INSIDERS – CHAPTERS 1 – 5; Gripping vaccine/virus sci-fi adventure novel in serial form


CHAPTER 1 – The Cheek Of It

Rother did not notice that the first of them had burst through the skin of his right cheek, slightly below the faded scar under his left eye, until a moment or two after he sliced off its head with his twin-bladed shaving razor.

The pain was brief but so intense that it made him drop the razor onto the shelf beneath the mirror where it dislodged his blister pack of microfine syringes and the bottle of insulin beside it. He cursed under his breath but managed to bring his left hand up fast enough to stop them falling off the end.

He leaned forward to stare into the bathroom mirror, and raised the middle finger of his right hand to explore the tiny crater he had inadvertently opened up in his face.

Even though he had been feeling peculiar for some weeks, feeling as if something he could not define was going on inside his body, he did not immediately connect the rupture in his skin with that feeling.

The tip of his finger came into contact with something wet, something slimy. “Pus?” he wondered, surmising that perhaps he had whipped off the top of a whitehead.

“Say what?” shouted Mercy from the bedroom.

“Nothing,” he responded automatically, but her question did set in train a series of thoughts and notions that were just beginning to crystallise around the fringes of his pre-coffee, toast and English marmalade consciousness.

Wiping the pale slime onto the underside of the upturned button-down collar of his two-tone grey shirt, he leaned even closer to the mirror and pressed the skin at the side of the hole in his cheek in an attempt to squeeze out a little more pus.

Without even thinking about it, he shifted his gaze briefly away from his finger tip, glancing down towards the sink, and then immediately back up again, before registering consciously that he had noticed a tiny movement on the enamel rim of the basin.

“You going to make breakfast today?” called Mercy. “Or is it me this morning.”

He did not immediately respond. He had now returned his gaze back down towards the sink and could quite plainly see something wriggling on the avocado-coloured rim.

“What the hell?” he asked under his breath, moving his face down closer to the little squirming entity. He felt as if, in its final moments of existence, a tiny creature was staring up at him, imploringly. “Nah!” he muttered, dismissing the lunatic notion.

To be sure, it was already moving more slowly.

Peering back up at his half-shaven reflection, he realised that a larger droplet of pus had oozed out of the hole than he had imagined, significantly more than might be explained by a sliced whitehead. Instinctively, he pulled a tissue from the box by the bath and wiped it away.

“You or me, Doogle?” shouted Mercy.

“You or me what?” he responded distractedly.


He pulled himself together and shouted back, “You, I think. I did it yesterday, didn’t I?” As he spoke, he stared, first at the damp tissue, then down again at the still wriggling thing on the rim of the sink.

“Shit,” replied Mercy. “And there was me thinking I could lie here on my back completely naked for another five or ten minutes. Or longer.”

Hearing those words on any other morning, Rother would have been splashing his face to remove any remaining shaving cream and heading for the bedroom within nanoseconds. Instead, he heard himself saying, “Yeah. OK. Whatever.”

Mercy laughed out loud.

Against his own better judgement, he positioned the tip of his finger next to the now barely moving thing and scooped it up to get a closer look. It was now plain to see that the tiny entity had a chunky, head-like part attached to its pale, translucent worm-like body. He thought he could make out rudimentary black eyes, two snail-like antennae and a dark, circular mouth part. “What the fuck are you?” he asked it.

That was when everything started to unravel because of a thought which appeared unbidden inside his head.

“I’m you,” it replied.

“What did we learn before our source was shut down?”

Smiddy knew from the chilling tone of Elfin’s voice that she would not brook any prevarication in his response. He thought, as he had often thought before, that hers was probably the most inappropriate name for anyone he had ever known. Yes, her tiny, delicate features were elf-like, but elves tended to be mischievous, whereas Elfin was … he was still struggling to think of an appropriate word when she repeated the question.

“Smiddy, I asked what we learned before our source was shut down?”

Snapping back into the moment, he spoke up in the strongest tones he could muster. “We learned that Mr. Jong Min-Jun had successfully perverted the course of the Hu Foundation’s Acceleration Project by contaminating their test culture.”

“Is that all?” queried Elfin.

“In essence, yes,” confirmed Smiddy. “I have all of Mr. Jong’s reports up to the time when he was, as you put it, shut down. Obviously there’s much more detail but, yes, that’s the gist of it.”

Elfin stared hard at Smiddy. Ridiculous though he knew it was, he found it difficult not to believe that she could see into the inner machinations of his mind. With exceptionally bad timing, the word he had been searching for chose this moment to pop into his head. “Goblin!” It seemed so loud inside his skull that Smiddy was worried that she might have heard it and understood its significance.

Eventually, at the end of an agonisingly long silence, Elfin said, “So that’s it?” As she spoke, she was staring out of her office window towards the distant outline of the Hu Foundation complex. “Do we know where Mr. Jong is now?”

Smiddy was still distracted by his realisation that ‘Goblin’ would have been an infinitely more suitable name for his boss than ‘Elfin’. Whereas elves were mischievous, goblins were downright malicious, ever spiteful. He dismissed the thought and replied, “No. We’ve had nothing from him since he was found out, so our best guess is that the Hu Foundation has him incarcerated in some secure location…”

“No matter,” interjected Elfin. “We have no further need of him right now. If he re-surfaces we’ll think about what to do with him. Given the Foundation’s standard MO, it’s entirely possible that he has been eradicated.”

It disturbed Smiddy that, despite everything he knew about Elfin, he still found her not just extraordinarily beautiful but also utterly captivating. This was, he knew, entirely because of her delicate appearance and her sublimely feminine shape, but whatever the reasons he could not deny how she made him feel.

She defied the conventions of feminine beauty in so many ways, yet Elfin was undeniably lovely to look upon. She reminded Smiddy of the women in the paintings of H.R. Giger – terrifying but alluring. Why, he asked himself, was he attracted to a woman with two lines of solid steel hex bolts implanted on a panel under the skin of her long, slender neck? There were twelve such bolts, arranged in two rows starting just under her stretched earlobes and running down to her shoulders on each side.

Then he reminded himself that she was arguably not really a woman at all. Despite her appearance, she referred to herself as enby – non-gendered – but Smiddy found it difficult to think of her as anything but female. Weird female, to be sure, but female nonetheless. Suddenly realising that a silence had descended between them, Smiddy blinked his eyes twice, very hard, to snap himself back into the moment.

“Assuming Mr. Jong has been dispatched, how do you think we should proceed?”

Elfin responded instantly. “Have you no ideas of your own?”

Smiddy had to think on his feet. In truth, he had never before encountered a situation like this in all his years with the NanoVit Knowledge Institute. Until now, the rivalry between NanoVit and the Hu Foundation had rarely been anything more than a matter of fierce commercial competition. As they had grown, both companies had diversified into areas far beyond their original business purposes, and inevitably both had acquired interests in market shares where the other was increasingly active.

Now, however, with the development of the Foundation’s Acceleration Project and NanoVit’s own Viral Xpedient, things had been elevated onto a different plane. Smiddy was finding his role within NanoVit increasingly difficult to cope with.

“Ideas?” he stalled, because in truth he had not yet formulated anything that might remotely be considered a plan. “Like you, I was thinking that Mr. Jong is probably not an option worth pursuing.” He was filling in time until he could dream up something that made him sound tolerably dynamic. “It seems to me that we need to locate the outcome of Mr. Jong’s actions. We need to know exactly what it is that he has achieved.”

To his amazement, Elfin’s entire demeanour changed in an instant. “Brilliant!” ey declared. “Utterly brilliant!” A huge smile creased the lines around eir eyes, and ey took a long, deep breath which lifted eir breasts up, making eir nipples jut out beneath the diaphanous top of eir dress.

Smiddy was both delighted and relieved for at least an entire second until he noticed a look in eir eyes which he had only ever seen there once before, a terrifying brightness suffused with an inexplicable inner incandescence.

“Remind me, Smiddy,” inquired Elfin, fingering the silver locket which hung on a thin chain around eir neck. “Have we ever fucked?”

“We?” It was all Smiddy could do to utter the word, until he miraculously dredged up another brief phrase from where he did not know. “You and me?”

Elfin’s eyes grew wide. “Who else might ‘we’ refer to?”

Smiddy started to say, “Not lately…” but Elfin was clearly not listening.

“How do you self-define?” ey demanded.

He swallowed hard. “Male. Hetero.”

Elfin nodded, but the gesture was ambiguous. “You’re a good, healthy-looking young man. Come closer. Let me get a better look at you.”

As he took a step forward, Smiddy was remembering the disastrous first time they had had sex – the time ey had evidently entirely forgotten. He had been transferred into NanoVit’s Surgical Relocation Division for less than a month when ey picked him out, apparently at random, while ey was walking through the open-plan office area to which he had been allocated.

After ey had passed his desk, one of eir assistants had tapped him on the shoulder and indicated that he should follow along behind eir. Obediently, he had fallen in step, completely befuddled, his brain in hyperdrive, as he tried to imagine what this exotically fabulous creature might have in mind. When they reached eir suite of offices, ey dismissed eir retinue and, as they closed the double doors behind them, Smiddy had seen that luminous look in eir eyes for the first time.

Now, here it was again, and Smiddy knew he had no choice but to go along with eir.

CHAPTER 3 : Plastered

“It was all a dream,” thought Rother.

Startled back from sleep to sudden wakefulness, he had felt a flood of relief surging into his head and chest for all of half a second. “Just a dream.” he said aloud, hoping to convince himself.

Almost immediately, however, he caught sight of his reflection in Mercy’s make-up mirror. He could see that several tiny white-headed critters were now poking out through the skin of his face and neck, all of them writhing slowly.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was certain that he could feel something, some things, moving through his veins, as though they were exploring the interior of his body. A nervous shiver ran throughout his flesh.

He was unsure of how long he had been asleep. Maybe a couple of hours he guessed. What other changes, he asked himself, might have taken place in that time?

Slumping back down onto the pillow, he raised his hands in front of his face. “Fuck!” he whispered. “Oh, shit.” The backs of both hands were now infested. Rother slowly turned his hands around and noticed that there were none of the tiny creatures on his palms or on the insides of his fingers.

“Yes,” said the voice in his head, the voice of his infestation. “I thought you might still have some use for those areas, so I’ve left them alone for the moment.”

Rother tried to think chronologically back through the events of recent hours. Much of it was already a blur, but he could recall sticking a waterproof plaster over the first of the punctures in his face. He wished it hadn’t been a Little Mermaid promo special edition, but those were Mercy’s favourites. He had made a swift mental note to get some plain ones on his next shopping trip, then wondered if there could ever be another shopping trip.

What should he tell Mercy? What might she believe? Should he show her what was under the plaster? How could he possibly explain about the tiny head which he had flushed down the toilet in his first moments of revulsion? What to do? What to do?

The voice of his infestation had advised him to simply explain it to her. “After all,” it suggested, “honesty is the best policy.” From the way the phrase was expressed, Rother was sure it had picked up that cliche from his mind. It was a deeply disturbing thought, that his memory was evidently entirely accessible to his parasitical infestation but, he told himself, probably not as alarming as the simple fact of the parasite’s existence within him. He was slightly comforted that he could clearly differentiate between his own thoughts and the voice of the parasite, but immediately found himself wondering if that state of affairs would continue.

“Yes,” said the voice. “It will continue for as long as you wish it to.”

He could not imagine circumstances under which he might not be able to distinguish both identities, but decided not to pursue that notion just yet.

“Probably wise,” said the voice.

Rother shook his head and wondered if he would ever get used to having a second voice in his head.

“Oh, yes,” said the voice. “For as long as you wish.”

Hearing that seemingly innocent, potentially comforting, phrase for the second time, Rother shivered. “For as long as I wish? What’s that supposed to mean?” he thought, aware that he was now indulging in thought-talk with his new companion.

“Surely,” responded the other voice, “the meaning is self-explanatory.”

Rother had been about to disagree when Mercy appeared in the bedroom doorway, still delightfully naked. “I suppose,” she said, “if I’m going to be slaving over a hot stove, I’d best slip into something less comfortable.”

He smiled for the first time since he had become aware of his invasive parasite, and was pleased that the sight of a naked Mercy was enough to distract him, even if only for a moment or two, from whatever it was that was happening to him.

“You really should tell her,” advised the voice, and Rother found himself almost agreeing until he realised that he didn’t want Mercy to see him in his present state. He turned his head away from the door and stretched out one leg so he could swing the bathroom door shut.

“Hey,” shouted Mercy. “What’s that about?”

Lacking any better explanation, he yelled back, “I don’t want you to see me right now. I look a mess.”

“Awww. Cut yourself shaving again?” She pouted. “Need me to kiss it all better?”

“It’s actually a little bit more complicated than that,” he responded, trying to sound as matter-of-fact as he could.

Mercy pushed on the door from the outside, but he kept his foot in place, holding it shut. “Leave me alone.”

More than anything he wanted to reach out, enfold Mercy in his arms, and tell her what was happening to him, but he couldn’t overcome his determination not to be seen.

“Don’t mind me,” said the voice in his head.

“But I do,” replied Rother.

“You do what?” asked Mercy playfully. “Want me to kiss it all better?”

Realising he had spoken his thought aloud, Rother tried to rescue the moment with what he hoped was an enigmatic chuckle. “No, no. It’s just that it’s a bit bloody.”

Mercy pushed the door again more firmly. This time, it opened a few inches. Mercy peered through but quickly pulled back, grimaced, and her eyes widened involuntarily. “What the hell is that?” she asked.

“What?” asked Rother, but he knew exactly what was disturbing her. She was staring wide-eyed at his face with an expression which was more one of horror than surprise. Quickly, though, she modified her response and stepped into the bathroom.

“Yeuchh!” she said. “You’ve got some kind of … you’re breaking out.” She took a second or two to fine tune her choice of words. “You’ve got these gross whiteheads sprouting on your face. So vile. When did that all start?”

Rother took several steps back in shock, then wrenched his body quickly away from Mercy again as she gripped his shoulders. “No!” he grunted. “Please, no.”

“What do you think it is?” She sounded alarmed, almost frightened.

“I don’t know,” replied Rother. “What do you think?” Mercy’s seesawing responses had set him wondering. He couldn’t rationalise it, but it was almost as if she had expected to see what she did. He shrugged her hands off his shoulders and pushed her back through the bathroom door. “Just give me a minute.” He slammed the door shut between them and slid the bolt across.

She shouted through the door, “Are you OK, Doogle? I’m sure it’s just some kind of breakout, some infection, like big whiteheads or something like that.” Her voice sounded consoling, but a shade too dismissive, as if she was trying to make light of something she knew was serious. “Let me take a better look at it.”

Despite her anxiety about Rother, as she spoke, she was slipping into her favourite dark market knockoff Belong t-shirt, and couldn’t help wondering if she would ever be able to acquire a genuine one, even though she knew there was no way she would ever join The Belonging. “No way,” she whispered to herself. “Those people are crazies.”

By now, Rother was attempting to make a detailed examination of his face in the mirror. Sure enough, there was yet another eruption on his skin and, even as he looked, the top opened up and a tiny mouth pushed through, followed by those pale antennae, the little black eyes and a rounded head.

“Jesus H. Christ on a dildo!” he exclaimed.

“No, no, no,” responded the voice, its tone irritatingly patronising. “It’s just another of me.”

This was one of the points at which Rother’s recollection of recent events became particularly fuzzy and indistinct.

He could vaguely remember trying to calm down both himself and Mercy without opening the door. He remembered her saying, “Chill down, Doogle. I’m sure it’s just a rash. Maybe an allergic thing? Have you eaten anything unusual lately?” Again, he couldn’t escape the feeling that she was underplaying what she was really thinking, but there was no way he was going to let her see the way his face was being ravaged.

He needed time to think it all through, try to rationalise what was happening to him and where it might lead, where it might stop … if ever. Was he simply going insane? But Mercy had seen his face, even if only briefly, and her first reaction had been of horror. Or was that too just all part of his madness?

Somehow, he had eventually managed to convince her to get dressed, go off to her work at the Hu Foundation, and leave him in the bathroom. She had sounded anxious as she called out to him, “Doogle, are you sure you’re all right? I can stay if you want.”

He had cut her short. “No, no. It’s best if you go. I can look after myself. You know I can. I promise I’ll get a doctor if I think I need one.” Despite his words he was becoming increasingly convinced that he was beyond any imaginable medical help. If there was any kind of solution, it would have to be resolved between him and his parasite.

“Call me if there’s … anything,” she yelled from the other side of the apartment. “Any … development. Anything, you know?”

He had listened out to hear Mercy close the apartment door, and then remained silent a while longer to be sure she had gone, before he allowed himself to think about exactly what was happening to him.

If this was a normal morning, he’d be injecting his first shot of insulin for the day but, staring at his face in the bathroom mirror, he knew that diabetes was no longer his worst problem. Maintaining some semblance of his sanity was.

CHAPTER 4 : Booster Shot

“He has not the slightest idea,” insisted Mercy Yoo.

Across town, in the expensively faux art deco-style HQ building of the Hu Foundation, she sat directly opposite Mr. Kintsugi Joon-woo, the boss of her boss’s boss.

She had arrived that morning feeling inordinately guilty for having deceived Doogle. With her immediate superior, Mr. Jong Min-Jun, off on sick leave, she had gone into the office of her section boss, Mr. Park, and told him what she had seen. He had immediately concluded that it was a matter for Mr. Kintsugi.

Despite Kintsugi’s elevated status, Mercy felt confident within herself, quite unintimidated. She was by nature self-assured, but she knew that her unwavering composure on this specific occasion was, at least to some extent, enhanced by her careful choice of business outfit. She had gone for her outrageously expensive Dsquared2 denim Roxy Heart trouser suit, paired with a comparatively cheap smart red blouse and a pair of stylishly understated flats – also from a mass market budget range. She could barely afford the Roxy Heart on her salary, and she had changed into it as soon as she arrived at work because, despite knowing how utterly irrational it was, wearing it made her feel stronger.

It had taken most of the day to get to speak directly to Kintsugi, but she was certain he would want to hear what she had to say about Doogle.

Now, with the afternoon almost gone, she stared at Kintsugi’s blandly handsome features across a desk whose hard, shiny black surface reflected both of their faces. It seemed to Mercy that whenever Mr. Kintsugi spoke, he was talking at her dark reflection rather than directly to her face.

“How can you be certain?” asked Mr. Kintsugi.

“We’ve lived together for almost five years,” she countered, confidently. “I know him almost like I know myself. I know how he thinks, how he speaks, how he reacts.”

All right,” said Mr. Kintsugi. “You have done the right thing to come and report this to me. We do need, as has been explained to you, to be kept abreast of any unusual medical developments in yourself or your acquaintances.” His communicator beeped but he immediately switched it to mute and ignored it. “Tell me this, Miss Yoo, what do you think has happened to him?”

Mercy thought about it for a couple of heartbeats before replying. “I wish I knew. It looks like some sort of severe infection, some kind of infestation.”

Mr. Kintsugi lapsed into silence for a few moments. “Let us say, for the moment, that I accept that your partner has no idea of what is happening to him.” He stopped and raised his gaze to directly meet her’s. “Might he nevertheless perhaps suspect that you have been the source of his infestation?”

She was totally thrown by the question. “Me?” She unconsciously tugged at the cuff of her red blouse, pulling it out from the bottom of her jacket sleeve. Her confidence had taken a substantial knock because Mr. Kintsugi’s question seemed so outlandish.

“Yes, you, Miss Yoo,” replied Mr. Kintsugi, clearly relishing the sound of the words.

“But how? But … but ….”

“Your most recent booster shot,” he began, smiling as thin as distilled water and narrowing his eyelids. “It appears that it may have done rather more than simply protect you from last year’s virus mutation.”

“What are you saying?”

“It’s terribly, terribly complicated.”

Mercy’s mind was now racing. Kintsugi’s words were making her re-evaluate the purpose of certain ‘beyond top secret’ information to which she had become privy about a month and a half earlier. At the time she had felt privileged, as a relatively junior Hu Foundation exec, to have been trusted with what was clearly highly sensitive intel, but now she was starting to wonder if the organisation had been playing her for a fool.

Mr. Kintsugi was looking uncomfortable, as if he was uncertain of what he could say next. When he finally spoke, he sounded hesitant. It was a tone she had never heard in his voice on any previous occasion. “It cannot have escaped your notice,” he said, “that your immediate superior, Mr. Jong Min-Jun, has not returned to the Foundation, since he became, ah, unwell some time ago.”

Mercy felt a shiver crawling up through her spine. “He has the flu, yes?” she asked, knowing that she must be wrong.

“He does not have the flu,” stated Mr. Kintsugi, pronouncing each word slowly and clearly. “He does not have anything at all.”


Mr. Kintsugi shook his head slowly and deliberately before continuing. “Nothing. We learned, to our corporate horror, not long before we removed him from his post, that Mr. Jong had been undertaking acts of industrial sabotage against the Foundation on behalf of another company.”

“Sabotage?” She was having difficulty taking in everything Mr. Kintsugi was saying. She had worked with Mr. Jong for longer even than she had known Doogle. She liked Mr. Jong, admired his deterministic attitude to life, had even flirted with him occasionally. Now, though, she was remembering how she had also from time to time wondered why he had never responded to her smiles and her not-so-subtle inquiries about his relationship status. She had concluded, eventually, that he might be be gay, or perhaps just exceptionally shy, and so she contented herself with settling in to a productive working relationship with him. Now, in an instant, she was having to re-think everything. “No,” she said. “Not Mr. Jong.”

Mr. Kintsugi was still slowly shaking his head. “Yes. Mr. Jong.”


“Yes.” insisted Mr. Kintsugi.

Mercy was rapidly realising that what she was being told about Mr. Jong must in some way relate to what Mr. Kintsugi had said earlier about her being the source of Doogle’s infestation.

Now she was desperate to know the rest of the details, but while she waited for Mr. Kintsugi to start explaining, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking back over a needlessly expensive, unfeasibly long, alfresco lunch on a gloriously sunny afternoon at the swanky Cliff House restaurant, overlooking Ocean Beach on the San Francisco peninsula’s Northern coastline.

That had been where Mr. Jong’s boss, Mr. Park, had divulged to her the ‘beyond top secret’ intel which had forced her to lie to Doogle.

CHAPTER 5 : Thoughts And Words

“How are you feeling?” asked the voice.

Rother tried to ignore it. He desperately wanted to think logically about what was happening to him, but anything resembling a coherent thought was eluding him.

He stared at his face in the mirror and, overcoming his feelings of revulsion, he raised his hand up and gently touched his skin at the base of one of the squirming entities. His stomach was churning and he could feel an urge to vomit rising up in his throat, but he strained to hold it down.

“Are you all right?” asked the voice.

“Fuck off,” said Rother, talking at his reflection as if it was a separate entity. “Fuck right off.” He could see his lips move as he spoke the words. “Shit! It’s not you,” he reasoned, feeling a small sense of relief that he had made a rational deduction.

“No,” said the voice. “It’s us.”

Despite having figured out that the face in the mirror was not the source of the words, Rother continued to speak to his reflection. “Get the fuck out of my head,” he told it. “I’m not mad. Who are you? Where are you?”

As he asked the questions, Rother turned away from the mirror to look behind himself. He scanned the walls, floor and ceiling of the bathroom, even though he really did not expect to find anything. He briefly entertained the notion that what he could see in the mirror had somehow become an alternate version of the real bathroom but that seemed even more unlikely than the possibility that he was hearing voices because he was going mad. Once again, he felt a tiny surge of relief that he was still able to make logical deductions but it lasted only until he asked himself if a madman could ever really know whether his deductions were logical.

“I’m sorry to be causing you such distress,” said the voice.

“Where the hell are you?” asked Rother again. “None of this makes any sense. What have you done to my face?”

“Which of those questions would you like me to answer first?”

For the first time, Rother noticed that, as well as the words he could hear in his head, he was also detecting something else accompanying those words. It was like a sensation, or maybe even an emotion, and he could only imagine that it was coming from whatever was communicating with him. As the voice spoke, it was accompanied by what Rother perceived as the feeling of running the palm of a hand over dew-soaked moss.

“Why, yes,” said the voice. “I believe that does resemble how I’m feeling at this moment.”

“Stop it,” said Rother, holding his hand out and pressing his palm against the surface of the mirror. “Stop doing that,” he said, clenching his hand into a fist.

“You appear not to like my voice being in your mind.”

“Oh, really?” Rother took a step back from the mirror and, once again, looked around the bathroom. He lifted the top of the linen basket, then opened the door of the airing cupboard. “Where are you?”

“Not out there,” said the voice.

“This has to be some kind of insanity,” said Rother.

“You are not insane,” said the voice. “At least, not insane by any of the definitions of that word I have found in your memory.”

“Well, gee, that’s a comfort. I’m not insane. I’m just hearing voices that aren’t there.”

“We are here,” countered the voice.

“We?” queried Rother. “How many of you are there?”

“One,” said the voice. “But I am many.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” pointed out Rother. “But then none of this makes sense.”

“It will,” said the voice.

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