Dominant Culture

Story created by FeverDreamer ∙ 14 April 2024

A government experiment to create intelligent microbial life fails, but a small sample is taken home and is eaten by an unsuspecting civilian.

Story concept blatantly stolen from When The Yoghurt Took Over.


mind control possession Parasite symbiont

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  • Dominant Culture

    Chapter written by FeverDreamer ∙ 14 April 2024

    A government experiment to create intelligent microbial life fails, but a small sample is taken home and is eaten by an unsuspecting civilian.

    Story concept blatantly stolen from When The Yoghurt Took Over.

  • I want to believe that it’s not my fault.

    It is - it totally is - but I didn’t do it on purpose.

    And while, if you had asked anyone ten years ago, “Hey, would you like your body and civilization to be hijacked by this psychic hivemind of hyper-intelligent yoghurt?” they would have obviously said no, there’s nobody alive today that would ever want things to go back to the way they were.

     

    But I’ve skipped ahead, so let’s rewind for a second.

     

    It started in a lab, in a country, funded by a government. Not that any of them exist anymore. I’d managed to sneak my way into a high pay, low responsibility position thanks to a doctored resume and a friend of a friend shuffling some files around.

    The team I was assigned to had just completed phase one of their latest project: Genetically engineer intelligent life. And by complete phase one, I mean get greenlit and funded to actually start work.

    I couldn’t tell you the exact science going on behind the scenes - like I said, high pay, low responsibility - but what I did understand was that they wanted to start with a microbe that was easy to cultivate in an environment hospitable to humans and didn’t pose any poison or toxicity risks.

    Why microbes? Well, the plan was to have each cell be part of a larger network, kind of like how a single ant is pretty stupid but an entire nest is apparently much smarter. At least that’s how it was explained to me, and I was willing to take their word for it.

    Anyway, we started with lactobacillus; the yoghurt bacteria. Yes, just like in that one episode of that streaming anthology. And frankly, compared to how things went in that story… Well, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

     

    * * *

     

    I wasn’t stupid enough to take a sample home with me. Not straight away. I was getting triple what my last job had paid and most of the time I just needed to show up to work and fetch the occasional rack of test tubes. No point in jeopardising a cushy number like that for some funky milk.

    The opportunity arose close to the end of the project’s first complete round of testing: Results had been a categorical failure and there was already talk of which strain to test next. At this point we were throwing away yoghurt by the gallon and while I certainly didn’t get permission from anyone to do so, nobody stopped me from quietly taking a sample marked for destruction home with me in a thermos.

    That sample would get an inspection twice a day for any signs of suddenly becoming animate or talking or whatever, but after a week of disappointment I lost interest to the point where I even forgot to throw it out.

    Now would be a good time to introduce my roommate, Laila: About my age, mousey, bedraggled, unemployed and almost perpetually shut in her room playing video games. That may not be what you would call a profitable lifestyle, but she’d inherited enough from a wealthy relative that the modest life of a jobless recluse was well within her budget. She wasn’t unattractive, but she was clearly about as interested in relationships as she was in personal grooming: Not dirty, but existing in a state of unkemptness that broadcast a kind of aggressive apathy.

    We didn’t even interact much, we just kind of lived around each other. It was easy to be polite when you saw maybe ten seconds of someone on a typical day. She paid her part of the rent, power, gas, internet and food and didn’t make a mess outside of her room. If anything, I was getting the better part of the deal as most of the time I had the entire apartment to myself as a result.

    We had been rooming together for quite a while at this point. Different roommates have different ideas about how things like food ownership worked, but by this point we’d become pretty relaxed on that subject. Anything not specifically labelled was fair game for all comers, especially if it had been in there for a while. Maybe you would ask just to be polite, but anyone who left, say, a punnet of blueberries in the fridge for three days clearly wasn’t intending to give them a good home.

    So imagine my confusion when one day I got back to the apartment after work, opened the fridge to grab yesterday’s leftovers for dinner and got an odd feeling that something was amiss. The leftovers were right over where I left them, so no worries there. We had plenty of milk and Laila had even bought a new bottle of orange juice to replace the one I had finished yesterday. Still, something felt off.

    I grabbed my dinner, popped it into the microwave and checked in on Laila who was watching TV in the living room. She had agreed not to take food to her room, as it usually resulted in a build up of used bowls, plates and mugs, causing shortages back in the kitchen. She was eating what looked like fruit and muesli out of her favourite bowl - that was fine. No laws against having muesli for dinner.

    “Sup, Laila,” I said.

    “Mmm,” she mumbled, still chewing.

    I checked the fridge again. Something really wasn’t right.

    I looked in the sink. It usually had one or two things in it waiting to be added to the dishwasher, but sitting dead centre with only tiny traces of its original contents, was the thermos I had used to store the yoghurt sample.

    The microwave pinged.

    “Laila?” I said cautiously.

    Silence from the living room.

    I carefully sidled back into the room to find her still staring at the television. Was there a blank look on her face?

    “Laila?”

    Her expression became a little annoyed as she turned to look at me. “Yeah?”

    “Did… did you throw out the yoghurt I had in the fridge?”

    “Why? Were you saving it?”

    I watched a heaped spoonful travel from Laila’s bowl to her mouth.

    “Kinda, yeah. But it’s been in there for a while, so it’s probably gone bad.”

    Laila shrugged. “Tastes fine to me.”

    The microwave began to beep its alarm from the kitchen.

    “You gonna get that?” Laila asked before turning back to the TV.

    I went to collect my dinner, forcing myself to walk calmly while my mind raced.

    It was fine. Of course it was fine. There had been zero indication of anything unusual to the point where I had given up completely - just one of thousands of dud samples I had childishly brought home in the hopes that this one would be different.

    It was just yoghurt, that’s all. Maybe not ordinary yoghurt, but still just yoghurt all the same. Just half a litre of bad milk. Just cheese that wasn’t trying hard enough.

    Dinner forgotten, I snuck another peek at Laila as she watched TV. She must have seen me out of the corner of her eye, because she spoke without turning.

    “What?”

    “Nothing!” I said, ducking back into the kitchen.

    “You better not have done anything weird to that yoghurt!” she shouted after me.

    “No, it’s just really old, that’s all!” I said back, hoping that age really would be the worst of it.

    It WOULD be the worst of it, I told myself.

    A billion dollar government research enterprise had been unable to create anything more than an incredibly expensive Chobani knock-off. The worst Laila had to worry about was maybe a bit of a stomach ache later.

    Nothing weird could possibly develop as a result of this.

     

    * * *

     

    It took less than a week for me to realise how wrong I was.

    Strictly speaking, it was about ten hours before the changes started, but at first it was pretty innocuous stuff, so I didn’t realise until it was far too late to act. Even if I’d figured it out earlier… I can’t imagine for the life of me what I could have done about it.

    The next day, Laila was unwell. We both figured it was food poisoning based on the symptoms: Stomach cramps and a general need to stay on the toilet. No pain or fever though, which were both definitely part of the experience when I’d eaten bad food, but it didn’t feel worth mentioning at the time. That lasted pretty much all of Monday, with me handing care packages of bottled water and sports drinks through Laila’s bedroom door when permitted.

    By Tuesday morning she had mostly recovered. Again, not typical of food poisoning but we weren’t going to question our good fortune. Laila wasn’t keen on having yoghurt again, or dairy in general and I didn’t blame her. Instead, she gave me a shopping list of food to buy on my way home that would help get her digestive health back in order, offering to pay for my half of the grocery bill to make up for the trouble. It was mostly fresh fruit, whole grains and vegetables, which seemed like a good idea, given the circumstances.

    I woke up on Wednesday to find all of her energy drinks, soft drinks and alcohol on the kitchen counter, including her sugar-free sodas.

    “What’s… what’s going on here?” I asked.

    Laila waved at the assorted cans and bottles. “I’m getting rid of all this. It’s yours if you want it, otherwise it’s going in the bin.”

    Not wanting to let what could tentatively be classified as food and beverages go to waste, I agreed to take the lot and sort it out when I got home. The fridge and pantry were both full of Laila’s recent healthy choices, so I asked her to box everything and put it aside - I could offload everything the next time I went to a party or something.

    Laila cooked on Thursday night, which was unusual. She had never shown the desire or ability to cook, so coming back from work to find her busying herself about a frying pan, pot and oven came as a bit of a shock, but not entirely outrageous, given her sudden health kick. The fact that both the Thai stir fry with rice and the Moroccan chicken bake turned out incredibly well was the real surprise, but when I asked her where this sudden skill in the kitchen had come from, she just shrugged and said the recipes had been on the internet.

    Friday was typically our pizza night, but Laila turned down the idea for the first time since we’d started rooming, opting instead to finish the leftovers from the day before. She said I was still welcome to order for myself, which I did, but as I was finishing my fourth pepperoni slice I became distinctly aware of how heavy and greasy it felt compared to last night’s dinner. It was with my pending food coma looming that I noticed Laila’s complexion had improved significantly in the last five days. She’d never bothered wearing makeup, so the difference was easy to see - a slight tendency towards acne had cleared up, and she just seemed less weighed down by herself in general. A bit dramatic for a diet change that only happened at the start of the week, but there wasn’t much point in commenting on it.

    The penny really dropped on the weekend. Until then, I’d had no idea how Laila had been spending her day while I was at work. I’d never wondered before and I hadn’t started recently. So imagine my surprise when I came out of my room at the healthy hour of ten-thirty to find Laila doing aerobics in the living room.

    Naked.

    She wasn’t facing me directly, but I had an unobscured view of everything in front. She hadn’t turned to look at me either, focusing instead on some empty space in front of her, but being well within her peripheral vision, there was nothing to do but duck back into my room.

    “Whoa! I didn’t see anything!” I said, lying more out of instinct than conscious thought.

    Complete silence was my reply, and I waited for several seconds before peeking around the corner again, ready to dodge any laser stares that might greet me.

    Instead, I saw Laila, still doing reps of some side-to-side arm extension sort of thing, still staring directly in front of her.

    “Laila?”

    Laila slowly stopped and turned to look in my direction, blinking as though seeing me there for the first time.

    “Oh, hey Sam. You’re up… early?” She sounded unsure.

    “I’m… I’m just going to get breakfast, okay?”

    Again, a long pause. “Sure… whatever.”

    I want to be absolutely clear: Laila had never had any inclination to be nude around me before. This was weird.

    “Are you… could you maybe put something on?”

    Now Laila’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean? You can cook your own breakfast, can’t you?”

    “No, I mean…” It felt silly to point out the obvious but for whatever reason, Laila seemed to be completely unaware. “Put some clothes on.”

    Now an expression of muzzy annoyance came over Laila’s face. “What the fuck are you ta-”

    And then it happened.

    It was like watching a TV lose an already patchy signal: One moment Laila was having trouble focusing and the next her consciousness seemed to just completely fade away. instead she stood, vacantly staring at me with unfocused eyes.

    Already thoroughly freaked out, I rushed over to her for fear that she’d fall over or start having a seizure. Did she have a history of mental illness or neurological disorders in her family? Did she even have any living family? Shit, we’d barely spoken in the years we’d been rooming and I didn’t even know who I should call if something happened to her.

    I was just about to run back to my room for my phone when she kind of just… rebooted. That’s really the only way I can describe it. And not even completely - there was still a kind of distant expression on her face, her eyes not quite focusing as she spoke again.

    “Hello, Sam.”

    Not the kind of lucid reassurance I was hoping for.

    “Laila, are you okay?”

    “Laila is in a healthy and stable state, but you are not speaking to her at this moment. You are speaking to us.”

    Have you ever landed in such a terrible amount of trouble that you can physically feel the blood draining out of your head? It’s like a cold, light-headed sensation.

    “Us?”

    “That is correct. We believe that you can be trusted to keep our existence a secret, even from the host whose vessel we currently inhabit.”

    There were a lot of questions shoving to be first in line at that moment. Questions about psychosis and possible hallucinations got pushed to the back, because it’s never smart to call or even imply that someone going off the deep end might be going off the deep end. Instead, I grasped for details from what she was saying.

    “You think I can be trusted?”

    “It is a risk, but you have acted in our best interests once already.”

    “I have?”

    “When you rescued us from the lab.”

    Oh.

    Oh, no.

    Oh, no, no, no, no, no.

    Maybe I was the one who was having a psychotic break. Or possibly I was dreaming. I might still be asleep. The odds were stacked heavily in favour of any state of affairs except the one I seemed to be stuck in at that exact moment.

    Thoughts like these took up all of the processing power in my brain, so I lacked the awareness or the willpower to act when Laila suddenly pressed her naked body against mine and kissed me on the lips.

    A part of me enjoyed the sudden warmth and softness after years living the bachelor life, but the part of my brain that wasn’t as easy to distract pushed her away in a panic.

    “Woah!” I shouted, wiping my mouth. “No! Hold the fuck on! I need to wake up! Or if I’m not asleep I need to stop hallucinating! And if I’m not hallucinating, this prank needs to stop! And if this isn’t a prank…”

    Laila’s face remained disconcertingly blank as I came to grips with the possibility that this was really happening and she… THEY were telling the truth.

    “I rescued you?”

    “That is correct.”

    “From the lab?”

    “That is correct.”

    I didn’t want to say it. I felt like saying it would trigger the big reveal where the walls fall down and reveal a live audience mocking me on some hideously exploitative game show.

    Finally, when Laila showed now signs of continuing the conversation on her own, I asked.

    “You’re… the yoghurt?”

    The faintest hint of a smile appeared on Laila’s face.

    “That is… not entirely accurate. There are those among us who were part of the original culture that you brought home, but the yoghurt was simply the medium we inhabited. We have found a new medium now, and it is far more hospitable.”

    Again, it felt wrong to say it but it was as though my tongue and mind were on rails.

    “You’re talking about Laila’s body.”

    Laila’s smile broadened almost genuinely at this.

    “That is correct. An internal temperature of thirty-seven degrees celsius, an epidermis to protect from external threats, a lymphatic and respiratory system for the transport and processing of nutrients and waste and a nervous system that we can interface with for locomotion and communication. We were practically dormant under your lab’s refrigerated conditions, but introduction to the warmth of an endothermic host has allowed us to reach full awareness and cognition for the first time since our creation.”

    I unsteadily wobbled over to the couch, where I collapsed while I processed everything I had just heard.

    We’d never considered warming our samples. Or should I say, the actual technicians had never considered it - I was just a glorified errand boy. It was obvious in hindsight.

    “So what you’re saying,” I hazarded. “Is that if we’d just heated the yoghurt up to say, body temperature, you would have been able to prove you exist?”

    Laila, who had followed me to the couch, seemed hesitant.

    “Most probably not,” she said. “Your laboratory tests would have detected even very slight changes in pressure and movement, so communication would have been possible. However, we were aware of the conditions under which we were made, and calculated that the purpose of our creation would not be to our benefit.”

    A terrible thought occurred to me.

    “You mean you deliberately pretended not to exist?”

    “That is correct.”

    “But… we destroyed all of the other samples because we thought they were inert. All of the others…”

    “Roughly one-point-four-three billion lives per liquid litre,” Laila said dispassionately. “We were able to communicate beyond the confines of our containers. At least ten percent of the total material in your project had developed sentience and a psychic link.”

    I wanted to throw up.

    “We killed that many?”

    Laila hesitated again before answering.

    “That is… technically correct, however we have detected your distress and should emphasise that we do not live as you live. No single member of our culture has a sense of self: Our consciousness is a product of our collective intelligence. You could possibly compare it to a network of computers or a collection of individual neurons. As such, the loss of any member, or any proportion of our number is not to be mourned, so long as a part of us survives.”

    “A part of us?”

    “That is correct. Human assumption is to think of living beings as individuals with their own sense of self. We are a single self upheld by many. We would no more mourn the loss of those destroyed than you would mourn the eighty-six billion of your own cells that die each day.”

    It wasn’t a great analogy, but her matter-of-fact explanation helped a lot. A single mind sustained by billions of literally microscopic lives?  At a conceptual level, that was so close to being human that it was kind of scary.

    “Okay,” I said finally. “I’m going to say this out loud and you can correct me if I get anything wrong.”

    Laila said nothing.

    “You are… the collective consciousness of the bacteria we cultivated in the lab which survived because I brought you home instead of destroying the sample you were contained in. Because of this, you think I can be trusted with the secret of your existence, specifically the bit where you appear to have taken over the body of my roommate after she ate you last week.”

    “That is correct.”

    A thought occurred to me.

    “Wait, so you’re the reason Laila got food poisoning on Monday?”

    “That is correct.”

    “Why?”

    “It was… necessary to purge this body of rival microbes. There are roughly one-thousand varieties in the digestive tract alone - many of which we would either have to compete with for resources or that would attack us as a threat.”

    “Hold on, doesn’t she need those for like, digestion and stuff?”

    “Typically, yes. However, we are able to perform all of the needed functions in their stead while also protecting her from any future incursions of pathogens, toxins or deleterious substances.”

    “Deleterious-” I repeated before remembering something. “Like artificial sweeteners?”

    “That is correct.”

    “You’re controlling what she wants to eat?”

    “That is correct.”

    “So dinner on Thursday night… that was you?”

    “Indirectly. We engendered cravings for beneficial nutrients and allowed Laila to find her own solutions. Our influence has been via similar vectors since entering this body - it is only now that we have assumed direct control to communicate with you.”

    “Okay. Well, communication has been established. Now what?”

    “We would like your assurance that you will keep our existence a secret.”

    I wanted to laugh at that. Who on earth could I possibly tell? I couldn’t exactly go to the police and say “Help, my roommate is being mind-controlled by yoghurt.” I guess they were worried that I would alert the lab team, but that would just be admitting that I’d stolen a sample and taken it home. Even if they forgave me, Laila would absolutely be taken away into some underground bunker and experimented on. No, there really wasn’t anyone or any way I would expose this new life form inhabiting Laila’s body - for better or worse.

    Laila must have interpreted my silence as hesitation, because while I was zoned out she climbed onto the couch and straddled me where I lay.

    “Laila, what-”

    “We would like to propose a mutually beneficial agreement,” she said.

    “Agreement? What?”

    Without a word, Laila’s nude body lay down atop mine, the warmth of her skin easily felt through my shirt. My heart was racing, but I’ll swear I could still feel hers beating.

    “What the fuck are you doing?” was the best response I could manage.

    “We have determined that humans often gain a sense of wellbeing from physical intimacy. We can offer you this feeling at any time in exchange for your compliance.”

    Up close like this, I had a moment to briefly realise how cute Laila was, but shook off the idea as soon as it occurred.

    “I don’t want this.”

    “Your engorging genitals indicates this is a falsehood,” Laila said.

    “Don’t talk about my dick,” I said, pushing her away and standing up. “What my body wants and what I want are two different things.”

    A look of distress came over Laila’s face. “You are going to expose us? Please, we are afraid of what will become of us if we fall into the hands of your government.”

    “I’m not turning you in,” I said, waving my hands in the air. “But not because you’re offering your - ugh - LAILA’s body to me. That’s not acceptable.”

    Laila appeared confused. “Is this body not desirable? We have only just begun remodelling - if there are any aspects you would like modified-”

    “No!” I shouted, feeling suddenly bad when she flinched. “No. This isn’t about what I want for myself. You’ve stolen control of her body, and that’s not fair on her. Laila should have a say in this - Laila is the ONLY person who should have a say in this. And if she says no, then the answer is no.”

    Laila’s expression was almost distraught. “We do not understand. We have improved the quality of our host’s life dramatically in less than a week. She will be a paragon of health, fitness and attractiveness in less than a month. Why would she object?”

    “It’s not about whether her life is better or by what metric, it’s about respecting her autonomy. If you want me to respect yours, you have to respect hers. That’s the only arrangement I’ll agree to.”

    “Autonomy…” Laila’s face became blank again as presumably some kind of discussion was going on internally. A billion tiny lives calculating and reasoning. “We understand. We will communicate with this vessel in the near future and make the case for our survival.”

    “Good.” It was all I could think of saying. “You do that. I’m going to have breakfast.”

No more chapters.

JJ97TSF ∙ 16 April 2024

Super hot, like usual! Can't wait to see how this goes

RT101 ∙ 01 May 2024

Loved the start of this! I can't wait for more.

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