We relinquish our still-life poses and put Target’s meat-market behind us. Cricket guides me along a less travelled avenue towards Myers. The interior of this sector is unlit by sky lights. The shadows collect and deepen, though Cricket’s pace does not slow.
I balk at unseen objects that graze me in the dimness and then jump to Cricket’s Host’s eyes to borrow his enhanced vision. The Parasite has overridden the Host’s irises and the dim shapes it picks up is better than my blind navigation.
I jump back to my head and try rearranging the shape of my own eyes. The strain tears something and I remind myself a Parasite has repair capabilities beyond mine. It can damage its Host in ways I may not so easily recover from. As if to reinforce this insight, I blunder into an object, striking my kneecap on a dull edge and my already bruised testicles into something pointy. At this point I give up forging my own path and allow Cricket to lead.
We traverse the dark shop-floor and clump up another out-of-work escalator. A cheerful, luminous sign, lit by a single candle, offers cheap furniture, bedding and mattresses. I suppose the place they’ve chosen to breed us is apt.
A very large pile of shed clothing is heaped along this escalator. Nudists only after this point? I choose to remain clothed for the moment. My eyes are adjusting to the dark and my nose works overtime. The smell of this place is funky with sweat and body fluids. A bit like my bedroom back home before Kristine cleaned it up.
That reminds me. Kristine! I wonder if she’ll be missing me yet; although this mornings’ departure was not so long ago. My inexplicable disappearance will not improve her mental state, even though she’s already about as low as a person can go. There’s not much I can do about her troubles at this point. The drugs I left will tide her over until tomorrow. After that, she’s on her own.
Guilt should be rapping hard knuckles on my skull, yet all I feel is resentment. She’s lying in bed, stoned out of her mind; and here I am, in the bowels of a Parasite encampment, scared out of mine.
Should it be this dark? A bare minimum of candles flare at random placements, but their illumination is swallowed by the grey shroud of that mind-fog. Perhaps the Second-sight I use is detrimental in here? Shutting it down reveals surroundings that emerge from lesser shadows.
The preview Cricket showed me of this place is confirmed. In the islands of flickering candlelight I see the entire furniture display floor has been rearranged. Someone has used the available furniture to make hundreds of semi-private cubicles. I presume each partition contains a bed and an occupant. And judging from the sounds of soft moans and the creaking of springs, several are in use by more than one person.
I find myself standing close to a rather fat, very naked woman who is asleep. She sprawls across rumpled sheets, partially obscured by the furniture that segregates her bed. The reclining nude wakes and groggily reaches for a tin of food from a bedside table. My stomach responds to the crack of its lid and I’m instantly ravenous. The needs of the stomach retreats upon watching her eat. Holding the can close to her mouth, she digs into it, using fingers as a spoon. She chews with bulging cheeks and her heavy-lidded eyes blink at me while juice drips down her chin.
I sneak into her mind to check if a Parasite is in residence. There are traces, but it is gone now. But not before it rewired her in some way. She is incessantly stimulated by a sexual desire that only food and sleep have priority over. And it would appear she has just satisfied two of her needs.
“I’m ready for you.”
I jump out of her head, perplexed.
“Huh? No thanks, I was just looking?”
My refusal confuses her. She mustn’t get many knock-backs.
“Has it gone soft? I can make it hard.”
Cricket is looking at me, and I swear his eyebrow rises a touch.
“No, no, it’s not that I can’t... umm, have you got any idea what’s inside the David Jones store?”
She blinks a few times at the question.
“Lie down; I’ll make it hard so you can put it in me.”
She pats the grubby sheet. It’s no good. I can’t get through her overriding mind-fog. I decide to remove its influence and bring her out of its spell. I bulge my shield outwards to encompass her body, and present myself with a fresh and immediate problem.
“Ohhhh. Who are you? What’s going on? I haven’t got any clothes on! HELP! HELP!”
I quickly jerk the shield away. The mind-fog enfolds her, placating the panicked woman with a heavy-handed suppression.
“Ohhhhhhhh. I feel so tired... can’t think...”
We tip-toe away, letting her be lulled back to sleep. The can drops from her pudgy fingers, spilling green string-beans across the garbage strewn floor.
Before we get two steps I’m accosted again.
“Heeeey! I know your voice. How come you aren’t all doped out like the rest?”
Oh, God. It’s that idiot that lost me my knife.