Departure Date: Sunday, July 14th, 5:21 hours, 2046
Ship Log-(7 years, 220 days later) Wednesday February 19th, 2053
I woke up sitting in my bedroom again. Except I knew this time it wasn’t real. I wasn’t at all surprised to feel Isadora beside me. I let my hand slide over her smooth bare skin and warmth, but now it was artificial. It reminded me of the disassociated sense of touch you experience if you hold your finger tip to someone else’s, then pinch the backs of the fingers between the thumb and index finger of the other hand and rub over the skin. You simultaneously feel another person’s skin and your own in the same stroke, but you feel the touch twice on one end and only once on the other. It feels as if part of the sensation is missing. That’s how her skin felt.
She pressed closer against me and I took a deep, tense breath. Some of that tension was sexual, I admit, but most of it was fear, almost terror. She was an alien thing in disguise, like a cancer growing in my memories out of something once healthy, now turned against me. She held me and wrapped her hands over my chest, shushing me gently, but it rubbed me the wrong way. Who did she think she was, to coddle me? I shook her off. “Don’t touch me.” I growled.
“Baby…” she cooed, sounding wounded, and I pushed away and jumped out of bed, turning to face her. I could damn her eyes for looking at me with such believable love. “Don’t baby me. What the fuck are you?”
She sighed and sat up in bed, curling her knees to her chest self consciously, struggling with the question in shame as if I had just discovered an infidelity. “I’m… a living thing. Not that different from you.”
“Not that different?” I shouted, nearly cackling in revulsion and disbelief. I was panting on the edge of rage. Suddenly I closed on her, widening my eyes and snarling, “Get the fuck out of my head.”
She winced and shrunk away from me, and I stood back up, feeling a pang of guilt. But the fact that she made me feel guilt only made me angrier than before. Her chest was heaving and she wiped her eyes, on the edge of bawling tears. “I didn’t want to hurt you Archie.” she whimpered pitifully.
I lunged back at her and grabbed her by her arms and shook her, making her scream with fright. “Shut the fuck up. Don’t say my name.” I growled, shouting a roar as I threw her away from me, sending her tumbling off the bed with another painful cry. “You don’t know me, you’re not my fucking friend. You’re out there… eating me fucking alive!” I was shaking, screaming at her in indignation. I stood over, balling my fists and panting through my nose. I felt lethal.
“Archie, please don’t.” she cried, curled on the ground and looking up at me, begging. I kicked her in the stomach, then again in her hands as she moved them to protect her body. But the body wasn’t real, just a show. She coughed and gagged, sobbing in pain as she struggled to regain her breath. I stepped back, calming a little, feeling disgust at myself. I hated this thing, I knew it was just manipulating me through my memories and emotions, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t kick it, looking like her. “Fuck you.” I spat with disgust, my lips quivering as tears streamed down my face. “Fuck you! You’re not her. You’re fucking disgusting. You’re nothing like her!” I kept backing away until I bumped against the doorway, staring at her, how real she made her pain seem.
“Archie, I do know you. I see who you are inside.” She stammered weakly, summoning her strength to push the trembling words out as she pushed her body up. One of her wrists was really hurt. She lifted her eyes to me, covered in a film of tears that streamed down her cheeks. “I wanted to be her for you.” she pleaded. “I wanted... I want you to be happy.”
I was so furious that she could act like she was acting in my best interests that the rage pushed up from my stomach like lava from a volcano and I pushed out a violent scream, rebuking this thing that was violating me, body in mind. I screamed and screamed, then picked up the nearest decorations and threw them at her. But not really at her, I pulled the throw to the side, unable to bear hurting her again. Polished clay and glass shattered against the wall behind her as she ducked and covered her head, shaking and whimpering. I sobbed hatefully as I caught my quaking breath.
“You can’t have me… I’ll kill you. Just like before. I’ll keep killing you over and over.” I said, barely conscious of what I was saying, the words pushing out of me from some dark place. I felt like I had to do what I was saying to defend myself. I saw myself move towards her and grab her and pull her by the hair. I slapped her face and made her mouth bleed, lost behind a numbing haze of hatred.
“Archie! We could be happy! Please, stop!” I couldn’t listen to her. Nothing she said was real. I brought her to the airlock, then hit the button to close it. She screamed no and ran for me, but pulled back at the last second, cowering and backing away in fear as she covered her naked fear. I could make out some of the silent words her mouth repeated. “Don’t do this. I love you. Please.” She shook her head convulsively and trembled. I hit the switch to open the airlock only because I couldn’t stand to look at her anymore, and I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to watch her be sucked into space.
Pain dug into my chest like an icy claw wrapping around my heart, and I fell to my knees, moaning a wail I could barely recognize as guilt and pain and self hate tore me apart. I cried and sobbed for god knows how long, the most poisoned, painful tears I have ever given rise to. I never wanted to get up, I couldn’t face it, I couldn’t look. I thought to myself over and over again, “I want to die.”
Eventually I caught my breath. That was the first thing I managed, once I realized I had forgotten to breath after pushing all the air from my lungs in a whine. I rocked my body to the sound of my deep breaths, sucking them in and hanging onto them, clinging to those breaths in my lungs before letting them go with finality. Then I opened my eyes and slowly stood, sliding my hands up over the door of the airlock. It was empty, and at the other end was nothing but outer space.
“Archie.” It was Isadora’s voice, whispering over the ship speakers, the ones Dor usually spoke from. “Listen to me, please.” I gasped and sat down heavily, clinging to my chair. Her voice brought me such great relief as the weight lifted from my heart, no matter how much I struggled to hold true to my resolve. I just wanted to hear her voice again.
“I was on the same mission as you. To find a new world to live on. I’m not a parasite like you think. We’re symbiotic. Without a host we’re nothing but a shell, no feelings, no soul, nothing. Just endless longing and loneliness. A host gives us meaning, understanding, love. But you’ve shown me things I’ve never seen in any other creature. You make me feel more whole than I’ve ever felt, you’re kindness, you’re intelligence. I can’t imagine ever leaving you.”
“Please stop.” I whimpered, her words sickly sweet. “I can’t. I won’t be some freak plaything for you!”
“Please, listen. We’ve spread across the universe, encountering many species who served as our hosts. And they’re happy. We produce our own food from the sun, and our bodies produce almost no waste. We are self regenerating, and prolong the life of our hosts. They no longer need to struggle and compete for food and space to survive. We are able to breed our hosts and reproduce through them. We-“
“What? Breed us?” I shouted in shock.
“It’s… very fulfilling for our hosts, and for us. But... we encountered a species that saw us as you see me. As a plague. They slaughtered us Archie. My entire race, nearly whole galaxies filled with my people have been wiped out, eradicated. We are peaceful creatures. Those of us on the ship you found were the last, but the hosts we brought with us, our future, all dead. We were all trapped in miserable hibernation, knowing that our hosts would eventually die, and then we would be helpless until the hunters found the remains of our ship and wiped us out. I had no choice but to use your ship to strike back. I was able to communicate through the circuits of your ship with your AI, much the same way I communicate with you through your nervous system.”
I listened, taking deep breaths. It was incredible, fascinating, but deeply disturbing as well. “Maybe they were right, maybe you are a plague. I swear, if I can find a way to keep you away from earth, I will.”
“I told you, we are a peaceful people. We’ve taken over one of the Hunter’s planets but there are more. Alone we can’t possibly survive, but with the military might of your people we could survive.”
“So you could enslave us all.” I said accusingly.
“No… there’s no going back for you, but if your people did not want us, we would leave them alone. But just think. No more famine, no more war, no more prejudice. There would be a golden age for your people and ours. We would allow you to live on so many uninhabited planets, surviving in the open air, worlds that would poison you or crush your bodies or roast you alive without us. Even on your home world, you could thrive in harmony with the other races. Morseso, you would communicate with them, through us. That is, the ones that are left. Your people have already destroyed so much…”
“Don’t even think about judging my people.”
“I don’t, I only wish to save you from more loss. Once you are joined with us you will have no need for space. Your planet alone will open up in all directions. We could live in the waters, in the arctic, and the harshest deserts. Underground. And in great, fruitful masses, pressed together in the most deeply rooted sense of community.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and shoot my head, pressing the heels of my palms over my eyes. “Shut up.” I groaned. “I won’t do it.”
“I’m afraid there’s not much choice. The course is set for your planet and… we are frozen in hibernation until that point.”
“We’re in hibernation right now?” I asked in surprise. “That’s impossible. My brain would shut down.”
“My body is extremely resistant to extremes of temperature. I’m currently shielding you from it, though my outermost edge is frozen. I cannot move, I’m paralyzed and so are you, but I can preserve our higher brain functions to allow us to communicate and dream together.”
I took a deep breath. So we… I hated thinking of myself as connected to the thing, but what else could I say. We would land on earth and when the scientists opened the ship they would see a black goo. Would they even release me? Would they kill me right there? If they didn’t I might be able to control my body and stop myself from spreading the tarball to them.
“I won’t reproduce without a willing host.” She said with sudden prideful conviction. “I know you probably don’t believe me, since I took you without your permission, but that was after you killed my host. The loss was unbearable, when we are empty… it’s a biological need I cannot help. Even then, I feel terrible for joining with you without your permission, and I had only hoped that I could make it pleasant for you, that you would accept me anyways. I don’t plan to use you as… patient zero. I need you to be my ambassador. A diplomat to your people.”
“There’s no point. Even if I got the chance, they would never listen to such a freak.”
“Well… what else do you have left? You have to try.”
My lip began to tremble again, I felt so violated and alone and helpless. Every part of me wanted to lash out at her, defy her, get revenge upon her, but… I was stuck. I was stuck with her.
“Do you want me to come back?” She asked, her voice full of a mix of hope and compassion.
“No… no I need to think.” I said. “Please just let me think.”
I don’t know why but eventually, when she asked again. I let her come back, and I let her hold me and clung to her like a child while she stroked my hair. Later I fell asleep in those arms, so exhausted from all the rage and sorrow, the raw emotion. The truth was… I was so lonely, and I wanted Isadora to be real so badly. It was hard to give up the material comfort of her presence, to spurn her longing to please me and bring me happiness. We had all the time in the world in the dream and I decided I could just pretend that it was real.
Now and then she asked me what we would do when we got to earth, and it always upset me because it reminded me of what she really was. But… I felt she really did love me. Maybe more than anyone or anything ever had, enough so that in our shared fantasy it was impossible not to start returning those feelings. It was inevitable that I would finally agree to be the diplomat for her… for our people, that I finally accepted my fate as a host.
Cards and Crisis:
Ø 2 humanity: Stowaway (My Elderly Mother, My loyal black lab Sadie)
o Let them stay and risk the mission, discover void (Will we go to war with the hunters?) and discover star (Serve as an ambassador to the tarball)
Ø 1 void: Sensor readings (Is Isadora real?)
o Response: Discover void (How do I stop the tarball from controlling me?)
Ø 1 star: Incoming transmission (Return to earth to transport colonists)
o Response: Accept new directive, discover star and lose humanity (My loyal black lab, Sadie.)