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Chapter 40

Chapter 40: Flight

“You’re next, Daniel,” says Bianca. “Go on. This is where I leave you. Good luck.”

I can’t speak. My terror clashes with the symbiont’s optimism. Bianca nudges me forward. A storm of panic and dread smothers the symbiont’s urges. I dig in my feet and try pulling my arm free. Bianca clings to me like hot taffy.

Two of the butchers set down their blades and come for me. I start to back away. My symbiont sinks it claws into my leg muscles, negating my impulse to flee, paralyzing me to the spot.

“It’s alright, Daniel,” says Bianca. “It’s only flesh. All flesh is fleeting.”

“This is horrible,” I say. “It’s … murder.”

“No, it’s not murder, silly,” says Bianca. “It’s the most efficient way to separate a soul from its corpus. What? You’d rather they wait for your body to rot off your Shade? You don’t know how sticky a soul can be sometimes.”

The symbiont forces my leg up. I lift it and take an awkward step. “No! I … I can’t do this.”

“Oh, come, don’t be shy,” says Bianca. “Cleaving’s not as bad as it looks. The returns are worth the momentary discomfort. You’ll only feel a pinch.”

“A pinch?” I say. “This ain’t a fucking flu shot we’re talking about.”

My body is quaking, my teeth are chattering.

“You can’t quit now, Daniel,” says Bianca. “You’re one step away from Elysium.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “That step’s way too big.” I tense my muscles, pushing against my symbiont’s control like an isometric exercise.

The butchers rush me. A surge of terror overwhelms my symbiont. I wrench my arm away and bull into Bianca, sliding past her. Other Guides converge to stop me, but now I’m sprinting full out past the queue weaving through my pursuers like a punt returner.

The symbiont tries to trip me, seizing a muscle here and there, but this little girlie body of mine is equipped with a balance I never had as a man. I keep on running.

The queued Ascendants never looked more like meek and mindless cattle to me—chewing their cuds contentedly before a slaughter.

A Guide cuts me off, I barrel into him. We both tumble. I spring back up, bump and squeeze and push past the queue down the gully and onto the snowy ridge below the summit.

Guides on the ridge see me running and peel away from their flock to cut me off. The symbiont has now regained its purchase and is making me stumble and lurch.

I stagger through drifts to the brink of a vast bowl of a ravine—a nearly vertical cirque filled with windblown snow. Guides close in from all directions.

Steps before they can seize me, I force my will over the symbiont’s and plunge into the gulf.
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