Chapter Four: Sa’lok

I pulled out a small stun gun and aimed it at the rabid scientist.

“You’ve had that the whole time?” Teisha shrieked.

I glanced at her.

She looked like she was reaching for something, but I couldn’t look away from the enemy long enough to figure out what it was.

“I was waiting for you to get out of the way,” I lied.

Truthfully, this little stunner only had a single shot, and Teisha was a distraction.

It was so hard to keep my focus when every instinct in my body was screaming to protect her. That was part of the reason why I’d tried to get her out of here.

Even though she was on the other side of the room and the Gorgo-infected scientist was totally fixated on me, I still felt frantic for Teisha.

I had the small stun gun ready, but I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. I could tell Teisha was moving. I could see her from the corner of my eye. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the scientist.

Damn it, what the skrell was Teisha doing?

The scientist had no hesitations about looking away from me. Perhaps it didn’t understand that the small mechanism in my hand was, in fact, a weapon.

“Teisha!” I shouted in warning.

“I’m on it,” she called back.

“What? No, don’t get on it! Get out!” I shot back.

It was too late.

The scientist whirled on her, teeth bared like some sort of rabid animal. I took aim once more. This wasn’t the ideal shot. The scientist was far too close to Teisha.

Teisha held something in both hands. With a mighty swing, she smacked the scientist over the head. He dropped to the floor like a heavy sack of rocks.

Certain the scientist was knocked out, I looked at Teisha. She stood proudly over her victim, clutching a big microscope in her hands.

“That takes care of that,” she beamed.

She put the microscope back in its place and examined it.

“It’s a bit scratched up now,” she frowned. “Oh, well. It looks like it was his, so I can’t say I feel bad.” She gave the unconscious scientist a stern look.

“Are you insane?” I sputtered.

“You tell me,” she shrugged. “You know me better than anyone.”

“In that case, yes, you’re insane.” Her words sunk in after a moment. “Wait, you think I know you better than anyone?”

“I think so,” she said thoughtfully. “My sister knows me very well, but I keep some things from her. I don’t want her to worry.”

“I’m honored…I think,” I thought about her words a little longer. What that might mean…then brushed it away. “You’re still insane.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she grinned. “What are we going to do about this?” She nudged the scientist with the toe of her shoe.

“I have an idea.”

I walked over to the pot where the Puppet Master was planted. The speech pad had been cracked in the scuffle, but hopefully the connection would still hold.

I knocked on the pot the way one might knock on a door.

“Excuse me, Puppet Master,” I called.

“How can I assist?” the Puppet Master replied.

“We have a situation.”

“If you’re referring to the scientist, I know.”

“Oh.” My brows shot up. “How much did you witness?”

“Everything. My apologies for not being able to assist. These tendrils were chosen more for their flexibility than their strength.”

“I see,” I nodded. “The good news is, you don’t have to sift through the hoards over in Einhiv. We have a test subject ready and waiting.” I gestured to the scientist.

“Would you like me to harvest a memory?” the Puppet Master asked.

“If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

The Puppet Master snaked a vine across the floor to the unconscious scientist.

“I don’t know if I want to know his memories,” Teisha said with a small shudder.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I don’t want to feel guilty for whacking him over the head if he turns out to be a nice guy.”

“You didn’t hit him, you hit an attacking Gorgo using him as a host,” I reminded her.

“Either way, he’s still the one who’s going to wake up with a headache,” she pointed out. “If he wakes up.”

“If he dies, it’s the Gorgo that killed him, not you.”

“A subdural hematoma likely wouldn’t help the whole staying alive thing,” she said.

“Which wouldn’t have happened if the Gorgo didn’t choose to take over the body,” I said. “Keep trying if you must, but I’m not going to let you take the blame for this.”

“Thanks,” she sighed heavily. I squeezed her shoulder.

The Puppet Master retracted his vine.

“I have a memory I believe to be suitable to our needs,” he announced.

“What is it?” Teisha asked.

“I thought you didn’t want to know,” I reminded her.

“What can I say? My curiosity won out in the end,” she shrugged.

“That wasn’t a very long battle.”

I grinned when she rolled her eyes.

“Just tell me,” she smiled at the Puppet Master. Even though the Puppet Master didn’t have a face, I swear he was giving us a judgmental look.

“I chose his mating ceremony,” the Puppet Master said.

“His what, now?” Teisha sputtered, going red in the cheeks.

“The ceremony where he stands on an altar with his mate,” the Puppet Master said. “They spoke vows and exchanged affections before their families.”

“Oh!” Teisha laughed. “His wedding.”

Her smile fell. She looked at the scientist.

“Wedding,” she repeated. “He has a wife.”

“Don’t think about it,” I told her. “We might be able to flush the Gorgo out of him.” I eyed the limp form. “But you’re right. Even with the Gorgo in him, he’s still a human. Let’s make him more comfortable.”

Sedated, restrained and hooked to a small device to monitor his vital signs, we’d done our best for the possessed scientist.

“Right,” Teisha nodded as she stood from checking his restraints. “Let’s get cracking. What do we need to do?”

“That’s the tricky part,” I winced. “Somehow, I have to get the stored memory out of the Puppet Master and into a vial.”

“Any ideas?” she asked.

“One,” I replied. “It’s a long shot.”

“Tell me,” she urged.

I didn’t speak right away. Yes, I had an idea, but putting it into words that made sense was another matter entirely.

“Puppet Master?” I said.

“Yes?”

“The memories you’re able to harvest, are they complete memories or are they snapshots?” I asked.

“It depends on the mind I take the memories from,” the Puppet Master replied. “If the subject has an excellent memory and the event is of great significance, I can pull a complete memory. If the subject has a poor memory, or the event happened in the past, I can only get bits and pieces.”

“What’s the wedding memory look like?” I asked.

Before I could say anything else, the Puppet Master brought a vine to my forehead.

Suddenly, I stood on a rooftop. I recognized the city of Nyheim, though it didn’t look the same as it did now. This memory must be from before the Xathi invasion.

I stared at the human woman across from me as if I was looking at her with my own two eyes. In reality, I was looking through someone else’s. The memory played out as if it was really happening to me. I felt faint sensations of joy, excitement, and even a touch of fear.

Just before the woman kissed me, the Puppet Master ended the memory.

“There is more than that,” he said. “I simply wanted to give you an idea.”

“What did you see?” Teisha asked. “You look a little pale.”

“It’s odd seeing something as if it’s happening to you, when it’s not,” I explained. “Was I meant to feel emotional?”

“I do not know,” the Puppet Master replied.

“Did you?” Teisha prompted.

“I felt shadows of emotions,” I said. “I could tell the original owner of the memory felt happy, but I didn’t feel it in full.”

“Probably because you didn’t know the woman standing across from you,” Teisha said. “She’s a stranger, so you felt indifferent.”

“This lends credence to Alyssa’s theory.” I tapped my chin and started pacing around the room. “We can’t pull a single memory and apply it to everyone.”

“So, we need to pull a memory from every single person?” Teisha sighed. “That will take far too long. There must be another way.”

“I’m sure there is,” I said. “I’d rather focus on making the antidote first. If it’s viable, we can turn our attention to streamlining the process. Thoughts?”

“That sounds reasonable to me,” Teisha said. “I’ll keep reading the Urai notes in case there’s something we missed.”

“Thank you,” I smiled at her. “In the meantime, I believe the memory was strong enough for my implants to track the levels of chemicals excreted in the brain during the moment this memory took place.” I tapped the screen of my datapad. “I’ve been working with our lead chemist, Dr. Leena, for weeks now. Between her brilliance and my implants – and a bit of brilliance of my own, we should be able to crack this. Memories can’t be bottled, but chemicals can.”

“Yes, but those chemicals correlate to feelings and emotions, not images,” Teisha pointed out.

She was right. At best, all I could do was make something that mimicked the feelings brought on by the memory.

Maybe that was enough.

“What if I don’t need to recreate the memory, just the feeling of the memory? The human brain might recognize the sensations and call up the memory of its own volition,” I suggested.

“If you give him a concentrated dose of the exact chemicals his brain secreted during his wedding, that might be enough for him to fight past the mental grip of the Gorgo,” Teisha smiled.

“Exactly.”

“That doesn’t sound too hard,” Teisha shrugged.

“You say that now,” I shook my head. “But if it doesn’t work, I don’t have a backup plan.”

“You better hope this works then.” She grinned over her shoulder as she settled back into a corner of the lab with her datapad. “I’ll let you know if I think of any alternate interpretations.”

“Much obliged,” I replied.

I turned to the Puppet Master, arms folded across my chest.

“Now, let’s see about getting that memory out of you.”

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