A moan starts way back in my throat, losing velocity through a constriction of choking knots. I crumple like paper, lowly lowering a heavy head to the truck’s warm bonnet. The engine is switched off and door hinges creak. Kristine’s hand squeezes my shoulder tentatively. I feel her body mould to my hunched posture in an awkward hug.
The cooling metal under my face ticks slowly; counting restless fears jostling for head space. The spreading infection of our insanity is strengthened by this pitiful embrace.
Quiet, furtive movements in the tray break our indecisive limbo. We separate; gathering ragged sanity around us, like a torn cloak well past its usefulness, retained for the sake of appearances.
I bend to pick up the pistol, holding it carefully by the barrel as we move to the tailgate. I consider the young beauty hatefully. My hand is slow to holster the gun. Kristine watches tensely, ready to protect Shanna from harm.
She reads my thoughts like a large print book.
“Don't hurt her, Sam. Whatever you do to her, you do to me.”
“Life’s never going to get boring with you around, is it Krissie?”
She holds in a slightly hysterical hiccup of a laugh and rubs my arm affectionately.
Shanna is regarded with far more tenderness.
“It’ll be alright now, Shanna.”
That prediction has doubtful foundations.
Shanna's darting eyes watch us, devoid of emotion. It’s not recognition that causes her to lock a gaze on Kristine.
A stop-gap measure comes to me by degrees, shouldering past the impotent desire to eliminate the threat. We have a prison at our disposal. Containing an alien creature that has taken up residence inside your room-mates girlfriend shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
“There’s the infirmary. A stretcher with tie down straps should hold her.”
Kristine nods ascent at the hasty transportation plan. She’s not likely to leave me with Shanna so I volunteer to get the gurney. Before leaving I take her wrist and slap the pistol butt against her palm, with a pointed nod at Shanna. A frown darkens Kristine’s forehead but she grips it and pushes me away, toward the entrance.
“Hurry up, it’s getting dark.”
I have noticed the shadows lengthening.
I jog to the infirmary, latching back doors on the way. The nearest stretcher is motored back at high speed. The outer doors open with a crash of the gurney coming through. Kristine rises from the lowered tailgate. The pistol lays unattended nearby. She’d been cradling Shanna’s head in her lap.
They say love is blind but this is ridiculous.
I clamp lips in a disapproving frown and bang the gurney into the ute’s side.
Kristine unapologetic glare dares me to abuse her the same way. We drag Shanna onto the gurney where I strap her down very tight with the wide leather chest and thigh restraints. Kristine opens her mouth to object but I break in angrily.
“I’m not taking any chances. You want my help, she’s gotta be tied down at all times. Hosts don't feel pain anyway.”
Kristine is unhappy to be reminded what we are dealing with. Instead of arguing she closes up, running her fingers through Shanna’s long blond hair.
I shake off the building jealous anger.
Kristine trundles our patient back into the facility while I lock up behind. The ritual no longer brings comfort. The enemy is locked inside with us.
The infirmary is an inspired choice. It has a separate trauma room where serious cases can be treated in a clean-room environment. I classify this as a serious case.
The emergency lights are dim. I look over the many shadowy pieces of expensive equipment arranged around the walls and wonder if, and how, I intend to use them. At this second I’m only interested in closing the Parasite within the glass walls. If it manages to escape this body I don't want it running around loose.
A sigh is released as I fall into a nurse’s chair to work out the next move. Kristine beats me to the punch.
“Can you get the power on in here, Sam?”
“Yeah. There’s a circuit board in the main corridor. You’re not going to do anything silly while I’m gone are you?”
“Like what? Everything’s going to be fine.”
She turns away, missing my disgusted expression.
It takes several minutes of trial and error to track down the power circuits I want. Accidentally lighting up the building’s exterior like a Christmas tree will have undesirable consequences. Banks of fluorescent lights blink and fire up along the corridors. Air-conditioning vents rattle and begin to blow cool air. A plethora of office equipment powers up around me. I hear the beeping and chiming of self-checks and wonder how my own status would show up if similarly examined.
I decline to delve that deeply into myself.
Shuffling back to the infirmary, with all the enthusiasm of a child visiting the dentist for a filling, only delays the arrival by another minute. Long enough for Kristine to have loosened Shanna’s chest restraining strap. She is speaking to Shanna’s unsmiling face as I silently enter. Shanna’s attention slides from Kristine’s face and fixes on me. Kristine turns her head too. They both see the fear tap-dance along my spine.
Somehow I don't run away.