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Roommate, The (by Xyggurat)
I felt that last night's update was unforgivably short after such an absence. So, while I was supposed to be getting ready for the Superbowl, I was instead doing bad things at my computer.
This is another story chapter, and possibly the penultimate. Expect the next one to be... uhm, long.
|Breath was torn out of my lungs by my pounding heart as I ran. It didn't seem that I could breathe fast enough to support the needs of my smaller body. This had seemed like such a good idea at first: incapacitate Phil, make a run for Liam's office, and set our final plan into motion. It was so simple, and everything would go back to normal again. Well, maybe not precisely normal: I was going to kick Phil's ass with every ounce of my returned strength.
Around the time I sprinted past Christian's room, my strength began to flag and breath started to become more and more difficult. Phil's cries—which had been demoniac, basso shrieks that rumbled in my chest with their fury—had long since stopped, and I swore I could hear him running after me.
I noticed that the door to Christian's room was cracked open, but he would be no help to me now. I wasn't even sure that he would help me if I begged. No, there was no salvation there. All I could do was go forward. Gritting my teeth, I pushed myself to race harder.
Before I knew it, I was bounding up the steps leading to the upper campus. If I had thought that flat ground was difficult to run on, the stairs were torture. Still unused to shorter legs, I tripped occasionally on the steps. Nonetheless, I was a man driven. Scrapes on my shins could not hamper me, nor could losing a shoe after a particularly painful stumble on the top step. Pain—awareness of everything, really—began to fade from my mind as I sprinted through the science building. My sight was just a red wash, and I felt cold all over. I could barely see Liam's office door through my clouded vision.
Somehow, I must have managed to slam a knuckle into the door, because in a matter of moments I could feel myself being led inside by warm hands. Liam said something, and instantly my exhaustion began to recede. My head continued ringing, as if I were recovering from a major headache.
Liam was speaking, quickly, as my thoughts came back into focus. "...so I think it's at it's weakest now."
"Wait, what?" My voice sounded like gravel in my throat.
"We might already be moving out of the weakness stage, Dane. Every second counts."
I shook my head and held up a shaky hand. "Start over at the beginning. I'm still trying to catch my breath. Tell me everything, Liam."
His green eyes bored into mine for a moment. He was wearing his natural form, with its bulkier musculature and coarse dark hair. I instantly decided that I preferred its honesty over the artificial perfection of his more common face. Even my affection for him would not dissuade me, however. I forced steel into my gaze. A trickle of sweat dripped into my eyes, but I continued meeting his stare.
"Okay. But we're running out of time." With that warning offered, he began, "I've been looking for a way to stop the symbiote. If you recall, I told you that I thought Phil's symbiote would need to seek out new hosts individually for its offspring once it was ready for reproduction. I've been doing some analysis, and I think that Phil's symbiote may have mutated beyond such limitations. "If my guess is correct, Phil's symbiote could produce hundreds of offspring, which could then be delivered over any number of liquid mediums. Drinking water, sexual intercourse, even seawater. And... I'm sorry I didn't tell you this before, Dane, but the symbiote may have already reproduced."
I raised a hand to cover my mouth. No words came to my tongue or mind. "Why didn't you tell me any of this before?"
He ignored my irritation. " that the new symbiote's reproduction cycle was much shorter than I'd assumed. Phil's symbiote is as different from mine as a lower primate is from human beings. Genetically similar, but beyond that... well, the differences are obvious. It's some sort of an atavus." At my evident lack of understanding, he offered, "A throwback. Whatever complications it experienced made it more rudimentary than mine, but it also has a number of features that my symbiote doesn't. I'd have to examine Phil's symbiote itself to figure out exactly what it's capable of."
"Why didn't you tell me any of this?" It came out as less than a whisper, muffled by my hand. "You say that you found out about this reproduction thing a few days ago. It may be too late now, but I could've done something to stop it if you'd told me earlier!"
He glanced away, now unwilling to meet my stare. "I've become very fond of you as a friend, Dane. Neither of us could have stopped this, short of killing Phil, and even then the symbiote could have just found another host. I refuse to take a life. Besides, if it has managed to reproduce... the symbiote should be weaker after spawning. I can give you a drug that, when delivered to the symbiote, will flag it to the host's immune system. If it works, it'll cause the two to become incompatible. And... after that, I might be able to restore you."
The 'might' did not even faze me at this point. I held my hand over my mouth tightly. Otherwise, I would have used it to hit him. He had rationalized away a solution to this entire problem, and all to save me. I don't know who I hated more: him for his deed, or me for my gratitude.
"Dane, I'm genuinely not sure how much damage Phil's tampering with you has done on a larger scale."
I waved aside the concern. After what Liam had told me, the world was spinning again like it had the times when Phil had shrunk me. All of the rationales seemed to fade away in my mind. Even though I did not understand all that Liam had said, I had a few sneaking suspicions. I suspected that he had been maneuvering me this entire time. I think he had always known more about Phil's symbiote than he let on. I was fairly certain that he had let Phil's symbiote reproduce just so it would be weakened enough for us to attack it directly. And I knew that, if Liam had done anything wrong, it had all been for me.
"All right," I rasped, tears in my eyes. "Give me the drug."
I was numb. My head was still tingling as I held out my arm. Liam's fingers expertly found the vein. Had this been several months ago, the veins on my arm would have been prominent enough to find by sight. The syringe that he injected into my arm was filled with a translucent crystal-blue fluid. It stung a bit, but no more than any other injection.
Liam put the syringe down and placed his hands on my shoulders. I jerked my head away. With all of the thoughts bouncing around inside of my mind right now, I could not quite bring myself to look at him.
"There's not much we can do, Dane. The symbiote either has reproduced or will reproduce shortly, and we will need to strike."
I sighed. Whatever I was about to say was driven out of my mind by a sudden flaring of pain in the center of my skull. I felt a searing sensation deep within my brain, rippling out to sway the world around me.
"Are you all right?" Liam's voice sounded frantic.
I looked up at him from the floor, wondering how I had got there, but I did not inquire about my state. Instead—and I did not know why—I just announced, "Phil's coming."
"How do you know that?" Liam asked, looking at me very strangely.
The words hung in the air for a few sick seconds before the first loud bangs on the door began. Phil's voice sounded from the other side, deep and unsteady with fury.
"I can feel you in there, Dane."
Liam did not wait for anything so crude as Phil bursting down the door. He strode toward the entryway, skin and hair segueing into different shades even as he moved. Liam's true form fell away, collapsed like a glamor, to reveal the ruddy-haired, shorter, but far more commanding shape of Professor McTague. It seemed to be almost an unconscious thought, his musculature refining and reshaping as his features completed their transportation. Any other time, the fluidity of the change might have been miraculous to witness.
Liam threw open the door. Golden light flooded into the office. Phil stood in the hallway, his undersized polo shirt torn in a dozen places from his exertions and mass, revealing patches of taut golden skin beneath. It was plastered to his musculature by the same sweat that slicked his hair into a fierce arc. The ruddy golden locks coiled over his brow, framing the fury in his wintery eyes.
"What the hell do you think you're doing in my office?" Liam growled. He was back in his false form, his tenor voice booming with authority.
"I'm here for him. Feel like standing aside, little man?"
"A world of 'no,'" Liam responded. The skin around his eyes tightened. It was the only warning as his body sprang into action, throwing a punch directly into Phil's chest.
My roommate went flying. I was shocked at the sight: Liam's body did not look capable of such power, but he had control over his body in a way that Phil did not. His arms had the strength of steel pistons, but he did not wear his strength overtly as Phil did.
Phil went flying into the wall opposite Liam's office, hitting with a wet crackling sound before slumping to the ground. It did not take him long at all to recover. He moved with a speed that was almost inhuman, leaping to his feet without obvious effort. Fury was written in his stance, and his chest heaved. The swollen pectorals bulged angrily beneath the fabric of his polo shirt, warring for space.
Liam stared at Phil and ordered, "Stay down."
As if they were turned to water, Phil's arms buckled underneath him, knocked out from under him by Liam's command. It did not, however, take Phil long to begin trying to rise again. When Liam repeated his order, Phil shuddered for a moment, but continued rising with inexorable slowness. He had cast off the command with little obvious difficulty.
Once again on his feet, Phil stared Liam down and commanded, "Die."
Liam rolled his eyes. "How about not? You have no power over me, Philip, and anything of these attempts against me or your roommate will be met with all due—"
Caught up in being self-righteous, he was too slow to stop Phil's next charge, which carried the two of them back into the office and crashing into Liam's computer desk. They went down in a series of sparks and flares, and I heard Liam groan in pain over the crackle of breaking wood and glass and twisting metal. He had taken most of the force of the blow, and did not rise as Phil did. All he had for his exertions was a cut on his brow. Liam looked deathly pale, a wound to his scalp sending blood washing down his face.
Phil moved around the desk's wreckage until he was again framed by the doorway. Light shone around him, and he looked like an avenging angel with his head wound dripping crimson onto his shirt. I was trapped. I scrabbled backwards to the nearest wall as if I could somehow hide within it.
He began to advance toward me at a halting pace. Maybe the wound had dizzied him more than I thought.
"I don't think you understand," Phil growled at me. His voice rumbled through my bones. "No matter what anyone says or does, I own you. And there's nothing that anyone can do to save you now, Dane."
A clanging sound, metal against bone, sounded from behind Phil. It took a moment for me to realize that the source of the sound was Phil. At least, partially. He swayed for a moment, surprise rising in his gaze, and then crumpled.
"Wow, color you wrong," rasped Christian's silhouette, standing with the shadow of a fire extinguisher held aloft.
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