Charlyt and I look at each other. “It’s either our virus or theirs,” we whisper together. The decision’s easy once we see it that way. Between releasing our virus to make our bodies incompatible with the Animas and the aliens killing off the rest of the humans who aren’t able to be manipulated and inhabited by their kind, then it’s obvious we’ll infect everyone with the Hepatitis B virus. We both know what our answer is. So do Sy-Nu and Mai-Li.
“How are they going to release their virus?” Charlyt asks.
“We can just switch the viruses, right?” I ask, following as best I can.
“That’s the idea. The Animas are planning to—“
“Wait,” Charlyt interrupts Sy-Nu. “What virus are they going to use?”
I can see the anxiety in her eyes. She’s one of the best researchers at the Disease Control Office. She knows what viruses we should be worried about.
“Our species has a natural immunity to the ebola virus. Since the bodies we occupy actually acquire our protection, they will be unharmed. Humans without an Animas inside them, well…”
Charlyt covers her mouth. There’s horror, revulsion on her face. Whatever this ebola virus is, it must be monstrous. I wrap my arms around her tight. She’s shaking. “Don’t worry Char. They’re not going to release it. We’ll send out this Hepatitis B before they get the chance to kill any of us.”
The Animas inside us are quiet. It’s almost like I can forget they’re here. Almost. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel like I have any privacy, even when they’re gone. “What’ll happen to you guys when we get Hepatitis B? Do you just fall out of our bodies? Do you die?”
Mai-Li answers. “We don’t die. Our connection with your bodies will dissolve. We’ll leave the same way we came.”
“How’s that?” I just found out the aliens occupied the Corda bodies. Who knows how they got inside in the first place?
“Air is the essence of your life. Without it, you’ll die within a minute or two. It is everything to you. We are inhaled into your bodies, becoming your essence. So we’ll be exhaled and return to our previous bodies.”
“What do those look like?” Charlyt pulls her face away from my shoulder, composed again.
“You’ll see soon enough.” Sy-Nu is less empathetic than Mai-Li. At least his voice sounds more brusque than hers. “As I was saying before, the Animas are planning to infect the water supply. That would quickly spread the illness and those who don’t drink from the system will catch it from the carriers.”
“Do you have enough of the virus for it to travel the same way?” I ask.
Charlyt stares over my shoulder, working through some calculations I couldn’t ever hope to understand. She nods. “Yes, it’ll work.”
“We thought so too,” says Mai-Li.
“So, how exactly are we going to get past whatever security measures you aliens have taken to switch out the viruses that we’re all plotting to use on the population?” And why am I involved in this? I’m not smart. I don’t have access to any of these kinds of places. The only things I’m good for are my physical measurements and the way I use those to perform whatever menial obstacle courses the Office of Male Fitness for Race Preservation creates for me.
Sy-Nu answers my supposedly private thoughts. Charlyt needs your support. And there might be some skulls to knock together before this is all over and done.
I scowl. Charlyt raises her eyebrow.
“I can’t wait to have real privacy,” I say.
I walk Charlyt to work like I do every morning. We hug longer than normal. If something goes wrong, if even one person suspects her, she may never come out of that building again.
“I can do this,” she says as she rests her forehead on mine.
“I’ll be right here waiting for you.” I kiss her. I don’t want to let her go. For once, Sy-Nu knows to keep quiet. This is our moment, even if we’re not really alone.
Keep her safe, Mai-Li, I think.
I will, she answers.
I know she’ll do everything she can, whether she has to take control of Charlyt’s body and use it to get them out or not. Charlyt walks through the revolving doors and I pray to whatever higher power exists that I’ll see her in four hours.
This morning, I conserve my energy and strength, only pushing my workout to the point where my stats will be satisfactory. It’s hard to rein myself in. Right now, I want to beat the punching bag to death and jump rope until my body is stinging from the whip of the rope. My mind is at the Disease Control Office.
While I’m throwing weights around with my training group, I know Charlyt is searching for every vial of Hepatitis B she can find. Once she’s sure there aren’t any left in the building, she’ll let Mai-Li take her over. Assuring those around her that an Animas uses that body, Mai-Li will order a transportation unit for the virus. If it’s not stored at a specific temperature, it’ll die and our plan will fail. If the vials break, there won’t be anything to throw into the water supply.
Finally my exercise is finished. I shower and wait outside Charlyt’s work. I’m over forty five minutes early, but I don’t dare risk missing our window. Once the Department of Medical Transports files their routine report of who requested hazardous materials containers for the day, we only have three hours before the Animas track her down and kill her. Yes, they’ll kill her, even before they understand what the virus could mean for them. The simple fact that she took viruses out into the public is a death sentence. It doesn’t matter to them that Mai-Li will lose her body. According to Sy-Nu, the leaders may kill Mai-Li too for not being in control of her human. At the very least, they’ll banish her from the planet.
I’m sweating in the sixty degree weather. That shower seems like a wasted effort at this point. My eyes never leave that revolving door. Not once in those forty five minutes. A few people leave with transport containers, but none of them are Charlyt. Another one comes through the door before I can see who’s carrying it. Then I see her. She looks like she’s aged twenty years. I must look just as worn. Stress like this could send anyone to an early death. I jump from the bench and hurry to her.
Calm down and act natural. You’ll give us away if you two don’t stop looking so terrified. It must have taken a mountain of self-control for Sy-Nu to keep quiet all morning. But then again, he’s been silent all my life. What’s another day? He’s right though. I slow down my harried walk and Charlyt takes the hint. She stops and puts on a smile for me. As soon as I get to her, I hug her and then take her hand as if we are on our way to lunch like we are every day at this time.
“How did it go?” I ask.
Her hand is freezing in mine. “I found another store of the virus. We’re going to have more than we need, but I took it all anyway. I didn’t want anyone to find out what we’d taken and what it can do.” She speaks in barely a whisper.
I direct us toward the taco stand on the outskirts of the city. We order just because we need to play our part. Hovering near the cart, we are caught in the middle of the lunch rush. Men pour out of the Water Supply and Treatment Plant building to our right. I swipe the scan card of an employee who practically asked me to take it from him by butting in front of us. Charlyt sees and pushes through the crowd toward the door. We get through as fast as we can. Who knows how many people saw us? It doesn’t matter much. Our time is ticking away.
Twisting through the corridors, we avoid eye contact with anyone we encounter. Our key card gets us deeper in the building. We went over the floor plan for hours last night. I know we’re getting close to the testing site. It’s the only open access to the city’s water supply. And it’s the most heavily guarded.
Two men turn into the hallway coming toward us. We look away, but they stare at us and stop right in our path, blocking the way.
“I thought the final phase didn’t begin for another five days,” one of them says, looking at the container in Charlyt’s hand.
“Word got out of our plans. We don’t want any incompatibles to escape while we sit back waiting for some arbitrary date. There’s no reason to wait. So the time is now.”
I don’t think Charlyt said that. It didn’t sound like her. It must have been Mai-Li.
“I wondered why we were waiting around once the decision had been made,” the other guy says.
“Where are your security badges?”
I start to hand over the one I’d swiped from outside, but my arm stops. “We’ve been instructed to have you take us the rest of the way,” I say, but not really. Sy-Nu has taken over. I’m still here, but I’m not in control of any part of my body. I feel my muscles tighten. He’s ready for a fight.
“We weren’t given any instructions about this. Let me call—“
My fist connects with his head and his eyes roll back as he topples to the ground. Then my hands grab the other guy’s face and twist. A crunch follows as he collapses in a heap on his friend. I killed him. No, Sy-Nu killed him. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I’m on my knees rummaging through their pockets. I’m just watching at this point, awed at the sensation of watching Sy-Nu control me. We find their security badges. Sy-Nu takes the transport container from Charlyt in one hand and grabs her hand in the other.
We sprint down the hall and scan our way into the access room. Charlyt pulls vials and starts dumping them in the running water visible in the transparent pipe. She’s not hesitating. It can’t be her. Mai-Li must be as present as Sy-Nu is in my body. They’re doing this. Are we doing the right thing? Did we just sign the death warrant of the human race?
No, you didn’t. You just granted them freedom from our kind.
I don’t know if I believe Sy-Nu.
The last of the vials are emptied. Feeling returns to my limbs. Sy-Nu has given me the reins again. Charlyt reaches for a sample cup. Dipping it in the water, she looks at me.
“Are you ready for some real privacy?”
I take the cup from her and she fills one for herself. “Will we be able to see you when you leave our bodies?” I ask the Animas who have been with us since we were three years old.
No, our essences aren’t visible to your eyes, Mai-Li says.
“So this is goodbye?” Charlyt sounds upset. How can she be? These things kept us from having children. Once they’re gone, they can’t interfere with our happiness ever again.
And neither can other Animas. You’ll have more freedom than you could have ever dreamed of. Sy-Nu sounds a little offended.
I didn’t mean it that way…I mean--
I understand. Your love for that girl is the only good thing about you. Never take it for granted.
I never will. I'd do anything for her. And I always will. Raising my cup, I watch Charlyt drink deep. I tip the tainted water into my own mouth and swallow.