As non-corporeal xenobiologists, we are trained in riding corporeal forms. The forms we ride are oblivious to our observation from the inside out. I was specialised in hominins.
Our training insists that we change host regularly which, on a spaceship with a crew of 237, is easily done. But I found myself riding Clara Fernandez more and more. She was so full of emotions. Her joy in and enthusiasm for her limited and short life fascinated me. Her intellect was above average for hominins, but it was her instinctive grasp of social cues and ties that I was studying.
As part of a gestalt species where no one is truly separate and communication merely a thought away, I was intrigued by the separateness of Clara from others of her kind. Communication seemed limited and complex, yet I had the feeling Clara navigated such turbulent and turbid waters well for one of her species.
We were also warned about becoming too attached to our subjects of observation. It was my, perhaps misplaced, fondness for Clara and her shipmates that led to my being trapped.
Clara worked in engineering, so she was one of those battling the engine core meltdown caused by some stray anti-matter. Without me riding and shielding her fragile organic form, no one would have survived the radiation long enough for the ship to be saved from destruction. I could not leave, not feeling Clara’s passionate determination to save her ship and crew. We did save them, but I still felt the moment she ceased.
As I felt her spirit leaving her body, I tried to leave as well but found myself unable to detach. We are repeatedly warned of this risk if we ride the same form too often and too long. And we should never be present at the point of cessation.
I cannot adequately describe the searing panic. Or the quiet desperation that set in with time. The others contact me for regular updates. I am still valued as a homininologist, one that can now report more accurately on separateness. They ride me.
I do not know how humans cope with this crushing aloneness. I am no longer part of the flowing symphony of my kind. I am a jarring note in a song I do not know the words to. A song sung in a dark and cold theatre by a species I barely comprehend.
I have had to battle with pain – this body was damaged when we saved the ship. I dislike waste evacuation intensely. Perspiration is most uncomfortable. Thirst and hunger are disturbing, but I am discovering that the consumption of solids and fluids can be pleasant. I have experimented with inebriation. I do not think I am ready to attempt copulation – it seems distasteful, although I have observed hominins derive great pleasure from this pastime. Sleep is an alarming moment of non-being; only the prospect of cessation is more frightening.
I cannot understand or feel the joy Clara had for this life. It has become a little easier since I found a friend. The doctor who repaired this body seems to partially understand what occurred. He told me months later that my suddenly different brainwaves and personality made him question his scientific certainties. He seems more intrigued than afraid and I have been able to explain in part why Clara is now other.
We meet twice a week for tea and discussion. It feels comforting. I am still like a lost child, naked and shivering in an abyss, but I am beginning to understand the value of warmth and companionship in this narrow and terrifying existence.