"If you are wondering, our relationship is not unique. There are others of my kind who, either by force or by choice, have relinquished control over their bodies to their hosts. This has always been true. My choice is to give you as much freedom and guidance as I can, but there is something I must ask you to do in return."
Coughing, Bill lifted his head to look at his companion. He said nothing, but the parasite knew what question was on his mind.
"You must learn to survive," it told him. "I can teach you all I can, but you must hone those skills on your own. You must learn how to control the gifts I have given you, and you must become strong. This will need to happen quickly. There is something else I will ask you to do soon, but it cannot happen until you are ready. However, if we waste too much time, we will lose any chance of completing what we must do."
Bill pulled himself back to his feet using the tree. His knees felt shaky, and his vision was still blurred by his tears. Squinting, he rubbed his throat.
"I… I don't…" he rasped.
The creature narrowed its eyes. "Do you find it that difficult to understand? I am proposing to you a contract. Control, in exchange for a very simple favor. Do we have a deal?"
It extended a hand. Bill stared at the metal as he sank down again to the forest floor. Right then, it all hit him. If he took that hand, he'd be bound by contract to do exactly the kinds of things he wanted to avoid. Fighting? Getting stronger? He didn't even know what favor the thing wanted or what he was getting himself into. Trembling, he shook his head.
The creature knelt in front of him. "No?"
"Please… please leave me alone," Bill whispered.
"Have I really failed to make myself clear with my last example?"
It placed a hand on his shoulder. At first, it was just a light touch, but as seconds passed, the hand grew heavier. The grip tightened until Bill could feel the claws pierce through his skin and dig deep into the muscle of his shoulder. He cried out and pressed both hands and one of his feet against the monster's chest. Hot pain laced from where the fingers were burrowing deep into his flesh, and he shut his eyes tightly.
"No no no no!
" he yelped. "Let go!
The hand squeezed harder. Bill could almost feel its fingers brushing his bone. The creature leaned close and whispered into Bill's ear. Its breath was cold and smelled like the sea.
"I am inside you," the creature hissed. "To reject me will be suicide. You will either be killed by my kind, or I will kill you to find a new host. The truth is, Bill, that the only painless alternative you have is to surrender. To go deep down inside yourself – so deep that your mind will drown in my consciousness, and you will cease to exist. I could do that to you in an instant, but because you are useful to me, I give you a choice. I offer you peace and a chance to live with me, but it must be on my terms. Do you understand?"
Shakily, he nodded. His mind was focused on the pain, and he felt his limbs wobble and his body grow weaker. Both of his hands slipped down the creature's chest as he forced himself to think about the words it said.
The creature presented its free hand. Bill stared at it blearily. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want any of this. He wanted to be back in Polaris with his own body and his own thoughts, but he suspected both were just beyond his reach.
Cautiously, he wrapped his hand around his partner's. The metal fingers nearly crushed his, but luckily, it lasted for only a second. As soon as it happened, the monster withdrew, drawing its fingers out of Bill's shoulder. He screamed for a second time as blinding pain ripped through him, but as soon as he reached up to grab his shoulder, he stopped. Panting, he looked down to see that the bare, white skin of his shoulder was just that: bare and white, with not even a scar to tell him that five needles were jammed deep into it just a moment ago. Even the pain was almost completely gone.
Completely indifferent to Bill's curiosity, the creature stood and turned. "Now that formalities are out of the way, there is one other order of business I believe we must attend to before you awaken. Because you humans have difficulties comprehending anything without giving it a name, I suppose I should choose one for myself before you take to calling me by that ridiculous designation you gave my species."
Breathing shallowly, Bill struggled to stand, using the tree as support. He felt light-headed, and his vision swam. Squinting, he stared at his companion.
"They gave me a name, you know," it said. "Your colleagues, I mean. They gave me one like they did for Abel." It looked over its shoulder. "Adam. It is not quite the name I would have chosen for myself, but it will do."
At that point, Bill's mouth moved, although he wasn't entirely conscious of the fact that he was speaking.
It clasped its claws behind its back. "I read your memory to understand your kind better. Adam was the first man." It looked forward. "Ironic, is it not?"
Exhaling, Bill once again whispered, "Adam…"
Adam straightened its back. "Something is happening outside. Wake up."
Before Bill could reply, the forest and Adam vanished.