The Parasite

By Arthur C. Clarke

Omega

… There aren’t any obstacles: I know he’s there all the time, waiting for me to let down my guard. Night and day, drunk or sober, I’m conscious of his presence. At times like this he’s quiescent, watching me out of the corner of his eye. My only hope is that he’ll grow tired of waiting, and go in search of some other victim.

Try and imagine the horror of that discovery: the effect of learning that every act, every thought or desire that flitted through your mind was being watched and shared by another being. It meant, of course, the end of all normal life for me. I had to leave Ruth and I couldn’t tell her why. Then, to make matters worse, Maude came chasing after me. She wouldn’t leave me alone, and bombarded me with letters and phone calls. It was hell, I couldn’t fight both of them, so I ran away. And I thought that on Syrene, of all places, he would find enough to interest him without bothering me…

The only way I kept any control was by fighting back, trying to come to grips with him and to understand what he was. And in the end I succeeded. He’s a long way away and there must be some limit to his powers. Perhaps that first contact was an accident, though I’ not sure.

What I’ve told you, Jack, must be hard enough for you to believe, but it’s nothing to what I’ve got to say now. Yet remember – you agreed that I’m not an imaginative man, and see if you can find a always anywhere in this story.

I don’t know if you’ve read any of the evidence suggesting that telepathy is somehow independent of time. I know that it is. Omega doesn’t belong to our age: he’s somewhere in the future, immensely far ahead of us. For a while I thought he must be one of the last men – that’s why I gave him his name. But now I’m not sure; perhaps he belongs to an age when there are a myriad different races of man, scattered all over the universe – some still ascending, others sinking into decay. His people, wherever and whenever they may be, have reached the heights and fallen from them into the depths the beasts can never know. There’s a sense of evil about him, Jack – the real evil that most of us never meet in all our lives. Yet sometimes I feel almost sorry for him, because I know what has made him the thing he is.

Have you ever wondered, Jack, what the human race will do when science has discovered everything, when there are no more worlds to be explored, when all the stars have given up their secrets? Omega is one of the answers. I hope he’s not the only one, for if so everything we’ve striven for is in vain. I hope that he and his race are an isolated cancer in a still healthy universe, but I can never be sure.

They have pampered their bodies until they are useless, and too late they have discovered their mistake. Perhaps they have thought, as some men have thought, that they could live by intellect alone. And perhaps they are immortal, and that must be their real damnation. Through the ages their minds have been corroding in their feeble bodies, seeking some release from their intolerable boredom. They have found it at last in the only way they can, by sending back their minds to an earlier, more virile age, and becoming parasites on the emotions of others.

I wonder how many of them there are? Perhaps they explain all cases of what used to be called possession. How they must have ransacked the past to assuage their hunger! Can’t you picture them, flocking like carrion crows around the decaying Roman Empire, jostling one another for the minds of Nero and Caligula and Tiberius? Perhaps Omega failed to get those richer prizes. Or perhaps he hasn’t much choice and must take whatever mind he can contact in any age, transforming from that to the next whenever he has the chance…

He’s in a kind of hollow, egg-shaped space – surrounded by blue mist that always seems to be twisting and turning, but never changes its position. There’s no entrance or exit – and no gravity, unless he’s learned to defy it. Because he floats in the center, and around him is a circle of short, fluted cylinders, turning slowly in the air. I think they must be machines of some kind, obeying his will. And once there was a large oval hanging beside him, with perfectly human, beautifully formed arms coming from it. It could only have been a robot, yet those hands and fingers seemed alive. There were feeding and massaging him, treating him like a baby. It was horrible…

Have you ever seen a lemur or a spectral tarsier? He’s rather like that – a nightmare travesty of mankind, with huge malevolent eyes. And this is strange – it’s not the way one had imagined evolution going – he’s covered with a fine layer of fur, as blue as the room in which he lives. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been in the same position, half curled up like a sleeping baby. I think his legs have completely atrophied; perhaps his arms as well. Only his brain is still active, hunting up and down the ages for its prey,

And now you know why there was nothing you or anyone else could do. Your psychiatrists might cure me if I was insane, but the science that can deal with Omega hasn’t been invented yet.

parasite

Omega hasn't been invented yet. Photo : Univers.GrandQuebec.com

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