"All parasites have a purpose," Hugh said. He picked up a tin and pulled out a big, sucking daub of swamp mud. Microscopic eggs pulsed in the grey muck. "Sometimes their purposes cross paths with ours."
"I don't know about this," Gabriel said. He had his shirt off, and Hugh stood behind him. The hair on his neck stood to attention, prepared to grab any goo that may come his way and try to prevent chewing, burrowing or other malignant verbs that the larvae might have in their hungry minds.
"Come now," Hugh said, "all of the finest athletes are doing it."
"But I don't know if I want to go this far. Couldn't I just take some steroids or something?"
"These are better! They don't show up in piss or hair tests, and they cause quite inconsistent anomalies in blood tests. No athelete has ever gotten caught using them."
"Maybe none of the other athletes use them, though," Gabriel argued.
"If you're that naive, I'd like to sell you a very fine bridge upon which you should go and cast off your innocence into the great ocean of reality," Hugh said. "There is not an athlete on that field, on that track, behind that hammer or over that bar, whose muscles are not teeming with vast squads of these worms yanking on their fibers."
"Still, it's a bit dishoooooonnneeeest!" Gabriel yelled as the cold mud hit his neck. He didn't flinch, and he didn't squirm away. Every athlete knew that as soon as the impregnated mud hit skin that they had a chronic case of muscleworms.
"Do you feel it?" Hugh asked.
"I feel like I've just lifted a house," Gabriel said. He sagged, slouched, and would have slid off of the bench if Hugh hadn't caught him.
"Easy, easy there. That's because the worms are ripping apart your muscles as if you had just lifted a house. They're putting themselves between the muscle fibers. Give it just a moment and...there," Hugh said, stepping back.
"Wait, I'm going to fall!" Gabriel said, not falling at all. In fact, his reflexes kicked in and he swung an arm out to steady himself. It slammed into a nearby steel pillar, shearing off a jagged chunk.
"Ow!" Gabriel cried. Then he saw what he had done.
"It's brilliant, isn't it," Hugh said, smiling.
"I'll be unstoppable!" Gabriel said. "Where did you say that you found these worms again?"
"Australia, where their relationship with the wombat enabled the rumply, loveable creature to survive in the face of the vast array of predators that keep the Outback the biggest killing field on Earth. And only eight months ago, too, and already they're sweeping the globe! I'm in talks to make them available to mortally ill hospital patients!"
And at the next track and field event, Gabriel threw the hammer through an ice cream truck and snapped a radio antenna with the discus. He leapt across two different hurdles without setting a foot down between them and the javelin shattered with the force of his throw.
"Hugh!" Gabriel said, easily pushing through the exuberant crowd that congratulated him on his first place finish. "I'm unstoppable!"
"That you are, Gabriel!" Hugh said.
"Let me buy you a drink!" Gabriel shouted.
"Another time!" Hugh said, disappearing into the crowd.
And so Hugh's parasites spread to all of the athletes, who were showered with endorsement deals.
Gabriel summoned Hugh to his new mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
"Hugh, do you see the luxury in which I live?" he asked, showing his friend around the grounds. "I have all the money and privilege and women that I want, oh the women! And it's all thanks to you!"
"Oh, don't mention it. I want to see humanity reach its absolute physical peak, that's why I got into this business," Hugh said.
"But I do warn you, Hugh," Gabriel said, his voice dropping, "that if you breathe a word of your assistance to anybody, I will twist your head off of your neck like I'm opening a bottle of soda."
"You and literally ever other athlete," Hugh said, ignoring the threat. "I've just recently signed on a dozen colleges to my, ahem, 'training program.'"
"To business!" Gabriel said, raising a glass.
Hugh raised his glass, but didn't drink from it.
Months later, Gabriel called Hugh in a panic.
"Do you know what affect your parasites have on sperm?" Gabriel asked, shouting into the telephone.
"No, I don't, why?"
"My girlfriends have all called me! They're all pregnant, despite protection, and they're all giving birth prematurely at five months!"
"Remarkable!" Hugh said. "They should be fine. In my observation of wombats, the parasites passed from male to female and vice versa, and went on to reduce gestation and improve survival rates of the offspring. Congratulations!"
And so it was. Gabriel and his girlfriends welcomed a new bunch of children.
The following year, Gabriel was elected to the Senate, and then became Premier. He enforced tough new eugenics laws to punish the weak, old and infirm in society.
"And so, we will kill the weeds to allow the productive plants to flourish!" Gabriel said. With a stroke of his pen, he made it a doctor's duty to sterilize anybody who had not accepted the parasites and refused treatment. That gradually, by fiat, became a program of non-resuscitation and, finally, euthanasia.
Gabriel, relaxing in his luxurious penthouse, motioned for his non-parasite footman to answer the door. The slob moved slowly, weakly, towards the door, but it made it easy for Gabriel to justify the low pay and no benefits. The fat for the wolves, he always said.
The footman returned.
"Mr. Hugh, sir," said he said, gesturing the guest into the room.
Hugh strode through the door and took a seat.
"It's been a long time, old pal," Gabriel said. "Get my guest something to drink," he commanded the footman. The footman set a drink on the coffee table in front of Hugh.
"Not that long. It was a year and a half ago today when I splashed that mud on your back," Hugh said.
"Let's toast to it," Gabriel said, raising a pint glass.
"I think that I shan't," Hugh said.
Gabriel shrugged, and drained his glass.
"So what can I do for you?"
"Not much, I just came to check in on you. How's life been?"
"Very good, very good, and I think that I owe it all to you and your parasites! Without them, I'd be just as weak, and terrible, and frail as my footman," Gabriel said. Then he paused, and cast an appraising eye over Hugh.
"Speaking of which, you don't look well. Are the parasites not treating you right?" Gabriel asked.
"As a matter of fact," Hugh said, "I never took the parasites."
"But you didn't wear gloves when you gave them to me, or anybody else on that team. I was under the impression that the parasites would enter the body via any surface."
"That's true," Hugh said. "But they won't work if you're a robot."
Gabriel laughed. "I would expect not! But seriously, is there a reason that they're not working for you?"
"I told you. I am a robot, and they are parasites of flesh, not metal."
Hugh rolled his eyes. Metal flashed beyond the white-painted surfaces of his ocular apparatus.
"What the devil?"
"That is why I never seemed to gain any of the benefits of the parasites, though my mechanical body does give me strength over and above that of a man, which is perhaps why you never noticed. You only judged on strength."
"Of course, as one should," Gabriel said. "You don't want the rats owning the maze when the terrier owns all the cheese."
"An analogy just as wretched as your wrecked body," Hugh said.
"Wrecked? Could a wrecked body do this?" Gabriel asked, standing up and snapping the coffee table into splinters. "Come and clean this up, weakling," he said to his footman.
"You have subjugated your fellow man, just as I had suspected. More efficiently than I ever could have," Hugh said. "It takes a rat to lead the rats, as I always liked to say, and by always I mean right now."
"Now you think about who you're talking to," Gabriel said, flexing menacingly. "Now I've been patient and listened to your chatter, and that's because we're old friends, but even the weight of time can be shifted with enough pushing."
"Would you attack me, idiot?" Hugh asked.
"That does it. Nobody has talked to me like that and walked away, usually they're carted away in a bucket. Because we're old friends I might just pull off an arm," Gabriel said, stepping towards Hugh and immediately collapsing into the pile of splinters.
"Argh!" Gabriel yelled. His muscles all spasmed at once, and he looked like a marionette whose puppetmaster had a bad case of the hiccups.
"All of the parasites dying at once. It's a self-limiting infection in the wild. That's why it has not burned through the entire population of the world. After a year and a half of binding your muscles together instead of whatever normal goo the body uses, the worms all die off simultaneously and it is as if all of your muscles simply turned to fat or another non-tensile bodily tissue. Goodbye," Hugh said.
Gabriel would have died of suffocation, but his acute lack of a heartbeat got him first.
"And now with the upper crust dying off, I may take my place," Hugh said.
"Nope," said the manservant, and pulled a tommygun from behind the bar and added quite a lot of new airholes into the robot's chassis.
The Moral: robots may not have digestive tracts, but they can still be assholes.