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Whatever Works

by Demetrios Matsakis

It was not just their destiny to journey into the unknown, it was that they could not survive in their current host. Entering an unoccupied one would give time for a full feast before the immune system caught on to their presence. Entering an occupied host would allow rejuvenation through conjugations with the local tribe, if they could dodge the white blood cells. And so Commander Alex came to full attention when the messenger arrived.

“Commander, the visual and olfactory data centers think we might have an adequate target approaching. It’s human and definitely of reproductive age. From the aroma, they think it is occupied by our kind.”

“Do you have the target’s gender? We don’t want another male, like our host.”

“You can’t always tell with these primitive life forms, but they think it’s female.”

“How sure are they? Our transfer pods wouldn’t survive a hundred beats against a male target’s immune system. His leucocytes would be already sensitized to our anti-testosterone coatings, and our teams would get scarfed up before they could make it to the safe areas.”

“Commander, our host and the target have initiated vocalizations, so maybe the acoustics center can help with that.”

“I’ll go there.”

And so Commander Alex slithered through the lymphatic pathways to the cochlea, always following the most obscure paths. There were quicker ways, but this was the safest, given how all of them were weakening and badly needed conjugation with another tribe.

At the acoustic center, there was bad news from the technician. “Commander, I’m the only one left. My two teammates decided to slip out for some fresh blood, and before they even made it to an artery they got devoured by white blood cells. Those leukocytes are really onto us.”

Alex thought, Maybe the leukocytes help our tribe; they ensure that only the competent survive. But he replied to the survivor, “Our coatings build up when we are confined, and that makes it easier for our host’s immune system to recognize us. I know you are too weak to do mitosis; I’ll get you some reinforcements from the reserve. Now, tell me what you know of the target. Is there any chance it’s a female? Her immune system would be sensitized only to the anti-estrogen coatings of her tribe.”

“Sir, the sonic data look hopeful. The target’s vocalization is high-pitched; much higher than our host’s. We sometimes even pick up a quick crescendo followed by a series of staccato bursts.

“Isn’t that the human compatibility signal?”

“Yes, sir. It looks like a ‘go’ to me. I’d like to ask a favor. I want to join the transfer team. I think I could be useful. I know the risks.”

“Except for volunteering, you have shown you can be prudent. But first, we must be absolutely sure it is a female so our fellow parasites inside her won’t have anti-testosterone coatings that would train her immune system against us. Is the pitch always high and never low?”

“Well, Commander, the pitch can briefly get a little low. But the target’s tonality, frequent variations of pitch, and large quantity of vocalizations are all known female traits in humans.”

Alex thought, If we don’t get a conjugation soon, we’ll be doomed anyway. He said, “I’ll get back to you about the transfer team, but first we need to release the arousal hormones of our host. I’ll go to the armpits to get our host’s pheromones out and stimulate the target’s sexual desire. If it — she — responds, maybe we do have a match.”

Alex again dashed in and out of the lymphatic areas on the journey to the underarms. Upon arrival, the others circled around, membrane to membrane in the traditional form of greeting, and asked, “Commander, is it time for pheromone release? Is a conjugation likely? We are so de-energized.“

“I hope so. Let’s stimulate the secretions and then pray they fully entice our target. If we get a full exchange, there will be conjugations for everyone.”

“Commander, what about walls of rubber? Is there a risk?”

“Yes, of course, there are always risks of blockages these days. But we can’t let ourselves be negative; the Great Tapeworm helps those who dare to help themselves. Remember when our old host was dying and we got ourselves injected into this unoccupied host through a chemotherapy needle of all things? Of course, we were me then, and I was thee. But now you have work to do, and I have work to do. I have to alert the prostate team.”

When Alex reached the prostate team, they were already assembled. “Greetings commander, the blood pressure is rising, do we have a transfer opportunity?”

“Yes, indeed. You can start preparing the pods. There will be one more joining us. But we aren’t 100% sure the target will be receptive, so you have to be ready to make a split-second decision. Check for low pressure from the penile areas, a sign of non-engagement. Or worse, if our host has donned a rubber barrier, the blood pressure will rise higher than normal.”

I must give them confidence, too. “We all know how badly we’ve needed conjugations since the chemo, but remember that we are winners from way back. Think how much better things have been since we left the Neanderthals to their fate. Our Sapiens hosts are more numerous, more controllable, longer-lasting, and fatter. Yes, they are a little more complicated, but that works in our favor. Just a few million beats ago, all we needed was one needle to get out of our dying host. And now, with just one successful pod transfer, just one, we will reach our former strength. We can do it!”

After accepting their cheers, Commander Alex headed up towards the tonsils. Word of the coming host-target encounter had already arrived. “Commander, we’ve good news from the olfactory team. The target pheromone density has been growing beyond limit. We stand ready to make our sortie into the target. How long before we start?”

“Has acoustics sent any more information?”

“No, Commander, not about the gender. Since the pheromones kicked in, the vocalizations have been growing more melodic. We can even feel our host’s epidermal layers resonating.”

“You’re a good team, and courageous. But we still can’t rule out the possibility that our host is just heading into another encounter with a male target. I’ll scout out the situation, and return as soon as I can.”

Commander Alex slipped up to and out of the tonsils, then slithered up the palate. There were new and unusual fluids all around. Evidently, the host and target had entered the deep-kissing stage, and pods from the target’s tribe were entering into the oral cavity. But the host’s leukocytes were scooping up the pods. This meant the target’s tribe had testosterone-protective coatings after all. Pod transfer is doomed.

Alex turned to re-enter the tonsils but found two of the host’s leukocytes charging head-on at full speed. Unable to outrace them, Alex detached and dropped onto his host’s tongue. From there, Alex was barely able to hang on as the tongue moved forward into the target’s mouth, creating a salivary conglomeration that immersed Alex, who then fell deep into the target’s mouth.

Alex emerged, and found the environment saturated with alien leukocytes. Strangely, they paid no attention as Alex slowly slithered around them into the target’s lymphatic area. Safe for now, but why did they ignore me?

Then up came one of the target’s tribe who, in a burst of exclamatory molecules, exclaimed, “What, a whole being? No pod to open first? Excellent! I can tell by your coating that you came from a male host. Don’t worry, you’re safe here.“

A confused Alex asked, “Why wasn’t I gobbled up? Your host is a male, so it should have recognized me as dangerous by my protective coatings.”

“Our host is male, you are right. But you survived transfer because we found a way to sensitize its immune system to estrogen-protective coatings instead. We won’t grow such coatings, since there isn’t enough estrogen in our host. In this host, no one has to hide from the leukocytes, though you should never get too close to those brutes. I can teach your tribe how to do it.”

“Are there any drawbacks?”

“It’s only useful for the particular kind of host termed ‘homosexual’. And unfortunately, standard genital transmissions often fail because they tend to use a lot of rubber traps. But oral transfers are much easier. And the real benefit is that without the fear of leukocytes, life can be quite gay!”

“I wish my tribe knew about this. We’ve been doing everything we could to dampen our host’s attractiveness to other males, without any success. But wait a beat — wouldn’t it be even better if we could get the leukocytes to ignore us, no matter what our coatings are? Do you think that’s possible?”

“I’ve heard rumors that a few tribes have figured out how, because they wound up in hosts they call bisexual. There are problems with that, too, but all this is for later. Right now we have to prepare you for the journey back. What would you prefer: a quick conjugation or a super dose of glucose?”

“Why, both, of course!” responded Alex.

* *

Author’s Note

It is now well known that parasites can modify the behavior of their hosts. For example, Toxoplasmosis can cause mice to be attracted to cat urine. It also appears in the brains of humans including some extreme cat lovers, and could contribute to schizophrenia. Also, certain parasitic wasp larvae (Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga) grow in spiders. Just before killing their host they cause it to weave an erratic cocoon-like web in which they can pupate. More examples are in the Wikipedia under “Behavior-altering parasites and parasitoids.”

Although pheromones cannot change the sexual preferences of humans, of course, their ability to arouse desire has been known for millennia. Speculations that gut bacteria can contribute to physical attraction have also appeared in the literature.

Alex and his tribemates have no gender. They can reproduce by splitting into two (mitosis), but they are energized by sharing their DNA with any other of their species (conjugation). The largest single-celled organisms known are Syringammina Fragilissima, which can up to 20 cm (8”) in diameter.

Copyright © 2019 by Demetrios Matsakis

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