Continuity

And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

–Revelation 9:6

Resting a hand against the mossy stone, he pulled himself up the uneven steps. It had been slow going at first, but the movements were gradually becoming more natural, and the tingling sensation that had filled his entire body was almost gone now. Growing short of breath, he paused and leaned back against the cold stone wall, sliding down to his haunches. He closed his eyes and listened to surge and crash of the surf along the rocky coastline below. He took a long, deep breath, and the smell of brine mixed with the lingering metallic taste of blood.

Awakening again, he recommenced his journey up the steps. As he came to the top of the cliff wall, the rugged rocks gave way to a manicured lawn and a building with tall tinted windows. Tossed about in the morning wind, his stained shirt and dirty hair made him look like some twisted creature rising for vengeance.

Losing strength again, his legs buckled, and he sank to his knees. Feeling the matted grass under his palms and between his fingers, he met eyes with someone on the other side of the glass. Her eyes widened, and she covered her mouth with her hands. Others turned to see what she was looking at, and in a moment, they were rushing out the door and surrounding him.

“Dale!” said a man. He was large, middle-aged, and muscular. “Dale, are you okay? Where have you been?” He pulled him up by the arm and placed it over his shoulder.

“Dale,” came the reply from dry lips. “My name is Dale.”

“Get the door!” said the muscular man to the others. A minute later, Dale was sitting on a couch with his back to the windows. The woman knelt in front of him and put a hand on his face.

“Dale, are you alright? Come on, Dale. Talk to me.” She snapped her fingers in his glazed eyes. Blinking, he turned and looked her in the face. Round and smooth like a porcelain doll.

“Hi,” he said.

She smiled slightly. “Hi, Dale. What’s happened to you?” Someone gave her a wet cloth, and she started dabbing his face with it.

“I…don’t know.”

“Where have you been? We’ve been worried about you!”

“I was down…by the water.”

The muscular man pressed closer and ran his fingers through Dale’s hair, inspecting his scalp.

“I don’t see any wounds,” he said.

“But look at all of the blood!” said the woman.

The muscular man unbuttoned his shirt and ran his fingers over his chest and stomach. He then pulled his shirt down from his shoulders and did the same on his back.

“Nothing. Not a scratch.”

“Dale,” said the woman, “Dale, is this your blood or someone else’s?”

The door opened again, and a couple of the others ran outside and down the stone steps. Dale looked down at his arms, as if recognizing the blood and dirt for the first time.

“I…don’t know,” he said. “I…think it’s mine.”

They washed out the cloth in a stainless steel sink and started wiping blood and dirt off of his arms and chest. A few minutes later, the others returned from outside.

“This was down by the water,” said a woman. She held out a broken picture frame and the soiled photograph that had been in it. Everyone was silent for a while.

The muscular man started examining his scalp and torso again. “Do you think he fell down there?” he asked.

“It appears so,” said the doll-faced woman.

“The nanobots must have repaired him. Amazing.”

Nanobots. Yes, nanobots.

“He’ll be thirsty.” One of the others poured a glass of water and handed it to the doll-faced woman. She took it and placed it in his hands, closing his fingers around it. “Here, Dale. Drink.”

Dale sipped the water, and it cooled his parched throat, washing the sticky film out of his mouth. He finished the whole glass and handed it back to the doll-faced woman.

“I don’t remember.”

“Don’t remember what?”

“You.” He looked at the muscular man. “Any of you. I know I should, but I don’t.”

The doll-faced woman pulled his face in close to hers. “Dale, you don’t remember me?”

“No.”

“Isn’t that his phone on the counter?” asked the muscular man. He grabbed it and put it on the armrest beside Dale. It projected some holographic controls that the muscular man took hold of, and an image of Dale’s body appeared in the air above it. He magnified Dale’s head and brought up a cutaway image of the inside of his brain.

“Dale, I’m Larissa. Larissa. Don’t you remember me?” Dale looked back at her blankly.

“No trauma,” said the muscular man. “Everything’s normal.” He looked at Dale in disbelief.

“Well, look at the last eight hours of history” said the doll-faced woman. The muscular man displayed a time-lapse progression of all activity, and some of the others inhaled suddenly in shock.

“There it is,” he said, pointing to red, orange, and yellow blotches in the display. “Look at all of that trauma. It looks like he fell off the edge at 12:48 a.m.”

“You mean he fell from the top?” asked the woman with the picture frame.

“That’s what it seems,” said the muscular man. “It seems his head was just about split in half.” He returned to the display of Dale’s current status. “He’s fine now, though.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Should we call an ambulance?”

The muscular man did a quick scan of the rest of his body. “Actually, I would have to say no. He’s completely healthy. No warning signs. Not one.”

“But a doctor should have a look at him at least, right?”

“The nanobot network gives a more accurate diagnosis of his overall condition than any doctor could.”

“What about his memory, then?” asked the woman with the picture frame.

“Well, the nanobots can restore tissue, but restoring memory is a different game altogether.”

Larissa touched the mixture of blood and dirt on the side of Dale’s face. “Come on,” she said. “You should take a shower.”

She took him into a bedroom and pulled some fresh clothes out of the closet. After pulling off his shirt, shoes, and belt, she turned on the shower and set the temperature.

“There you go,” she said. “Are you going to be fine on your own?”

Dale nodded.

“Well, your clothes and towel are by the sink there. Don’t take too long.”

After she left, Dale undressed completely and got into the shower. He thought about changing the temperature, but it was just right. He wet his hair, poured some shampoo, and started scrubbing out the sand and blood.

*

Ms. Westhouse was still clutching the photograph she had brought back from the water’s edge. “This has been an eventful morning, I must say.”

Paul pulled a pitcher out of the refrigerator. “Dale squeezes his own orange juice. Have some.” He poured a glass for himself, Larissa, and Ms. Westhouse and her associates. Larissa returned from the bathroom.

“He’s in the shower,” she said.

“Let’s keep the bio display up to keep an eye on him,” said Paul.

“Right,” said Larissa, and she opened the holographic display on Dale’s phone again.

“Yes, Ms. Westhouse, it has been an eventful morning, to be sure. However, I hope you don’t lose faith in our company due to an unfortunate accident.”

“On the contrary,” said Ms. Westhouse, “the events of this morning have shown that this is a technology that is ready to be fully implemented and put on the market.”

Paul sipped his orange juice carefully. “So you will make the investment?”

“Most definitely,” she replied. “Whatever limitations may still exist, I have full faith in the current capabilities of your product and in your ability to continue improving on it.” She sipped the juice. “Mmm. Quite good. You’ll be hearing from my people.” She placed the glass on the counter and turned to leave. “See to your friend. Keep me updated on any lasting effects that the injury may have on him. We’ll see ourselves out.”

*

Coming out of the bathroom, Dale stopped at the sight of the muscular man sitting on the bed.

“Hi,” said Dale. “Where’s Larissa?”

“She’ll be back in a minute.” He stood up and came close to Dale, looking him in the eye. “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Dale pushed past him and sat on the bed, putting his face in his hands. “I know I should. I know I should, but I don’t. Everything is so fuzzy.”

“I’m Paul Stevens. You and I have worked together for eleven years now.”

“What work do we do?”

“Nanotech.”

“Oh yes, that’s right.”

“Do you remember now?”

“Well, you were talking about nanobots earlier.”

“Dale, what happened last night? Do you remember anything?”

“I just woke up on the rocks. There was a lot of blood. I saw the stairs, and I started climbing.”

“But you don’t remember how you got down there?”

“No. I guess I just fell off the edge.”

“I guess.”

“Is Larissa my wife?”

“No.”

“But are we…?”

“No. She owns the company. Well, her father does.”

“Are you and I friends?”

“I just told you we’ve worked together for eleven years.”

Dale nodded. “I don’t remember anything. Do you think I’ll remember later?”

“I’m not sure. I hope so. I don’t know what we’d do without you in R&D.”

“I used to be married, though, right?”

“That’s right.”

“What happened?”

“She died.”

“That picture. I didn’t get to see it. Was that her?”

“Yes.”

Dale got up and went back out to the bar. The picture was lying there on the white counter top. He placed his hands on both sides of it and peered into it as if it were a crystal ball.

“I think I remember her.”

“She was a good woman. Orange juice?”

“Yes, I like orange juice, don’t I?”

“You do.”

“Is this my house?”

“It is.”

Paul poured him a glass of orange juice, and Dale sipped it slowly with closed eyes. He smiled. “Yes, I do like orange juice.” In the other room, he could hear Larissa talking to someone on the phone.

“Dale, I know this is difficult for you, but I need you to try to remember what happened to you last night. Did you just fall off the edge or what?”

Dale shrugged. “I don’t remember.”

“Not at all?”

“No.”

Larissa came back from talking on the phone and started sipping on her glass of orange juice.

“Are you feeling better now, Dale?”

“A bit.” He looked her in the eyes. She was pretty. “You said the nanobots fixed me?”

“That’s right, Dale. You and Paul developed a proprietary nanobot system that repairs the human body and fights diseases.”

“We three are the world’s first immortals, Dale,” said Paul. “We knew the nanobots would fight cancer and cure diseases, and we knew they would repair injuries too, but until today, we didn’t know the extent of their capabilities. Well, we knew theoretically, but we didn’t dare to assume the actual results would be so promising.”

“Well, that’s amazing,” said Dale. “I’m glad I had something to do with it.”

A tear appeared in Larissa’s eye. She guided him to one of the bar stools. “Dale, do you remember me at all?”

“I think I know your face.”

“Anything else?”

“No.”

She patted his knee and nodded. “Okay, I need you to sit here for a moment. I need to talk to Paul in private.” Dale nodded and sipped his orange juice again.

Once they were in the other room with the door shut, tears came more freely to Larissa’s eyes.

“Paul, do you think his memory is gone forever?”

“I don’t know. It might come back, and it might not.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“Then we’ll proceed as planned. It will be difficult without him, but the most difficult part has been done already.”

“That’s not what I meant, Paul,” she said, pushing him on the chest. “What will happen to him? What is the good of living forever if you can’t remember anything?”

“I’ve known Tyndale Peterson longer than you have, Larissa, and let me tell you this: he’s better off this way.”

“Better off?”

“He never got over his wife’s death. You know that. On the one hand, it was the driving force behind most of his work, but on the other hand, it made him a very sad man. If falling off a cliff has made him forget her, that might just be a good thing.”

“That’s barbaric.”

“Well, you’re not the first woman to call me barbaric. But look, immortality isn’t any good if you’re just going to be miserable forever, right?”

She sighed. “Well, you do have a point there.” She cracked the door to look at him. “Where has he gone now?”

Paul pulled the door fully open and walked back toward the bar.

“Look!” said Larissa, pointing toward the cliff outside. Dale was standing on the edge, looking down. In a second, Paul was out the door and running toward him, with Larissa close behind him.

“Dale!” he shouted as he sprinted across the lawn. “Dale, what are you doing?”

Dale made no answer. When Paul got to him, he took him firmly by the arm and pulled him away from the edge.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

Dale turned to his friend. His face was blank.

“I tried to kill myself, didn’t I?”

Paul’s grip slackened, and he took a deep breath. “Yes, I think so.”

Dale looked down at the dirty and damaged photograph, and then he touched the skin on the back of his hand as if it were something foreign. “It’s amazing what we can fix. We can’t fix her, though, can we?”

“Dale, we have her DNA. It’s not like we’re still in the twentieth century, you know – there are things that can be done. Especially since you’re not going to get any older now. You can wait for her to grow up.”

“No,” said Dale, shaking his head. “No, I don’t think that would be wise.”

Paul looked to Larissa for help, but she just stared on, wincing back tears. There was only the sound of the waves crashing below and a photograph flapping in the morning wind.

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Coexistence

Stan gripped the overhead bar tightly and stared forward as the bus jostled along through the city. The driver made a right turn, and the woman beside him pressed against him. She had a cohabitant attached to the back of her neck – a big one – and its fur bristled in Stan’s face.

Stan was a nice enough guy. He generally minded his own business. But why did people have to keep pushing him all the time? And why did he always lose whenever he pushed back?

“Sorry,” she said, and pulled away from him again. He could still smell the mix of perfume and feces. He was afraid for a moment that he might shiver or do something that would offend the woman, so he looked at the television screen above for some distraction. It was one of those daytime talk shows that lonely fat women watch in the middle of the day. Some pretty boy was pointing to the cohabitant on his arm and talking.

“Tyler Steele has a cohabitant?” said a twenty-something woman in the seat just in front of him. She turned to the other twenty-something woman beside her. “I didn’t know Tyler Steele had a cohabitant!” She stood up and turned up the volume.

How has your family reacted to the news?”

Well, Chelsea, they’ve actually been very supportive for the most part. One grandpa isn’t very fond of it, though. He told me that I’m welcome, but that my cohabitant isn’t. As if I can just take it off when I come over for Thanksgiving dinner.”

Do you ever take it off?”

“Never. We are bonded. I am my cohabitant. I am defined by it. I don’t take off my arm or my head whenever I want, do I? I actually said that to him, and he just got mad. But I think he’ll come around.”

And what about your fans? How have they reacted?”

For the most part, they’ve been very supportive too. I’m very thankful that I can live in such a progressive country as this one, where people accept each other so freely and openly.”

Stan tried to ignore the stream of brown fluid that was streaking down the back of the woman beside him. She suddenly reached up a hand to the lower part of her neck and touched it.

“Oh, you naughty little thing!” she said, laughing. She pulled a bottle of perfume from her purse and sprayed herself on the back. Stan closed his eyes and just wished the bus ride would be over soon.

Yes, this is certainly going to affect my career. Even when producers are open-minded and tolerant about cohabitants, the fact is that there are some roles that I simply cannot play with this little guy on me. But that’s okay. I’ve lost some opportunities, but I’ve also started getting calls from producers specifically because I have a cohabitant.”

Well, we’re glad for that, and we wish you all the luck with your new career.”

Thank you.”

Now you brought a friend with you today, yes? Could you tell us a little more about your friend?”

That’s right. I met him while I was still in doubt about my own identity as a cohabitant. He showed me how wonderful it is to be a cohabitant – how much of a blessing it is to have another life tied with your own. I can’t even begin to express how much his example has meant to me.”

Well, let’s bring him out! Ray, come on out!”

Stan watched as a man completely covered with cohabitants waddled onto Chelsea’s stage, waving stiffly to the audience. As far as Stan could tell, he wasn’t wearing a scrap of clothing – there were just furry balls of various colors and sizes attached to his flesh in various places, covering every bit of his skin except his face, hands, and feet. Stan looked over at the woman who had bumped him a moment earlier. She was subconsciously stroking her cohabitant while she watched Chelsea, Ray, and Tyler smile and talk excitedly about her favorite thing in the world.

Now Ray, tell us what inspired you to do this.”

I had nothing to live for, Chelsea. All my life, I had always believed that I could find meaning in money, power, fame, or religion, but because I had none of those, I felt lost and alone. And then the Arrival occurred, and our friends from Gamma Prime gave me something to live for.”

They gave you a cohabitant.”

Yes, I was actually one of the first. Now, most of the others only got one or two cohabitants, but as for myself, I didn’t want to stop there. As long as I had space left, there was a place for another friend.”

And what do you think that your life has now that it didn’t have before the Arrival?”

It’s difficult to explain. First off, there is this sense of being connected to life. It’s so different from anything else in the human experience. Some people equate it with sex, but I don’t. I don’t think it’s like that at all – it’s more like a mother being with child, except that I’m not sure who is the mother and who is the child. It’s a very beautiful thing.”

“Many people say that the relationship between you and your cohabitants is an unnatural thing. What do you have to say about that?”

It’s ridiculous. There’s nothing more natural than the symbiosis of two intelligent organisms.”

That’s very true. But again, other people will say, ‘Yes, it’s fine and good to have a cohabitant, but this guy has taken it way too far.’ What would you say to that?”

I say those people should let go of their hate. Because that’s what it is, Chelsea. It’s hate, pure and simple. There’s nothing reasonable about it. Look at me. I’m healthier than most abstainers. What harm do they cause me? No harm at all. My message to the world is pure and simple: love. I decided to do this because I love.”

Ray’s mentioning of health caused Stan to think back on the rehabilitation class he had taken the week before.

“The goal of this class,” said his even-toned, pony-tailed instructor, “is to bring about a state of ideological and emotional health in everyone involved.”

Sitting in a circle, they would first engage in a cleansing breathing exercise, and then do a series of choreographed hand motions to summon the Chi. Stan never felt anything particularly special, but he had definitely preferred the silence to hearing his instructor lecture.

“Remove the hate from your heart,” his instructor had said while sitting cross-legged. “No bitterness. No envy. No malice. Just love and tolerance.”

Stan recalled how, on the third day, the instructor had removed his own cohabitant and passed it around the circle for everyone to hold. That had been the first time he had ever intentionally touched a cohabitant. Holding it in his hands, he looked at the ring of pointy legs raying out from its smaller ring of needle teeth. When it started making slurping sounds, he passed it on and instinctively wiped his hands on his pants. Seeing him do this, the instructor had been not at all pleased.

“Cohabitants are not animals or parasites,” the instructor had said. “They are partners. They are life-companions. They are equals.”

Stan felt that the instructor had looked at him exactly when he said the word “parasites” – probably because that was the specific word that had landed him in rehabilitation. In discussing cohabitants with a coworker, he had made the mistake of saying that cohabitants technically were parasites. Unfortunately for him, that coworker had a small cohabitant hidden away under his clothes. That same coworker had reported Stan to the manager.

Shoulders slumped, Stan waited for the bus ride to end and his Monday at work to begin. It would be his first day back after the week-long rehabilitation. He hoped that he would be able to keep doing his job without any more mishaps. From the back of the bus, a few school children pushed past him toward the front. All of them had small cohabitants attached to their necks. As the bus decelerated, he watched one of the girls stroke the furry ball that was clinging to her so tightly.

Stan frowned and scratched the scruff on his face as he thought of how he was going to face his coworker now. He would surely have to apologize, and that thought incensed him even more than the other events that had led him to this point. Why should he apologize for stating a simple fact?

He sighed. Sure, he didn’t have to like it, and he didn’t have to get one of those oversized ticks for himself, but he was a grown man. If he couldn’t come to accept this type of lifestyle, he could at least manage to choke back his disgust. Let them have their bloodsucking fuzzballs. As long as they didn’t expect him to become a host too, he would just smile and nod. His father had always told him never to argue with a fool, and he had now come to realize just how valuable that advice was – especially when it was about something that did not constitute any sort of direct harm to himself.

The cohabitant craze was just a horrendous fad: it would go the way of the bellbottoms and the mullet, and all of these folks would one day laugh and tell their grandchildren how they had spent a decade letting ticks from outer space suck on their necks so they could look hip.

Yes, let them have their neo-hippie ideals. Stan would keep his mouth shut, keep wearing a necktie, and keep taking care of himself. They had sent him to rehabilitation to learn a lesson. Well, he hadn’t exactly “learned” what they had intended, but he had learned enough. He had learned to suppress his gag reflex for long enough to get what he wanted from the world.

As the bus started up again, Stan watched the last of the school children slide out of view, his eyes fixed on one particular little boy. He was very small, even for a child his age, and he had an abnormally large cohabitant fixed to his back. Its upper half filled his shirt and made him look like Quasimodo, while its lower half jiggled like a waterbed as it bumped along on the ground behind him.

With his backpack under his arm, the tiny child hunched his way to class.