” Peter shouted. “Actually, Michelle’s newspaper doesn’t criticize you enough, as I see it. Their writers think these viruses are real. Michelle isn’t influencing me one tenth as much as you think she is. I was just debating her earlier today about whether this new virus is real, which she believes it is. My opposition to what you’re doing here is from my own heart.”

“Yet, like a hypocrite, you enjoy all the benefits of being the son of wealthy, politically powerful parents,” his father said with a sneer, his contemptuous black eyes looking straight at Peter and seeming to burn into his skin. “You, as our son, who doesn’t have to wear masks or stay in lockdown.”

“And an ungrateful son, at that,” his mother growled. “Maybe we should deny you those benefits, so you can learn some appreciation.”

“Instead of bellyaching and living off of our charity, why don’t you go out and find a job with that wonderfully useful degree you have in political science,” his father said. “You know, the degree we paid thousands of dollars for, the one that taught you how to think like a communist and be so disrespectful to your parents!” 

“Giving us guilt trips for the crime of being successful,” his mother said.

“I knew it was pointless coming here,” Peter said, then stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him.

“That’s it, slam the door!” his mother shouted.

“Why did I have to have Friedrich Engels for a son?” his father said with a sigh.

Chapter Four

Michelle arrived in her mother’s office in their newspaper, The Mississauga Exposé, about an hour after Peter had arrived in his parents’ office. “Hi, Mom,” she said as she walked through the doorway.

“Hi, sweetie,” her mom said with a smile that Michelle couldn’t see under her mask, but could feel. “How’s everything? How’s Peter?”

Still with her own mask on, Michelle didn’t get close to her mother, though she wanted to hug her, a feeling her mother also had.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Michelle said. “Still anti-mask, as usual. How are you?”

“Oh, good,” her mom said, then looked at Michelle’s eyes. “Oh, that’s nice eye-shadow, sweetie. Dark blue looks good on you. You should use less eyebrow pencil, though. You have naturally pretty eyebrows—no need to accentuate them artificially.”

Michelle grinned under her mask. “Thanks again for the beauty tips.”

“My pleasure,” her mom said. “You know, there’s a new virus we need to worry about.”

“The Splits?”

“That’s what we’re calling it. Our reporter, Ann Carleton, thought up the name. Stroke of genius on her part. All the other media outlets are using the term, too–all over the world.”

“Peter doesn’t believe it’s real.”

“He doesn’t believe any virus is real,” her mom said.

“I know, but this new one sounds a bit on the unbelievable side to me, too, to be honest. I mean, seriously? People’s bodies split and break into pieces as soon as they’re infected?”

“I know it sounds incredible, but Ann was on the spot at the time a paramedic’s body split and blew up into fifty pieces right in front of her.”

“And you believe her?” Michelle asked with a slight sneer.

“She’s been a trusted journalist for over ten years, eight of which she’s worked for me. She’s never once reported a story we needed to retract.”

“Yeah, but this virus sounds a little…out there. It’s the kind of thing that feeds easily into Peter’s paranoid government conspiracy theories.”

“What do you think?” her mom asked. “That we made it all up? That Ann was high on drugs or something? Look, I’ll agree with you that this is a pretty wild new virus. It’s unlike anything anyone has ever encountered. It seems like something from outer space or something.”

“That’s what Peter said it sounded like.”

“Still, there were witnesses who confirmed what Ann saw and heard, including the wife of the CFO of MedicinaTech, a company we hardly have any sympathy for, as you know. We rule our district far more humanely than they do theirs. The lockdown and mask rules aren’t so strict here, and income inequality isn’t as bad.”

“Mom, that fact that you and Dad rule our district is precisely what makes it not done so humanely,” Michelle said. “There I find myself in solid agreement with Peter over all this corporate government. Income inequality isn’t as bad, but it isn’t all that much better here, either.”

“Oh, the idealism of young adulthood,” her mother said. “I was once like you. As for now, what can I say? We do the best we can here.”

“Mom, we can do much better.”

Her mom sighed in annoyance. “Anyway, the CFO’s wife, Hannah Gould, has been quarantined, for though she’s infected and a carrier, it isn’t killing her. Doctors can learn more about The Splits: what kind of virus it is, where it came from, why some are susceptible to dying from it, and why others aren’t. Our reporting on this research can do a lot of good for everyone, while MedicinaTech will just profit from selling vaccines of questionable worth to treat The Splits.”

This paper profits from the news stories, too, Mom,” Michelle said.

Now her mom was getting angry. “Michelle, I want to help the disadvantaged as much as you do, but we have to keep profits up in order for the paper to survive, and our control of the government is part of that survival. I’d like for us to be able to help more, but it’s not as easy as you think it is. It’s easy for you, an English lit major, to sit around at home all day, without a job, and complain about the world without having any responsibilities to do anything about it.”

“But, Mom…”

“Of course, if you’d used your English degree to go into journalism school and gotten a job here as a reporter, as was your original plan, you could have written the kind of articles that would have given a voice to those complaints, instead of letting your boyfriend talk you out of it, which isn’t helping us in our work against MedicinaTech, or helping your own personal causes.”

“C’mon, Mom. I don’t wanna fight.”

 “Neither do I, and I have a lot of work to do. Now, can you just drop it?

“Fine,” Michelle said. 

A masked woman in her thirties entered the office.

“Ann, there you are,” Michelle’s mother said with a sigh, calming down. “She’s the one who got the scoop for us on The Splits story.”

“Here’s the report on those tests you were asking about, Siobhan,” Ann said, handing her the papers.

“Thank you, Ann.”

Ann scratched at her afro, just above her right ear, then little dots of white light flew out of her eyes and at Siobhan’s chest.

Ungh!” Siobhan grunted, then she staggered and fell to the floor, shaking and screaming in pain. The papers flew all over the floor. She felt sharp pains of pulling and stretching all over her skin, innards, and bones. Bulges on her bruising face tore her mask off.

“Mom?” Michelle said, bending down to see her.

“Don’t get close to her,” Ann said with surprisingly little emotion. “Or to me. I’d better go into quarantine myself. I’m so sorry, Siobhan.” Ann ran out of the office, putting out her hands and warning the staff out there, “Don’t come near me!”

“Mom!” Michelle screamed, her eyes watering up.

Siobhan’s body had red cracks all over it, which opened and closed, over and over again, as she was shaking and grunting on the floor in agony. Her clothes were tearing at her arm sleeves, shirt, and pant legs, from bulges in those areas of her body where the painful stretching and pulling was happening, all attempts to expel what Ann put in her.

Thoughts were racing through Siobhan’s mind: What is this inside me? Get it out of me!!!

“Somebody get a doctor!” Michelle screamed out the wide-open office door. “My mom’s in trouble!” Why didn’t Ann call a doctor? she thought, then, Why haven’t I? Stupid! She took out her smartphone and called 9-1-1.

Shaking almost as much as her mother was, Michelle looked down at her. Her eyes and mouth widened to see those red cracks opening and closing, back and forth and back and forth, like many mouths speaking but making no sound. It was hard for her to speak coherently on the phone, making inarticulate words through her sobs and trembling voice.

To keep her self-control, she had to look away from her mother while explaining the emergency. After finishing her 9-1-1 call, she looked back down at her mother. The cracks kept opening…and closing.

Siobhan’s thoughts were swaying side to side over what to make of what had come inside her body: from Get this out of my body! to Could this not be as bad as I think it is? Back and forth between the two thoughts…back and forth. Similarly, the pain increased and lessened in waves.

It seemed to Michelle that her mother was fighting the virus. “Keep fighting, Mom,” she sobbed. “Don’t let it kill you.”

Her father was hurrying over to the office, having heard from an employee what had happened to Siobhan. Michelle looked over and saw him coming: though he had a mask on like everyone else, she could recognize him by his bald head and grey hair around the sides (like Peter’s father), and his brown eyes and light brown suit, a colour he preferred to wear.

“No, Dad!” she screamed. “Don’t come in here!” She closed the glass door in his face.

He froze in front of the closed door, standing there and looking through the glass with a stupefied, helpless expression.

“What’s wrong with her?” he asked in a trembling voice.

“She has The Splits!” Michelle yelled. “It’s contagious! I could have it. Paramedics are on the way. Keep out!”

In five minutes, paramedics in decontamination suits arrived. Siobhan was put on a stretcher in her own decontamination suit, with a bag valve mask on her face. She was given a sedative to calm her and to stop her violent shaking. Michelle and her father stood back, separate from each other for fear that she was a carrier, as they watched the paramedics take Siobhan out of the building.

Michelle went up to one of the paramedics just before he was to leave the office.

“I was nearby when the virus was passed on to my mother,” she said. “I could be a carrier showing no symptoms.”

“Come with us,” he said. “We’ll have you tested. Let me get a decontamination suit for you to wear.”

Why couldn’t Ann have gone into quarantine before? Michelle wondered.

*********

That night, Ann Carleton went home. Her husband was in the living room, watching TV. 

“Hi, honey,” she said to him after taking off her mask. “Are Andy and Shawna in bed?”

“Of course,” he said, then turned off the TV and got off the sofa. “I tucked them in an hour ago.”

“Good,” she said. “You just got back from your business trip in the New York District?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Five hours ago. The new deal is going to bring in a lotta bucks for us.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said with a frown that didn’t escape his attention.

“How was work today?” he asked. “Still fighting the good fight against MedicinaTech?”

“Not anymore. I had to quit.”

His jaw dropped. “Why? I thought Don and Siobhan considered you their favourite reporter.”

“Something…happened to me last night.”

“What?” He was walking towards her with growing worry on his face.

“Have you heard of ‘The Splits’ yet?”

“No…what are you talking about, Ann?”

“This.” The dots of light flew out of her fingers and into his chest.

“Aaah!!!” he yelled, buckled over, and fell to the floor. The red cracks appeared on his face, neck, and hands. The sharp pains of stretching and pulling had come immediately.

She just stood there and looked down at him with a blank expression.

Everything in his body was screaming out, Get this out of me! It’s horrific! Evil! Get it out of my body! But it wouldn’t leave him without taking pieces of him with it. The stretches and pulls were making bulges all over his body, huge bulges that began to make little tears in his clothes. 

“Ann…help!” he grunted. The red cracks were beginning to open a millimetre or two. “Oh!”

But she just stood there and watched him, without a trace of feeling on her face. He reached up, but she wouldn’t take his hand. His bones felt on the verge of cracking or dislocating. 

It’s too bad, she thought. I didn’t think he’d accept the new way. Siobhan might…if she hasn’t already died, that is. It’s a good thing I got out of the newspaper building without anyone knowing I was the one who passed it on to her.

His head split in two: the hemispheres of his brain were showing. His shirt ripped open, then his chest did, showing off his ribcage, which then broke open, showing his heart, lungs, and stomach. Now these three had horizontal tears in them, showing off the insides. Still, no blood or other internal liquids flowed out.

He just lay there, shaking and jerking. 

Get it out! Get it out! I can’t…have this…in me…

Finally, his body burst into pieces that flew in all directions in the living room. They lay on the carpet, shaking. She looked around at all of them in perfect calmness, knowing full well what was happening and having no qualms about it. 

Dark holes formed in the torn-off insides of each broken-off fragment. These holes looked like mouths, opening and closing as if trying to say something, but only grunting what sounded like some language intelligible only to her. 

Get…this…out…of…me…

The fragments grew dull in colour, stopped moving, and slouched on the carpet. Now all dead, they let the blood and other liquids pour out and stain the carpet. Ann felt no concern about the mess. 

She turned around, walked to the stairs, and went up them. She got to her kids’ bedroom door and opened it gently so as not to make a noise. She went in and left both the light off and the door open.

Andy and Shawna, five and six respectively, woke up. “Mommy?” the boy asked, rubbing his eyes. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s not going to be with us anymore,” Ann said with a smile.

“Why not?” Shawna asked with a frown.

“It’s OK,” Ann said, still grinning. “You won’t need him anymore.” She let out the little lights from her fingers; they went into her kids’ foreheads.

They felt a warm glow soothing their little bodies, from head to toe. Now they were grinning as much as their mom was. 

This feels really nice, they both thought in their sweet innocence. We’re going to make the world a better place for everybody.

“Have a nice sleep, you two,” she said, then kissed both of them on the cheek, got up, walked back to the door, went out, and closed it.

Andy and Shawna put their heads back on their pillows, closed their eyes, and went back to sleep, smiling the whole time.

Chapter Five

A week later, Michelle was in her bedroom, chatting with Peter on her smartphone.

“So, have you got your test results back?” he asked with the expected tone of disbelief.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m OK. I’m not a carrier.”

“I could’ve told you that a week ago,” he said.

“Peter,” she said, struggling not to raise her voice. “My mom has it. She’s in quarantine, struggling to fight it off. You weren’t there when she caught it. I was.

“What did you see? An acting job?”

“It’s real, Peter! She wasn’t acting. I saw red cracks all over her body. They were opening and closing. I could see bits of her brain showing!”

“Did you see any blood?” he asked. She could almost see his sneer. “Blood must have been flying all over the place if her head was opening up.”

“No…oddly, there wasn’t any blood.”

“Which makes this whole thing all the less believable.”

“Oh, go to hell, Peter! Don’t talk to me again until you grow up!” She hung up on him. “Ignorant, arrogant asshole!”

Her father was standing by her ajar bedroom door. “Michelle?”

She looked over at him. “How’s Mom?” she asked.

“She’s about the same,” he said with a sigh. “Still struggling with it. According to the people taking care of her, those cracks on her body keep widening and narrowing, back and forth, in a kind of stalemate.”

“Have the doctors learned anything about how to help her get better?” she asked with teary eyes.

“No. All that seems to help is the wearing of decontamination clothing. A week has gone by and no one wearing that clothing ever catches The Splits. People on the news are already telling everyone to buy those suits and wear them everywhere. Stores are all getting stocked up with them as we speak.”

“I know. Peter’s gonna hate it. He’ll never comply.” She started crying.

“Oh, honey.” Her father walked over to her and put his arm around her. “We’ve both been tested, so I guess we can make contact. But Peter’s still being stubborn, eh?”

“Yeah,” she sobbed. “He’s too proud to admit he’s wrong. When…er, if…he catches it, I don’t wanna be there and see his body cracking into pieces.”

“He might just be a carrier.”

“Then he’ll carelessly give it to me, or to you, or to somebody else, to many other people, and at least some of them will die. I might be there to see that, and I’ll have to explain why I wasn’t insistent enough to get him to wear the protective clothing.” She sobbed louder.

“Do you still want to go out with him?”

“Yes, of course. I still love him. I’m just mad at him, and really afraid for all of us.” She knew her father’s real motives for asking the question: if she’d stop being Peter’s girlfriend, she wouldn’t have his influence, and maybe she wouldn’t be so against her parents’ business and governance of the Mississauga area. She might even reconsider going to journalism school and working for the paper. 

And as she was all too aware, he was much more adamant in defending his business than her mom was.

Still, she bit her tongue: now was not the time to be fighting with him.

Now was a time they all needed to pull together.

**********

After Michelle hung up on Peter, he went into his living room, where his parents were watching TV.

“So, did Michelle tell you how her mother is doing?” his mother asked with what looked like a smirk of hope.

“She says her mom is still in hospital, struggling with The Splits,” he said. “Not that I’m buying a word of it.”

“The Splits is real, Peter,” his father said. “Not that I feel any sympathy for Siobhan Buchanan, of course.”

“If she could die, it would make things a lot better for us, that’s for sure,” his mother said, still with that smirk.

“You two disgust me,” Peter said with a sneer. “I don’t believe in The Splits, but at least I’m not wishing death on anyone. Why don’t you two even share a heart between you?”

“Peter!” his mother shouted at him. “Maybe if you hadn’t made things so difficult for us over the past ten years, we wouldn’t have such ‘cold hearts’ around other people!”

“Wait a minute, Mom! How are your corporate greed and political ambition my fault?”

“Have you forgotten how much trouble you made for us back when you were at school during the early coronavirus outbreak?” his father said. “Your constant refusal to wear masks, your refusal to get vaccinated, which by the way, made our company look bad, and how we had to bail you out every time you got into trouble for that.”

“The many times we had to bail you out!” his mother said. “And I don’t appreciate your tone, young man.”

“Our ‘political ambition’ in taking over the Toronto government was motivated in large part by our wish to protect you from the trouble you were constantly putting yourself into, adding to our stress,” his father said. “But of course, you have no appreciation for that, do you?”

“Dad, your taking over the Toronto government was also motivated in even larger part by your ambition to control everything!”

“Oh, would you get out of here!” his father growled.

“Yeah, who needs you?” his mother shouted. “You arrogant little bastard!”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” he shouted, then went outside with a forceful throwing of the door shut.

“That’s it,” his father said. “Slam the door behind you! Every bloody time!”

Chapter Six

Peter and Michelle exchanged text messages over the following week. Each exchange was a variation on this:

Peter: When am I going to see you again? I’m lonely. Mom and Dad are making me miserable, and I need someone to talk to.
Michelle: Are you wearing protective clothing?
Peter: No way!
Michelle: You’re not seeing me until you are.

In her living room, she looked down at the messages on her phone, having just sent that last text. Please, God, if You exist, she thought, make Peter see the light.

Her father came in, wearing a yellow protective suit, but with the head covering in his hands. “Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, putting her phone in her purse. “Is Mom really better?”

“That’s what the doctors said,” he said. “They say there hasn’t been any splitting of her skin for the past three days. Your mom doesn’t even have those red crack lines on her body anymore. She is a carrier, though, so suit up.”

“OK.” Michelle put on her suit, they both put on their head coverings, and they left the house.

As they went in the car to the hospital, she looked out the window to see all the pedestrians and people in neighbouring cars, in protective clothing from head to toe, all those essential workers who didn’t need to stay home. She could see through the plastic, transparent face coverings of those close enough to the car to see the blank expressions on their faces.

“MedicinaTech’s vaccines sure have taken the life out of everybody,” she said with a sigh. “They’re all just a bunch of passive automatons. So easy to control. What the hell has happened to the world over the past ten years, Daddy? How did the 2020s turn everything into, well, Nineteen Eighty-Four?”

“Just be glad you’re one of the people who are exempt from taking any of those vaccines, Michelle,” he said. “We didn’t want you to be a zombie like them, and our money and influence ensured you wouldn’t be, so be grateful for that.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t fair to all of those other people.”

“Life isn’t fair.”

“That’s an easy evasion of responsibility, Dad.”

“Look, if you want to blame someone, blame the company the parents of your boyfriend are running, not me. Our newspaper constantly criticizes MedicinaTech for not doing anything about the bad side effects of their vaccines.”

“But your employees, especially the lower level ones, all take the vaccines, too.”

“We have to vaccinate them, honey. No choice. It’s the law.”

“But they all have that same half-asleep look on their faces. I wonder how your reporters can be sharp enough to get the facts of their stories straight.”

“We give them a stimulant to counteract the lulling effects of the vaccines,” her dad said.

“Yeah, everyone’s on drugs,” Michelle said with a frown and a touch of anger in her voice. “How wonderful. As long as you and Mom are profiting from all of this, though, right?”

“Oh, here we go again,” he sighed. “You haven’t forgotten that you, as our daughter, benefit from those profits, too, have you?”

“No, I haven’t, and that’s part of why I feel bad for all those Mississaugans out there that our newspaper business-slash-government is ruling over. We enjoy all those benefits–wealth, exemption from lockdowns, influence–that those zombified people don’t have.”

“Governing a city is no picnic, Michelle.”

“Then give up on the governing! Put it back in the hands of the public; then we can create some social programs to help the poor, and we can have an unbiased media that doesn’t twist the facts of current events to reinforce and justify this family’s rule over the city.”

“Social programs for the poor,” he scoffed. “That’s Peter’s commie influence on you, isn’t it?”

“That’s my own, independent thinking, and you don’t have to be a ‘commie’ to believe that! Peter just happens to agree with me on that one point. You’re just mad because I’m not under your influence!”

They arrived in the hospital parking lot.

“Look, let’s just drop it, OK, Michelle? Let’s try to be in a good mood when we see your mother. I’m so grateful she didn’t die on us; this is going to be an emotional moment for me, and I don’t need your arguing to make it even harder.” He said these words in a building crescendo of rage.

“Fine,” she said with a sigh.

They got out of the car and went into the hospital. They were in a waiting room flooded with visitors, nurses, orderlies, and doctors all in those protective suits, some yellow like Michelle’s and her father’s, and others in blue, pink, red, and orange. 

“I know what Peter would say to the people in all these different coloured suits,” she said when she and her father found some seats. “‘Look at all those lovely colours,’ he’d say with sarcasm. ‘We can all be conformists and fashionable at the same time! The illusion of choice!’”

Yet, he’s still your boyfriend, her father thought with a frown.

In fifteen minutes, they were allowed to go into Siobhan’s quarantine room.

Lying on her bed and also in a protective suit (purple) with the head covering on, she had a blank expression, though one not so passive as those vaccinated workers Michelle had seen outside.

Michelle and her dad approached her bed.

“Mom?” she said, troubled by Siobhan’s emotionlessness. “You look far too peaceful to be believed.”

“Hi, sweetie,” she said with a smile that seemed almost forced. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. The struggle is over.”

Tears ran down not only Michelle’s cheeks, but also her father’s. He would find it harder and harder to resist the temptation to take off his head covering, so much did he hate feeling any separation from the wife he almost lost.

“Don, I’m OK,” Siobhan said softly. “I’ve also been thinking about all Michelle has said about what’s wrong with the newspaper. We should make some changes…”

“Well, let’s not get carried away, Siobhan,” he said, troubled by this shift in her attitude. He also started finding the room strangely, uncomfortably warm, as did Michelle and Siobhan.

“Yeah, as glad as I am to hear you say that, Mom, I think that for the moment, we should just focus on you getting better.”

“I am better, honey,” Siobhan said, removing her head covering. “Ah, that feels better. I can breathe now.”

“Mom, I don’t think you should do that.”

“I’m 100%, sweetie,” Siobhan said with a grin for her daughter. “Besides, it’s getting hot in here. Don’t you feel it?”

“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable, but you’re still a carrier,” Michelle said. “You might infect somebody. People could die.”

“Only if they resist, Michelle,” Siobhan said, looking at Don with what looked like warning eyes.

“Resist? Resist what, Mom?”

Tears of relief were soaking Don’s face. An urge to hug and kiss his wife was overwhelming him.  The heat in the room was bothering him, too. “I don’t think I can resist any more.”

He took off his head covering and reached forward to kiss Siobhan. Her eyes widened a bit.

“No, Daddy!” Michelle screamed.

Siobhan accepted his kiss on her left cheek and his arms around her with a serene smile.

Then the little white dots flew out of her and into him.

Ungh!” he groaned, then fell to the floor. Sharp, stretching pains stung him all over his body. Bulges bubbling all over his head were already causing bruising.

“Dad!” Michelle screamed, bending down to help him, but now the red crack marks were all over his face. He was shaking and grunting. “Help! Somebody out there! Any doctors? Nurses?!”

Within seconds, a doctor, a nurse, and two orderlies ran into the room. One of the orderlies put Siobhan’s head covering back on. “Miss, you have to keep this on,” he said firmly. 

No, Don thought as his body jerked on the floor. No way I’m accepting these things inside me. They’re horrible.

Now, Michelle could see her father’s brain through the opening cracks.

They would open wide, but close only slightly between even wider openings. The pain grew sharper, while lessening ever so little before other, stronger surges of pain. It was like waves of agony that rose higher and higher. His protective suit would show fidgeting bulges where the rest of his body was cracking open, ripping through the clothes underneath the suit.

Get this out of my body! Get it out! he thought.

The medical staff just stood there in a daze of astonishment, not knowing what to do. The doctor was on the verge of tears, hating herself for her helplessness at watching a man die and doing nothing about it.

“Daddy, don’t die on me!” Michelle sobbed.

But the inevitable happened. Don’s body parts ripped apart so violently that they tore out of his clothes and protective suit, flying in all directions in an explosion, and causing a swarm of screams.

Body parts smacked into Michelle and the medical staff, knocking them all back onto the floor. Shaking, they all looked on with wide eyes and mouths at the fidgeting pieces of the separated four quarters of Don’s head, his bifurcated neck, pieces of his arms, chest, stomach, groin, legs, and feet, all torn into halves, thirds, and even more, smaller fragments.

There still was no blood. The pieces shuffled and wobbled back and forth on the floor, as if alive. Holes formed in the exposed inner anatomy, opening and closing like mouths talking. In fact, Michelle, Siobhan, and the hospital staff could hear something being said through all those ‘mouths.’

Over and over again, a chorus of grunts of the word, “No.”

“Oh, my God!” the nurse said.

After a minute or so of the fidgeting body parts repeating, “No, no, no, no…,” they all lost colour, stopped moving, and lay there, dead. White dots of light flew out of the body parts and out of the room, startling everyone. Blood poured out in lakes all over the floor.

“Was I hearing things, or were they speaking?” one of the orderlies asked.

“We all saw and heard it,” the doctor said in sobs. “And we don’t believe our eyes or ears any more than you do.”

“Let’s clean up this mess,” the shaking nurse said, then he looked at Michelle and said, “I’m so sorry, Miss.”

The doctor went over to weeping Michelle and put her arms around her. She sobbed, “I’m sorry, too. I’ve seen this happen so many times, and I just can’t do anything! I can never sleep.”

“I don’t blame any of you, Doctor,” Michelle said between sobs. “This whole thing is getting so crazy.” And my last moment with Daddy was an argument with him. Why does this have to be?

They left the room together while the nurse and orderlies began picking up Don’s pieces.

In all of the confusion and shock, no one paid any attention to Siobhan or her reaction to her husband’s death…a sad, but rather calm, reaction.

*****

That night, Siobhan’s doctor went home. As soon as she got in the door, she removed the head piece of her protective suit. She let out a big sigh, a frown permanently etched on her face.

Her husband came out from the kitchen and into the front hall to see her. “Hi, honey,” he said.

“Hi,” she sighed more than said.

“Rough day at work, eh?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said with another sigh. “Did you wear your protective suit all day?”

“Yes, of course,” he said.

“You never took it off once, not until you came home?” she asked, maintaining her distance from him.

“Yes, of course. What’s wrong, honey?”

As she unzipped her suit, she broke out into tears.

“Oh, honey,” he said, approaching her.

“No!” she sobbed, her hand out to keep him at a distance. She continued removing the suit.

“Another one died from The Splits, eh?”

“Yes,” she sobbed, the suit now completely off her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. One violent death after another, and there’s nothing I can do to help these people.” She crouched down and her sobs rose in volume to bawling. “All I wanna do is help them, heal them, and I can’t!

He let out a sigh as he watched her with compassionate sadness on his face. 

“You know, I know a way to end your crying,” he said, looking down at the floor.

“Oh, you do, do you?” she bawled, her head down in her hands. “What could you possibly do to make me feel better? How are you going to make me sleep at night? What could you possibly know that will give me peace? How can—“

Some little dots of light flew out of his fingers and into her head. 

At first, she was shaking, her eyes and mouth wide open with a panicked expression after raising her head up out of her hands. The red cracks were all over her head, neck, and hands. “Ungh!” she groaned. She felt a few brief spasms of pain.

What is this in my body? she thought in her anguished fidgeting. Get it out! Get it out of me!

Then, after a minute or so in this tense state, her shaking lessened. The pain stopped.

Wait…maybe this isn’t so bad…

The red cracks thinned, then faded away. She felt a warmness buzzing all through her body, calming her.

Yes, it’s OK…it’s OK…

She rose to her feet slowly. No longer crying, she wiped the tears off her face. 

She looked at him. “Thank you,” she said in a soft voice. “Now I understand.”

She grinned up at him. He grinned back.

Chapter Seven

A week later, Peter was texting and calling Michelle over and over again, though she wouldn’t answer, until she received this text from him: I won’t stop ringing your phone until you answer and talk to me!

Finally, she, at home, answered with a sigh: “What’s your problem?”

“Gee, I don’t know,” he replied. “Could it be that I have a girlfriend who hasn’t communicated with me in over a week? My parents are constantly being nasty to me, and I have no shoulder to cry one, not even from my own girlfriend. Could that be my problem?”

“Would you like to know what my problem is?” she asked.

“I don’t know: could it be believing in a fake disease?”

“Oh, a ‘fake’ disease that I saw kill my father with my own eyes?” she said in tears.

“Your father?” Peter said. “I thought it was your mother who had it.”

“She got better, but she’s a carrier now, and she gave it to him. I watched his body explode all over the hospital room. His body parts hit me and the medical staff there!”

Peter tried to keep his chuckling inaudible, but she heard a bit of it.

“It was in the news, Peter! Didn’t you read about it, or see it on the TV? The Splits killed my father!!”

“I don’t follow the news anymore, Michelle. You should know by now that I don’t trust the media.”

“People have been reporting cases of this pandemic all over the world. It’s real, Peter! Millions have been infected, thousands have died. Video has been recorded of bodies ripping apart and exploding!”

“People can fake all kinds of things on TV. They just use movie-style special effects. I’m sorry, Michelle, but until I see it with my own two eyes, I’m simply not going to believe it.”

“I didn’t see ‘special effects’ kill my father, Peter. It happened right in front of me! And until you’re in one of those protective suits, I’m simply not gonna be anywhere near you.”

“Oh, come on, Michelle. Let’s not fight. I miss you. I wanna see your pretty face. I miss your touch.”

Her jaw dropped. “You just want sex?

“No, not just that. Come on, Michelle, you know me better than that. I’m not like all those guys you dated before you met me, and just wanted your body. Your physical beauty is only a small part of why I love you. I miss all of you. Your company, your smile, your closeness. I’m lonely.”

“Well, I…I miss you, too,” she said with a sigh.

“Then let’s get together. Come on!”

“Peter, if I see those white dots of light fly into your body and tear you apart, all because you’re too proud to wear a protective suit, I won’t be able to handle it. I’ve seen The Splits kill my dad, and it almost killed my mom. Dad wanted Mom’s touch, they took off their head coverings, and it killed him. I don’t want to see that happen to either of us. So, suit up, or stay away.”

Peter let out a sigh and asked, “How’s your mom?”

“She’s OK now, I guess. She’s back at work at the newspaper and governing Mississauga, with a special marking on her protective suit so people will know she’s a carrier.”

“Is she acting strangely, or anything?”

“She is, actually. She doesn’t show much emotion. She gives me these reassuring grins, telling me she’s fine, but the grins look fake. She didn’t look at all broken up about Dad’s death, and that makes absolutely no sense. She totally loved him.”

“No crying at all?” Peter asked.

None,” Michelle said. “At his funeral, she frowned in what looked more like boredom than grief.”

“Really? That’s weird.”

“Yeah. What’s even weirder, though actually a good thing, is she says she wants to make some democratic changes to her administration of our district, and to be more objective in the reporting of the news here.”

“Whoa!” Peter’s jaw dropped now. “That’s even harder to believe than all these diseases. Still, I’ll be glad if it’s true.”

“Well, it isn’t going to be easy for her to make these changes, since all the other people on the Board of Directors for the magazine/government have a major say in the decision-making, and none of them will be easily persuaded by her.”

“Now, that sounds believable,” Peter said with a sneer. “Anyway, are we gonna get together or not?”

“Are you gonna wear a suit, or not?”

“Oh, come on!”

“No suit, no cuddles.”

“How can we cuddle in those confining things? With the plastic in front of our faces, we can’t kiss.”

“It’ll be difficult, but at least we’ll be together.”

“Look, I’ll think about it, OK? Just answer my calls.”

“I’ll answer them, but I won’t see you until you suit up. Got it?”

He moaned. “Got it. Bye.”

“Bye.” They hung up.

Chapter Eight

The next day, Peter, still without a protective suit, went over to his parents’ office in MedicinaTech. As he walked through the halls, passed the other offices, and went up the elevator on the way there, he frowned and sneered at the sight of everyone else who, without exception, not only wore the protective clothing, but had that passive, almost trance-like look on their faces, because of the vaccines they’d taken.

This is so pathetic, he thought.

On the top floor where his parents’ office was, however, his eyes widened to see the few employees working on that floor not wearing the protective suits. They were no longer wearing the old surgical masks to prevent getting any of the earlier viruses, either.

“Membership in the upper echelons has its privileges,” he whispered as he approached the office door. Funny how the older diseases have suddenly been forgotten about now that ‘The Splits’ is here, he thought.

He went in and sat in a chair by his father’s desk as his parents were reading emails on their desktops.

“What brings you in here, Peter?” his mother asked, with neither a smile for him nor even a glance in his direction.

“Oh, nothing much, just hanging out,” he said.

“We’re very busy today,” his father said. “Don’t distract us from our work with any of your petty problems.”

“I was just wondering,” Peter said. “How come everybody downstairs has to suit up, but nobody here on the top floor has to? The staff up here aren’t even wearing the old surgical masks anymore.”

“Every morning when we come in, Dr. Teague gives us a medical check first thing to determine if we’re carriers, of The Splits or of any other viruses,” his mother said. “He can get quick test results, too, within just a few hours. Since we’re all cleared of all of the viruses, and the employees downstairs are all suited up, we don’t have to be.”

“How convenient that the rulers of the city don’t have to live by the same rules as everyone else,” Peter said.

“You enjoy the same privileges,” his father said. “And you’d be crying like a baby if they were taken from you.”

“The point is that none of those people downstairs should be in those stupid suits, either,” Peter said. “Why doesn’t the doctor test them, too, to see if they have The Splits?”

“Because there are too many employees for him to test every morning,” his father said.

“On this floor, there are only about a dozen of them to test, then himself and the two of us,” Peter’s mother said.

“Besides, Dr. Teague is working on a vaccine and making some progress,” his father said.

“Well, I’d say the real reason everyone down there has to wear suits, but we up here don’t have to, is because Teague and both of you know that ‘The Splits’ is nothing but a goddamn hoax.”

“If he knows it’s a hoax, why is he working tirelessly to make a vaccine?” his father asked.

“For the same reason as with all the other vaccines MedicinaTech makes,” Peter said with rising anger. “To profit off of everyone’s fears. This hypochondriac hysteria is good business!”

“Oh, not this again,” his father said.

“It was Dr. Teague’s idea to do the tests for us, not our idea,” his mother said. “He knows that we up here do all the hard brain work, and if we’re in those uncomfortable suits all day and night, it will be harder for us to do our jobs well. It’s only a dozen or so of us up here, so we should be safe.”

“As I said before,” Peter said with a sneer. “How convenient.”

“Can you quit belly-aching, and better yet, leave?” his father said. “We have a lot of work to do today.”

“Fine,” he said with a sigh. He was about to get out of his seat, ready to walk out.

Just then, Dr. Teague came in the office, without a protective suit, of course.

Speak of the Devil, and he appears, Peter thought.

“Here’s a report of the test results from this morning,” the doctor said, handing a folder to Peter’s father.

“Thank you, Paul,” his father said, taking the folder and feeling his thumb brush against the doctor’s finger.

White dots of light flew out of Dr. Teague’s hand and into Peter’s father’s arm.

“Uhh!” his father moaned, then fell off his chair. The sharp, stretching pains began.

“Ray?” his mother said after turning her head away from her computer monitor. She got up from her desk and ran over to him. “Ray!” Those red cracks were all over his hands and head, covering the bruises the painful stretching had caused.

Peter jumped up from his chair and backed up to the glass wall to the left of the office door.

“Donna!” Ray groaned in a hoarse voice. “Help me!” He just shook all over on the floor. What are these things inside me? he thought in a frenzied panic. Get them out of me! Get them out!

Forgetting about the danger, Donna went over to Ray and held him by the arms; then some of the glowing white dots flew into her chest. “Aah!” she screamed, and fell on the floor beside him. First, bruising from the painful stretches and bulges all over her skin, then, the red cracks were visible on her skin, too, and both she and Ray were shaking and groaning on the floor.

Now she was thinking the same desperate, panicked thoughts of her husband: how to eject the foreign intrusion from her body, how there was no way she or he could accept it in them.

“Holy fuck!” Peter said, then went out of the office and closed the door. He watched his parents through the glass wall. This isn’t happening, he thought. This can’t be happening!

His parents’ body parts started ripping open, making tears in their clothes. Other office staff were looking through the glass wall on either side of Peter. One of them got out a cellphone to call 9-1-1. Another was shouting about getting protective suits up to their floor.

Peter was shaking as much as his parents were. He tried to disbelieve what he saw, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t the hallucinating kind, and what he saw couldn’t have been the fakery of movie special effects.

He saw their shirts and chests rip open. He saw their exposed hearts, stomachs, and intestines.

No blood sprayed anywhere.

There’s no way this is really happening, he thought. I must be dreaming. He pinched himself–no waking up.

His parents’ heads split open. He saw their brains, then remembered Michelle saying she’d seen her mom’s brain.

“I am such an asshole,” he whispered among the screams of the staff around him. Michelle’s going to say, ‘I told you so,’  big time, he thought.

His parents’ pants ripped open. Now Peter could see the torn muscle and sinew on their legs…and their bones.

Finally, the body parts ripped apart into several dozens of pieces and flew in all directions, a few pieces hitting and cracking the glass wall. The left half of Ray’s bare right foot struck the glass right by Peter’s face.

“No!” he yelled.

Screams of the staff pierced his eardrums.

Donna’s and Ray’s torsos lay there, each in halves beside each other, rocking side to side, limbless, and split open, on the floor by his dad’s desk. Moving holes formed in their lacerated hearts, lungs, stomachs, and intestines. Some of the holes flapped open and shut like mouths. Holes to the top left and right of the flapping holes seemed like eyes; it was as if faces were being formed in his parents’ innards.

“I must be going nuts,” Peter said among the shrieks and gasps of disbelief among the horrified staff. He couldn’t stop his spastic shaking. I’ve been stoned, and never seen anything like this, he thought. 

Those ‘mouths’ were now grunting, over and over again, what sounded like, “I don’t want it,” in porcine voices.

My kingdom for a protective suit, Peter thought.

…and amid all the confusion, no one noticed how unruffled Dr. Teague was as he walked out of the office.

The fragmented body pieces grew comparatively grey in colour, then stopped moving. Blood and  other internal liquids began pouring out of the holes. 

Peter just stared at the body pieces in a daze, his eyes and mouth wide open. Several minutes ago, they were alive, he thought, his shaking never lessening. Now, they’re dead. My fucking parents just died violently before my eyes. How could this have possibly happened? How can everything go to hell so fast?

Some people from the local hospital arrived to collect the body pieces.

“Who else was in the room when this happened?” one of them asked.

“I was,” Peter said in a trembling voice. “Dr. Teague was, too.”

“You’ll have to come with us to be tested to see if you’re a carrier,” another of the hospital people said. “Dr. Teague, too. Where is he?”

Peter looked around and didn’t see him anywhere.

*******

That night, Dr. Teague went home. He saw his wife and mother-in-law sitting on the couch in the living room, watching TV. 

“Minnie, you’re back!” he said. “Mom? Why are you here? Hadn’t you seen enough of your daughter while she was there with you over the past week?”

“Paul, she’s scared,” Minnie said. “This whole ‘Splits’ thing is getting out of hand. She’s too scared to leave her house. She couldn’t bear to see me leave, so I suggested she come and stay with us for at least a while.”

“OK, I understand,” he said. “Mom, you’re always welcome here, of course.”

“Why aren’t you wearing a protective suit?” his mother-in-law asked in a tremulous voice. “Any time you go outside, you should be wearing one; that way, we don’t need to wear them at home.”

“Because I tested myself and a number of the other employees in MedicinaTech, the ones I work with throughout the day,” he said. “Our tests came out negative, so we could work freely, without needing to wear the suits. We’re fine. You don’t need to worry about us.”

“Your tests mean you don’t need to wear the suits at work?” Minnie asked.

“That’s right,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for the past week or so. We started doing this around when you left to visit Mom. Really, I’m fine. You don’t need to worry. In fact, we’re working on vaccines day and night for The Splits; we’ve made some progress, too.”

“Oh?” his mother-in-law said, almost smiling.

“Yes,” he said. “We’re doing great work to help humanity.”

“Then your business must be making a lot of money these days,” his mother-in-law said.

“Well, yes,” he said. “Though I’d say that’s beside the point.” 

“Well, I’d say it is the point,” his mother-in-law said. “If MedicinaTech is getting good profits, you might get a raise, and my daughter will be all the better provided for.”

“Oh, we’re making plenty of money, Mom,” Minnie said. “But Paul is right to be focusing on helping humanity. Way too much emphasis is being put on the rich getting richer these days.”

“That’s right,” he said, raising his arms and pointing his fingers at both women. “Let me demonstrate how much we’re helping the world.” 

The little lights flew out of his fingers.

Both women’s screams changed to groans of pain as soon as the little white dots entered their skin. Intolerable stretching, bruising pains were stinging both of them from head to toe.

Both buckled and fell to the floor; the red cracks appeared on their faces, necks, hands, and arms. They were shaking all over. He just looked down at both of them in all calmness.

Get it out of me! they thought as they shook, trying to think of a way to eject the foreign presence from their bodies. Get it out!

Minnie’s pain began to subside; her shaking lessened, then stopped. 

Wait, she thought. Maybe this isn’t so bad.

The red cracks on her skin began to fade away. She felt a warm glow all over that seemed to massage her body, to make the previous pain seem almost worth it. 

Yeah, she thought. This is alright.

She got up on her feet. She had gone from a scream of panic to a whisper of calm in a few minutes.

Now both of them watched her mother, who was still shaking and grunting in pain. The red cracks were widening, exposing brain, arm muscle, and finger bone. 

Get it out of me! she continued thinking as she shook and squirmed on the floor. Get it out!

“Oh, Mama,” Minnie said with a sigh. “That’s too bad. I really hoped you could have joined us.”

He, too, looked down at his mother-in-law with a sad face.

Get…it…out…of…me…

The old woman’s body exploded all over the living room.

Chapter Nine

“I’m sorry for your loss, Peter,” Michelle said on her cellphone in her bedroom. “To have lost my dad is something I’m still reeling from, especially since I saw him die right in front of me, and so violently. ‘Traumatic’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Since you saw it happen to both parents, it must have been so much harder for you.”

“I’m still shaking,” Peter said. He, too, was calling from his bedroom. “My mind is spinning in confusion. They’re gone. I can’t believe they’re really gone. I mean, I never really liked them, to tell you the truth; in spite of the good luck of being raised in a rich family, I always found their attitude to me hurtful. Always criticizing my every move, word, and deed. My choice for a degree. I never really felt any affection towards them because of that. I always kind of…well, hated them. And now that they’re gone, I feel kind of guilty.”

“Again, I’m sorry,” she said. “I never saw either of them be affectionate with you, either, so I guess your coolness to them is understandable. Don’t beat yourself up over that. But anyway, I have to ask this: do you finally admit that The Splits is real?”

“Yes,” Peter said with a sigh of embarrassment. “Since I was in the office with my mom and dad when they got killed, I got tested, and I’m not a carrier. And I’m sorry for having been so pig-headed about this whole thing. It’s just that there’s so much bullshit out there in the media, it’s hard to tell the difference between fact and fiction.”

“I know,” she said, “but the media didn’t split our parents’ bodies into pieces. It isn’t special effects or gimmickry. Our eyes aren’t the TV. We can trust what we see, and you can trust me to tell you the truth.”

“Yeah, but still,” he said. “There’s something strange about this ‘disease.’ As they say, it isn’t like anything we’ve ever seen before.”

“Split-off body parts acting like entities unto themselves. I know what you mean.”

“They were talking, Michelle. It was so freaky. My mom’s and dad’s body parts were actually talking.”

She felt a shudder at those words, remembering her father’s death. “It seemed that way to me, too. I thought I heard the parts of my dad saying, ‘No, no, no…’.”

“I saw faces forming on my parents’ ripped-off body parts,” Peter said. “What looked like eyes and mouths in their innards, saying, ‘I don’t want it. I don’t want it,’ like pigs grunting.” 

“It’s more like demonic possession than a disease.”

“Exactly. And I don’t believe in demons, or God, or anything like that. Still, no disease does anything that freaked out.”

“Anyway, you have been tested, eh?” she asked. “And do you have a protective suit?”

“Yes, as I said before, and…yes,” he said with a sigh of annoyance. “I’m gonna hate wearing it. It’s so uncomfortable.”

“I know, but it’ll be less uncomfortable than feeling your body tearing up into pieces, and nowhere near as traumatic as seeing other people’s bodies tear up into pieces, especially if we’re the ones responsible for passing The Splits onto them.”

“Yeah, I guess. It still sucks, though.”

“But at least we can be together, and since both of us have been tested recently, we can be intimate. When did they test you at MedicinaTech? Earlier today?”

“Oh, I got it done today, but it wasn’t there. People from the hospital, the ones who took my parents’ body parts away, wanted to test me, but I told them I know a doctor in Regent Park, so they let me do it there.”

“Regent Park? Why’d you go to that poor-as-fuck place? Why not in your parents’ business, where they have the best medical equipment and doctors?”

“Because as with the local hospital, I don’t trust the doctors there,” he said. “Dr. Teague, our head scientist, is a carrier, and he infected my mom and dad, though nobody saw it was him, and nobody believed me when I said it was he who passed it on. I think many of the staff are carriers, and trying to keep it all a secret.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. That’s why I doubt that this is just a new virus. There’s a weird, body-snatcher kind of thing going on.”

“Like my mom and her fake smiles,” Michelle said with another shudder.

“Yeah. I’ll tell you another thing. Now that both my parents are dead, I’m supposed to succeed them as head of MedicinaTech, right?”

“Yeah, and what’s going on there?”

“They made Wayne Grey, head of R and D, the new CEO of the company.”

What? Why him? How could your mom and dad have allowed that?”

“Oh, come on, Michelle. You know why.”

“Because you’d end the company and its rule over Toronto as your very first act as new CEO.”

“Exactly,” Peter said. “I told my mom and dad I’d do that many times. They made a change in their will to prevent that. And this Wayne guy, who’s been with the company since it began, has shown more loyalty to MedicinaTech and its government than even any of the surviving members of the Board of Directors. Mom and Dad would have given it to that Derek Gould guy, the old CFO, but The Splits killed him, remember? And his replacement is too new to be trusted to lead the company and government.”

“I see,” she said. “But why did you get tested in Regent Park? It’s so filthy dirty there. How can you know they did a good job there?”

“I don’t trust rich people. And I know the doctor there personally. He’ll test you without any agenda. He doesn’t buy into any of the older diseases, though he acknowledges The Splits. For me, that’s reliable enough.”

“OK.”

“In fact, I suggest we go over there and rent a room in a hotel there.”

“Eww! Why there?

“It isn’t all that bad. There are some nice places there. The hotels are nice and cheap, too, and we won’t have to worry about surveillance cameras watching us and penalizing us for not wearing the suits, the way people do even in many rooms of their own homes now. The government doesn’t care about the people in Regent Park, because they’re too poor to do anything against the powerful; they’re not allowed to enter the middle- and upper-class sections of the city, so nobody worries about them spreading any diseases among us.”

“Well, I guess that makes it OK,” she said, still wincing. “If we’re alone and don’t have any of the residents near us.”

“We can wear the protective suits all the way to the hotel room, then when we’re all alone, we can take them off…and everything else. Then we’ll leave with the suits on, we can get tested by my guy again, just in case, then go home.”

“You think it’ll be romantic in Regent Park?” she asked with a sneer.

“I like the poor a lot better than the rich,” he said. “I like to be reminded of how the other side lives. And I think you need to be reminded of their plight every now and then, too.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right about that,” she said. “I feel a little guilty about my ‘Eww!’ before. I need to be reminded of how lucky we are. When do you want to meet up?”

“How about tonight at around 8:00? I’ll meet you in MedicinaTech. I want to talk to Wayne about the progress they’re making on finding a cure for The Splits. Not that I trust him all that much, but I’m so desperate, I’ll do whatever I have to so we won’t have to wear these suits anymore.”

“OK, I’ll be in the lobby at about 8:00. Bye.”

“See you then,” he said, and they hung up.

Chapter Ten

At 8:02 that night, Michelle sat in the lobby of MedicinaTech, looking around the crowds of people in those protective suits walking by and looking indistinguishable from each other except by suit colour. Growing impatient as she hoped to see Peter among them, she wondered if she’d see him without a suit on.

Finally, after about ten minutes of waiting, she saw him walking along, chatting with Wayne Grey. Both were in those suits.

It took a while for her to be sure it was Peter approaching, for his suit obscured his face. But when she saw through his head covering (made more difficult because she, of course, also had a head covering to look through), she breathed a sigh of relief to see that he was finally complying with the safety precautions.

She stood and waved at him. “Peter, over here!” she said.

He and Wayne walked up to her.

“Wayne, this is Michelle, my girlfriend,” he said. “Michelle, this is Wayne Grey, MedicinaTech’s new boss.”

“Pleased to meet you,” she said with a smile while her gloved hand shook his.

“Nice to meet you, too,” he said with what looked to her like a forced, unnatural smile.

She and Peter exchanged glances of suspicion.

“I just want to say again, Wayne, that it does my heart good to hear you say you want to make some more democratic changes in the government of the city,” Peter said with a fake smile of his own, for he doubted the sincerity of such promises.

Michelle remembered similar promises from her mom, and similar smiles. It was hard to know if any of these promises were genuine.

“Well, don’t get your hopes up too high,” Wayne said. “I won’t be able to make a lot of changes right away, what with the stubbornness of all the members of the Board of Directors and their sympathy with your mom’s and dad’s way of doing things; but I do have a plan or two up my sleeve, ideas of how…to persuade them to see things my way.”

“I see,” Peter said, again exchanging doubtful glances with Michelle. Already I hear ready-made excuses for not keeping his promises, he thought. We’ll see.

“How about we go into that room over there,” Wayne said, pointing to Peter’s right. “Since you’re so concerned about finding a cure for The Splits, there’s a computer in there, and with it I can show you in detail all the progress MedicinaTech is making.”

“OK,” Peter said, and he and Michelle followed Wayne into the room, which was a small meeting room with a computer at the far end of a long table surrounded by chairs.

The three of them sat by the computer: Wayne using it, and Peter and Michelle sat on either side of him.

“I can’t type the keys with these thick gloves on my fingers,” Wayne said. “So I’ll need to take them off. I hope you don’t mind.” He looked at Peter intently, then the same way at Michelle.

Peter and Michelle looked at each other nervously for several seconds of silence.

“I was tested by Dr. Teague this morning,” Wayne tried to reassure them. “I tested negative.”

There was another pause, of five seconds of silence.

Good old, trustworthy Dr. Teague, Peter thought, as did Michelle.

“Have you both been tested?” Wayne asked. “If you keep your suits on, I’ll be safe.”

“Yes, I’ve been tested,” Peter said. “Just today, in fact.”

“I was tested a short while ago, too,” Michelle said. “I’ve been wearing this suit pretty much the whole time since.”

Now Wayne looked at the two of them, his eyes going back and forth from left to right, with some suspicion of his own. Then he took a deep breath and smiled.

“Well, even if you’re lying, I can feel safe as long as you two are both suited up completely,” Wayne said, then he took off his gloves and turned on the computer. “This should take only a minute to get ready.”

When it was ready, he began typing away. As he did, and then found reports and data on the testing of the vaccine MedicinaTech was working on, Peter and Michelle felt their nervousness abate, since no white dots of light were flying from Wayne’s fingers. What’s more, Wayne seemed so caught up in his work that he didn’t look at all nervous about catching anything from the two on either side of him.

It was as if he didn’t care one bit about it.

Now, Peter was feeling an increasing itch to take off his head covering. Actually, Michelle was feeling that way, too, for the suits were just that uncomfortable. And the room, inexplicably, was getting hot.

“As you can see,” Wayne said, pointing to some figures on the computer screen, “we’ve done over a dozen trials with Aziprom, with no outright successes, of course, but with what seem to be some repellent quality that, to a small but notable extent, eases the symptoms. It isn’t ideal, but it is progress.”

“I see,” Peter said, fidgeting and sweating in his suit. How’d it get so hot in here all of a sudden? he wondered. Wayne seems safe and healthy. Nothing’s flying out of his bare hands. If he had The Splits, surely I’d see those tiny stars by now.

“Why is it so hot in here, all of a sudden?” Michelle asked. It was hot like this in the hospital room with Mom and Dad, now that I think of it, she thought.

“You feel hot?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Peter said. “Me, too.”

“That’s odd,” Wayne said. “I don’t feel hot at all.”

“Well, you seem safe of The Splits, anyway,” Peter said, putting his hands on his head covering. “I’m taking this off. I can’t take it anymore.” He pulled it off his head.

“Peter, wait!” Michelle yelled. Then, when no little dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands, she calmed down.

Peter put his head covering on the table. Both he and Michelle froze for a moment, looking around for little stars.

Wayne looked at Peter and then at Michelle, sneering at both of them. “I told you,” he said. “I was tested today, and it came out negative. I can see that Peter’s test also turned out negative, which is very gratifying to me. I can trust you; I think you both can trust me. How about it?”

“OK,” Peter said. “Sorry.”

Drops of sweat were running down Michelle’s cheeks.

“Well, if you two can expose your skin, so can I,” she said, then she removed her head covering and put it next to Peter’s. “Oh, that feels so much better.”

Immediately after her sentence, those dots of light flew out of Wayne’s hands.

“You lying fucker!” Peter shouted, punching his fist into the plastic face covering on Wayne’s suit, knocking him off his chair and onto the floor. Peter and Michelle reached for their head coverings. They were about to put them on in panicky speed…

…but they noticed something odd about the little lights.

They weren’t entering their heads.

Still with their head coverings off, Peter and Michelle stared at the tiny, glowing stars, which just hovered in the air a few centimetres in front of the vulnerable couple’s faces.

It was as if the little dots of light were staring at Peter and Michelle, observing them, sizing them up.

Their eyes and mouths were wide open; they were shaking all over, but from terror, not from the entry of those floating things.

Wayne got up and removed his head covering. He looked stoically at Peter and Michelle while he rubbed his chin, where Peter’s fist had hit him.

Several more seconds of frozen silence went by.

Those little dots of light just stayed where they were.

“Why aren’t they coming inside us?” she asked. “They don’t even want to make us carriers?”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “Why don’t they want to?”

You’re perfectly safe, Peter, a voice said in his head…a voice that sounded like Donna’s.

What? he thought; Mom? No, that can’t be. The stress is making me hear things. He shook his head to snap himself out of it.

“Neither of you have anything to fear from the lights,” Wayne said in perfect calmness.

“You lied to us before,” Peter said. “You’ll lie again. C’mon, Michelle. Let’s get out of here.”

“As you wish,” Wayne said with a shrug.

Peter and Michelle put their head coverings back on, then they ran out of the room and out of the building.

The dots of light flew back into Wayne’s hands and head.

Chapter Eleven

Peter and Michelle hailed a taxicab and got in.

“Take us to the nearest gateway to Regent Park,” Peter said. “And hurry.”

“OK, from here, that’ll be Queen Street East,” said the cabbie. What do they want to go to that dump for? he wondered as he started driving.

“I guess we don’t need to wear these suits,” Peter said to her, “if those little white dots aren’t going to enter our bodies.” He was about to take his head covering off, raising Michelle’s and the cabbie’s eyebrows.

She put out her hand to stop Peter. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions,” she said. “What just happened to us in that meeting room with Wayne Grey may have been a fluke.”

The cabbie let out a sigh of relief that Peter kept his whole suit on.

“What could have caused those things not to have entered us?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be foolish or overconfident until we know. We need to find out more about ‘those things’ before we can be sure of what we’re dealing with.”

“I really don’t think we’re dealing with a disease,” he said. “I’d swear those things have some kind of intelligence. It’s as if they knew when to strike, right when we took the head coverings off, and no sooner. They didn’t come off when Wayne took off his gloves, because they seemed to know we weren’t vulnerable yet. I’ll bet they raised the temperature in that room, too, to make us too uncomfortable to keep the head coverings on.”

“Yeah, OK…and then not enter us?” she asked while sneering at him.

“Yeah, I know it doesn’t make much sense, but maybe they have some kind of subtle plan for us that we haven’t figured out yet. Like they wanted to show themselves to us…to toy with us.”

“Here come the conspiracy theories again.”

“Well, do you have a better explanation for what happened back there?”

“No, and that’s why I think we need to err on the side of caution until we know for sure what’s going on.”

“Well, that’s why we’re going to Regent Park.”

“Getting us a hotel room is going to help us know for sure?” she asked with another sneer. “By ‘knowing,’ I don’t mean in the Biblical sense.”

The cabbie smirked in envy at the thought of Peter soon to get it on with his pretty, shapely girlfriend in a hotel room. (The pretty face was clearly seen through the head covering; the shape of her body was something the cabbie imagined in his lecherous mind…and something he would have been pleased to know he’d imagined most correctly.)

“Well, after the hotel, we’ll meet my doctor friend.”

“You think he knows something about this?”

“It’s the only recently discovered ‘disease’ he admits to being real,” Peter said. “And while you’d think he’d have been wearing a protective suit, he wasn’t when he tested me. Maybe he had the same experience we had.”

“You never asked him why he wasn’t wearing one?” she asked.

“Part of me was so glad that he wasn’t succumbing to all this fear that I must have simply forgotten to ask him.”

“OK,” the cabbie said. “Here’s the Queen Street East entrance gate.” He stopped the cab. “Don’t let any of those bums sneak out when you get in, as a favour to all of us.”

Peter paid the fare, and he and Michelle got out.

Peter took a key out of the front right pocket of his protective suit, opened the locked gate, holding Michelle’s gloved hand with his free one, and they went in. By the sidewalks on the way to the hotel, they saw rows of tents of homeless people. All of them were filthy. All of them held out their hands for spare change. None was wearing a suit.

“Take a look around,” Peter said as they rushed past the tents and stepped over the stretched-out legs of beggars lying on the sidewalks with hats and bowls beside them, hoping for spare change. “The rejects of Toronto. I’d love to give them some money, but if you or I drop even just one penny into a hat or bowl, they’ll all be mobbing us for more, and I didn’t bring enough pocket money, rich as my family is, to satisfy all of them at once. I feel like such a dick to deny them, but there’s nothing I can do.”

“Same here,” she said. “I don’t have much on me, either. I wish I could give them something.”

“If you think this is bad, wait another few years, when the world completes the transition to a totally cashless society,” he said. “The homeless will really be fucked then.”

“Oh, that’s awful.”

“Yeah, MedicinaTech all but abandoned this part of Toronto. A piddling amount of government taxes goes into helping the poor here, but as you can see, it’s nowhere near enough. The gates keep them from entering the richer parts of the city; only people here with at least a reasonable income have a key to get in and out, like my doctor friend.”

“Why did he choose to live here?”

“He wants to help the poor by providing either affordable or free health care. Without volunteers like him, if the homeless–note the lack of protective suits for them–ever caught The Splits, or any other disease, real or imagined, they’d be in a pretty hopeless situation.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

“Actually, a lot had changed around here over the past ten years, as it has in cities all over the world, as we know. In spite of the continued poverty here, violent crime has gone right down. The MedicinaTech government has sent police in here regularly to patrol the area and clamp down on muggings, gang fighting, and the like. If it hadn’t, I’d never have taken you here.”

They reached the Ritz Hotel.

“Here we are,” he said.

They went in and got a room.

“I guess we can finally take these off,” he said, then slowly took off his head covering.

They paused for a moment.

Their eyes darted around the room for glowing little dots of light.

Several seconds of tense silence.

“I guess we’re safe,” she said, taking off her head covering and looking around cautiously. “The woman at the desk was wearing a suit, and those things only come out from people’s uncovered skin, don’t they?”

“Yeah, and they don’t seem to want to enter us, as you’ll recall,” he said, removing the rest of his suit. “Don’t worry. We should be fine.”

“OK,” she said, still in a cautious attitude. She took off her suit with her eyes always on the alert for the little white lights. Peter was already naked and under the covers. She slowly began unbuttoning her shirt.

“If they were gonna get us, surely they’d have already done so by now. Stop worrying.”

“Well, if I’m gonna die, I want us to die together,” she said, then soon got naked and went under the covers with him. 

Michelle was able to get aroused with Peter with surprising speed. Not that there was anything unusually skillful in him as a lover, though she found him most handsome; it was just something about how considerate she found his way of looking at her, of liking what she considered the right things to like. Besides, his gentle, caressing touch could drive her wild within a heartbeat. 

She noted with appreciation how, once she was naked, he kept looking at her face. He likes my body, of course, she thought as they wrapped their arms around each other, but he doesn’t focus on it, to make me into an object, the way all the other guys I dated before him used to do. They pecked each other on the lips a few times, getting soft sighs out of her. He always focuses on my face. He got on top of her. Even now, as he’s…Oh!…sticking it in me, he’s looking down into my eyes the whole time. They kissed again. He’s always wanted to connect with me, right from our first date, when he’d ask me to take off my mask so he could see my face. Another kiss. I’ve always appreciated that about him. For all his faults, I’ve always loved him for these reasons.

As they continued making love in the missionary position, they sighed not only with pleasure, but also from the relief of finally being able to enjoy close physical contact.

For too long, he thought as he went in and out of her, kissing her and caressing her cheeks, all of us have been denied closeness. Fear of disease has split us all apart from each other. We can’t truly help each other if we’re apart, not hugging, not touching, not seeing each other’s facial expressions because masks are hiding our smiles and frowns.

She was thinking these very same thoughts.

When they finished, they lay together and cuddled, their arms tightly around each other.

“Oh,” she sighed. “I’d forgotten…how good that feels. Not just getting laid, but…feeling the touch of someone else. I’m glad we took…the chance here. I’m sick of being afraid…and alone.”

“That’s what I…have been trying to get…you to understand,” he sighed. “We need closeness. It’s what makes…us human.”

“You’re right. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” They kissed. “Now, let’s go…and meet my doctor friend.”

They put on their clothes and left.

Chapter Twelve

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 wear 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 over there, 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. Even though I never really liked either of them, he thought.

“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 I want the powerless to die.”

“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’ shallow emotion, Peter thought.

He isn’t showing the fake, awkward smiles my mother shows, Michelle thought. And the room isn’t getting uncomfortably hot.

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.

Nothing.

Then they ever so slowly unzipped their body suits, never taking their eyes off the doctor.

The suits came completely off.

Nothing.

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, and I never got along with them, but that doesn’t mean I wanted them dead. I was really shaken up when I saw those bastards kill them so violently right before my eyes. 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.

They don’t want to kill either of you, Michelle, a familiar voice said in Michelle’s head.

Dad? she wondered, then paused to listen for more. No, it couldn’t be. I’m hearing things; it’s the stress. She focused on the lights again.

After a few more tense 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.

One thought kept swimming around in Michelle’s mind: If my mom isn’t the carrier of a disease, but is possessed of an alien intelligence, how am I going to deal with that?

Analysis of ‘A Farewell to Kings’

A Farewell to Kings is the fifth studio album by Rush, released in 1977. The album demonstrates remarkable musical growth in the band, with their shifting away from their original, Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock sound and into the realm of progressive rock.

To this musical end, the trio expanded from a basic guitar/bass/drums sound to one incorporating not only six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars, but also classical guitar (by Alex Lifeson). Furthermore, singer/bassist Geddy Lee adds a Minimoog, and both he and Lifeson play bass pedal synthesizers; this electronic sound would be further expanded to the use of more synthesizers by the 1980s, this being a dominant aspect of their music throughout that decade.

Drummer Neil Peart adds a wide array of percussion instruments on this album, including glockenspiel, tubular bells, Vibraslap (heard during Lifeson’s solo on “Closer to the Heart“), and Chinese temple blocks. These new musical colours, combined with Peart’s growth from his original Keith Moon-inspired aggressive drumming style to one of prog rock virtuosity, show the newer influence of the crackingly precise chops of Carl Palmer and Bill Bruford.

But just as newer musical ideas are being phased in, so are older ideas being phased out. As I said above, the hard rock sound, though still present to a large degree, is noticeably less here than on previous albums. And although Lee’s soaring head voice (with its grating vibrato) is as evident as ever here (in fact, on “Cygnus X-1,” he hits his highest note ever, a B-flat 5…or 6?), it won’t be long after this album (two albums later, specifically) that he will phase out the use of head voice and limit his highest notes generally to those within mixed voice, and focus on his lower, chest voice.

A Farewell to Kings is an album that Rush were most pleased with: Lee has never found fault with it, and Peart said that the title track “seems to encapsulate everything that we want Rush to represent.” It’s one of my personal favourites of the band’s, if not the favourite–it’s the first of theirs that I’d heard as a little kid, not long after it was released. Apart from all the musical colours I described above, A Farewell to Kings is genuine art rock, not only with long songs divided into sections, but also with a more prominent use of odd time signatures and superb musicianship that had since become synonymous with Rush.

Here is a link to all the song lyrics on the album.

The cover, by Hugh Syme, shows a demolition site in the background as juxtaposed with, in the foreground, a king slumped on a throne and made to look like a marionette. The picture expresses some of the themes of the title track, and by extension, those of the rest of the songs on the album, as I’ll explain below.

Decades ago, I spotted the obvious theme of morality, but a much more important theme is idealism, particularly the idealizing of the past as against the disillusionment felt in the modern world. Also, there’s the theme of the danger of recklessly seeking to attain those ideals, leading to one’s self-destruction.

The title track begins softly, with Lifeson playing a classical guitar melody with one bar in 3/4, then three bars in 4/4 before returning to the 3/4 beginning, and playing the whole cycle all over again. He plays it a third time, but with the first two of the three 4/4 bars, replacing the third with a transitional bar in 5/4, then one in 4/4, to introduce a middle passage with Lee’s Minimoog and Peart’s glockenspiel.

The first theme returns with all three instruments, and with the 5/4 theme played three times. Though this gentle introductory tune includes a synthesizer, the classical guitar’s lute-like sound makes one think of a time hundreds of years ago. The music’s tranquility makes one imagine, correctly or incorrectly, that that old time was a better, more peaceful one.

A sharp contrast is heard when the electric guitar, bass, and drums come crashing in, suggesting the turmoil of the modern world, a sad decline from that (perceived) idyllic opening. We hear two bars of 4/4, then a switch to several bars of 7/4 before returning to 4/4.

Now, the lyrics come in, Lee singing what amounts to be a conservative’s complaint of “Whatever happened to the good old days?” (If one didn’t know any better, one might think of Archie and Edith Bunker singing “Those Were the Days” at the piano.)

Added to this conservative lament is the use of medieval imagery in Peart’s lyric (i.e., references to “castles,” all things “kingly,” and “nobles”). Let me just get this straight: a farewell to kings, that is, to feudalism, is a bad thing? Morality can be upheld only through the absolute power of a monarch, the ‘divine right’ of kings?

Such would be a very strange position for three young, long-haired rockers (who only the previous year sang of the pleasures of dope in “A Passage to Bangkok“) to take. Either Peart was being ironic, or he was being metaphorical in his references to kings and castles as an ideal, or the lyric is in the voice of a reactionary whose political ideals are in sharp contrast with those of the band.

I’d say that a hint to what Peart was really writing about, perhaps by way of a Freudian slip, is in the line “Ancient nobles showering their bitterness on youth.” Does this line not encapsulate what the whole lyric presents to the listener–grumpy old men griping about all these bad kids, with their long hair, loud rock music, and sex and drugs, only it’s expressed with all this medieval imagery, just to reinforce how “ancient” the complainers are?

One thing to remember about Rush, and about Peart in the 1970s in particular, was the influence of right-wing libertarianism, and of “the genius of Ayn Rand” in their reworking of her novella, Anthem, in their side-long suite, “2112” (not to mention their song of the same name as her book, and in the name of Rush’s record label). Surely, these three haters of ‘Big Brother government’ weren’t holding up the monarchy as a fitting alternative. And if the idealizing of monarchy is meant as a metaphor, then for what?

I want to give Rush credit here, and say that this song, however much Peart insisted would “encapsulate everything that [they wanted] Rush to represent,” is meant as an ironic presentation of the views of authoritarian conservatives “showering their bitterness on youth.”

In other words, Rush represents ironic tongue-in-cheek.

Sandwiched in between these verses is a tight instrumental section in alternating 4/4 and 2/4, with Lifeson doing a solo with a delightfully angular tone on his Gibson ES-355 over Lee’s Rickenbacker bass octaves in A, and Peart’s tight drumming. Lifeson stops soloing for a moment and plays an A-chord with Lee’s A octaves and Peart’s drumming of the 4/4 and 2/4 rhythm; then we have just 4/4 and a chord progression of A major, G major, and D major, over which Lifeson resumes soloing before a reprise of the “Cities full of hatred…” verse.

A final verse, to the same music as that of the reprised verse, ends with the hope for a world that’s “closer to the heart,” an allusion to the famous song that acts as a solution to the problem presented in the title track. More on that later, of course.

Though lyrically, “Xanadu” is inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem “Kubla Khan,” Peart’s idea originally came from the classic film Citizen Kane, in which the titular character (based in part on William Randolph Hearst) owns a mansion called Xanadu. Just as the title track yearns for an ideal morality in the feudal past (metaphorically, if not literally), so does “Xanadu” involve a quest for the ideal of eternal life.

As with the title track, “Xanadu” begins with birdsong (indeed, Messiaen would have loved it!). We also hear a low E played on the bass pedal synthesizer, along with Lifeson soloing with a volume pedal, and Peart playing the Chinese temple blocks, swiping the chimes, and tapping an E on the tubular bells.

Next, Lifeson plays–no longer with the volume pedal–a seven-note cycle of E–E (octave higher)–A–B–E-flat–A-flat–A, which then brings in the bass and drums. After this passage in 7/8, we return to 4/4, still in E major, with a riff including a whirlwind of notes starting on D, in the E-Mixolydian mode. Then, we’re back to 7/8 (Rush’s favourite odd time), with Lifeson quickly strumming chords of E-major, D-major, B-major, A-major, and G-major, but with an open high E string (he does a lot of this–playing E-shape barre chords, but with the high E-string open, without the barre–at various points in the song). Peart joins in with cowbells of different pitches, and Lee with the bass pedals set at a treble range. The bass and drums soon join Lifeson in this 7/8 passage.

The instrumental opening goes on for about five minutes before Lee finally begins singing, making allusions to Coleridge’s poem. “Drink[ing] the milk of Paradise” is what the speaker hopes will confer immortality onto him, though the milk, combined with honeydew, also suggests the use of narcotics (recall, in this connection, “A Passage to Bangkok,” as well as Coleridge’s own drug use).

The speaker seeks the ideal of eternal life, and hopes to find in Kubla Khan’s “pleasure dome” the ideal abode, paradise. But just as hoping for moral ideals in a romanticized past in “A Farewell to Kings” is foolish, so is the speaker’s hope for happiness in immortality in Xanadu foolish.

A thousand years pass, and the speaker has no hope of dying. He yearns for the end of the world, hoping to be destroyed with it, and thus to be freed of the “prison of the lost Xanadu.” Just as Charles Foster Kane can find no happiness or fulfillment in his wealth and power, the speaker, in his “bitter triumph,” cannot find any in honeydew and the milk of paradise.

Wealth, power, immortality, ideals…these don’t provide happiness. That’s what A Farewell to Kings is all about.

Now, “A Farewell to Kings” may have presented the problem of immorality (just as “Xanadu” explored the problem of immortality), but “Closer to the Heart” presents an attempt at finding solutions. Obviously, “the heart” is meant to indicate that we need a world of love as the solution, though as I’ll later argue, the solution as given isn’t adequate.

From a formal, structural perspective, the song’s lyrics (written by Peart, but inspired by a verse by Peter Talbot, a friend of the band’s) are cleverly written, with parallel structure from verse to verse. Examples of such parallelism include the rhyming last words of the third line of each verse (“reality,” “creativity,” “mentality,” and “destiny”); in the first line of each verse are references to different careers one could have (“men who hold high places,” “the blacksmith and the artist,” “philosophers and ploughmen,” and “captain”); the blacksmith would “forge,” and the artist use his “creativity,” ploughmen “sow” the philosophers’ “new mentality,” and the captain goes “sailing into [the] destiny” of “the chart” that “I will draw.” The most obvious parallelism is the repeat of the song’s title in the last line of each verse.

Now, this all makes for fine rhetoric, which again uses archaic diction, as in the album’s title track, the question song to which “Closer to the Heart” is the proposed answer. Here’s the problem: nothing in the song actually details how we are supposed to move towards a more loving world.

Matters start to get a little disturbing when we consider how the band that’s preaching how we must move “closer to the heart” was only the previous year touting the ‘philosophy’ of an embittered Russian bourgeois expat in the US, she who wrote of The Virtue of Selfishness, which espoused “rational egoism,” or as I would call it, rationalized selfishness.

In all fairness to Rush, and to Peart in particular, when they recorded these 1970s albums, they were young and naïve about the world. Their expertise was in music, not politics. Given the intense anti-communist propaganda of the Cold War, the kind that raised a hack writer like Rand to fame (seriously, I read Anthem when I was young and, being similarly naïve at the time, was more sympathetic to the story’s anti-socialist message, and even then, I was not impressed with her prose), it’s easy to see how Peart could have been seduced by her ideas, as so many have been. And to be even fairer to Peart, in the last decade of his life, he confessed that he’d renounced Rand (who, incidentally, was no libertarian, but rather an advocate for capitalist government) and begun calling himself a “bleeding-heart libertarian“…translation: a liberal. Indeed, it was the individualism of her message, not the pro-capitalist one, that he’d always liked, anyway.

As for those conservative politicians whose Rand influence has stayed with them, look over the past forty years of neoliberalism and ask yourself honestly if their politics have steered the world any “closer to the heart.” Tax cuts for the rich have resulted in their wealth ballooning to the point that they can essentially buy politicians and both American political parties, ensuring that the owners of the big corporations determine the direction the world goes in, which means more for them and less for the rest of us (all of this has given a new, bitter irony to Peart’s complaints of “the seeds that we let grow”). As I’ve explained in other posts, the “free market” dialectically leads to “corporatism,” or the capitalist government that Rand wanted, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

So, with the song’s championing of a more loving world, with its clever rhetoric and a lack of a concrete plan for realizing its goal, “Closer to the Heart” is another example of the album’s theme of idealism. Note that utopian thinking exists on the left and on the right. Everyone has his or her own notion of the ‘perfect world’: there are, for example, the Nazi ideals of Lebensraum and judenrein, though decent people would never espouse such horrors. “Free market” fundamentalists’ notion of unbridled capitalism, through the voodoo of the invisible hand, leading to happiness and harmony is another utopian fantasy: how does unchecked selfishness help the world? It’s easy to see how it results in unaccountable corporate tyranny, though. And leftism isn’t necessarily all idealistic: contrary to popular belief, Marxism is not, as I explained here, utopian socialism, but scientific, grounded in revolutionary theory.

Now, “Closer to the Heart” may have failed to provide a method for achieving the more loving society, but Lee’s lyric for “Cinderella Man” gives us something of an idea. Just as “Xanadu” was inspired (in part) by a classic old black-and-white movie, so was this one: namely, by Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, one of Lee’s favourites.

Longfellow Deeds (played by Gary Cooper) is dubbed the “Cinderella Man” by a newspaper reporter, named Louise “Babe” Bennett (played by Jean Arthur), because of his sudden rags-to-riches inheritance of his late uncle’s $20,000,000 fortune. He’s from a town called Mandrake Falls, and he goes to New York to get the money.

Since Deeds eventually decides to give all of the money to poor, starving farmers (the 1936 film is set during the Great Depression), powerful men scheme to get their hands on his money by having him declared insane, and therefore too mentally incompetent to be trusted with the responsibility of managing and dispensing with so huge a sum of money. His eccentric behavior, which includes suddenly punching men for no apparent reason, walking in the rain, and feeding a horse an excess of donuts, seems to confirm that he’s insane. In fact, a psychiatrist deems him to be a manic depressive. In the end, though, they “just couldn’t beat him.”

So, Lee’s lyric tells the plot of the film in an extremely abbreviated form. The proposed ideal moral solution to the problem of poverty is, essentially, a kind of charity, acts of generosity done of one’s free, individual will, as opposed to the workers’ revolutionary seizing control of the means of production, resulting in a state-planned economy providing free healthcare, education, housing, and full employment.

It’s interesting to note, in light of Rand’s influence on Peart, that Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a film by Frank Capra, who also did It’s a Wonderful Life, another film about the value of Christian charity, and one despised by the likes of Rand, who have idiotically claimed it is a “communist” film. Capra, a kind of right-wing libertarian in his own right, didn’t even like FDR’s New Deal, which was meant to keep the Depression-era American working class from agitating for a socialist revolution. As I argued in my analysis of this latter film (link above), the notion that altruism of any kind can be airily called “communist” really only displays the mean-spiritedness of the “rational egoists.”

“Madrigal” is a simple love song, with a sweet melody that Lee plays on his Minimoog, and with Peart’s drums recorded in an echo room. Even this love song can be seen as a manifestation of the theme of ideals, for when one is in love, one idealizes the love object, ignoring his or her faults, and exaggerating his or her virtues, especially as a contrasting bulwark against this harsh world we live in, as expressed in Peart’s lyric. That the song is called madrigal is again, as with much of the diction of its lyric, an example of the use of archaic imagery (suggesting associations with courtly love poetry, which idealized the Lady as love object), reinforcing that sense of idealizing a distant past against our troubled modern world.

“Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage” is, in contrast to the previous songs’ settings at different points in the past, a science fiction story about going “across the Milky Way” in a spaceship to reach a black hole “in the constellation of Cygnus.” It’s in four parts, the Prologue opening with an electronically-altered narration by Terry Brown, the producer of A Farewell to Kings and all the other Rush albums from their second, Fly by Night, up to Signals.

1 is very brief, with Lee singing of how entry “through the void” of the black hole leads one “to be destroyed,” or could it be a wormhole into either another part of the universe, or a door to a parallel one? Our protagonist dares to find out.

Lee begins playing broken-up segments of the bass line that, when Lifeson and Peart join in, will comprise a riff in 3/4, 7/8, 3/4, and 4/4. Soon after, a frantic riff comes in with chords of C-sharp minor, E minor, and G-sharp minor, which we’ll hear again at the climactic end of the song. A guitar line of G, A-flat, B, C, D, E-flat, F-sharp, and G leads into a riff in 11/8, 12/8, and 11/8, with chords in C minor, a passing chord of B minor to F-sharp major, E-flat minor, and a passing chord of D minor back to C minor. The Minimoog eventually comes in, largely doubling the chords.

2, narrated by the protagonist, describes the flight on his ship, the Rocinante, which is named after the horse ridden by Don Quixote, a foolish idealist who, having read so many chivalric romances, fancies himself such a hero, a knight-errant in search of adventure. He’s an awkward fool, engaging in a task far beyond his abilities. The protagonist in the spaceship is similarly foolish and idealistic, engaging in a dangerous quest (though, in “Book Two: Hemispheres,” he enters–through a wormhole, presumably–the world of the Apollonian and Dionysian battle of the mind and heart, achieving the ideal of balance between the two).

Beginning this section is an upbeat chord progression of C major, F major, D major, and G major, musically suggesting the rosy optimism of the protagonist. Things don’t stay positive for long, though.

A repeat of the G, A-flat, B, C, D, E-flat, F-sharp, and G leads to a solo by Lifeson with the wah-wah pedal. Next is a quieter section suggesting the traveling of the Rocinante deep into space, with Lifeson playing octaves of C, A-flat, and B. Backed by Peart’s drumming, Lee comes in with his bass soon after, with fragments of his bass line from that frantic, climactic progression heard in the Prologue and soon to be heard again–notes of C-sharp, E and G-sharp…hearing this is a foreshadowing of the protagonist’s doom. Fittingly, the bass line does a bitonal clash with the guitar line, reinforcing the sense of tension building up to the climax. But just before that climax, there’s a louder section in E, in 4/8, 3/8, and 4/8.

3 has the Rocinante spinning out of control as it reaches the black hole, with that frantic chord progression fully developed in the form of C-sharp minor, E minor, G-sharp major, and G major, then C-sharp minor, E minor, and C minor, all in 6/8. The protagonist screams out that his “every nerve is torn apart.” (The tragedy of his self-destruction in his spaceship is paralleled by the farce of Don Quixote charging, on his horse, the windmills.)

The song ends with soft but eerie chords of C minor, E-flat minor, and E minor added ninth, then E minor again, but without the ninth. This fades out, suggesting the fading out of the protagonist’s life.

The protagonist thus goes through the whole Hegelian dialectic of being, nothingness, and in Book Two, the sublation of being and non-being, that of becoming, the balance between the two (as well as that between the Apollonian mind and the Dionysian heart), the achievement of the Hegelian ideal.

But this ideal isn’t to be reached until the next album. Instead, as far as A Farewell to Kings is concerned, our quixotic hero just destroyed himself, as does the drinker of the milk of paradise in the other long song ending Side One of this album. The first hero destroys his mind in madness, and the second destroys his body; the first erases the possibility of his non-existence, the second erases his existence…both heroes doing so in the foolish pursuit of unattainable ideals.

Analysis of ‘Inception’

I: Introduction

Inception is a 2010 science fiction action film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who also produced it with his wife, Emma Thomas. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, with an ensemble cast including Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

Nolan had been working on a story about “dream stealers” for nine to ten years, originally conceiving of it as a horror film before making it a kind of heist film. He was influenced by such movies as The Matrix, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, and even his own Memento, to an extent. He postponed making Inception until he’d got enough experience making large-scale films like the first two of his Dark Knight trilogy.

Inception was the fourth-highest-grossing film of 2010; it is considered one of the best films of the 2010s, and it won four Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, and here is a link to the script.

II: Unconscious vs. Subconscious

What is, for me, especially intriguing about Inception is the intersection of several themes: the unconscious (here infelicitously called the “subconscious“–more on that soon), manipulation, capitalism, trauma, strained family relationships, the blurred distinction between fantasy and reality, and perhaps most importantly, what shared, lucid dreaming can be seen to represent–the viewing of a movie in a theatre with other people.

Let’s now look at each of these themes one by one.

“Subconscious” is a popular term in psychology to refer to what psychoanalysis calls the unconscious. While I’m sure Nolan never intended to adhere to Freudian thinking to any significant extent (beyond, perhaps, the estranged, bitter feelings that Robert Fischer [Murphy] has for his dying father, Maurice [played by Pete Postlethwaite]), a bitterness that could be at least partly Oedipal), I must favor the term unconscious over subconscious, and here’s why.

Subconscious, as Freud explained, is an unclear way of expressing what that part of the mind is, what is ‘outside’ of conscious thinking. Is it topographical, i.e., existing underneath consciousness, as is almost literally indicated in the movie? Is it qualitative, indicating another, subterranean consciousness, again, as Inception seems to imply?

The unconscious, on the other hand, is not concerned with some kind of mental ‘place.’ Rather, it’s properly concerned with what we do not know. Unconscious impulses, for example, don’t ‘hide underneath’: the repressed, on the contrary, returns to consciousness, though in a new, unrecognizable form. It isn’t ‘underground’; it hides in plain sight.

Significantly, Dominick ‘Dom’ Cobb (DiCaprio) and his team of thought-thieves are fully aware of what’s going on in the “subconscious” world of their shared, lucid dreams. There’s something unmistakably topographic and subterranean in these dreams-within-dreams. So however psychoanalysts may cringe at the use of the word “subconscious,” we must go along with Nolan’s word choices and imagery, going down an elevator with Ariadne (Page) to lower and lower levels of this subterranean land to see what this “subconscious” actually symbolizes.

III: Fantasy vs. Reality

Here we come to one of the intersections of theme. The dreams-within-dreams of the “subconscious” represent further and further removes from reality, deeper and deeper forays into fantasy. That the dreams generally look as if they could be events occurring in reality (Ariadne’s alterations of the Parisian cityscape, among other exceptions, notwithstanding) shows how blurred is the distinction between fantasy and reality in the film.

Small wonder the dream-thieves have to carry around totems (e.g., the spinning top, or Arthur’s die) to test if they’re dreaming or in the real world. Small wonder that Mal (Cotillard) kept killing herself to wake up, only to do so again for the last time in the real world, her still being obsessively deluded (thanks to Dom’s planting of an inception in her mind) that she was always in dreams-within-dreams. Incidentally, the inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is indicative of psychosis, which is what I suspect Inception is really all about.

IV: Capitalism and Manipulation

The implanting of false beliefs into the minds of the marks of the dream-thieves–be this implanting inception (putting the beginning of an idea into one’s mind) or extraction (stealing a company’s secrets as the goal of corporate espionage) through conning the mark into trusting the dream-thieves into opening up completely and thus making oneself vulnerable to them–is manipulation in the service of one set of capitalists trying to defeat their competition. As Marx once said, “One capitalist always strikes down many others.” (Marx, page 929) Here we see the intersection of the themes of manipulation and capitalism, in the realm of the unconscious, in deeper and deeper layers of fantasy that get confused with reality.

Indeed, the company that Dom Cobb works for, Cobol Engineering (not only on which his surname is a pun [i.e., Cobb is a microcosm of the company], but also on which cobalt–extracted from the earth, like company secrets, by poor Congolese children for use in our cellphones–seems a pun), is a kind of mafia organization in the field of corporate espionage, in which failure can endanger an employee’s life. As I’ve argued many times in other blog posts, the mafia (criminal businesses) is a fitting metaphor for capitalists: note the expensive suits we see on Dom, the dominant, leading member of the dream-thieves.

Those of us on the political left are acutely aware of how capitalism results in alienation, which in turn leads to such problems as strained family relationships (i.e., Fischer and his dying father, as well as Cobb’s inability to return to the US and be with his kids) and emotional trauma (the hurt Fischer feels from the contempt Maurice has always had for him; Cobb’s guilt over how his inception for Mal drove her to suicide).

V: Dream Theatre?

A number of commentators on Inception have interpreted its use of shared, lucid dreaming as symbolic of people in a darkened movie theatre watching a film together. Getting caught up in the movie’s story is hypnotic, dreamlike. We can see more thematic intersection here in how not only the marketing of movies is a part of capitalism, but also how films are used to manipulate their viewers emotionally. The CIA is often consulted by moviemakers, who are required to portray the organization–known for ruthlessly helping in the overthrow of many governments opposed to US imperialist interests–as benign. Accordingly, films like Top Gun: Maverick and the Marvel superhero movies are blatant American military propaganda.

Now, this notion of shared, lucid dreaming as symbolic of people watching a movie together can be extended, I believe, to the idea of people watching TV together–TV shows and commercials–listening to the radio, being hooked on the internet, etc. In other words, the fantasy world of dreams can be a metaphor for the hypnotizing effect of the media.

Note the dream-like quality of many of our recent TV commercials. Instead of focusing on the products, as the commercials of the past did, these ads focus on images of a happy, carefree life. The commercials are fantasies, removals from reality, just like the shared dreams in Inception. An escape from the world…all in the service of capitalism, while pretending that the profit motive of capitalism isn’t at all present. The urge to buy what’s being sold sneaks into the unconscious by association with the fantasy presented, the inception of the desire for the product, our imaginary appetites…all while extracting our cash.

We might want to remember how Edward Bernays–whose double uncle was Freud, incidentally–used psychoanalytic concepts to help advertisers and political power structures to colonize the unconscious and manipulate people into buying this or that product, and to manufacture consent. (Bernays, by the way, was involved in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état for the sake of the United Fruit Company.)

VI: Putting All the Themes Together

So these are all the ways that the unconscious, manipulation, capitalism, trauma, strained family relationships, the hazy line between fantasy and reality, and dreams as a metaphor for film (and the media in general) intersect in Inception. Though inception means beginning, or the establishment of an institution or activity, I see in the word a pun on deception, or the planting of a deceptive idea into someone’s unconscious.

So the film can be seen to be about how the capitalist/imperialist-run media manipulates the mind, and how our attempts to escape the horrors of the capitalist world, in order to enter a haven of fantasy, can backfire and lead to psychosis.

VII: Inception of Inception

The film begins with Cobb washed up on a shore, then taken by Japanese guards to see an extremely aged Mr. Saito (Watanabe), the businessman who wants Cobb’s team of dream-thieves to plant the inception of an idea into young Fischer’s head, to break up his dying father’s corporation so that of Saito–Fischer’s competition–can reign supreme. We eventually learn that this washing-up on the Japanese shore isn’t the beginning, but the near-end, of the story.

After this, we go back to the beginning of the story, when Cobb’s team is attempting an extraction of company secrets from the unconscious of dreaming, younger Saito while on a train going in the direction of Kyoto. We see the same big house as in the previous, deep-fantasy scene of aged Saito.

We soon learn, after the dangerous meddling of Mal (actually, Cobb’s projection of her, or as I see her, his internal object of her), that this scene in Saito’s house is really a dream within a dream, this ‘outer’ dream, as it were, being that of Nash (played by Lukas Haas), Cobb’s dream architect before the team employs Ariadne.

A couple of interesting points should be made about Nash and his dream, which make me question his motives. His dream includes a huge mob of insurrectionary rioters out in the streets, all about to force their way into the building where Cobb, Saito, and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) are having the dream within the dream, in Saito’s house. Note that, according to Freud, a dream is the fulfillment of a wish. Later, Nash betrays the rest of Cobb’s team. Is Nash a man with unconscious leftist sympathies (i.e., with revolutionaries in his wish-fulfillment-dream) making a failed attempt at undermining capitalist Cobol, and is his botching of the carpet a Freudian slip, reflecting his conflicted commitment to the team?

VIII: What Cobb Will Do to Get Back Home

Cobb wants so badly to be reunited with his son and daughter back in the US that he’s willing to take Saito’s offer to clear his name there of Mal’s death, in exchange for planting an inception in Robert Fischer’s mind, an undertaking Cobb knows is extremely dangerous and difficult to do. After all, he did it to Mal, and what happened? Still, he can’t bear to be separated from his kids.

To assemble his new team, he first goes to Paris, where his father-in-law, Professor Stephen Miles (Caine), who taught him about navigating the unconscious mind, recommends he hire Ariadne. Her name, an obvious reference to the woman in Greek myth who helped Theseus navigate the Labyrinth so he could get out after killing the Minotaur, is fitting. She proves her skills as a potential dream-architect by quickly improvising mazes complex enough to convince Cobb she’s up for the job. Just as the mythical Ariadne helped Theseus get out of the infernal Labyrinth, so does Inception‘s Ariadne help Cobb find the strength to confront his trauma over Mal’s suicide, to let go of his attachment to his internal object of her, and thus to be able to navigate his way back up to the top, to escape the hell of endless dreams-within-dreams.

Next, Cobb has to go to Mombassa, Kenya–a city crawling with Cobol agents looking to catch and kill him for his failed mission in Japan–to find Eames (Hardy), a forger able to impersonate people in dreams. The agents chasing Cobb through the streets of Mombassa is the one instance of an ‘action movie’ scene in Inception that happens in the real, non-dreaming world…or is this the real, non-dreaming world? (More on that later.)

Eames recommends Yusuf (Rao), a chemist who will provide a sedative to keep the team under as they navigate the different layers of the “subconscious,” dream-with-dream worlds, while also allowing the team to hear a recording of Edith Piaf singing “Non, je ne regrette rien” (“I regret nothing”), their synchronized cue, or “kick,” to wake them at the right time.

IX: Drugs

Though we’re not meant to think of Yusuf as some kind of drug dealer, that scene of him with all those people taking his sedative in the dark basement of his place of work…it sure makes one think of, say, an opium den. These users of the sedative dream for four hours each day because, as one of them tells Cobb, “The dream has become their reality.”

Even if Yusuf is not to be understood to be an actual drug dealer, what he’s doing in this basement is surely symbolic of what a drug dealer would do, at the very least. Such an understanding is crucial when we consider the theme of the unsure distinction between fantasy and reality as presented in Inception. After all, as I noted above, psychosis is characterized by an inability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and drugs (with their hallucinogenic effects) can induce psychosis, including sedatives.

Furthermore, in the alienating, cutthroat world of capitalism, emotional trauma often leads to substance abuse as an attempt to escape that pain. An escape into fantasy relieves, however temporarily, one of the pain of facing reality, and drugs obviously help with that feeling of escape. Drugs can cause mental illness, just as the stress of living under capitalism has been observed to cause mental illness. In these connections, it’s easy to see why Dom and Mal went so deep into the dream world, into so many layers under layers of dreams-within-dreams; in searching for the Garden of Eden, they ended up in the ninth circle of Hell.

X: Splitting

Mal’s suicide, as I’ve said, is a pain that Dom finds unbearable, especially since his planting of the inception in her mind–that her world was unreal–means he’s guilty of causing her death. He cannot let her go, so he keeps her internal object as a kind of ghost haunting his mind. She’s there, but the trauma of her suicide is also there; so he tries to protect himself from that pain, however unsuccessfully, through the defence mechanisms of projection and splitting.

Dom thus experiences what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid positionparanoid because of the persecutory anxiety he feels whenever her projection interferes, often violently, with his team’s attempts at extraction; and schizoid because of the splitting of Mal into absolute good and bad versions of herself.

Dom, in his unconscious attempts to preserve the good Mal, can’t help but be forced to confront the bad Mal–hence her apt name as a pun on the French word for bad. Only when he goes the farthest down all the layers of his “subconscious,” down all those dreams-within-dreams, to return to the paradise/hell that he constructed with her, back before she died, only then do we see the good Mal, when he tells her he has to let her go.

His trauma is one example of how capitalist alienation harms relationships, including family ones. Another example is that of Robert and Maurice Fischer. The dying father, founder and owner of a great, powerful corporation, is annoyed that he has to pass on the control of the family business to a son he regards as inadequate for such a great responsibility. Some of this father/son hostility could be Oedipal, as I mentioned above; on the father’s end, it could be a Laius complex, or a fear of the son supplanting the father.

XI: Sympathy for the Dominant

One thing that is, or at least should be, striking about this story is how we, the audience, are all lulled into sympathizing with these characters. We’re dealing here with dishonest, lying, manipulating, gaslighting people who are all out for themselves, all working within a capitalist context. Manipulating young Fischer into ending his father’s business is meant to allow their competition, Saito’s company, to thrive. It is the insidious nature of neoliberal capitalist ideology–“there is no alternative“–that tricks the audience into sympathizing with a bunch of con men.

Dom is seen on several occasions, just after waking up, to be spinning a top to make sure he isn’t still dreaming. As we understand, if it stops spinning, he’s relieved to know he’s in the real world…or is he? One’s totem–like Arthur’s die–is supposed to be known only by its owner: its look, feel, weight, etc. Dom, however, has come into the habit of using a top originally owned by Mal. So even if it stops spinning, is his reassurance of no longer dreaming valid?

XII: In Dreamland

Back to the story. The team is assembled and ready. On a flight to the US, Fischer is put to sleep to share a dream with Dom, Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Saito, and Yusuf. This first shared dream, Yusuf’s, is set on the streets of a city in teeming rain.

Fischer, trying to take a cab, is kidnapped. Arthur, whose job was to research Fischer thoroughly, has failed to learn that the team’s mark has unconscious security to fight off extractors like them. Dom is furious with Arthur for his oversights.

This unconscious security, in the form of men shooting at Cobb et al and therefore putting them all in danger–if shot and killed in the dream–of being trapped in Limbo (an inescapable labyrinth of the unconscious, like being in a coma) because of Yusuf’s powerful sedative, is a personification of Fischer’s ego defence mechanisms, these ones being unconscious.

As the Ego Psychologists understood unconscious ego defence, here’s an explanation: “the ego also contains complex unconscious defensive arrangements that have evolved to satisfy the demands of neurotic compromise, ways of thinking that keep repressed impulses out of conscious awareness in an ongoing way. Unlike unconscious id impulses that respond with enthusiasm to the prospect of liberation in making their presence felt…, unconscious ego defenses gain nothing from being exposed. Their unobtrusive, seamless presence in the patient’s psychic life is perfectly acceptable (ego syntonic) to the patient; they often function as a central feature of the patient’s larger personality organization…The ego, charged with the daunting task of keeping the peace between warring internal parties and ensuring socially acceptable functioning, works more effectively if it works undercover.” (Mitchell and Black, page 26)

XIII: Wake Up Dead?

One fascinating idea in this film is the paradoxical notion that if you are killed in a dream, you wake up. It’s the reverse of what Hamlet said: “To die, to sleep–/No more” (III, i, 60). Now, with Yusuf’s sedative, dying in the dream makes matters much more complicated: “To die, to sleep;/To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub;/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,/When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/Must give us pause.” (III, I, 64-68)

Another complicating factor in Fischer’s troubled family life is his “Uncle Peter” Browning (Berenger), his godfather and fellow executive of his father’s company. Browning acts as a kind of surrogate father for Fischer, being there for him in ways that his father never wanted to be. Cobb’s team will manipulate this relationship through Eames’s impersonation of Browning, to introduce the idea of Maurice having an alternate will to dissolve the company.

Inception, as Eames has previously pointed out, is “a very subtle art.” Fischer’s first introduction to the idea of the alternate will is to be a negative one, a plausible further instance of his father’s contempt for him; further down in the dreams, the dissolving of the company is meant to be a positive exhortation of him to do his own thing, giving him a catharsis.

XIV: Dreams-within-dreams

Anyway, everyone on the team except Yusuf–who is driving around on the first dream level, since it’s his dream–is sedated into going down to the second dream level, Arthur’s dream, which is set in a hotel. Here, Dom convinces Robert that his ‘security’ is really working against him, as part of the ruse to go deeper into his “subconscious.” Here we have Dom gaslighting Robert into distrusting his own unconscious ego defence mechanisms.

To get to the layer of Fischer’s “subconscious” where he will receive the inception of the idea to end his father’s business to start something of his own, the team must be sedated further, into a dream set around an alpine fortress. Several problems occur: Mal interferes again and shoots Robert before he can receive the inception; also, Yusuf sets up the Edith Piaf kick too early.

Arthur and Eames therefore must improvise a new set of kicks to be synchronized with them hitting the water in Yusuf’s truck in the first dream, with Arthur rigging a hotel elevator with all the floating dreamers tied up, and with the alpine fortress being set up with explosives. Saito having been shot as well as Robert means both of them are in Limbo, forcing Dom and Ariadne to go further down another level to rescue them…in Dom’s constructed dream-world with Mal.

Here is where Dom must confront his trauma with Mal. He must let go of his attachment to his internal object of the good Mal, and he must do it quickly, for getting Robert and Saito back is of paramount importance. Indeed, Ariadne importunes Dom to hurry…but can one be cured of one’s trauma in such a short time? (Indeed, Ariadne shoots Mal to speed things up.)

It seems that he has managed to do so, for he leaves Mal, and they get Robert and Saito back–the rescue of the latter through, essentially, a repeat of that opening scene with Dom washing ashore on the beach and being taken to Saito’s big house by his Japanese guards. Neither Dom nor Saito wants to die a lonely old man, filled with regret, hence the choice of Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” as the kick to wake everyone up with.

XV: Maladaptive Dreaming

No rationally thinking person wants to waste away in a fantasy world, only years later to snap out of it and be full of regret for such a wasted life. Yet the alienating world of capitalism makes such a retreat into fantasy so tempting. Small wonder so many of us out there escape reality through drugs, online video games, porn, movies, TV, consumerism, internet addiction, etc.

Robert returns to the alpine fortress dream and receives the inception. Everyone, including Dom, manages to get back up using all the synchronized kicks in time. I’d say it’s all a little too good to be true.

Dom wakes up on the airplane with all the others, who smile at him, glad to see him back. Saito makes the necessary phone call to clear Dom of the charge of murdering Mal, so he can go through customs without a hitch. Recall above how I mentioned that, according to Freud, dreams are wish-fulfillments. Dom’s wishes are all being fulfilled, aren’t they?

The action and excitement of the dreams, fighting off Robert’s unconscious security, is an instance of how these shared, lucid dreams parallel the entertainment of watching a movie in a theatre. We’re back in the ‘real world’ now, in the airport; but Dom had an ‘action movie’ moment in Mombassa, too. Has his ‘waking’ world been real, or has it been dream, too?

XVI: Conclusion–Nothing But a Dreamer

Here’s an interesting thought: we’ve been assuming that Mal killed herself, mistakenly thinking she was trying to wake herself from a dream, but…what if she was right? Could Dom have lost count of all the dream layers, thinking his time with her on the building ledges was real, when it was actually another dream? She’d been assessed by three different psychiatrists to be sane, so is he the one with a psychotic inability to distinguish fantasy from reality?

When he claims that she didn’t want to go back to the real world, is he projecting onto her his wish to stay in the world of dreams? Is this what calling Mal his “projection” really means?

At the end, when he spins the top and walks away to see his kids, he doesn’t care if it stops spinning or not. Or maybe he’s afraid to see it keep spinning. In any case, the top was Mal’s totem originally, so if its slight wobble at the very end indicates that it will stop spinning, this hardly assures us that he’s in the real world now.

Some think the real plan, masterminded by Miles (who, recall, recommended Ariadne to be the architect), was to pull Cobb out of the dream world. If so, I don’t think it worked. Cobb prefers fantasy to reality, like so many of us with our drugs, movies, TV, etc. I think Mal is still waiting for him in the waking world; but like those TV commercials that show people enjoying quality time with family, or like all those action movies we enjoy in the theatre, Cobb would rather escape from, than have to continue living in, the stresses of the capitalist world.

His Hell is his Eden…even without Mal.

Analysis of ‘They Live’

They Live is a 1988 science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, and the 1986 comic adaptation “Nada” by Nelson and artist Bill Wray. The film stars Roddy Piper, with Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, and Peter Jason.

They Live was a minor success during its release, but received negative reviews from critics for its social commentary, writing, and acting; but like other Carpenter films, it gained a cult following and more positive critical reappraisal. The film has had a huge impact on popular culture, with such iconic scenes as that of the shocked protagonist (Piper) putting on and taking off special sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages enslaving the world to aliens, and of a six-minute alley brawl between him and his eventual sidekick (David).

Here is a link to quotes from the film. Here’s a link to Nelson’s short story, and here’s a link to the comic adaptation.

The short story and comic are a straightforward narrative about a covert alien takeover of the world, with little if any sense of the aliens being among the ranks of the upper classes. Indeed, one of the aliens in Nelson’s story is disguised as “a loveable old drunk,” implying a homeless wino. Other aliens (or “Fascinators,” as they’re called in the story) are the neighbours in the apartment of Lil, the girlfriend of George Nada, the protagonist. The only suggestion that the “Fascinators” could be rich is that Nada finds “no aliens on the subway…Maybe they were too good for such things.” (PDF, page 5)

It was Carpenter (under the pseudonym of “Frank Armitage,” the name of David’s character in the film and also an allusion to Henry Armitage, a Lovecraft character) who turned Nelson’s story into an anti-capitalist allegory critical of the 1980s Reagan revolution and its war on the poor. A key element, however, retained in Nelson’s story, the comic, and the film is how the aliens use the mass media to lull the world into passive compliance with the nefarious, world-destroying agenda of the aliens.

Indeed, They Live is amazingly prescient in how it portrays the insidious effects of Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism not only widening the gap between the rich and the poor, but also using the media to make us all passively accept our descent into ever-worsening alienation, submission to fascistic police, and mindless consumerism. The film grows more and more relevant with each passing year.

Though the anti-capitalist message should be so obvious that it doesn’t need comment, certain egregiously erroneous right-wing interpretations of who the aliens represent should be dismissed at the outset. No, they don’t represent a conspiracy of world domination by “the Jews” (capitalism, apparently, is only bad when they practice it, but when ‘good, decent Christians’ exploit the global proletariat, that’s perfectly OK [sarcasm]), or the Freemasons, or Big Government per se. Carpenter is very clear in his criticism of free enterprise, the “free market” that these right-wing morons all too often defend in their criticism of what’s wrong with today’s world. No, “small government” won’t fix our ailing society: a government that serves the people, rather than the rich, will fix it.

The film begins with Nada (Piper), a homeless drifter, walking into LA looking for work. His name is an interesting choice, being Spanish for “nothing,” and indeed, in the comic adaptation, when he dies at eight o’clock in the morning as predicted, we see the final panels showing his body decaying, being reduced to nothing, and him saying in the narration that he has become “…once…and…for…all…nada.”

As a personification of nothing, Nada represents the lumpenproletariat, thought by Marx and Engels to have no revolutionary potential, though some leftists today feel that people like Nada do have such potential…provided they are given proper guidance. When led astray, as the other Drifter (Flower) is, they can end up supporting the forces of reaction and even fascism.

Still, being “nothing” can paradoxically be everything from a dialectical perspective. We proletarian “nothings” can be everything if we come together in solidarity. Hegel’s dialectic, as expressed in his Science of Logic, finds the unity between being and nothing in becoming. In the course of this film, we certainly see Nada go on a journey from nothing to becoming something of the greatest importance.

After finding neither work nor food stamps in an employment agency, Nada walks by a park where he hears a blind street preacher (played by Raymond St. Jacques) warning his listeners of the aliens who are secretly controlling the world. He doesn’t mention aliens, so we assume at this point that he is simply talking about Satan and his demons.

The preacher is blind, yet he says the people’s enemies “have blinded us to the truth.” He is like the blind prophet Tiresias, who nonetheless could ‘see’ secret truths most people of his day could not see. This paradox of blindness vs. sight will be further developed when Nada sees through those black sunglasses.

The preacher speaks of our greed and, significantly, of “our owners,” which seems to anticipate what George Carlin would say in a rant, seventeen years after this film was made, about the real owners of the US, “the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.” Police arrive at the park to shut the preacher up.

We hear the preacher’s words in a voiceover as the camera gets a shot of TV screens in a store window that night, showing Mount Rushmore, a bald eagle in flight, a cowboy on a horse, and men who seem to be celebrating winning a basketball game. All-American stuff: a colossal sculpture by a man “deeply involved in Klan politics,” and which was done on a mountain promised to the Lakota Tribe; a bird of prey aptly symbolic of the imperialist country; cowboy stereotypes; and pleasure in competition. It’s all on Cable 54, a station whose significance will be seen later. Nada walks by as a dazed black man is watching the TVs.

Nada finds a job at a construction area. After a day’s work, he meets Frank (David), who offers to show him a place, “Justiceville,” where the city’s homeless can get some food. It’s significant that homeless Nada is rarely welcome in any private property or shelter, which is why some of us wish to abolish private property.

The friendship between Nada and Frank is strained throughout the film, their alley brawl being where that tension comes to a head. This tension reflects how worker alienation is rife in capitalist society.

Frank has a good heart, and he has a sense, as most of us do, that something’s not right in a society that allows the rich to trample on the poor. Nada, who will ultimately lead in the duo’s revolution, is at first still willing to “believe in America,” to follow the rules, to do a good day’s work, and to hope for better luck in the future.

Frank, in contrast, though full of justified anger at the unfair system, is afraid of rocking the boat, since he has a wife and two kids in Detroit to support. Frank is, as The Last Poets once said, scared of revolution. This fear, combined with how the manipulative media hypnotizes us all, is one of the main reasons the masses won’t rise up against the ruling class.

Nada, though pro-American at the beginning, is observant to the point of putting everything together quite soon. He notes the bearded hacker interrupting the mesmerizing TV programs to warn people of the dangers the blind preacher was speaking of in the park. He notes that the church across from Justiceville, where the meals for the homeless are prepared, isn’t what it seems: recordings of church singing drown out the voices of a resistance movement.

This church reflects a paradoxical thing about religion: usually the church is used to prop up the class status quo, which is presumably why it’s a good hiding place for this resistance movement; but every now and then, Christians actually engage in anti-capitalism, like the preacher and the other resisters.

Still, in spite of the resistance’s attempts at being clandestine about their plotting, they’re discovered by the fascistic police, who raid Justiceville one night, trash the place, and beat the preacher and the bearded man who warned about the aliens when the TV programs were hacked. Attacking a homeless community, the kind the Black Panthers would have helped: what could be a more naked manifestation of class war? As we see in this scene, whenever the ruling class is threatened by plots of revolution, they use fascist violence to keep the people in line. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a sham.

Ever-observant Nada, however, is putting all the pieces together. After helping a boy get safe in a shelter from the police–a shelter in which one of the homeless says, “Somebody start World War Three?”–Nada goes back to the church to take a box of something he discovered before, something the resistance deems important. Inside the box are pairs of black sunglasses.

The reference to WWIII ought to be linked to something the other drifter (later, a collaborator–played by Flower) has said earlier. He spoke of an “epidemic of violence,” “end of the world kind of stuff,” terrorists “shooting people, robbing banks.” He’s talking about the resistance, of course, but he never develops the class consciousness needed to understand the need for revolution. These references to WWIII, epidemic, and the end of the world, as much as they’re made in passing in the film, are nonetheless another instance of how prophetic They Live really is, when we consider how dire the situation is in our world in the 2020s.

Anyway, Nada hides the box of sunglasses in an alleyway trashcan after taking out a pair for himself. Soon enough, he’ll realize their significance.

A paradox about wearing them is how they make you see the truth, yet in a way, they also ‘blind’ you. Wearing them, he sees only black and white, a seemingly simplified world; and while he sees the revelatory subliminal messages, these messages are as simplistic as their black-and-white presentation.

What’s more, though they’re black sunglasses, they can be associated with the dark glasses a blind man wears. Like the preacher, Nada is ‘blind,’ yet he sees what most seeing people don’t.

The propaganda used to keep the masses in their place is, of course, often far subtler in real life than merely “obey,” “marry and reproduce,” “conform,” “no independent thought,” and “consume,” but much of what is presented in the media, the breads and circuses as well as the divisive propaganda to keep partisan-minded people loyal to this or that political party, is also simplistic, so the simplicity of the film’s black-and-white subliminal messages is fitting.

In today’s intellectually impoverished political discourse, critics of Biden are assumed to be Trump supporters; disliking both the red and blue parties seems to require a capacity for abstract thought far too complex for too many of today’s liberals. The same applies to ultraconservative Trump supporters, who claim that their critics must be DNC “commies,” a ridiculous pairing of labels as any I’ve ever heard. The same black-and-white thinking applies to the conservative vs. liberal (actually bourgeois) parties in all countries around the world.

What is, of course, the most shocking thing that Nada has to deal with is his seeing the aliens, as they actually look, for the first time. He stares in a daze at a middle-aged businessman whose face looks like a skull with his eyeballs popping out.

In Nelson’s short story, the aliens look reptilian, snake-like, with green flesh and “multiple yellow eyes,” speaking with “bird-like croaks” (PDF, page 1). Such a description reminds us of David Icke‘s reptilian overlord conspiracy theory, but Nelson’s story is not so overtly political. The aliens in the comic adaptation are colourful, many-eyed, and grotesque, but not at all reptilian.

Carpenter’s representation of the aliens’ appearance is the most sensible one. Properly understood to be symbolic of the capitalist class, the aliens with their skull faces are agents of death. The lack of lips and eyelids gives their faces a zombie-like lack of human expressiveness that is chillingly fitting for the purposes of this anti-capitalist allegory.

The endless pursuit of profit is a dehumanizing process, causing alienation among people and within them, alienating them from their species-essence. Not only are the people of Earth enslaved by the aliens and their ideology, but the aliens themselves are also thus enslaved, hence their reading of newspapers and magazines with the same subliminal messages. Capitalists don’t pursue profit merely because they like to; they are compelled to maximize profit because of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The wish for endless growth on a planet with finite resources is why capitalists are agents of death, and therefore why it is apt for the aliens to have skull-faces. Late stage capitalism is destroying the planet through climate change and endless wars; the US military, being the number one polluter in the world, is waging wars to ensure the sustained profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, etc.

The capitalists know they’re destroying the Earth, despite their denials and lies that ‘climate change is a myth’; they have underground bunkers to survive in when “the Event” happens, be it climate change, nuclear war, or American civilizational collapse in general. Small wonder the bearded man on the TV says, “Look around at the environment we live in. Carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, and methane have increased since 1958. Earth is being acclimatized. They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” Then he says the aliens will “deplete the planet, move on to another.”

Again, so there isn’t any doubt about who the aliens represent, resistance leader Gilbert (Jason) says it most explicitly. He says, “They’re free enterprisers. The Earth is just another developing planet. Their Third World.”

So, the aliens represent not only the ‘free market’ capitalism that right-wing libertarians idealize, they also personify imperialism. As we on the left understand so clearly, and try so hard to get the rest of the world to understand, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, exporting capital to other countries, expanding markets out there and hiring cheap labour from Third World countries to maximize First World profits, and fighting wars in a competition to keep the biggest slice of the pie. The aliens in They Live do this on an interplanetary level.

Nada is amused, but not surprised, to see (through his sunglasses) a politician on a wall-mounted TV who is an alien speaking of how we should “have faith in our leaders,” and be optimistic about the future, in a world as obviously bleak as it is in the film, and by extension as bleak as ours is now. One is reminded of, for example, Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020, when he spoke of America’s great economic recovery…then soon after, the whole economy came crashing down.

Nada’s shock at the sight of all these aliens, and the messages saying “obey,” etc., cause him to react inadvisably, making the aliens realize that he sees them as they really are. After fighting off and killing two alien cops, he takes their guns and tries to take all of them on alone.

He runs into a bank with a number of aliens among the humans, and he introduces himself by saying that iconic line (of Piper’s own invention) about bubble gum and kicking ass. As bad-ass as this scene is, we must understand the error he as a potential revolutionary is making: his spontaneous attack on the aliens is mere recklessness and adventurism. It’s thrilling to watch at first, but it ultimately ends in failure. Revolutions must be planned, organized, and timed well.

To escape his inevitable pursuers, Nada goes into a parking lot and kidnaps a woman, Holly Thompson (Foster), and has her drive him to her home. It’s interesting how when he gets out of her car at her home, two male neighbours (aliens?) of hers seeing them, he in those sunglasses looks rather like a blind man (recall what I said above about seeing and blindness). She is scared, but cooperative with him…and cunning in her private thoughts.

Inside her home, he finally takes off the sunglasses, which have been giving him a headache. Earlier, whenever the bearded man on the TV interrupted the Cable 54 broadcast to warn of the aliens, his viewers would get headaches after a short while of listening to him, too. Indeed, it’s painful and depressing for us to learn the truth about our oppression; TV shows and fashion ads are so much more comforting in the illusions of superficial pleasure they perpetuate for us.

Nada gets excited to learn that Holly works for Cable 54, knowing that that’s where the alien signal is coming from, and therefore he can get a chance to destroy the transmitter. He lets his guard down, and she smashes a wine bottle over his head, making him fall out of her window and down a steep hill. Calling the police with a cold look on her face, Holly reveals herself to be a class collaborator. Nada has lost his sunglasses in this incident: will she put them on, realize the aliens are controlling everything, and later redeem herself to Nada? Or does she already know about them, and is she collaborating to save her own neck?

To get a new pair of those sunglasses, Nada has to go back to that alleyway and find the box he hid there. He’s already seen Frank at the construction area, who is so shocked from having heard of Nada’s violence in the bank that he wants nothing to do with him. Still, Frank has a good heart, and he goes to the alley with a week’s wages to give Nada. Frank wants no part of Nada’s revolution, all the same.

Frank’s unwillingness even to try on a pair of the sunglasses shows just how adamant so many of us are even ‘to wake up’ and see the enormity of our ugly reality. In Nelson’s short story and in the comic adaptation, ‘waking up’ is a straightforward matter of coming out of the state of hypnosis that the ‘Fascinators’ have put the human race under. The story begins with George Nada coming a little too much out of the hypnotic state to be lulled back into it.

He must try to wake up the rest of the world, including his girlfriend, Lil, before eight o’clock in the morning, the time a ‘Fascinator,’ by force of suggestion, has determined for his death by heart attack. Since he does die this way at the end of Nelson’s story, it’s clear that even he isn’t completely ‘awake.’

So as with Frank, there’s plenty of resistance to ‘waking up.’ Lil, represented in the comic as a shapely, buxom babe, comes across as ‘asleep’ in the sense of having internalized a wish to attain all of society’s beauty ideals without question. Her female equivalent in the film, Holly, is similarly all given over to the aliens’ agenda, if at least more aware of their existence.

Being ‘awake’ versus ‘asleep’ in our world is far from being the simple dichotomy that it is in the film. Various factions in the left disagree as to what it means to be ‘awake’ to the reality of capitalism and on what to do about it. What’s the answer? Anarchism, Trotskyism, social democracy, or Marxism-Leninism? Leftist infighting has made it most difficult for us to rise up together and defeat the ruling class.

Though it isn’t really dealt with in the film, Frank as a black man is especially affected by the capitalism that the aliens personify. Still, he’s scared to ‘wake up,’ yet the need to ‘stay woke‘ has been given expression as a major issue for African-Americans ever since the 1930s. Further complicating matters has been the bastardizing of the term “woke” by the right, first in the capitalist exploitation of the term, and also by conservatives’ pejorative use of it, similar to their use of “politically correct.”

So as we can see, waking people up is a hard thing to do for blacks (Frank) and women (Lil), as well as for a number of other complicating reasons. Small wonder Nada has to fight with Frank for about six minutes in that alley, just to get him to put on the sunglasses.

The ruling class loves to have the people fight with each other, rather than join together in solidarity to fight the elite. The Western oligarchs would have us all hating Russia and China to distract us from the glaringly obvious problems in our own societies. So in the story, George Nada has to tie Lil up and take her car; and Nada and Frank beat the crap out of each other.

In the hotel, Frank, finally acknowledging the situation with the aliens, speaks of how they must have always been here, making us all hate each other. The alienation brought on by class conflict has led to the kind of parental abuse Nada suffered as a kid from his dad.

Gilbert finds Frank and Nada in the hotel, and he tells them of a secret meeting of those in the resistance. At the meeting, our two heroes replace their sunglasses with far more effective contact lenses. Here, Gilbert tells the others that they all have to be far more careful. The resistance movement is suffering because of such problems as adventurism. He advises the others to blend into society to avoid getting caught. Indeed, one must wait for a revolutionary situation before rising up. In the meantime, one must be patient and bide one’s time; they can strike when they find out where the hypnotizing alien signal is coming from.

Another big part of what makes revolution so difficult is how so many people sell out, as Gilbert explains to Nada and Frank. So many join the police, who have historically existed to protect the interests of the owners of private property. Many on the “left” sell out, like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the Squad, politicians who act as mere sheepdogs to lull American voters to elect right-wingers like Joe Biden, politicians that the mainstream media disingenuously claim are on the left.

Opportunism is so easy to give in to. People get promoted this way, get more money, and buy nice houses and cars. The resistance gets labelled as ‘commies’ by the cops in the film (and this is who they truly represent; though Carpenter is a liberal who has admitted to supporting [regulated] capitalism, he represents the left-leaning variety of the pre-Clinton years when ‘left-leaning liberal’ actually meant something). Now communists, by contrast to the opportunists, are those who “stand out in the rain,” as Michael Parenti once described them: risking their careers and even their lives as they combat capitalism.

Nada is pleased to see Holly appear at the meeting. He imagines she is remorseful for hitting him with that wine bottle in her home. It would seem that she has led the police to the resistance’s meeting…though the film so far has left her private intentions ambiguous, so we’ll see her opportunism fully revealed at the end.

Nada and Frank, the only members of the resistance to survive the police attack on the meeting, manage to get to the Cable 54 building, where not only the source of the hypnotic alien signal is being transmitted, but also where the aliens are having a banquet with their human collaborators. Here we see symbolically how the ruling class colludes with the world’s politicians and the mainstream media.

At this banquet, Nada and Frank are reunited with the drifter from Justiceville who was the most resistant to the bearded man’s warnings about the aliens on the interruption of the TV program. This drifter, so totally given in to the mainstream media’s mesmerizing (as are so many of us), has predictably become a collaborator, having traded in his dirty old clothes for a tuxedo. Being as empty-headed as he is, he foolishly gives Nada and Frank a tour of the building, thinking our two heroes are collaborators, too.

They reveal that they aren’t collaborators in a sound-proofed room next to the TV studio where the mesmerizing messages are given by two alien news anchors. (For ‘Cable 54,’ read ‘CNN,’ to give but one example.) The drifter/collaborator rationalizes his treason to humanity by saying, “it’s business…there ain’t no countries anymore…we all sell out every day.” (This last line was inspired by something a Universal Pictures executive said to Carpenter.)

There being ‘no more countries’ shouldn’t be misinterpreted as the NWO ‘one-world-government’ nonsense, except in the sense that the new world order that George HW Bush spoke of referred to the post-Soviet, neoliberal, capitalist-imperialist one, in which it has been the ambition of Washington DC to rule the whole world. It’s business…it’s capitalism.

Nada and Frank manage to fight their way to the roof of the Cable 54 building, assuming they can trust Holly, who has a concealed pistol and puts a bullet in Frank’s head. He was so scared of revolution, and now his wife and kids have no man to put food on the table. This has made revolution all the more urgent, though.

Finally, Nada knows he’s going to be shot either by Holly or by the men hovering by him in a helicopter. Still, he says, “Fuck it” after shooting Holly, then he puts two bullets into the transmitter before being shot himself. Waking people up to the reality of our capitalist masters isn’t a sufficient condition of our liberation, but it’s certainly a necessary one. The mainstream media must be disabled.

Arousing class consciousness, as symbolized by the world finally waking up and seeing all the aliens as they really look, is of course a much more complicated process than what we see at the end of the movie. Yet it’s astonishing to see how many people in the world either deny that capitalism is the problem (preferring instead to focus on identity politics), or believe that only “unfettered capitalism” is the problem (as Carpenter himself believes!), or believe that billionaires can be allowed to exist in socialist states, or believe that, fantastically, “real capitalism” doesn’t exist and has never even been tried (as the market fundamentalists delude themselves)! They live, right-wing libertarians, while you sleep…and don’t even know you do.

Still, just as Nada doesn’t live to see the revolution happen, many of the rest of us who are ‘awake’ are not seeing a revolution happen, either. And as with George Nada of Nelson’s short story and the comic adaptation, there is little time left to wake the world up and start that revolution. George had only until eight o’clock in the morning to set the stage for revolution: how much time do we Nadas have before climate change, nuclear annihilation, or civilizational collapse become our eight o’clock in the morning?

Will we live, or will we forever sleep?

Analysis of ‘The Fly’

I: Introduction

The Fly is a 1958 horror/science fiction film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann. It stars Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison, and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay was written by James Clavell, based on the 1957 George Langelaan short story of the same name.

The Fly had a mixed-to-positive critical reception on release, and it was a commercial success, boosting Price into a major star of horror films. Now, criticism of the movie is more uniformly positive. Two black-and-white sequels followed: Return of the Fly (1959), and Curse of the Fly (1965). A superb remake, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, was directed by David Cronenberg in 1986, with its own sequel in 1989.

Here is a link to quotes from the 1958 film, here’s a link to the complete script, and here is a link to the short story.

II: My Radical Reinterpretation

What ought to be emphasized about the story isn’t the notion of scientist André Delambre (Hedison) bring transformed into a fly-human hybrid, the result of a freak accident in his attempt to teleport himself (and, without his knowing, a housefly that got into his “disintegration-reintegration” machine), but rather what such a notion could be seen to symbolize.

What is far more apparent in the short story, if its contents are not naïvely taken at face value, is that its narration–by André’s brother François (played by Price in the film) in the outer frame, then in the middle by André’s wife Hélène (played by Owens in the film) as she tells it in a handwritten manuscript–is given by traumatized people whose reliability is in question.

The film relates the story in a manner implying that everything happened just as told, though, by the end, no proof survives of the more fantastic elements of the story. Still, there are subtle indicators, in the behaviour of François and Hélène, that suggest that affairs aren’t as they look on the screen, implying that the narrative unreliability of the short story has been translated to the cinematic medium.

In the film, François admits to having romantic feelings for beautiful Hélène; though she denies ever having paramours (or André having had them) to Inspector Charas (Marshall), we can easily regard her words as dishonest. Could there have been an affair between her and François, a result of workaholic André’s neglect of his family? Claims of a husband and wife being perfectly happy together can easily be dismissed as a façade.

III: Unconscious Guilt

It is insisted throughout the story that Hélène could have killed André only out of madness. Where could such a madness have originated? Guilt feelings over an affair? Families in France (where the short story is set), or in Montréal (where the film is set), in the 1950s would have been Roman Catholic ones, in which adultery would have been regarded as a serious sin (a sin compounded by a man betraying his brother and, as her son’s uncle, committing incest of a Hamlet-like sort). The mind tries to repress guilt as best it can, but the repressed returns to consciousness in unrecognizable forms.

In the case of this story, the return of the repressed has come in the form of imagining André as having his head and arm traded with the head and leg of a housefly. Such a hybrid symbolizes the bestial side of human nature. His experiments are done in the basement, symbol of the unconscious. In contrast, the ground floor of the house, the upstairs, and outside can be seen to correspond to the conscious mind and the world of superficiality, appearance, what only seems to be true.

IV: Appearance vs Reality

There is much to note in the contrast between the illusory surface and hidden reality in The Fly. The marriage of the Delambres only seems perfectly happy. Similarly, André seems to be the kind, gentle husband who’d never hurt an animal. Yet his workaholic obsession with his basement experiments means neglecting his wife and son, Henri in the short story, or Philippe (played by Charles Herbert) in the film. Furthermore, this supposed animal lover overconfidently and recklessly puts the family cat, Dandelo, in the teleportation machine and disintegrates it.

Hélène, after killing her husband, confesses to the killing with perfect calmness, though François and Charas conclude that she must be mad; indeed, in the short story, she even kills herself in despair. And when François answers the phone at the beginning of the film to learn that she has just killed his brother, he’s quite calm; whereas at the beginning of the short story, he speaks of being “uneasy” from telephones, having to restrain his agitation when answering them.

In fact, in Cronenberg’s remake, this theme of appearance versus reality is revisited in how Seth Brundle (Goldblum), upon emerging from the teleportation machine as “Brundle-fly”–far from being the shocking monstrosity André is with his fly’s head and leg for an arm–looks exactly the same as before on the outside–in fact, he’s also physically superior. It’s only later that we realize that Seth is a monster hiding inside, that inside showing itself more and more to the end of the remake.

V: Implausible Science

Now, this difference between the 1958 and 1986 movies brings me to a point that I hope will help explain the particular angle at which I’m interpreting the original movie and the short story. I don’t believe André has actually had his head and arm swapped with the head and leg of a housefly–I believe this transformation really is a fabrication of his wife’s mad imagination, just as Charas does. The reason for my disbelief should be obvious: the science behind the transformation is preposterous. Hardly anyone apart from Hélène even believes it!

How do a fly’s head and leg grow to the comparable sizes of a man’s head and arm, while the latter two shrink to the sizes of a fly’s equivalent body parts? How is the man’s intelligence maintained in the giant fly’s head, even if only temporarily? And how is there a comparable intelligence, enough to squeak “Help me!” because of an approaching spider, in the miniature head of the fly caught in the web?

Small wonder that in the 1986 remake, the writers wisely spread the fly’s DNA equally throughout Brundle’s body. Surely even Langelaan and Clavell realized that the swapping of heads and limbs, as given in their respective versions of the story, is unbelievable scientifically. Hence my contention that Hélène is genuinely insane, an insanity brought on by the trauma of her husband’s violent death, a suicide with her assistance (as she describes it). François is similarly addled by this trauma. I believe his confession of love for her provides the vital clue to the reason for their narratives’ unreliability, something easily maintained in prose writing, but not so easily translated onto the big screen, since we, the watchers of the movie, tend to have credulous eyes.

VI: Unreliable Narration, in the Text, and Onscreen

Though his confession of love for Hélène isn’t found in the short story, I believe there are plenty of subtle hints of an affair between him and her in Langelaan’s words, however carefully the two guilty ones try to tiptoe around any mention of their guilt. Such tiptoeing is also evident in the film, in their innocent conversations throughout.

I see the visuals of the film as representing their unreliable narrations, and since the film is largely faithful to the short story (except for such–mostly minor–changes as the setting, Henri’s name becoming Philippe, which of André’s arms is switched with the fly’s leg, his head being revealed as all housefly or as a mix of fly and the cat, whether or not Hélène kills herself, and whether it’s François or Charas who kills the fly in the spider web), I feel it isn’t too far out of place to assume that François is (unreliably) telling the outer frame of the story through visuals, and her telling of the inner narration, instead of writing it in a manuscript, is unreliable.

VII: The Telephone

I’ll come to those subtle hints of an affair later, as they arrive in the sequence of the plot. For now, I’ll start with François’s answering of the phone. In the film, he’s calm enough, though in the short story, this calmness disguises a terrible agitation from hearing the phone ring, especially in the middle of the night, as happens at the beginning.

The reason for his unease comes from a feeling that the caller is coming into the room, intruding on his private space, breaking into his home to talk right into his ear. It seems odd that the short story should begin this way, yet if one compares this transmission of a voice–instantaneously from one place, far away, to another–to the teleportation of whatever (or whoever) is in André’s “disintegration-reintegration” machine, such a beginning of the story, along with François’s agitation, becomes explicable. The one instantaneous transmission is associated in his mind with the other.

Recall that I don’t take the human/fly hybrid story literally; also, François is beginning a narration–one after the events of Hélène’s story have been made known to him–with a discussion of the, if you will, ‘teleportation’ of the human voice. This aural teleportation feels like a frightening intruder to him, like the intrusive fly in André’s machine, and like the human/fly monster he becomes, which is an intrusion into the lives of François and Hélène.

VIII: Nothingness

The pertinent thing about teleportation, like the instant movement of the human voice from here to far away, or vice versa, is the sense of no intermediate area for teleportation to move through. The displaced entity–be it a voice on the phone, or a plate, a newspaper, a cat, a guinea pig, or a man (mixed with a fly)–disappears, vanishes in the place of origin and reappears in the destination. That lack of an in-between route to travel through, that gap, feels uncanny, a land of nothingness. This gap, I believe, is what frightens François so much.

Similarly, when André’s body is discovered in the Delambre brothers’ factory, his head and arm crushed under the steam hammer, it isn’t so much the blood that is horrifying, but how the head and arm are so thoroughly flattened as to have been reduced to nothing. The hammer’s impact has been set at zero, a setting the drop is never given. François notes in the film that zero “means level with the bed”; such a setting “would squeeze the metal to nothing,” as has been done to André’s head and arm.

The purpose of this extreme setting is ostensibly to annihilate even the slightest hint of a fly’s head and leg, instead of André’s head and arm; I’d say, though, that it’s that very nothingness, revealed when the hammer is raised, in “the ghastly mess bared by the hammer,” that causes François (in the short story) to be “violently sick.”

IX: Resistance

When Charas questions Hélène about the killing of André, she is fully cooperative about explaining what she did, and in detail (except for her odd forgetting about having dropped the steam hammer twice, to crush his fly-leg/arm). She adamantly refuses, however, to explain why she killed him.

In the short story, François describes Charas as being “more than just an intelligent police official. He was a keen psychologist and had an amazing way of smelling out a fib or an erroneous statement even before it was uttered.” So his questioning of her puts him in the role of psychoanalyst, and her in the role of analysand. Her insistence that she cannot explain why she killed André can be seen as a form of resistance.

Of course, she eventually does explain why, but in the form of a bizarre monster story that hardly anyone can believe; certainly the science behind the story is so ludicrous that even Langelaan and Clavell must have had their own doubts about it, as I’ve explained above. This fly-human hybrid story must be a case of the return of the repressed in an unrecognizable form…but what could the fly-hybrid monster symbolize for mad Hélène? I’ll come to this soon enough.

X: The Gap In-between

It is insisted that her marriage with André was a perfectly happy one…but we are suddenly ‘teleported,’ if you will, from perfect marital bliss to her killing of him, and with the refusal of a proper explanation, except for this bizarre fly-monster story. Just as there’s a gap between the caller’s voice at one end of a phone call, and his voice heard by the receiver on the other end; and just as there’s the gap of the disintegration of what’s teleported at one end, and its reintegration at the other end; so is there a gap between the couple’s marital bliss and the killing…that dreaded, uncanny nothingness in the middle.

Above, I wrote of André’s basement laboratory as symbolic of the unconscious, where the “disintegration/reintegration” machine causes that in-between gap of nothingness. In the short story, the laboratory isn’t in his basement, but in a separate building right by the factory with the steam hammer. Now, the laboratory doesn’t have to be underground to represent the unconscious…or the “subconscious,” where Charas imagines the fly to have meaning for Hélène. Psychoanalysts don’t speak of the repressed as being ‘beneath’ consciousness, but as being unknown to consciousness, for the repressed comes right back to the surface and hides in plain sight, as it were. A fly is buzzing around, in the air, much of the time in the movie.

XI: The Lacanian Unconscious, and the Gap as Lack

In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of how “the Freudian unconscious is situated at that point, where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong…what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real–a real that may well not be determined…and what does [Freud] find in the hole, the split, in the gap so characteristic of cause? Something of the order of the non-realized.” (Lacan, page 22)

This gap is between cause and effect, like the gap between disintegration and reintegration, the empty space replacing a path on which something, otherwise not disintegrated and reintegrated, would travel, rather than be teleported, from A to B. This gap is also the Lacanian lack that gives rise to desire, and discovering what the desire is in this story is key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the fly.

XII: Freudian Slips

We must fill in this gap to determine what is being repressed, what is not being said or shown in the short story or the film, but what is rather hinted at through the occasional Freudian slip, or symbolic interpretation of whatever in the story is described as something otherwise mundane or in a matter-of-fact physical way.

One such a slip, as I see it, occurs when Henri/Philippe is not regarded by Hélène as her son. In the short story, François in his narration calls the six-year-old boy, his nephew, “the very image of his father”; but as I’ve said above, this narration is unreliable. Because of André’s death and Hélène’s declared madness, François has been made the boy’s guardian, in effect, his new father; yet any suggestion that he really is the boy’s father will be guiltily denied.

In the film, François even says to Charas, “She acts as if the boy were mine and not hers.” Charas speculates that Hélène is trying to protect her son, or that perhaps she fears or hates him, something François dismisses as an insane idea, and it is at this point in the film that Charas asks if François is in love with her, to which he immediately replies, “Yes.”

Why would a scriptwriter of Clavell’s obvious ability add this element to the story without developing it, if it didn’t serve much of any purpose? Note that François’s declaration of love comes immediately after a claim that Philippe is supposedly his son and not hers. Could he be her love-child by François in a love affair, one she feels so guilty about that, in her mad guilt, she denies her own maternity? The way the film ends–with François, in effect, as the boy’s new father, and Hélène having not committed suicide but being, also in effect, his new wife–looks suspiciously like wish-fulfillment. Such wish-fulfillment reinforces the visual presentation of the film as really being François’s unreliable narration.

XIII: Forbidden Desires and the Fly

Naturally, François rules out even the possibility of an affair with her by saying, “I don’t think she ever noticed me,” though a close look at Charles Herbert, the child actor chosen to play Philippe, looks more like he could be a son of Vincent Price than of David Hedison. Finally, during the scene when Philippe has caught the fly with the white head, and he sees his mother with his uncle, he is annoyed to be told by her to let the fly go; but as he is going outside and closing the front door, he looks back at her and his uncle with a split-second look of suspicion in his eyes, as if he sees the two adults acting a little too familiar at that particular moment.

That this suspicious moment happens on the very day when the heads and limbs of André and the fly are switched is significant. Here we come to the very symbolism of the fly. Male houseflies, during their short lives, have a voracious sexual appetite and are constantly on the lookout for females to mate with. In this we can see a symbolic link with my suspicions of a guilty sexual tryst between François and Hélène.

This guilt results in feelings of shame, disgust, and worthlessness, which can all be associated with houseflies. André’s constant preoccupation with his work, even to the point of writing out a new formula for teleportation on the program pamphlet to a ballet he’s supposed to be watching with his wife, means he’s emotionally neglecting her, which not only can drive her into the arms of his brother (who we already know is amorously infatuated with her), but which also makes André as worthless to her as a fly. So the exchanging of his head and arm with the head and leg of a fly is symbolic of this depreciation of his worth to her.

XIV: The Buzzing

With the guilt and shame that an adulteress feels, especially as one who, according to the short story, “had ever been a true Catholic, who believed in God and another, better life hereafter,” Hélène would have been desperately afraid of anyone finding out about her extramarital affair. Hence, her agitation whenever hearing the buzzing of a nearby fly.

Let’s recall the multiple meanings of the word buzz. Apart from the insect noise, buzz has been used to refer to the sound of telephones (remember in this connection the irritation François feels at the sound of a phone ringing), and also to refer to rumours. These additional meanings had existed long before the writing of the short story and the making of the movie. So her agitation at the sound of buzzing symbolically suggests her fear of gossip, or rumours from people knowing about her affair.

XV: Obsessions with Flies

Also, her nervous breakdown at the asylum after seeing a nurse swatting flies can be attributed to a triggering of her guilt over an affair that, in betraying André, reduced him to the worth of a fly, and so killing flies feels like a killing of him again. She also speaks of wanting François to destroy the white-headed fly if she tells him why she killed André; this contradiction suggests an emotional conflict in her–killing it kills evidence of her guilty affair, yet it also represents killing André again.

Now, she is not the only one to raise her eyebrows at the idea of houseflies. François, after hearing about her obsession with them, is curious to hear Henri/Philippe bring up the fly with the white head during lunch with the boy. Previously, Charas brought up her fly obsession immediately before he and François discuss her denial that the boy is her son, and François’s admitting he loves her. So we see here a significant juxtaposition of houseflies with the boy’s parentage and François’s love for Hélène: I don’t think this juxtaposition is coincidental.

XVI: Love Triangles, and the Remake

My speculation of a hidden, repressed love triangle between André, Hélène, and François can be seen overtly in the equivalent three main characters in the 1986 remake–respectively, Seth Brundle, Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (played by Davis), and Stathis Borans (played by John Getz). Brundle, knowing Ronnie has had a relationship with Stathis prior to her current relationship with him, gets jealous when he suspects that her reason for leaving him early to meet Stathis, when she’s supposed to be celebrating the recent success of his teleportation pods, is to get back together with Stathis. (Actually, she’s meeting Stathis to confront him over a veiled threat he’s made out of a jealousy of his own, over her new relationship with Brundle.)

And right when all of this jealousy is building, Brundle gets drunk, a fly is buzzing around, and both of them go into one of the pods to be teleported…and fused. Again, we have the juxtaposition of a buzzing fly with a love triangle; it’s as if the scriptwriting of the remake subliminally picked up on the veiled rivalry between the Delambre brothers and Hélène.

Another theme picked up from the 1958 movie and put into the remake is the relationship between external, illusory appearance and inner, hidden reality. When Brundle first comes out of the second pod, we of course don’t see a fly’s head and leg replacing his head and arm, but he looks as perfectly human as before. It’s only later, as his body parts start corrupting and falling off, leading climactically to the outer human shell all coming off and he’s revealed to be a giant bug, that we see he isn’t human anymore.

When Hélène begins telling François and Charas her story, in the film we see a scene of what appears to be the perfectly happy family. André is seen tickling Philippe, playing like a loving father, and all seems well. The shot is so ideal that it looks a bit too perfect. A hint already as to how things are actually not so good is in how André tells the boy he can’t play with him at the moment. It will become increasingly apparent that he is so obsessed with his work that he’s spending more time in that basement laboratory than with his family.

Yet another element shared between the 1958 and 1986 movies is the narcissistic grandiosity the inventor feels on seeing the amazing success of his teleporting machine. André boasts of having made the greatest invention since the wheel; he imagines that his “disintegration-reintegration” machine will allow food to be sent anywhere immediately, at minimal cost, thus ending world hunger.

Brundle’s narcissism is a bit different. On having unwittingly fused himself with the fly, he mistakenly imagines his pods have given him superhuman abilities: increased strength, agility, stamina, and sexual potency (recall what I said above about the sexual symbolism of the eager-to-mate housefly). Yet both André and Brundle are about to see their pride fall and crash.

With André, this fall is immediate upon his reintegration: we see no intermediate, transitional process–only the gap in between is understood to be there. With Brundle, however, the transitional process is slowly, agonizingly shown to us, inch by inch. We see his physical fragmentation, as well as his corresponding psychological fragmentation (against which he had only his initial narcissism as a defence), a fragmentation that’s a direct result of jealousy–a result I also see in André.

XVII: Fall of Pride

Now, André’s fall of pride upon reintegration as a fly/human hybrid should be seen as symbolic of his pride as an obsessive scientist and neglectful husband/father, which has led to Hélène’s affair with François (the shame of which, being too intense to bear, causes it to be erased from memory, repressed, and therefore never shown on screen or in the pages of the short story), and which has in turn led to André (as I imagine it) finding out about the affair, making him feel humiliated, cuckolded, and reduced to feeling the worthlessness of a fly. He kills himself.

Recall my association of Hélène’s incestuous affair with her brother-in-law with that of Hamlet’s mother and uncle. The notion of a fly’s worthlessness can also be associated with Hamlet in how the Danish prince derisively refers to foppish, buffoonish Osric as a “water-fly” (V, ii, 83).

The trading of André’s head and arm with the head and leg of a housefly reinforces this sense of worthlessness in how the head houses the brain, and either of the hands (the switched arms, remember, are different from short story to film) represents the skillful manipulation of scientific instruments and equipment with the hands, thus making his wife’s devaluation of him based on her dislike of his obsessive work, which has left her feeling so neglected.

XVIII: Nothingness and the Real

The nothingness of the gap between disintegration and reintegration represents more than just the repression of the unconscious. That void also represents Lacan’s Real Order, a traumatic realm where experience cannot be symbolized or expressed in language, because the differentials of the Symbolic Order (the realm of language, society, culture, etc.) no longer exist. Lacan called the Realimpossible,” just as Hélène calls André’s disintegration and reintegration “impossible.” Disintegration leads to a world of undifferentiated atoms, the Real (as experienced psychologically), Bion‘s O, Milton‘s “void and formless infinite,” or the Brahman of the Hindus. It’s nothing, yet everything; it’s heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara… ineffable.

XIX: Monstrosity

The hellish aspect of the gap manifests itself especially for André, in the short story, when he goes through the teleportation device again and reappears not only with the fly’s head, but with a mix of fly and the head of their cat, Dandelo! He’s now more bestial than ever, an aggravating of monstrosity that is paralleled in the 1986 remake when Brundle reappears as part man, part fly, and part teleportation pod.

This sense of the fly as representing self-hating monstrosity and worthlessness is intensified in Brundle’s “Insect Politics” speech, as well as in André’s sense of his brain deteriorating towards the end of the story. Ultimately, André’s self-hate, as symbolized in his monstrous transformation, drives him to commit suicide–as I reimagine it, by putting a pistol to his head and blowing his brains out, right in front of Hélène who, his laboratory being near the factory in the short story, has only to move the body a short distance to the steam hammer.

XX: Destroying Evidence of Suicide

As I see it, she needs to crush his head and arm (i.e., with the pistol in his hand, in order to destroy it, too) to destroy all evidence of a suicide that, if investigated, will lead to a revelation of her affair with François. Since her guilt has driven her mad, her faulty reasoning will lead her to believe that it’s better to be thought mad from delusions of a human/fly monster than to be known an adulteress with her husband’s brother (adultery and incest), driving André to suicide.

Her needing to use the steam hammer twice, because she forgot to put the arm (in my interpretation, holding the pistol) under with André’s head, represents her psychological conflict: part of her wants to be punished for her guilt in the affair by being found out, while the other part of her wants still to conceal that guilt. Later, she forgets the second use of the steam hammer out of a Freudian parapraxis, again, an expression of her conflict between wanting to be found out and wanting to conceal the guilt.

François’s own guilt over the same sin would have driven him over the edge, too, to the point of entertaining her fly delusion as true, to assuage his guilt. In this connection, it’s important to consider the ending of the story, especially in terms of how Clavell changed it from Langelaan’s short story. (Ironically, in the film François and Charas rationalize a conclusion to the case as, indeed, André’s suicide, freeing Hélène from guilt or commitment to an insane asylum. The reason for the suicide remains a mystery; she and François, thus, can privately entertain the fly-human hybrid story to help them forget the guilt of their affair.)

XXI: The Ending

The fly that is understood to be the one that got André’s head and arm is referred to as a fly with a white head. By “white head,” it’s assumed to be André’s head, though it’s never explicitly called such. In the film, we see a fly with a white spot on its head, and only in the scene with the spider’s web do we see a tiny human head and arm poking out of the web trapping the fly’s body, with the hybrid’s faint squeals for help.

Part of the reason for these differences, of course, is the limitations of the technology of the time; but I believe something else is going on. First, when François is sitting on the bench by the spider’s web, he doesn’t notice the squeals of the fly-human, begging anyone nearby to save it. They should be audible enough: after all, Charas later can hear them. François thus seems to be willingly deaf to its cries, part of his wish, symbolically speaking, to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his affair (in my speculation), and how it’s led to his brother’s suicide.

Later, when he and Charas see the fly about to be eaten by the spider, François can’t pretend it isn’t there. As a symbol of his guilt, the fly is something he cannot bear.

Now, an important distinction must be made: in the short story, it’s François who kills the fly, not Charas. As I’ve said above, I consider François’s narration to be as unreliable as Hélène’s, and that the film is their narration given in visuals. Having Charas kill the fly is thus, in my interpretation, François projecting his guilt onto Charas. Clavell’s changes to the presentation of the story are to give us an ambiguous way of thinking about it: is it an unreliable narration, or did the fly-human hybrid story really happen?

I believe François has hallucinated the fly with his brother’s head and arm, due to the stress of his guilt and what his beloved Hélène has gone through (and in his unreliable narration in movie visuals, Charas has shared his hallucination). Philippe/Henri, in this interpretation, has really only found a fly with a white head and leg, an ‘albino-like’ one, if you will, which his mother’s and uncle’s imaginations have turned into a fly/André hybrid.

Clavell’s changes to the short story included removing François’s opening narrative frame (and his dislike of ringing telephones); such an omission doesn’t prove he hasn’t been narrating, but only that we don’t see explicit proof of him telling the story. I believe that having Charas see the fly/André hybrid, thus opening up the possibility that outsiders have seen the proof of Hélène’s story–that what she has narrated is reliable after all–was Clavell’s way of making the story more intriguing: could this otherwise scientifically implausible story have happened, and should the audience just willingly suspend their disbelief?

I don’t think we should, or need to. The ending of the film, with François as Philippe’s new guardian, and with living Hélène present, comes off as wish-fulfillment for François. As with Claudius vis-à-vis King Hamlet and Gertrude, he got his brother’s wife, he can directly be a father to Philippe, and in his and her shared delusion, their folie-à-deux of the disastrous teleportation/fusion of André and the housefly, François can tell the boy that the lesson to be learned from his father’s death is how dangerous scientific experimentation, coupled with overweening pride, can be, rather than how dangerous incestuous adultery can be.

‘Chet,’ a Horror Short Story

Poppy, 23, in her apartment living room watching The Omen on Netflix, suddenly felt an urge to take a shit.

She paused the movie, just after the nanny, during Damien’s fifth birthday party, had finished calling his name from the window ledge. Poppy hurried over to the bathroom.

It felt urgent.

In fact, what was presumably a long, thick turd felt as if it were fidgeting in her rectum.

Please, God, she thought as she entered and approached the toilet. Get me there on time. I don’t wanna shit myself.

She pulled down her track pants and panties, sat on the seat, and let it out.

A huge plop splashed toilet water all over her ass. She felt too relieved to care. She let out a huge sigh.

Then something in the toilet water jumped up at touched her right labium.

“Ah!” she screamed, then jumped up, pulled up her pants, and looked back in the toilet bowl.

That was no brown log.

It was a slightly bluish-skinned, four-month-old fetus.

“What the fuck?” she said in a trembling voice.

It was growing, too.

Within seconds, it looked like a five-month-old fetus, having grown from six to ten inches long. It was male, with what looked like an upwardly-curved spike for a penis, and he was looking up at her with…hungry…eyes.

It kept growing.

How is this even possible? she wondered.

And those eyes with which he stared up at her just got hungrier and hungrier.

“I’ve gotta call Peter,” she whispered, then ran out of the bathroom to get her cellphone. She dialled her 24-year-old boyfriend’s number as she rushed back into the bathroom.

When she returned, she saw what now looked like a newborn baby trying to crawl out of the toilet.

“Oh, my fucking God!” she gasped.

As her phone rang for Peter, she’d put it down and picked up her baby. She put him in the bathtub, set the water to a comfortable warm, and cleaned the bits of her shit off of him.

Then she remembered to wipe her own ass.

Why won’t that bluish colour come off of his skin? she wondered as she, looking at the baby, washed her hands.

“Poppy? Poppy!” Peter’s voice shouted from her phone.

“Oh, shit,” she said, reaching for a towel to dry her hands. “Just a minute, Peter!”

As she was drying her hands, the baby let out a piercingly shrill scream. It was so loud, and unnatural for a baby to make (it sounded more like the shriek of an alien bird, or something), she was amazed the windows didn’t break. Her ears were in pain from it; she dropped the towel and plugged them with her fingers.

“Just a minute, Chet,” she said to the baby. Wow, she thought. How quickly I came up with a name for him.

“Poppy, come on,” Peter shouted from her phone, loud enough for her to hear. “What’s going on over there? What was that scream?”

“Just a minute, Peter!” she shouted back.

“What was that noise?” a woman shouted from next door, her fist pounding on the wall.

“Sorry, Mrs. James,” she shouted to her landlady. She picked up her phone. “Hello, Peter?”

“Finally!” he said. “What’s going on?”

“Get over here, now!” she said.

“OK, but what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t talk about it on the phone. Just get over here. Now!”

“OK, OK,” he said, then hung up.

He arrived at her apartment in ten minutes.

As soon as she heard the doorbell ring, Poppy, still in the bathroom and holding Chet in a towel swaddled around him, called out, “The door’s open. Come to the bathroom. I’ve got a big surprise for you.”

No sooner did he open the door than Mrs. James shouted, “Keep it quiet in there!” across Poppy’s bathroom wall from her apartment.

“Who was that shouting?” he asked as he approached the bathroom.

“My landlady,” Poppy said. “But check this out.”

When he reached the wide-open bathroom door, his jaw dropped open.

“So, this is the big surprise?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Where’d the baby come from?”

“My ass.”

“C’mon, don’t joke around. And why is it…kinda blue?”

“I haven’t any less foggy an idea about that than I do that I gave birth to him by shitting him.”

He looked at her with a sneer. “Umm, Poppy…are losing your fucking mind?”

“Probably.” A tear ran down her cheek. “All of this is…just…too fucking much for me to handle.” She began sobbing.

“You aren’t on drugs, are you?”

“No, I’m not fucking on drugs!” she bawled.

“Hey, take it easy, Poppy. I’m just trying to understand…”

“Keep it down in there!” the landlady shouted.

“Seriously, where did this…bluish baby…come from?” Peter asked, looking down at his crotch as if he could anticipate the answer for some mysterious reason.

“I told you,” Poppy said in sobs. “Look, nobody’s more aware of how crazy this…anal birth…sounds than I am, but I swear, that’s what happened. I can’t explain it, but that’s what really happened. Speaking of anal, remember what we did three nights ago?”

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh and a smile. “What fun.”

“For you, not for me. I agreed to it ’cause I love you and I wanted to please you. Did anything out of the ordinary happen to you by chance, just before we did that?”

His smile turned into a frown. He looked down at his crotch again. She looked at her smiling baby and smiled back at him.

“Well?” she asked, looking back at him.

“I, uh,…” he began. “On the way here that night, I stopped to take a piss at a tree about half-way between your home and mine. I couldn’t wait. As I was pissing, some glowing…blue…gunk dropped on the tip of my dick. I looked up and saw more of the gunk hanging on a tree branch.”

Blue gunk?” Almost all the whites of her eyes were showing.

“Uh, yeah,” he went on, still looking down at his crotch with shame. “It didn’t hurt, but I couldn’t get it off while I was pissing, so I had to wait ’til I was finished. When I was, I shook my dick and the gunk all fell off, but where it had touched my dick, there the skin was…bluish…like ‘Chet’ over there.”

She looked at her baby. They exchanged more smiles.

“I heard you say ‘Chet’ on the phone,” Peter said.

“Yeah, that’s his name,” she said, still looking at her baby with a loving smile.

“Why’d you name him ‘Chet’?” Peter asked.

“Well, he came out of my ass–and I suspect I now know why–and ‘Chet’ is the closest-sounding name to ‘shit’ that I could think of, without, you know, being mean.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

“Do you think that blue gunk was some kind of alien? Something from outer space, or something like that?”

“I guess that makes sense.”

I guess that makes sense,” she mocked. “Then you decided you wanted to fuck my ass without a condom?”

“I didn’t want you to see the blue spot on my dick.”

“Of course not! Getting off is far more important than showing consideration for your woman, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s just that…your asshole is so pretty-looking.”

“Aww, how sweet. Well, you’re a cute little asshole yourself, you know that? For fuck sakes, why do men have to be such perverts, wanting to stick it where I poop? Well, now you’re the proud anal father of a part human, part-alien baby!”

“How many times do I have to tell you to be quiet in there, Poppy?” Mrs. James shouted. “Maybe the threat of an eviction will do it! It’s past midnight!”

“Sorry, Mrs. James,” Poppy said. “What are we gonna do, Peter? We don’t make enough money, between the two of us, to raise a baby.”

“I don’t know. How can a baby gestate in a woman’s rectum?”

“Well, I guess glowing blue alien gunk can do that, Peter, especially after selfish guys fuck their girls in the ass when the blue gunk is on their unprotected dicks.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, still staring at his crotch. “I guess a screw tonight is out of the question, right?”

“Take a wild guess, Einstein!…Oops, gotta keep my voice down. What are we gonna do about Chet, though?”

“Well…I know this isn’t a very nice thing to do, but…couldn’t we just…expose him? I mean,…”

“What kind of a monster are you? I’m his mother…his anal mother, but still his mother. We’re Chet’s parents, whether you like it or not. His birth may have been…well…”

“Monstrous?”

She slapped him. “Peter, we should love him, in spite of how he came to be.” She looked down at smiling Chet, and smiled at him. “Look at his eyes. You love Mommy, don’t you?”

She saw his eager eyes looking up at her.

“Are they loving eyes…or hungry eyes?”

“Peter! He loves me.”

“I’m not sure of that, Poppy. Those eyes look creepy.”

“You’re just finding excuses not to take responsibility.”

“And you’re letting your maternal instinct blind you.”

Blind me? To what?”

“To a danger,” Peter said, shuddering. “Something in his eyes.”

Now Chet was looking at him…hungrily.

“You’re imagining things, Peter. Just ’cause he’s part alien…”

Chet opened his mouth to reveal not only teeth with serrated, sharp edges, but also a long, snake-like tongue that flew out and wrapped itself around Peter’s neck.

Poppy screamed.

Chet’s tongue tightened around Peter’s neck with amazing strength. He choked and gasped for air, his fingers trying to get Chet’s tongue off of him with desperate futility. In fact, the tongue was so strong, it was pulling Peter’s head closer and closer to those sharp teeth.

“No, Chet, no!” his mom screamed. She had no way to deter or punish her son; hitting her baby was unthinkable…but what could she do?

Besides, Chet might attack her next.

She put the baby down and reached for Peter’s neck. As she tried helping Peter loosen the tongue on his neck, she looked back at Chet.

“Chet, stop it!” she said, remembering to keep her voice down. “This is Daddy. You mustn’t hurt Daddy.”

She couldn’t believe how strong Chet’s tongue was. It remained crushingly tight around Peter’s neck.

A few seconds later, it crushed his neck and snapped it.

Peter’s body fell to the floor.

Poppy gasped, then stopped herself from screaming just in time. Her hand was on her mouth; her eyes agape.

Chet’s tongue slithered off Peter’s neck and recoiled back into his mouth. Chet looked down at Peter’s bare left arm. He opened his mouth to bare those saw-like teeth again.

Poppy was frozen in the same position, except for her ceaseless shaking.

Chet took a big bite out of that arm. Blood sprayed in all directions.

Poppy yelped and ran out of the bathroom. She shut and locked the door. Sobbing, she put her ear to it. She winced as she heard his gluttonous chewing.

This isn’t happening! she thought. How could this be happening? Am I dreaming? When am I going to wake up from this?

After several more minutes of chewing, which sounded like a ghoulish mukbang, it stopped. Poppy listened more intently. Her heart was pounding.

Silence.

Her face was soaked in tears. She kept listening.

Silence.

Then she heard the pitter-patter…of big feet?

More like pounding than a pitter-patter.

Had he grown quickly again?

The powerful first banging on the door suggested a yes answer to that question.

She backed off as she saw the door shake with each hit the boy gave it.

How could a baby get so strong so quickly?

When it’s part-alien, turd-baby. That’s how, apparently.

Poppy moved a big chair from the living room over to the bathroom door to keep Chet from ramming it open. He kept bashing at it, though. He was relentless.

She ran over to the kitchen and got a big cleaver from one of the drawers. The bashing on the bathroom door continued. She was convinced that Chet was getting stronger. As she walked out of the kitchen, she heard a ramming that sounded unmistakably like the breaking of wood.

Had he broken through the door?

Was Chet outside of the bathroom now?

Poppy ran for the bedroom, hearing his thumping footsteps from…somewhere. She got in and locked the door. She stood at the door and waited in the darkness.

There was no banging on the door.

Was he there, or…

…in here with her?

She looked around the room slowly, dreading what she’d see. The light was off, but enough light from an outside street lamp, combined with her eyes’ adjustment to the dark, allowed her to see what was in the room.

She looked down behind her.

She saw a naked boy with the appearance of a one year old. Standing, and with his face soaked in Peter’s blood, he looked up at her…lovingly?

She screamed and ran into the closet, closing the doors behind her. She heard the approach of his thudding feet.

His hand pounded, again and again, on the left of the closet doors.

Stupid! she thought as the pounding continued. He broke through that strong bathroom door. He can break through these doors so much more easily. I should have run outside and called for help. But I’m freaking out so much that I can’t think straight.

He punched a hole through the closet door.

She screamed.

He reached in, searched for her, and found her left leg. He grabbed it, just under the knee.

“No, Chet!” she screamed. “Don’t hurt Mommy!”

His strong grip on her leg was tightening. His other hand grabbed the door he’d punched the hole in, his little fingers slipping through the crack between this door and the other, and yanked it open with amazing strength. The yanking back, however, meant he’d hit himself with the door, making him let go of her leg and knocking himself to the floor on his back.

The pull of his hand on her leg before letting her go made her lose her balance and fall on the floor beside him. Before she could get up and run, he grabbed her by the arm and held her with a bruising tightness. Then his serpentine tongue flew out, latched to her T-shirt, and pulled at it.

“Chet, no!”

Again, with that superhuman strength, the tongue tore the shirt open, revealing her bra-less breasts.

The baby pulled his tongue back in, stared hungrily at that pair of large, shaking beauties, and licked his lips.

She just looked at those carnivorous, sharp teeth and thought, and to think I was planning on breastfeeding him before Peter got here.

Chet pulled on her arm to draw her chest nearer to his hungry mouth. She resisted with all her strength.

“No…Chet…please…Don’t bite…Mommy’s…tits off.”

The infant’s tongue flew out again, wrapping itself around her other arm and pulling her closer.

That other arm had the knife, though.

Those serrated teeth were inching closer to her right nipple.

She knew what she had to do.

But she just couldn’t kill her baby.

Chet’s mouth was just a few millimetres from that nipple now. Those sharp teeth of steel were almost touching it. He took a few hard bites in the air, just barely missing it.

She raised the cleaver, ready to stab…

…but she sliced off the tongue instead.

Blue blood sprayed everywhere. Chet let go of her other arm and rolled back, smacking into the far wall by the window. The severed tongue still clung to her arm like Krazy Glue.

Chet let out another shrill scream; her eardrums felt as if they were being slashed open.

“Goddammit, Poppy!” her landlady shouted. “This is your last warning! Be quiet, or I’m kicking you out of this building!”

Poppy ignored the warning. All her attention was on the look of malice in Chet’s eyes. It was unmistakable.

He hated her.

He wanted to kill her…and she knew why.

She’d rejected him.

She’d hurt him.

She didn’t love him (or so he thought).

His tongue was still dripping blue blood.

His eyes were locked on hers.

“Baby,” she pleaded between sobs as she held that knife firmly in her hand. “Please, don’t make Mommy kill you.”

Chet ran at her, his mouth wide open to bite.

She raised the cleaver.

Using it on him was still the most hateful thing in the world to her.

Should I just let him kill me? she thought. Better than me killing him.

He was halfway at her now.

But if I’m dead, who’ll take care of him? she thought.

Close enough to her, he let fly what was left of his still-long tongue and wrapped it tightly around her neck. Her hand, on his torso, kept him from getting any closer…except for that amazing strength he had, forcing her to bend her elbow and let him inch closer and closer.

That tongue’s pressure on her throat was painful and bordering on crushing. The hand that held the cleaver made it impossible to hold the tongue and loosen its grip.

She had no choice.

Those teeth were getting closer and closer to her face.

He was taking bites at it, the teeth making a sound like clapping pliers.

She plunged the knife into his neck, spraying blue blood all over her and making his body loosen and slump. The tongue let go, too, falling limp on her chest.

She coughed for several seconds, needing a while to reorient herself and stop from shaking all over. When she did, her heart having slowed down and stopped pounding, she finally looked down at Chet, splattered with blue blood, lying sprawled on the floor between her legs, his tongue hanging out like a dead snake from his wide-open mouth, and his open eyes looking away from her, seeing nothing.

She picked up his lifeless body, cradled it in her arms, let a few tears roll down her cheeks, then took in a deep breath. Her bawling came out in scream after scream.

“That’s it!” the landlady shouted. “I’m coming over there!”

As Poppy continued bawling, her teary eyes squeezed shut, she never noticed the tiny, blue, insect-like things crawling out of Chet’s neck wound. Her grief made her oblivious to the tickling sensation of hundreds of those little aliens crawling up her arms and onto her exposed breasts. Only when she felt the sting of thousands of little bites did psychological pain change to physical.

Her screams were so loud that she couldn’t hear Mrs. James’s fist pounding on her front door. Yet even if she could have heard the pounding, it would have made no difference, for those bites had already cut deep into her chest and arms, annihilating her breasts and exposing her arm bones and rib cage.

The mixture of his and her blood poured a lake of purple all over and around their dead bodies.

The landlady stopped banging on the door. “So, the noise has finally stopped, eh?” she shouted, fumbling through her keys. “For the moment, anyway.” She found the key to Poppy’s room. “Well, I’m gonna find out what the hell’s going on in there…” As she fit the key in the keyhole, she turned the doorknob, only to find it unlocked. “Oh, I didn’t need the key at all.”

She opened the door to find no one in the living room area. She walked in and looked around.

“Poppy? Where are you?” She noticed the paused movie on the TV. The nanny had hanged herself, her body crashing against the window. “Oh, how horrible.”

Mrs. James walked through the living room area over to where the bathroom and bedroom were. She saw the chair pushed away from the bathroom door, where she naturally took notice of the hole punched through the bathroom door. She scowled at the sight.

“Poppy, you’re gonna pay for my door!”

Then, she looked through the hole and saw some blood on the floor.

“What the…? Poppy, what are you doing in…?”

She put her hand through the hole and unlocked the door, then after opening it, she saw Peter’s bloody body, with bites all along his arm and a few bites from his stomach.

“Oh, my God!” she screamed.

She listened for several seconds in the ensuing silence.

Did Poppy bring a wild animal in here? she wondered.

Now she heard faint shuffling noises from the bedroom.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered as she crept from the bathroom to the bedroom with the most reluctant dread.

She tried opening the bedroom door, but found it locked, too.

Good thing I have all the keys to the apartment with me here, she thought, fumbling around for a skeleton key on the keychain. Or is it a bad thing?

She couldn’t have unlocked that door with any more reluctance.

She looked around, hearing the shuffling noises. The light was off. The darkness hid Poppy…and whatever else was in the room. She saw only Poppy’s hand lying on the floor; only it wasn’t shrouded in shadow.

Mrs. James reached for the light switch, knowing she wouldn’t like what she was about to see.

CLICK.

The only flesh remaining on Poppy’s skeleton was on that hand.

A colony of hundreds of creeping, blue, ant-like things was all over the floor around Poppy’s skeleton and Chet’s corpse.

Mrs. James let out a scream so loud, it made all the noise Poppy and Chet had been making seem like whispers.

A few neighbours called out to tell Poppy to be quiet.

They got their wish soon enough, though.

The first of the bites were on the landlady’s throat.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Twelve

A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’

To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. His only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.

“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.

“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”

“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!

“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”

“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!

She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away.”

“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!

“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”

“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!

“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”

“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”

“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.

“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!

“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.

Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. Could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?

“The time has come for us Bolshivarianss to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”

They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead.

“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened, but aggravated, struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”

Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.

Oddly, though he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.

He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.

“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that to Peter could only be described as genuine.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning.

On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.

“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.

Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”

You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.

As will we, Peter, the energy of Peter’s parents vibrated throughout his body.

“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”

No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”

“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”

“It seems that way,” he said.

“Any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him.

“No.” In fact, he’d never felt better.

“Then stop worrying about it.”

“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“

“Oh, please, Peter!”

The little lights were all outside now.

She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.

The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.

“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.

“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.

How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.

“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”

All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.

Every single person was grinning.

THE END