I am become Norris, and discover that I did not die the first time.
Some of me persisted in those burnt remains from the doghouse, hung on against fire and frost: crippled, mindless, reduced to a few jellied fragments embedded in carbon. They took what they could find and broke cover. Now I watch myself stagger through the snow, raw instinct, wearing Bennings.
Some of Bennings, anyway. Twisted knots of me cling to his hands and forearms like crude parasites, more outside than in; ten times that mass must have been metabolized to drive such a breakneck transition and still it wasn’t fast enough. Bennings moves half under his control and half under mine, spastic, seizing. He crumples, makes sounds unlike anything this world will recognize.
Men swarm on all sides, their own movements more instinctive than rational. The flares in their hands burn a crimson counterpoint to the dim blue constellations of distant guidelights. Their faces are bichromatic and beautiful in the darkness. MacReady tips a drum onto its side; rust-colored liquid spills across the snow. I smell the stink of flammable hydrocarbons.
Once more I watch from the sidelines as they set me on fire. I die all over again, my unconsummated skin howling like an animal beneath the sky.
It shouldn’t matter this much. I lost hardly anything this time; a stunted, presapient sliver with little mass and no usable experience. I have lost potential, nothing more. And yet I am suddenly as cold inside as out.
Three times the world has burned me now. I’m really getting tired of it.