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Chapter 11 - Meeting of the Minds

This sensation is different than the other times the creature has been in my head. I know why, it’s because I’m letting it in. Though it didn’t make much of a difference at the time, my resistance to the mental intrusions before limited the creature’s access. But now, I’m not exercising any willpower to inhibit it. The floodgates have opened.

In a word, it feels stygian. An odd word that I can’t remember where or how I learned, but it’s the one that comes to mind as my brain seems to swell with the creature’s presence. In modern English, stygian means dark and foreboding, but it used to mean in relation to the river Styx. An ancient mythological river that separated the underworld from the world of the living. That’s what this experience brings to mind. Like traveling to the underworld. Like inviting the devil at the door inside. Like Suicide.

I can feel it moving around in my head. Not moving in the physical sense, but in the sense of where its attention is focused. Right now, it’s skimming through my memories of the past few weeks. It sees the memories by making me call them to mind and watches as I remember. How it’s doing this I don’t know. Maybe it’s somehow forcing the neurons that formed the associated memory to fire? I can’t be sure, but I do know it feels horrible, like I’m suddenly a passenger in my own mind. I suppose I’m not just ‘like’ a passenger now, I am.

Now that it’s this entrenched, there isn’t much I can do to stop it if it takes control. It could make me feel what it wants and see what it wants. It can even make me move how it wants. But it does none of that, at least not as far as I can tell.

For a few grueling minutes, it just looks through the past three weeks of my memories. Those terrible days after our last confrontation. Watching them forwards, then backwards, then forwards again. I’m left standing tense in suspense, wondering what the purpose is.

Then, the creature sifts backwards through my memories further, to the end of our second fight. When it invaded my mind and set off every nerve in my body with pain. It seems to mull over this moment, to study it. I’m shocked to find that it really was just a moment, barely five seconds of agony which felt like an eternity at the time. The creature spends a particularly long time looking at itself through my eyes in the moments after it released me from the pain. Letting itself feel what I had felt when I looked up at it, helpless and defeated. I feel through some sort of feedback loop, my own hopelessness, apathy and fear.

Then, something very odd happens. Remorse. I feel remorse, but I also don’t. It’s difficult to explain, I am feeling remorseful, but I can tell that the remorse I’m feeling isn’t mine. The hot wash of shame, the overwhelming desire to fix what I had broken, to go back in time when it had never happened. I experience it all, but know that I am not the source.

My attention is so focused inwards that I almost don’t notice that the creature’s color has changed. When I walked onto the reactor chamber bridge, it was as transparent as glass, but now, it’s glowing a blue so deep it’s almost black. Light seems to dim in the area around it, like it’s being absorbed. If I were easy to fool, I might believe this is an attempt at a show of regret.

As I let my eyes focus on the creature floating across from me, I see something. No, not see, feel. I can feel a thin strand of… something, something immaterial that stretches between my head and the creatures. It’s as if my mind has overlaid a mental image over my sight. The line seems to want to avoid my notice. Keeping track of it proves frustratingly difficult, like trying to follow a fishing line that’s been cast out to sea with your eyes. You can see the part closest to you, but as it approaches the surface of the water in the distance, it seems to blend in to the surroundings and vanish. Focusing on it is a strange sensation. It’s not quite like looking at something, but it isn’t really like doing anything else either. It feels like something new, not touching, seeing, tasting, hearing or smelling.

The phenomenon brings something I knew from Earth to mind. I had never experienced it firsthand, but gaining new senses was supposedly what happened to those with cybernetic implants. If you had a magnetic implant for example, your nerves would grow around the magnet and the brain would come up with a new and novel way to interpret the sensation of feeling magnetic fields, thus creating a new sense. The same could be accomplished with ocular and neural implants. They could allow you to see in different frequencies, or feel the flow of electricity.

Not many people back on Earth were aware of this. Biotech was never really something available to the public. Sure, the masses could buy some implanted trinkets that they thought were on the cutting edge, but you had to be military to have access to the real deal. Access I never made use of. That type of body modification was for the hardcore killers. Private army types who fought secret wars in Africa for corporate interest groups. I never wanted any part of that, I just wanted to fly.

My train of thought is stopped by a new sensation, one that is distinctly inquisitive. The new feeling of curiosity suffuses me. This time, I can feel where the emotion is coming from. I manage to use this new sense to track it as it travels along the invisible thread that connects me and the creature. It wants to know something, something it thinks is important.

Then, yet another thing makes its way along the connective tether. This new thing is not an emotion, but a… concept. Again, there are no words sent to articulate what the creature is trying to express, it merely sends along information in the form of an idea. The idea of location. Curiosity and location, the translation as far as I can tell is, why am I here? But what does that mean? Why am I here, by the reactor? Why am I aboard the ship? Why is the ship in orbit around Margo? My mental questions garner no answers, leaving me to wallow in confusion. The creature can ask me questions, but how am I supposed to answer? I direct my attention to the tether. It’s the conduit by which I am receiving information, so maybe it works both ways?

Not really sure what I’m doing, I bring to mind what I want to say, not in a language, but as an idea, the idea of specificity, of precision. I try to crystallize the idea in my mind, then imagine moving the information onto and along the tether. For a moment, nothing happens.

I’m about to try speaking aloud, for lack of a better idea, when new information arrives in my mind via the tether. An image this time, and of the Arcadia. It takes a moment, but the realization soon hits that this image is a memory of the aliens. What’s more, the memory was from its perspective outside the ship, and from the looks of it, quite close to a star. There is an emotion attached to the image, one of suspicion and curiosity, even a little hostility, at the unfamiliar sight.

Several dots connect in my mind when I see the foreign memory. It finally answers some of the questions I’ve had since I first encountered this creature. This proves that the alien is, well… an alien. Extraterrestrial in nature, and I had the honor of first contact. I feel a little bad that humanities first interaction with alien life was almost a fight to the death, but then again, this thing did try to get me to kill myself our first meeting. It also refines the timetable for when the alien could have gotten aboard.

The memory shows a distant view of the Arcadia’s vaguely piscine profile suspended in starlight. The ship never got close enough to Sol for light that intense, and the only other star along the flight path was Ross 128. That means that the alien boarded the ship sometime during, or after the gravity assist that slowed the ship’s momentum. Its previous question also now becomes clear. Why are you, as in this ship, in this star system? That is a difficult question to answer, and something tells me the alien won’t be satisfied with a simple ‘it’s complicated’.

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