Well, sort of science fiction, there may not be much cosmos involved, but there's certainly science gone wild in this review of:
Parasite by Mira Grant
This is written by Seanan McGuire under the pen name 'Mira Grant.' It is a science fiction thriller that doesn't disappoint, featuring some of those lovely things we've come to fear in the modern age: Medical science gone wild and unethical corporations. Parasite is the first of a two part series called Parasitology. The second book is called Symbiont.
If you feel a worm of doubt about this, don't worry, that's just the parasite settling.
'YOUR HEALTH IS IMPORTANT.
'Every so often, some conspiracy nut starts in with "what they aren't telling you" and "the things they don't want you to know", and you know what? Not one has produced verifiable scientific evidence that the Intestinal Bodyguard™ is harmful in humans' - Dr Steven Banks, co-founder of SymboGen
A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of disease. We owe our good health to a humble parasite. The Intestinal Bodyguard™ protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. Now, almost everyone has a SymboGen parasite living within them.
But these creatures are getting restless. They want their own lives - and will do anything to get them.' - Parasite, Mira Grant 
This is a lovely book filled with brief interludes of transcripts from various doctors and starting with Doctor Shanti Cale, the fictional character behind the creation of Diphyllobothrium symbogenesis; the tapeworm that became mankind's Intestinal Bodyguard™ and heralded a disease free world. It follows the story of Sally Mitchell, a young woman who had entered a coma during a car crash. Eye witnesses claim Sally had seemed to experience some sort of seizure at the wheel of her car before she pulled out into an oncoming vehicle. The medical experts were convinced Sally was dead and that keeping her body in life support was merely a waste of time because she had suffered 'clinical brain death.' And then Sally woke. Sally's miraculous survival from the car crash was attributed to the Symbogen implant within her, making her an instant celebrity.
However, Sally, a young woman in her twenties, came to with amnesia and doesn't remember any aspect of her prior life at all. Symbogen provided medical healthcare at their expense as she is rehabilitated following her awakening. Her personality as a result is entirely different from the Sally her family used to know as she doesn't have any of her formative years of life, nor her education. She was effectively a blank slate. Symbogen offers the free medical care in return for the opportunity to run tests and for the six years of Sally's life (here meaning her life since she woke up) she's been working with Symbogen's animal shelter.
We see the part of the world through the struggle of Sally as she comes to terms with the world around her and much of her views on the world around her are innocent (in the naive sense). She has to deal with a world almost alien to her. Exposition of the world is also revealed in the form of fictional articles that precede each chapter, giving us a small glimpse into this future. It is effectively a modern world baring the arrival of this genetically engineered Intestinal Bodyguard™ which has revolutionised the health industry.
However, as time goes on, Sally discovers that all is not well. People have begun to develop strange symptoms. Symptoms that the Intestinal Bodyguard™ is failing to stop. Symptoms that Symbogen is working hard to ensure that nobody else hears about. Sally is left in the middle of an unfolding disaster that could mean the end of the human race.
Click below for the full synopsis (click to open/close):
We are then immediately taken to Sally in 2021, her body is failing despite the work of paramedics, doctors, and even life support machines. Her family is being pressed to sign an agreement to allow the hospital to harvest her organs, a move that might save dozens of other lives, but there could be no saving of her life. There was nothing they could save anymore. Sally was gone. And then Sally opened her eyes and sat up. Her organs restarted, her life restored. She couldn't understand anything said to her, nor recognise any of the people gathered around her, but that didn't matter. Sally was alive.
The first chapter opens in 2027, with Sally undergoing psychological treatment with Dr. Morrison. She is getting treatment for her amnesia though Sally dislikes Dr. Morrison intensely. She is also aware that Dr. Morrison is attempting to force her into a mold that fit a psychiatric norm, the better for being able to sell a book about Sally after Symbogen's confidentiality agreements on Sally's life ran out. However, it is here that we first get a view on Sally herself. She prefers to be called 'Sal' as in her mind, Sally is dead. The two persons, Sal and Sally are so completely different that they could not be considered the same anymore. Sal is experiencing constant dreams about a dark, red warmth, sometimes peaceful, sometimes painful. She experiences headaches on a frequent basis. Dr. Morrison wishes to restore Sal's memory and return her to a woman she was not, while Sal wishes to be allowed to continue as she is. Her family was not keen to discuss what Sally had been like in the past, but her sister Joyce revealed when drunk that Sally used to be 'a real bitch.' She hadn't got on well with her father either. Ironically, Sal gets on better with her family despite the fact she has no memories of them.
Even with Symbogen footing the bill after Sal's revival, there were still times when they had nearly lost her during her treatments. On two occasions they had lost her without understanding why, and one another two had discovered that anti-parasitic treatments resulted in nearly losing her as well. With her implanted tapeworm keeping her alive, and with too little information on what the tapeworm had done to revive Sally, Symbogen dropped the anti-parasitic treatments. After escaping the clutches of her psychiatrist, Sal rushes over to the Cause for Paws animal shelter where she was a volunteer worker. She was late though her colleague, Tasha, assures her that her boss, a man named Will, isn't all that mad. Will arrives on scene and admits he isn't angry at all because Sal had just volunteered to clean out the cat pens. And although, they are all aware of the reality that Symbogen donates healthily to the shelter in return for Sal's continued employment there, they group of them are nonetheless friends.
After Sal is done with her shift for the day, she checks her phone to find a message from her sister, who knew how much she disliked Dr. Morrison and another from Nathan who is waiting outside. Nathan is Sal's boyfriend and also another doctor, specifically a parasitologist at the San Francisco City Hospital . He is also without an implant, and still took regular medicines to deal with his illnesses rather than take a Symbogen Intestinal Bodyguard. He appears as a calm and caring individual who is not unprepared to go that extra mile for Sal (which include allowing Sal to see his insurance statements to prove he had a good driving history). Sal has quite evidently been traumatised by her car crash. Nathan explains over the drive that Sal represented a unique study to Dr Morrison and more importantly, it gives her psychiatrist the motivation to find a way to label Sal as requiring more therapy with him, thereby giving him more access to Sal.
Over dinner, Nathan and Sal discuss her therapy session while waiting for their order. As they talk, Nathan mentions that yesterday morning, Sal hadn't recognised him. She had woken up screaming at her hands and when Nathan had asked what was wrong, she looked at him as if she'd never seen him before and promptly returned to screaming. Nathan attempts to ease the matter slightly by saying that he had been worried the neighbours would call the police, thinking he had been beating her. Nathan admits he told her late because he was aware of her appointment with Dr. Morrison and didn't intend to stress her out before that meeting. This is revealed as the reason Nathan suggested that Sal share her dreams with Dr. Morrison, because it would be better if the cause of that incident had been psychological. If it wasn't, then it could mean something was physically very wrong with Sal. Sal and Nathan finally go back to Nathan's apartment where they spend the night together.
The next day, Sal and Joyce decide to head to the mall. Or to be precise, Joyce ropes her sister into going to the mall as a method of helping relax Sal from the upcoming Symbogen review. This review occurs every six months and is an intensive check up by Symbogen, something Sal finds quite stressful (as would most people subjected to such intensive testing). However, going to the mall simply results in Sal fixating on her upcoming review. Joyce comforts her and discovers from Sal that Sal had also fought with their mother over her right to move out from her parent's house. For most adults this wouldn't be an issue, but during Sal's coma, her parents had been granted conservatorship over her until such time as her doctors declared her fully recovered. Therefore, Sal's upcoming review isn't just a medical issue, but also would be a decision that decided whether Sal was a legally competent adult or not.
Their discussion is interrupted by a scene at the mall. Joyce and Sal spot a six or seven year old girl staggering towards the exit of the mall, dragging her terrified mother along behind her. The girl is slack jawed and blind to her mother's entreaties. As they watch the scene, Joyce spotted another man staggering towards the mall's exit, acting much the same as the little girl. Joyce, who worked in medical research, had never seen symptoms like this before. The girl and man stop beside each other, their hands reaching out to hold each other, before they head for the exit. Stunned people take photographs with their cameras as EMTs (emergency medical transport) arrive on scene, separate the girl and man, strap them to gurneys and wheel them away, leaving the mall goers in a stunned silence.
On the drive back, Joyce is switching through channels trying to hear anything reported about the incident and the mall. The news reports that doctors are being baffled by cases of a sleeping sickness which is causing the victims to enter a trance-like state similar to sleepwalking. They return home, Sal having had a fight with Joyce over her distraction while driving. Joyce races past the family angry that there wasn't anything about it on the televised news before she heads upstairs to check the Internet, leaving Sal with her mom and dad. Her dad is a Colonel in the US Army, a former director of USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases),and after hearing the story he tells her that perhaps she shouldn't be surprised at Joyce's reaction. The sleeping sickness has occurred often enough that terrorism was being considered as a potential reason. However, this was not public knowledge, and her father implied that Symbogen might even be involved.
The fictional article excerpts that precede the next chapter indicate that the news was reporting the sleeping sickness at the mall as the result of a potential gas leak, resulting in the strange behaviour in a few individuals. The next morning, Sal receives an email from Nathan apologising for his inability to call last night. He had been kept by a sudden surge of patients into the ER at his hospital, a surge bad enough to overwhelm the doctors on duty. Sal is dropped off by Joyce and her father at a flower store to buy Nathan a flower. Nathan however, loves and cares for carnivorous plants, the store's speciality. She goes in to meet and greet Marya, the owner, and her cat Tumbleweeds. Marya mentions that Sal was lucky, Tumbleweeds had been standoffish lately and even hissed at a few people, something unusual for the cat. Sal decides to buy Nathan a King Sundew, not an easy plant to care for, but a delight for anyone who wished to keep carnivorous plants. As they talk, Marya chides Sal for referring to the Sundew as an 'it', pointing out that 'he' or 'she' may be wrong but 'it' took away the Sundew's individuality.
Sal goes to visit Nathan at work who is overwhelmed by digital paperwork. When he manages to clear up some of his work Sal shows him the King Sundew. Nathan is thrilled at the gift and the two of them go out to eat a meal together at an Indian restaurant. Over the meal, Nathan seems distracted, prompting Sal to ask what the issue was. Nathan is reluctant to share it but Sal presses him for the details. Nathan reveals that last night's emergency had been the result of a nine car pile up on the Bay Bridge. One second nothing, the next a 'big rig' (slang for a large truck) was jackknifing across four lanes of traffic. Eleven people were dead before EMTs could get onto the scene. That in itself, despite Sal's issues with driving-related accidents, was not enough for Nathan to have been reluctant to discuss it. Nathan adds that the truck driver that started the incident and bus driver that capped it off were both suffering from the sleeping sickness and that the bus driver hadn't stepped on his brakes, he had stepped on the gas. The doctors are the hospital couldn't clearly identify who was suffering from the sleeping sickness or a coma as a result of the collisions.
That night, Sal and Nathan go for a walk along the beach. As they walk along they spot a man walking his dog, but the black labrador is pulling her feet and looking pretty miserable. Without warning, the man suddenly stops, stock still causing the dog to panic even more so. The dog breaks free and runs for Sal and Nathan. Nathan thinks the dog is about to attack but Sal realises the dog is scared out of her wits and comforts the dog. They look over to the man only to discover he has become infected with the sleeping sickness and is staggering towards them. Quite a few people had gathered to film the man with their phones. They quickly leave the scene, taking Beverly (the dog) with them. Nathan takes Sal and her rescued dog over to the hospital where Keri, one of the receptionists spends time with Sal while Nathan heads off to see if the hospital would need help (on the assumption that one man suffering the sleeping sickness would not be alone). Both Nathan and Sal are slightly in shock over having seen the man so suddenly succumb to the sleeping sickness.
Nathan asks Devi to take Sal home for him so that he can offer his skills to the ER room which was likely to require him. Sal is still terrified at the idea of getting into the car of a person who's driving history she was not aware of, but agrees for Nathan's sake. There's no one at home when she gets in and after letting Beverly roam around the house she falls asleep. By this point in the story, the article excerpts have made it clear that D. Yonagoensis was not a suitable choice for development according to Dr. Shanti Cale, the same one woman who produced D. Symbogenesis and also the same woman who has claimed that D. Symbogenesis had been based on D. Yonagoensis. The next morning, Sal is taken to Symbogen for her review. Sal meets Clave, the handler who dealt with Sal's tests and accompanies her to the various labs. It's here that we are given an insight into Sal's life. She had actually found Symbogen more comforting than her family home, at first anyway and it was only when the rounds of testing had begun that she truly understood what the place she thought of as 'home' wanted from her. Clave and Sherman are the two handlers for Sal during the reviews, though Sal preferred Sherman to Clave, she also preferred Clave to any of their substitutes.
Inside the Symbogen building, Sal is taken to an interview with Dr. Steven Banks, founder and owner of Symbogen. Dr. Steven Banks is also the only remaining doctor of the three who had developed the Intestinal Bodyguard (the other two being Dr. Shanti Cale and Dr. Richard Jablonsky, both of whom the world had not heard from for a long time). Sal doesn't like Dr. Banks, feeling very uncomfortable in his presence. Dr. Banks continues to question Sal about her health and her general well being before turning to the event that she witnessed. The questions then turn to Beverly and how the dog reacted around the man, Nathan and her. Sal rather hotly responded that she'd already been questioned about dog theft by the police and had not in any way whatsoever taken an unwilling dog. Dr. Banks also offers Sal a position within Symbogen in their animal research division, but Sal has no intention of inserting herself even further into Symbogen. She goes on to meet Sherman who insists on teaching her some British slang before passing her off to Dr. Lo. Sal wakes up a moment later, having fallen asleep during her blood draw, something that Sherman privately warns her is dangerous, a comment that only confuses Sal.
Sal is then taken to the ultrasound chamber, which happens to be her favourite of all the tests performed by Symbogen. Just like her blood test, this is another test that most people find uncomfortable. Ultrasound chambers are claustrophobic environments (one of the few tests that lab techs offer to glue your eyes shut to prevent you from opening them if you panic), yet Sal is able to fall asleep inside it every time. After the test, she is left with Sherman where they discuss Sally and what expectations that had landed Sal with. Sal admits she actually hates Sally because her complete lack of memories means that she sees herself as a fresh and separate person, yet others see her as Sally minus the memories, meaning that they see Sal's whole life as being defined by the accident. Sherman leaves Sal with Clave but not before receiving a hug from Sal surprising Clave. Clave seems rather shocked at it and even backs away from Sal when she teases her about hugging her other handler.
As they enter the cafeteria, Clave suddenly goes stock still and to Sal's terror, she discovers that Clave has become afflicted by the sleeping sickness and worse she's trapped between Clave and the rest of the room. Symbogen security appear and ask Sal to move away from Clave. However, Sal doesn't quite realise what has happened yet and fails to move only to find herself suddenly being choked by Clave, bringing directly home some of the horror of the sleeping sickness. Sherman rescues Sal from Clave's grip before being accosted by Symbogen security who go on to use batons on Clave, electrifying her. The scene is quite shocking for Sal but Dr. Banks, who had arrived by then, informs her that there was no other way. Before Clave is dragged away, she manages to utter 'Sally' through the pain...
The entire cafeteria floor is taken away, every man and woman present is dragged away by Symbogen security, who maintain a two to one ratio between guards and staff. They are taken to the elevators and brought to a basement floor within the Symbogen facility before a group of people wearing biohazard suits. They inform Sal they have been authorised to sedate her if she refused to cooperate. The Symbogen staff are worried that Clave had not displayed any symptoms before succumbing to the sleeping sickness. Sal can see everyone else being taken for individual screenings and she herself has a UV blacklight run over her body before being declared clear of whatever the biohazard teams are looking for. Told that Sherman hadn't made it either, Sal is let go without her bag, which was also undergoing decontamination and would be returned to her. She is picked up by Nathan and afraid that Symbogen could overhear them explains what had happened to Clave. She worries that she was somehow to blame for Beverly's owner, Clave and Sherman. Nathan helps calm her down though but goes on to demand help from her at the hospital. Nathan takes Sal in to see the current victims of the sleeping sickness they had in the wards. The doctors are aware that there is no cure at the moment but aren't even sure what tests they can run to discover symptoms. Sharing her experiences at Symbogen, they discover that the UV blacklights reveal a system of roots present in the underarms... Nathan announces that this isn't a disease, this is a parasite and wonders why Symbogen is hiding that information. Sal merely wonders what Symbogen will do when they find out they know.
The next morning, Sal is woken by Joyce having slept till nine, about the box that Symbogen had delivered to them. Within the box is Sal's bag and her items faithfully returned to her as well as an entire breakfast meal as apologies from Dr. Banks for the failure to have lunch the previous day. Over breakfast, Sal starts explaining what had happened the previous day, though her family doesn't seem keen to discuss it, except for Joyce who is shocked that Symbogen has a test to discover if people have the sleeping sickness. She is told to be quiet by her father though and the two leave almost immediately after that for the army laboratory, while Sal prepared to go to the animal shelter. She'd been talking about yesterday's events because she felt the need to discuss it, or start screaming. It is as she's getting her bag ready that she realises her notebook was left in the bag and worried about people having read what was written within she flips through it. She finds a note with a telephone number and instructions to call if she wanted to find out more.
At the shelter, Tasha teases her for the fact that she's arrived early for a change, something Sal almost never does before they both get to work. However, haunted by the message, Sal decides to call the number given to her in her notebook. Thinking ahead, she switches on the shelter's shower to help conceal the noise of her conversation. She ends up talking with a woman who warns her not to trust Symbogen and claims that she's on Sal's side. The mystery woman invites Sal and her boyfriend to come along if she's willing to discover the truth before hanging up, leaving Sal with the curious phrase 'certain lines can't be uncrossed; certain maps will get you lost.' Sal's attempts to call the number again result in the disconnected tone. After finishing work, Sal calls Nathan and asks if she can talk with him. Nathan mistakenly assumes that it was the 'breakup' talk before Sal clears it up. Nathan is shocked when Sal repeats that strange phrase to him stating that it was from an out-of-print children's story that his mother used to read to him. He had never managed to find an existing copy of that book but he decides he will go with Sal to find this person.
The next chapter opens with a phone call to Nathan from the hospital. Devi, his secretary brought in her wife to the ER. Her wife was suffering the same symptoms as others with the sleeping sickness. Devi had died after Katherine (her wife) suddenly attacked her while being moved into a hospital bed. The medical staff present couldn't deal with her in time. Nathan leaves for the hospital at 3am in the morning while Sal heads home where her father talks to her. Sal explains what had happened to Devi while her father expresses his concerns with Symbogen. He believes that there may be a link between the epidemic and Symbogen but could not act on it because the burden of proof falls on the government to prove that Symbogen was involved. Sal's father explains that not everyone who succumbs to the sleeping sickness turns violent, only a minority, and that the government was not going to announce what they did know about the sleeping sickness because they did not wish to start a panic. Her father leaves to head to the lab leaving Sal alone at home with Beverly. However, after preparing Beverly's food the dog fails to appear. Sal finds Beverly outside in her garden growling and on going outside, Sal finds three victims of the sleeping sickness who approach the house. Sal makes a call to Dr. Banks to report the victims who tells her to sit tight because he was sending a security team.
The team arrives, restrains the three victims and rescues Sal. However, having entered the premises to ensure that the victims hadn't gained entry they then invite Sal back to Symbogen to talk to Dr. Banks, igniting some worry in Sal. Sal declines and the security team leave but shortly after that a ring on her doorbell precedes the arrival of a small package with a message for Sal (from the same children's story) and a street address. She decides to go with Nathan to the address, telling Nathan in the car about the events that morning. Nathan comforts her that she did the right thing as they make their way to the address. At the address (an abandoned bowling alley) they wait for ten minutes before a short woman named Tansy meets them. Tansy refuses to let them in unless they can answer the password, and when asked what would happen if they didn't have the password, Tansy begins to talk about where the most nerves in the body are located. Nathan hurriedly gives quotes the children's book though it has become swiftly apparent that Tansy is a few pebbles short of a beach. She delightfully greets them and tells them she'll take them to see Doctor C. The interior of the building contains a high tech medical laboratory that is clearly operating illegally and at the centre of this facility they meet Doctor C, an older woman in a wheelchair. It is here that Nathan greets the woman as his mother.
Doctor C reveals that her name used to be Surrey Kim but after faking her own death she joined the Symbogen research team under the name Dr. Shanti Cale. She goes on to explain how Dr. Steven Banks had convinced her to join the Symbogen research team. The official history states that Dr. Banks started with D. Yonagoensis (a species of tapeworm that parasitizes fish), however, Dr. Cale revealed that Dr. Banks started with Taenia solium, the pork tapeworm, and that it was she who began using D. Yonagoensis. She adds that the reason she was in a wheelchair now was because she knew that when Symbogen became vastly wealthy the original team would be in danger because they knew too much. As insurance she ingested one of her early prototype Instestinal Bodyguards (that she called her 'Adam') which she kept alive long enough to be able to extract segments for research but by then it was too late. The early prototypes had too much human DNA in and the amount of anti-parasitics needed to deal with the tapeworm would be fatal for the host too. Dr. Cale had gone through a course of anti-parasitics and passed enough tapeworm segments to think the parasite was dead but what was left of the tapeworm had migrated from her intestines to her abdomen and begun curling around her spine eventually creating enough pressure to permanently compromise the nerves. Dr. Cale returned to the topic of the sleeping sickness by introducing Tansy and a young man called Adam. Sal voices what she thought, that the young man was Dr. Cale's tapeworm and is congratulated by Dr. Cale for realising this.
Nathan believes that her mother had gone delusional over her long period of hiding, causing Dr. Cale to lose her temper with her son. Adam was derived from a cloned tapeworm and wasn't the original tapeworm. Adam's body was originally that of a brain-dead young man who had been on life-support for six years and was bought from the parents. The body had never been fitted with a Symbogen implant and was guaranteed brain-dead, two important factors. Dr. Cale informs Nathan that she had then implanted her cloned tapeworm into the body through the back of the skull and introduced it to the brain directly in order to prove one of her theories and, six months later, Adam woke up. Adam had been alive since that period for only a year and a half. Sal has begun panicking but Dr. Cale tells her not to worry, she had an implant before her accident and that the D. Symbogenesis was too territorial to accept another parasite. Dr. Cale goes on to mention her second experiment, namely determining whether D. Symbogenesis could be introduced to the human brain like Adam had been. The result was Tansy, however, D. Symbogenesis was not as capable when it came to meshing with the human brain giving rise to numerous neurological issues. Dr. Cale finishes by telling Sal and Nathan that this was the reality behind the sleeping sickness. To Nathan's horror, Dr. Cale explains that no real tapeworm carrying human DNA would have what it took to mesh with the human body so flawlessly and goes on to describe how the D. Symbogenesis contained DNA from Toxoplasma gondii.
Outside of fiction Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that reproduces in felines but can infect humans as well and is able to alter the behaviour of rats in ways thought to increase their chance of being preyed upon by cats. There is also some research that suggests Toxoplasma gondii can affect subtle behavioural or personality changes in humans and infection by this parasite has been associated with a number of neurological disorders, most notably schizophrenia. The classic stereotype of 'the crazy cat lady' is thought to have some relation to human infection by Toxoplasma gondii through the owned cats.
Dr. Cale's final observation to Nathan and Sal is that there is no such thing as the sleeping sickness. It is a convenient label for a situation that most people didn't understand. The Intestinal Bodyguard is a parasite that is able to reproduce aesexually, knows how to spread through muscle tissue without killing its host and most importantly, thanks to the splice of Toxoplasma gondii, knows how to move into the brain. The sleeping sickness is actually the result of the Instestinal Bodyguard migrating from the intestines to the brain which causes serious trauma resulting in seizures, loss of motor control and the fugue-like state. Dr. Cale apologises to Sal and tells her that there is no cure. The sleeping sickness means the tapeworm is already present in the brain and that all they could hope for was that eventually someone else would wake up in that body. Sal faints.
She comes to face to face with Tansy and ends up trying to start a conversation with her, only to be told that Tansy already knew everything there was to know about Sal because she had been spying on her and that there was no point in Tansy talking because she was liable to say things she wasn't meant to and would then have to put Sal six feet under. Sal is uncomfortable in the presence of Tansy and Adam but eventually she is taken to Dr. Cale who is still talking with Nathan. Her son remains upset at Dr. Cale for leaving their family and is surprised when Dr. Cale shows him the storybook she used to read him as a child. She had taken it from their house and kept it as a reminder and gives it to Nathan. As Nathan and Sal decide to head back, Tansy dashes into the lab from outside where she'd been sledding with a police scanner to tell them that an outbreak of the sleeping sickness had occurred in Lafayette.
Nathan and Sal head home in their car only to find themselves caught in traffic. While stuck in place, Sal asks what Dr. Cale had said of her after she had fainted and Nathan responds that she had mentioned that Symbogen needed Sal to show the good side of implants. A sleepwalker appears out of the woods trailed by a group of others that descend upon the cars. Sal spots a woman being dragged by her hair towards the woods by a sleepwalker as panic ensues. Sal and Nathan are trapped in their car by a single sleepwalker that has walked up to the car and begun to hit the glass. As others are dragged away from their vehicles by the sleepwalkers, Nathan and Sal expect the worst. They are saved at the last minute by a shot that drops the sleepwalker. Tansy has arrived, gun in hand, something that doesn't really comfort either of them despite the rescue. Tansy reveals that there had been a tracker in the book they had taken with them. She adds that the book was helping jam the bugs that Symbogen had planted before heading off into the woods, leaving Nathan and Sal.
During the entire time that Sal had been away from her home, her parents had been in a state of panic. Sal wasn't around with only a note on the refrigerator about the events of that morning, their home number had six increasingly anxious requests from Symbogen security for Sal to contact their office and to top it off, they were called by the Lafayette Police Department. Her father dismisses Nathan and takes Sal into the house where he and her mother tell Sal she is grounded, pointing out that as her legal guardians they could impose the rule without issue despite Sal's age.
The next morning, Sal wakes to find herself a prisoner in her own home. The new security system installed after the incident requires the users to wear an electronic tag to leave the house and everyone (including Beverly) but her has a tag. Worse, the security system extends to the home wifi and television channels leaving Sal ignorant of the outside world being unable to access the news or Internet. After six days of this, her father suddenly confronts Sal with the children's book from Dr. Cale, asking if this was the source of the signal interference in the house. Her father reveals that he had found Symbogen bugs in the house as a result of the security team's entry and that he hadn't wanted Sal to say anything until he had found the bugs, the best way he could do so was to appear unreasonably angry. Sal, angry at her treatment, tells her father that she would be moving out, even if she had to go to court with her parents. Her father explains that he and her mother had reacted so badly because this was not the first occurrence of sleepwalkers accosting people in their homes and that somehow the sleepwalkers were able to spread the infection. Her father goes on to say that the government is certain Symbogen was covering up news of the sleepwalker incidents and hiding something. What exactly, her father didn't know and Sal doesn't feel like sharing. However, her father recalled Sal's mentioning that Symbogen had a screening test for the sleeping sickness, something the USAMRIID hadn't developed yet.
Sal demands to be taken to her father's lab to show the screening test where she discovers Joyce had been staying (in protest to her parent's decision regarding Sal's treatment). The USAMRIID laboratory features a L4 Biosafety level lab (there are four levels of biosafety in the real world, four is the highest and most secure). Her father takes her inside and explains to her that he feels that Sal is not being entirely open with her regarding what she knew about the sleeping sickness. He threatens her with the possibility of being arrested for treason. As they go on to meet Joyce and detail what she would need to display the test (simply a UV wand) her father suddenly goes quiet. What follows is a cruel trick on Sal as her father fakes being afflicted by the sleeping sickness to see how her daughter would react, but her father is vindicated because Sal immediately suggests pumping her father full of anti-parasitics. Sal is then taken to the ward within the lab to demonstrate the test on their live subjects. As Symbogen had done earlier, Sal uses the UV light to reveal the parasitic root network under the skin and explains that the sleeping sickness isn't a disease but a result of the Intestinal Bodyguard 'doing things.' Shortly after revealing the test, one of the victims manages to break free of her bonds causing chaos within the ward. Sal is left cut off with the sleepwalkers approaching her, all of them moaning her name as she huddles in a corner of the room. Her father rushes in, killing the victims that had broken free and sedating his daughter.
When Sal wakes up, she finds herself strapped down in a bed left unattended. She is terrified her implant is even now laying siege to her brain. She is tested for the sleeping sickness before being released by her father who revealed that the test was effective, that all the current victims displayed the root network and that three of their lab techs had also displayed preliminary signs of the sickness.
One of them is Joyce.
Sal asks her father for a phone so she could make a call, to try to do her best to save Joyce. She calls Nathan and immediately asks how she could kill the implant in Joyce. Nathan prescribes a series of highly toxic anti-parasitics stating that there wasn't much choice. Sal then asks Nathan to come pick her up from USAMRIID, she was going to move out as soon as she left the laboratory. Sal tells her father that maybe he didn't have her best interests in mind after all that he had done, threatening to prevent her leaving the lab, keeping her under house arrest and scaring her with his trick. She decides she is done, she wants to leave. However, her father focuses on Nathan, wondering how he knew what to do when their staff hadn't had any clues. Sal finally tells her father that the Intestinal Bodyguard had DNA from Toxoplasma gondii, something that shocks her father to the core because it brings up a truth that neither of them wanted to face just yet. Against the wishes of his staff, he lets her depart the lab with Nathan who picks her up.
The two of them discuss their situation and Sal asks Nathan for his help in taking some of her clothes and Beverly to his home, keen to move in with him sooner rather than later, though with the way the world seems to be falling down around them, Sal cannot work up any excitement for it. They are interrupted by a call from Tansy who asks them if they had managed to escape from USAMRIID. If not, she would be delighted to try out her 'new rocket launcher' and she is entirely fine with the two of them claiming they were in a storm drain and in need of a rescue. Nathan drives Sal home and helps Sal move out, though Sal is left shocked when her mother echoes her father's earlier statements when she tells Sal that Sal was not her true daughter. When they arrive at Nathan's, he shares what Dr. Cale had told him, that the sleeping sickness had reached a critical tipping point because the implants have a method of communication with each other. This meant that for every person who succumbed to the sleeping sickness there were others still who would be infected by the very presence of that person. Tansy appears on their doorsteps with a warning from Dr. Cale that with Sal out of her old home, Symbogen may try to take her into 'protective custody' especially now that the sleeping sickness has worsened.
When asked how, Tansy explains that the most recent victims that were studied displayed close to no damage of their brain tissue. The reason reduced brain tissue damage is bad is for the simple fact that it means D. Symbogenesis is meshing with its hosts faster and safer, meaning that some people might even have been taken over without others realising. Tansy tells Sal that Dr. Cale needed her to go to Symbogen willingly to obtain information and find out if Symbogen knew anything more than Dr. Cale and her team knew. During their talk, Tansy meets Beverly and to Nathan and Sal's surprise, Tansy loves dogs. Having sated herself playing with Beverly, the psychopathic young woman gives Sal a memory stick explaining that the device would strip the information it needed if it was plugged into any networked machine at Symbogen, letting slip that their prior agent had been Clave. Dr. Cale hopes that the information they obtain may help develop a method of communicating to the tapeworms (via the method they communicate with each other) in order to tell them to stop. The tapeworms may dislike being slaves to their host's needs, but that was always preferable to death. Nathan is shocked that her mother suddenly sees Sal as an expendable asset to be used, but Tansy points out that Nathan's mother was a woman who swallowed a genetically modified organism that hadn't been proven safe because she thought it was important. Mother or not, Dr. Cale was not above using whoever she could use.
The next day, Sal enters the Symbogen headquarters, presenting herself to the front desk. To her surprise she actually begins crying before the receptionist as she tells them that she was here to see Dr. Banks, evidently the past few days had been more traumatic that she had realised. She is taken to meet Dr. Banks in his office, where he greets her. Dr. Banks looks tired and harried as he talks with Sal, attempting to test out an excuse he could go public with regarding the sleeping sickness. Dr. Banks tests the excuse by trying to convince Sal of the threat of off-brand parasites. He goes on to explain that in fact, the sleeping sickness was not caused by Symbogen implants but a water-based protozoan parasite released by illegal laboratories. Plausible as it sounded, the reality was knocked home for Sal when she questioned Dr. Bank's explanation, pointing out that if the protozoan parasite was small enough to avoid water filters then it would be too small to affect the brain. Dr. Banks hesitated, letting her realise that in fact the reasoning he had just expounded on was nothing more than the spin he planned to put on the sleeping sickness, making Sal's decision to try to get that information for Dr. Cale so much easier.
She fakes crying, creating an awkward situation for Dr. Banks who offers to get someone to fetch her water. Sal sobs and insists that she didn't want anyone to see her in her current state, causing Dr. Banks to smile fondly and go out himself to fetch the water. As soon as Dr. Banks is out of the room, Sal moves over to his desk and plugs the memory stick she'd been given into Dr. Banks' PC. She then grabs her notebook and a pen from the desk and sits, writing. When Dr. Banks returns and asks her what she was doing, she replies that Dr. Morrison had always encouraged her to write down her thoughts whenever she felt, but she hadn't been able to balance the notebook on her knees so she had decided to make use of his desk. Sal's writing skills after only six years of learning are legible when she tries, but the scrawls on her notebook were illegible to Dr. Banks. Sal explains that she'd been writing about Joyce, for whom she was worried for, and her mother and father, her guilt at moving out and her hopes for Joyce. She uses the action of putting away her notebook to hide her removal of the USB memory stick from Dr. Banks' computer.
Sal shares with Dr. Banks about the recent upheaval in her life, that her mother had said she was not her daughter and how to them she was really just a stranger they had been playing pretend with. Dr. Banks shocks her by agreeing. He explains that the woman who woke up without any memory of her past life was definitely a separate person from the Sally that had suffered her accident. Because Sal had come to with no memory of her past life she was free of Sally's sins, successes and emotional baggage. However, as Dr. Banks explains that if Sally's memories returned Sal would effectively die. The person she is was not Sally. Would Sally have been willing to 'go through the broken doors?' Dr. Banks asks, confronting Sal with a quote straight from the code she'd used to contact Dr. Cale. He goes on to say that he knew about Sal's conversation over the phone at the animal shelter, the use of the shower to conceal the sound had been quite ingenious, but the shelter had been bugged by Symbogen. He had been hoping Sal would lead him to Dr. Cale, but she hadn't and now demands to know where Dr. Shanti Cale was. Worse, as Dr. Banks continued, he reveals he had known all along that Nathan was Dr. Cale's son, that in fact, Symbogen had considered the relationship between her and him as an ideal opportunity. Through Sal, Symbogen was able to keep tabs on her father (and more specifically USAMRIID) as well as Nathan, though Dr. Cale had never contacted her son, choosing instead to contact Sal first. He asks her if that was the real reason she had been in Lafayette and if that had been why she'd been present at the sleepwalker outbreak there. Sal realises that Dr. Banks was looking for another plausible excuse to feed the public. After all, it would be an easy task to portray Dr. Cale as an embittered woman who sabotaged Symbogen's products out of a misplaced sense of revenge.
Sal denies ever meeting Dr. Cale, explaining that she had turned to Symbogen because she had had no idea what to do, but was frightened that Dr. Banks was implying they'd only been nice to Sal so that they could use her. Sal begins to cry in earnest, the realisation that both her family and Symbogen were more than willing to take advantage of her for their own gain. There was something else too, something Dr. Cale had revealed, something she wasn't ready to remember yet. Dr. Banks apologises, explaining that there were no 'good' guys, that no one had only Sal's best interests at heart. He continues, adding that Symbogen was not responsible for Sal's accident and asks what Symbogen could do to convince her that they were on the same side. To Dr. Banks' surprise, Sal requests an ultrasound, explaining that she hadn't been sleeping well since the sleeping sickness had arisen and that the gel ultrasound chamber was a relaxing experience for her. Dr. Banks agrees, escorting her to the testing room. As she goes with him, listening to him talk about the sleeping sickness, she realises that Dr. Banks genuinely cared about what would happen to Sal, even more so than her parents, though he wasn't very good at expressing it and he was likely still lying to her. She could see from the way he continually looked at her, seeking approval from Sal's facial expressions. He genuinely wanted Sal to be happy.
At the ultrasound chamber, she is left with one of the techs but when she is taken to the room itself, she is shocked by the appearance of Sherman, her handler. He hadn't been ill, hadn't been afflicted by the sleeping sickness at all. But once Sal is inside the room, Sherman confronts her, demanding the memory stick she had on her. He laughs at her confusion, explaining that there was no such thing as only two sides in any situation. There was a war coming and there was no time to coddle her when it did come. As Sherman taunts Sal he is interrupted by Tansy's arrival, the small woman armed with two pistols as she brightly greets Sherman and the lab techs. Sherman reacts, drawing a pistol and taking Sal hostage. Tansy indicates that pointing a gun at Sal wouldn't stop her, she didn't really like Sal all that much anyway but if Sherman shot Sal, she'd shoot him and 'squish him' after he came out of the hole she'd just made. Sherman tries to convince Tansy to stop working for her cause (here referring to Dr. Cale rather than Sal) but Tansy isn't so easily convinced, pointing out that wholesale destruction wasn't her thing because it would interrupt her favourite cable shows (which for Tansy and her neurological issues was probably a very valid reason). Sal escapes Sherman's grip and demands to know what is going on. Tansy reveals that Sherman was one of Dr. Cale's tapeworms (specifically subject 8, iteration 3. Tansy was subject 8, iteration 2). Sherman knocked out Tansy and locked Adam in a closet before making his escape with Dr. Cale's research. He explains that he could use the data on the memory stick to improve the interfacing between tapeworm and host, resulting in less victims of the sleeping sickness and a smoother takeover. Sal and Tansy leave the laboratory and escape Symbogen through the sewers, killing two Symbogen guards on the way out. They make their way to the Golden Gate estuary where Sal spots Nathan waiting by his car for them. Tansy however, has spotted a mob of sleepwalkers heading towards them. She buys time for Nathan and Sal to escape, throwing herself into the mob.
Sal is distraught in the car and begs Nathan to put her on a course of anti-parasitics as soon as they got into Dr. Cale's lab. Nathan reminds Sal that a course of anti-parasitics could be fatal for Sal, but she wants her implant gone. Nathan manages to convince Sal to take a blood test first, to find out how healthy her implant was. After the blood test, Nathan comes back to Sal and tells her she doesn't need anti-parasitics, telling her that her implant had died naturally, something that occurred naturally but rarely. Sal though points out that Nathan had to be wrong, even if her blood showed no protein markers for the tapeworm because she used to be allergic to dogs, badly so. If she had been able to be so close to Beverly she had to still have her implant. Dr. Cale intervenes and suggests taking Sal to the MRI scanner. The results reveal the truth to Sal. Her brain had a tapeworm wrapped tightly around it, deeply integrated. Her mother had been right, Sally Mitchell had died in the accident.
Food For Thought
At the heart of Parasite is a story about growing up. A story of the struggle of adulthood and the responsibilities that lie with it. The reality is, everyone grows up, though the gap between childhood and adulthood is often very large. We discover as we grow up that the world was nothing like we thought it would be. Children enter the world with dreams of changing the world, unaware that the truth of the matter is that we are shaped by the world we grow up in instead. People are the product of their environment, the person that reaches adulthood is not an open-minded individual. His or her opinions have already been shaped during their journey to adulthood, influenced here and there by events and by other people that we trust or look up to.
The easiest example of being shaped by our environment is the process undergone by children everywhere. Through your childhood you learn from your parents what behaviour is acceptable and what isn't. Children mimic their parents because they have learnt from their behaviour what achieves results. However, children also learn from the others around them, from the people they interact with.
If the parents are uncomfortable around dogs and take extra pains to ensure their child is safe, so too will the child develop a fear of dogs. This fear can nevertheless be removed if the child is in an environment where the child can come into frequent contact with friendly dogs and their owners... provided that they interact of course.
In Parasite we see Sal, who has only been 'alive' for six years being thrust straight into an adult world because it was required of her. To all intents and purposes, she is weird. Weird because she didn't 'grow up' in a the environment that we see as 'normal.' She likes watermelon juice with tabasco and she is comforted by the smell of bleach for example. Her personality is effectively shaped by the world she grew up in but being of an adult age, she was granted more freedom to develop her personality outside of the 'norm.' The fact that she was cared for by Symbogen first simply highlights that. Her parents want Sal to fit the Sally Mitchell mould despite her complete lack of memories of her past life and even without the underlying plot, Sal would never be Sally Mitchell because she didn't have the experiences that had shaped Sally. A large portion of the book is the struggle of her identity. She is an individual whose identity is completely separate from Sally Mitchell but she nevertheless has Sally Mitchell's body. Her parents want their daughter back, not the stranger in her body. She wants to live her life as the individual she is now, not to be fit into the mould of a dead woman and as the world around her begins to change for the worse, she has no choice but to grow up fast.
In addition to this story there is a warning about the power of trust here. In the modern age we ascribe to our doctors an infallibility derived from their medical knowledge. We trust our doctors to be able to heal us and identify our problems. This is a story about an entire world that has wholly trusted their doctors with their health or specifically Symbogen, a medical corporation. Symbogen has promised a brighter and better world through their Intestinal Bodyguard which has been human tested and approved by the FDA (US Food & Drug Administration) but all they have really done is opened the door for a great catastrophe. Symbogen is a public company with a very large amount of trust given to it thanks to the Intestinal Bodyguard. The article excerpts that precede each chapter indicate very early on that Symbogen had cut corners here and there. But taking shortcuts is only cause for alarm if something goes wrong. The lack of protest to the Symbogen Intestinal Bodyguard throughout the book suggests that the general public trusted Symbogen enough that their 'shortcuts' could be waved aside.
The modern era though is hardly shocked at the idea of an 'unethical corporation.' If anything the stereotype is actually overused. Corporations are by their nature easy to see as unethical because on paper they are a faceless organisation rather than people (although, admittedly it is an organisation comprised of human beings). It is far too easy to perceive a corporation as unethical because they are run by humans who have proven very capable of unethical behaviour in the name of profit.
Look at Chang Guann Co. A company that had been buying 'gutter' oil and selling it as lard oil. Gutter oil is another term for oil recycled from grease traps and kitchens. Chang Guann claims to have been unaware that they had been purchasing oil from an illegal factory. Mistakes do happen, but in today's society, it is very easy to perceive Chang Guann of deliberate fraud, because we're inclined to distrust the executives on account of the fact that it is hard to accept that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing (although in corporations this does happen).
The book also throws a mirror up to our conception of what is acceptable in our society. In today's world, barring a few extreme weightloss techniques, the concept of voluntarily ingesting a tapeworm is rather revolting. Parasite is a take on how easily we can accept an offputting concept if it leads to direct and immediate benefits. People happily have their implants because of the greater levels of health they enjoy as a result. It's a glimpse of how society can embrace and adapt to huge changes in lifestyle when these changes bring with them a better standard of living.
This book briefly touches on the concept of the soul as well. Not directly, but in a more subtle manner. When the sleeping sickness takes a victim this is because the host's implant has crawled into the brain. However, when the implant takes over, none of the original memories of the host are retained, giving a rather loose conception of the soul. Modern neuralogical science doesn't really quite get sentience yet. We know it isn't a matter of processing power (we've built computers with more processing power than humans and they don't spontaneously develop sentience). We're not really sure it's just a matter of chemical inputs in the brain simply because other animals experience much the same but don't display self-awareness. Even in today's world, we still hold close this concept of the soul. The idea that our self-awareness is not tied directly to a physical aspect of our body. The book deals with that sensitive issue by suggesting the tapeworms cannot access prior memories of their host (despite the fact they are using their brains) which implies that there is a soul because those memories were unique only to the host.
Following from the concept of the soul, consider this last, interesting concept. This story, despite its analogies to zombie plots, features the concept of engineered sentience. In the world of Parasite, the public lives healthy through ingesting sentient parasites, killing them every two years to ingest a new one (to ensure they don't grow large enough to endanger the human body). The parasites may not be human, but our treatment of these sentient creatures wouldn't exactly engender friendship. Sal's father doesn't view the victims of the sleeping sickness as people, even though there is a guiding sentience, but by what right do we have to deny the Intestinal Bodyguard its right to life? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based on the assumption that the most important thing in the world is humans because of our sentience. Is the term 'human' merely a word for us alone or a phrase that should extend to cover any self-aware creature? We put alot of weight into the value of a human life, treating human life as a sacrosanct thing, but is it right to place humans above the Intestinal Bodyguard?