Thank you so much to the patron who came to me with the idea of doing a symbiote story. This one was fun. I finally had a chance to fully snark out with this character! 🙂
“They should have picked me!” I huffed, only peripherally noticing the wine sloshing as I slammed the glass to the table emphatically. Who cared about a little spilt wine when I had a point to make, damn it!
“Geez, love. Calm down!” said Lino in an urgent whisper, casting his eyes about to the startled patrons surrounding us in our favorite restaurant.
“Sorry! It’s just that I worked so hard for it. Then they pick four white, anglo-saxon males instead. Fuckers. Serves them right that the whole experiment was a failure.”
I tried not to dwell on the fact that I hadn’t been chosen for a mission I’d spent the past three years training for. My place as the first alternate had been a cruel twist of the knife. At least if I had simply been rejected from the program outright, I could have moved on to something else. But part of me was glad I hadn’t. I was completely invested in this idea. I had truly hoped that it would finally connect humanity to other people from distant stars…
Lino reached his hand across the table to gently take mine.
“Look, Amity. I know you deserved it. You know you deserved it. But that’s just the way these things go sometimes…” he suggested soothingly. His expression turned hopeful. “Maybe we should order another bottle of wine?”
I wasn’t sure how to react. I could tell he was trying to help move the subject of the conversation past my disappointment. I appreciated the gesture from my fiancé, and I hoped he could pull it off. The knot in my stomach, however, made me doubt it. Being a part of the neo-SETI project was just too damn important to me. I could feel tears welling in my eyes. I willed them to go away, but it wasn’t working. It never did for me.
“I get that. It’s just… frustrating, you know?” I said. I knew my lower lip was trembling as I struggled to keep my emotions in check. I tried to smile instead, succeeding for a fleeting moment. I took the opportunity to brush the beginnings of a tear from just below my eye before I felt it fall down my cheek. Then I remembered what might actually succeed in cheering me up.
“They definitely don’t have my super-amazing personality, at least. I’ve totally got them beat when it comes to that!”
At this, Lino’s empathetic eyes brightened, and he burst into laughter. “I wonder whether your personality isn’t a little too much for them sometimes…”
“Well, duh!” I said with a crooked grin, tears no longer threatening, though I was sure my eyes were still glassy. “You can’t even handle me, mister. They don’t have a chance in hell!”
“Oh I can’t handle you? Is that right?” Lino intoned, eyes dancing with mischief. “I seem to recall that time in San Francisco when you seemed to think I handled you just fine!”
I felt a rare flush rising up my cheeks.
“Touché,” I admitted. “But that’s cheating. You can’t count the night after you proposed… I was unusually softified and girly!”
“What is that saying?” said Lino, wearing his victory smugly on his lips. “Something about all being fair in love and war…?”
I picked an asparagus from my plate and threw it at him. It hit him with a buttery splatter right between the eyes, then dropped into his lap. After a brief second of surprise, he lurched into a full-on belly guffaw. His laughter was contagious, and I couldn’t help but join in.
When we finished gasping like flopping fish searching for water, and I could breathe again, I returned to our previous conversation.
“At least I had a chance to try on one of the helmets after those WASP-y hacks were done with them. I didn’t get to travel, but we ‘first alternates’ have to get our kicks where we can.”
“You did? You tried one? What was it like?” asked Lino.
“It felt strange. Like something was pressing in on my mind… entering it maybe? It’s tough to explain…”
“Well, I guess that makes sense. I mean the whole experiment was an attempt to send human consciousness across the galaxy to look for other intelligent life, right?”
“Yes, it’s ingenious, really. Interstellar travel is not really feasible. So sending consciousness across spacetime is really the only way to make first contact.”
“Soul travel,” Lino joked.
Okay, scratch the unconditional appreciation for my fiancé for the moment. He knew that I didn’t believe in silly things like souls, and he loved to tease me about it. He knew that comment would set me off, and he did it anyway! Grrrr…
“Pfft,” I puffed, exasperated at my asinine lover’s stubborn beliefs. “Are you seriously going to start talking about the whole soul thing again? We’ve talked about this, Lino, you silly dufus! There is no such thing as a soul. Consciousness is a unique form of energy that can actually travel through wrinkles in spacetime, effectively passing the speed of light through quantum…”
As I continued, I could tell that Lino was attempting to keep a straight face but couldn’t. And once his lips began to curl upward, it looked like he decided just to let it go, and his face burst into a massive smile.
I paused mid-diatribe, feeling my eyes widen at his reaction. What was he up to?
Then I realized what he was doing. I narrowed my eyes.
“You! You did that just to take my mind off my disappointment, didn’t you?!” I pointed an accusing finger at him.
He took my hand, finger still pointing toward him, turned it, and kissed it.
“Guilty as charged,” he winked.
I couldn’t help it, my lips burst into a smile as wide as his. I caressed his hand with my fingers. Emotion rising within me faster than I could contain it, I remembered why I loved this man so much.
“Did you know that I love you beyond all human limits?” I breathed, eyes peering deeply into his.
“You mean, like a soul mate?” he offered, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“You! Uggghhh…” I snorted in mock irritation, using my other hand to smack him affectionately on the shoulder. “You’re incorrigible.”
Lino couldn’t resist another playful verbal jab.
“Incorrigible. Good word. But kind of archaic. Maybe you should start using some more modern vocabulary. Might help you come across as more cutting edge for these state-of-the-art programs you’re involved with at NASA…”
Giving him my best death stare, I held it until I couldn’t hold a serious expression any longer and broke into laughter.
“I should have known better than to agree to marry a freaking English professor.”
He gave me a look of innocence, then grinned.
“But we English professors are so good with words. Words like:
“Shhhh!” I implored him, this time actually noticing the eyes cast in our direction from the surrounding tables. I didn’t really care what other people thought, but I wanted to give Lino a hard time. “Don’t say that here!”
I giggled as the surrounding, prying eyes began to turn away, then leaned in, giving Lino a nefarious wink and whispered. “But… okay!”
When we arrived home, my hands wrapped around Lino’s arm, body pressed into his side, I pushed up on my tiptoes and kissed him.
“You know. For an English professor, you kinda messed up and used the same word twice in your list. Isn’t that a writing no-no?” I said with an evil grin.
“Really?” I knew Lino was thinking back to his earlier statement at the restaurant when he chuckled. “So I did. Apparently, given her eidetic rebuke, the woman of the hour doesn’t like the idea of ‘sweet, sweet’ love.”
He considered for a moment, a hint of daring mixed into his expression. I liked that look.
“I suppose we could make ‘rough, painful’ love instead…?” He gave me a predatory grin. “Consider me sold on the idea.”
I laughed, then pushed Lino onto the bed and began to remove the shirt from his unusually-sculpted-for-an-academic physique. As he did the same, he ran his fingertips along my abs.
“Geez, Am. You really took your physical training for this soul travel thing to heart, didn’t you? Your abs are way more defined than I remembered,” Lino said, a lascivious sparkle in his eye.
“What?” I asked, surprised. I looked down, my brow furrowing. My abs did look absolutely amazing! “Wow! I guess I am looking pretty fit, huh?”
“Definitely taut in all the right places,” Lino said huskily.
At that moment, a massive crash came from the front door as it flew across the living room and smashed into the far wall.
“Amity!” I heard a voice that didn’t sound like Lino’s. Had it come from whoever just knocked our apartment door down? It didn’t sound like it. In fact, it sounded like the voice was in my head!
While I was distracted, Lino slid off the bed to investigate the disturbance. As he approached the bedroom doorway, however, a huge, hulking figure appeared. It looked like something out of a fifties science-fiction movie—some sort of oversized insect. Its chitinous exoskeleton made it look like a seven-foot bodybuilder in a suit of armor.
Lino slammed into it, unable to stop the momentum from his urgent sprint toward the open doorway in time. Despite his 6’2” 200 lb. stature, Lino bounced off the creature as if he were a rubber ball. The monster didn’t even budge.
As Lino fell away, the thing’s pincer shot out and caught his arm, instantly arresting his motion and pulling him in to lock him against its unyielding body.
Turning his head to me, a desperate look in his eyes that I had never seen before, Lino cried out.
“Run, Amity! Get out of here!”
“Lino!” I cried. I looked around, thinking about running, but the creature holding Lino was blocking the only exit to the large bedroom. Besides, I couldn’t just leave him!
The creature holding Lino backed away into the living room, and I thought I might have my chance… until two more of them entered the bedroom, moving swiftly toward me.
“Amity, you must listen to me!” came the strange, calm voice in my head again. Amity’s head swiveled around. It couldn’t be coming from her own mind could it? Was I going insane? Were these monstrous things simply hallucinations? That explanation probably made more logical sense than any other. I didn’t feel like I was losing my mind, but I doubted that many suffering mental illness actually understood what was happening. What’s-his-name, the guy from A Beautiful Mind, was supposed to be the exception, not the rule…
“I have made you stronger already, but I am not certain whether it’s enough to defeat two Zaran soldier-class. I estimate that you currently have less than a 10% chance of success.”
“Zaran soldier-class?” I thought back. “Definitely a hallucination. Now this is really beginning to sound like the start of a lousy sci-fi movie…”
“Lousy sci-fi movie?” returned the voice as one of the remaining two alien creatures—Zaran soldier-class?—circled behind her.
“And now that you have allowed your opponents to achieve superior tactical positioning, your odds of success are now less than 5%. Unless, of course, you allow me full access to your body…”
“Full access to my body? So let me get this straight. I get a crazy fucking voice in my head to distract me at exactly the same time I’m being attacked by two hulking ant monsters by wanting to feel me up? Fuck you, mister.”
“Feel you up? I do not understand your meaning. Why would I have a need to rise in order to feel you. I simply need unfettered access to all of your cellular systems to properly modify your DNA to meet Xinth military-grade…”
“Modify my freaking DNA?” I interrupted. This really was a lousy sci-fi movie! I knew I’d regret watching all those shitty black and white movies when I was growing up. Now they’ve literally driven me insane! Who knew mom would actually be right about that?!
Before I could think anything more, I felt a slight air pressure change from movement behind her.
Air pressure change? Since when could I feel air press—?
The momentary distraction of thought cost me, and the pincered hand of the creature behind me pushed me forward, off balance and stumbling toward the other Zaran soldier-class.
Was I actually using my schizophrenic voice’s terminology for this thing now?
I mentally shrugged. I didn’t have a better word at the moment, so what the hell? If I was going to see hallucinations, I might as well use imaginary words from my imaginary voice-friend to describe them. That made sense… right?
Except that I was beginning to wonder whether it was actually a hallucination. Could you hallucinate a stumble forward…
The Zaran I stumbled toward swung its claw swiftly upward into my jaw, lifting my body and slamming my head into the ceiling. I fell back to the floor in a dazed crouch, stars filling my vision, jaw throbbing.
…and could you hallucinate painful injuries?
Either I had completely lost touch with reality and every one of my senses was hopelessly delusional, or this truly was reality. I decided that I needed to get serious about this fight. If it did happen to be real, I was in some serious danger here.
As another blow from the creature’s clawed hands flew my way, I rolled between its insectoid legs and jumped to my feet. Whirling with speed I never knew I had, I delivered a roundhouse kick with great form, grateful for those kickboxing classes that had been part of the military-inspired PT that NASA had provided.
The beast actually moved from the force of my blow. Unlike Lino’s attack, which had done next to nothing, my kick actually knocked the creature forward. The other Zaran circled to flank me once more.
“Amity! You must listen to me. This battle will be extremely difficult for you to win if you do not allow me willing access to all of your bodily systems!”
“Shut!” I said, delivering another kick to the stumbling Zaran.
“The fuck…” I continued, ducking out of the way of the claw that swung at me from the second Zaran that had moved around to my right side as he attacked.
“UP!” I managed… just before a massive, armored claw caught me from the left, ugly Zaran #1 having recovered from my kick while I was distracted with the attack from his circling partner.
Jesus! Taking on two opponents at once was really fucking difficult!
Off balance and breathless from the shocking pain of Ugly #1’s blow, I spun and slammed into Ugly Zaran #2, feeling my nose crunch in a stinging explosion as it smashed into the hard shell of his body.
As my nose ricocheted from Ugly #2’s shell, both of his heavy pincers came down hard on my shoulders. Blazing agony screamed through my body as I heard my clavicles crack, dropping me in a whimpering, crumpled heap. I heard the two monsters chuckle. At least, that’s what I assumed that was the gist of the odd harrumphing noise they were making.
Alright, now that was pissing me off. But my voice insanity was right. This fight was not going well. I had some martial arts training, but these things were armored by their exoskeletons, and I had no weapon. I was clearly insufficient to the task.
“You there?” I thought toward the voice. This was so freaking weird.
There was a momentary pause. Okay, now I was glad that the two ugly Zarans were laughing at me… since the friendly voice in my head decided to go all shy now that I needed his freaking help!
“That’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say? I’m in some pretty serious shit here, if you haven’t noticed!”
One of the Uglies—I was a little dazed, okay? I couldn’t tell which one!—lifted me off the floor and threw me across the room. I felt the drywall crunch under my weight as I flew into it.
As I collapsed on the floor, I felt my vision dim. Yeah, I was hurting pretty badly now.
“I did inform you that your odds of successfully navigating this encounter were extremely low.”
I wanted to tell him something about shoving his odds into a painful orifice of some sort. The only problem was he was in my body. No painful orifice shoving allowed when I was the recipient. I was already gaining a new understanding for the expression: ‘having my ass handed to me’.
Besides, I needed him, I supposed. Dealing with a cocky I-told-you-so-spewing stowaway in my body was preferable to death, right? Okay, when I put it that way…
“Okay, so if I give you permission or whatever, what’s the what? Are you going to go full-on bodysnatcher or something?”
“Heavens, no!” His response sounded so appalled, I almost believed him. Almost.
“My presence is symbiotic only. If you open your body fully to me.”
“Open my body? Sounds like you’re planning some sort of mind fuck!” I thought, snickering to myself. Then, I quickly sobered. Maybe that really was what he had in mind! Shit!
“For goodness’ sake! I simply need to modify several of your DNA sequences to give you the ability to deal with the Zaran. My people have been at war with them for millennia. We don’t have the technology to travel to worlds as they do, but we do have the ability to project our consciousness. Your people are working on similar technology. It’s how I found you…”
“The helmet? When I put it on… after the others… that’s how you found me?”
So that was it. That was how this had happened? That actually made sense! So the good news was I might not be insane. The bad news? I was seriously possessed by a fucking body snatcher. Hello, lousy sci-fi movie… meet real life!
“So you’re going to change my DNA? Am I going to grow an extra crispy taco shell over my torso like those ugly fuckers over there?” I asked him, eying the creatures moving toward me, fully expecting the answer to be yes as I tasted the metallic tang of blood from my injured nose running over my lips.
“Not at all. In terms of your physical appearance, you will notice little change, other than potentially more dense, defined musculature.”
Nice! So he’s the one who had given me those abs. Bully for him!
The two Zaran soldiers were getting close now.
“Okay, okay! I’m in. Now how long will it take to…”
Then, I felt it. I had never experienced anything like it. It was wonderful. Energy and strength simply poured through every part of my body. I sprang up quickly. My broken collar bones didn’t seem to hurt anymore. Neither did my injured nose. I felt… great!
“You should feel the effects of the increasingly dense muscle fibers, the additional mitochondria for metabolization of…”
Yada… yada… yada… I kind of tuned out on my pedantic alien hitchhiker friend at that point. I got the gist. The whole feeling-like-superwoman thing pretty much told me what I needed to know. Besides, the two uglies were bearing down on me and about to strike.
This time, when Ugly #1 took a swing at me, it seemed as if it was moving in slow motion. I raised my arm to block it, and it bounced off. I had expected it to hurt. It may have stung a little, but that was all. I fired a fist into his shell, right over where a human heart would have been, and to my shock, his exoskeleton cracked under my fist. Ugly’s beady eyes widened, and I grinned. He hadn’t been expecting that! Ha!
Ugly #2 attacked. I could feel the telltale sound of movement that his rapidly moving arm made, and I instinctively raised my hand to grab his huge pincer-thing mid-swing. I twisted and heard a crunch as the shell around its shoulder cracked. Who knew frequenting Moe’s Crab Shack would prepare me to battle strange alien invaders from outer space? Yay, seafood!
Watching the alien cringe in pain, I giggled. Had I just done that? So cool! I launched a front kick that crashed right through his armored exoskeleton, sending him crashing into the wall next to the door. See how that feels, punk? Better think twice before doing that to a poor girl again!
Turning my attention back to Ugly #1, I smashed both hands into his center, sending him right through the bedroom wall in a spray of plaster and crackling wood.
“Nice job on the upgrades, voice!” I said, glancing at both creatures, satisfied that they were at least momentarily incapacitated.
“You’re welcome, Amity.” The odd way he said my name made me realize that I didn’t know his. “By the way, what’s your name?”
“I am known as Xilian 12 on my home world.”
“Your last name is a number?”
“It is. It provides a shorthand way to reference our genetic line.”
“Huh. That’s pretty smart actually. Family names here are not as… well organized.” I took a deep breath, then asked the question I really wanted answered. “So is this the part where you take over my body and try to rule the world or something?”
“What?!” came the voice’s surprised response. “I would never wish to rule a planet such as this!”
“Not good enough for you, eh?” I joked.
“It is not that. It would be an abomination to our creed.”
Clearly, Xilian didn’t have a sense of humor. Well, if he spent more time in my head, that was bound to change…
“I’m just kidding, Xil-meister. That’s this thing where we say something that we don’t actually mean.”
“Strange. I thought that was called ‘lying’.”
“Well, it’s funny or sarcastic when we know that the other person will know that we don’t really mean it. Lying is intended to deceive. Being funny isn’t.”
“How could you make such a judgment with an alien being such as I?”
“Good point. I probably shouldn’t be cracking jokes like that with you just yet. But it’s kinda habitual for me,” I mused. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.”
Noted? Okay. Maybe it would take a little longer than I thought for this guy to grow a sense of humor.
“So who were the two big uglies?”
“Big uglies? Do you refer to the Zaran soldier-class?”
“Yep. Them.” I mentally rolled my eyes.
“It is likely they were sent by the Zaran queen. The Zaran vessel likely has the ability to detect my presence on your planet.”
“You mean your presence in my head, right?”
“My consciousness resides in more of your body’s cells than merely those of your brain.”
“Okay, Mr. Literalpants! But they can detect me because of you, right?”
“That is correct.”
I mulled that one over. So because of him, I had been attacked, and Lino taken…
With all that had happened, I had nearly forgotten. How could I forget about that! I chastised myself, physically flinching. The rest of this had to wait. I couldn’t be too upset that my partner-in-mind had brought this down on us. I had wanted to be a part of the first contact program, after all, and I had absolutely made first contact. And second!
But I needed to find Lino as soon as possible. Who knew what those things would do to him…
“Okay, more on that in a bit. But first, where are they taking Lino? Can we catch them?”
“If we knew where their vessel were located, perhaps. However, we do not. Therefore, our first step should be to determine its location.”
“Right. So how do we do that?”
“Your nation’s military has contracted for a prototype scanning device which should allow for the detection of Zaran spacefaring technology.”
I grinned at the bookish response. Dude was seriously going to have to learn to loosen up!
“Okay, so where is this contractor?”
“Approximately 1,048 kilometers from here.”
“Good to know that even aliens use the metric system. God, the U.S. is sooo backwards on that one!”
“We do not use that system, however it is the superior system of measurement on your planet.”
“On that, we agree, my body snatching friend.”
Then I realized what he had actually said.
“A thousand kilometers?! It’s going to take hours to drive there!” I felt my heart sink. I hoped Lino would last that long with these guys. Driving there, finding this device, and driving back was bound to take the better part of a day, even if I could pull it off.
“We will not be driving,” Xillian said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed.
“We will be flying…”