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Contamination

03/18/11

  07:46:02 am, by Nic Wilson   , 3486 words  
Categories: Nexus

Contamination

I must have been in her apartment. I dated a new age woman in school whose dorm looked similar, beads, crystals, fragrant smoke on the air. If only there were music playing older than I was I might have sworn I?d stumbled back into my own past.

 

My head was ringing. No- I had a call. Elle showed up on my eyescreen. ?So you are still alive.?

 

?Apparently. What the hell happened??

 

?They threw us a party. It got a little wild. And you slipped out. Being that close to the Abhijñā for so long was like being blackout drunk at a rave. I spent the better part of the night getting everybody rounded up and back to the shuttles. When we couldn?t find you we left the last shuttle at the LZ, just like we planned.?

 

?So have I missed my window?

 

?No. We?re still in orbit. The Nexus won?t be back for another seventeen hours. I just wanted to get us as much distance from the natives as I could. Our heads are a hell of a lot clearer; it?s amazing the difference a kilometer makes. So where are you??

 

?I?m pretty sure I ended up leaving with the translator. So I think her place.?

 

She raised an eyebrow at me. ?Really??

 

?I?m pretty sore. In very specific muscle groups. We must have marathoned it. Okay, now that I?m standing, I can tell I?ve definitely been rubbed a little raw in the pelvic vicinity. But she isn?t here, now, which is probably a blessing.? 

 

?You?re not just going to sneak out in the night??

 

?This is hardly sneaking out in the night. I?ve been here thirty hours, several days local time. And I need to get to that shuttle. How far away am I??

 

?About two hours, as the lecher walks.? 

 

?In all fairness, I?m pretty sure she came on to me.?

 

?How chivalrous.?

 

?You know me- the perfect gentleman. How?s the rest of the ground team holding up??

 

?It?s a bit cramped. We had to cram three and a half extra bodies into each shuttle. There?s standing room for about one person at a time, and that?s with people on laps. I imagine tempers would be high if it weren?t for the good vibrations coming from the planet- and if there were room to throw a punch.?

 

?Three and a half? Please tell me HR was the one you cut in half.?

 

?We discussed it, but we couldn?t decide on who would get stuck with the ass end.?

 

?Both ends of him are the ass end.?

 

?Touché.? She hesitated. ?You think you can make it to the shuttle? We ran a fuel diagnostic, and I think we could make it down and back up. If you need help.?

 

?I?ll be fine. The locals seem friendly enough, and besides I?ve got my-? I looked around the room, ?okay, so I don?t have my pistol. But that?s okay. I?m armed with my wits, charm, and an ass that rarely quits. I?m sure I?ll be fine. I?ll see you in seventeen hours- though since you?re jammed into the shuttle you?ll smell like canned corn-beef ass. And I smell like alien sex- which is less unpleasant than it sounds- though I doubt anyone would want to spritz it on their neck before dinner. So we?ll save the hugging for after we?ve both showered.? I felt like I wanted to make a crack about hugging during a shower, but couldn?t wrap my head around the particulars before it got awkward. She seemed to know it, too; maybe that?s why it was awkward.

 

?I?ll see you back on the ship.? She hung up. 

 

I caught sight of myself in a reflective surface. It was interactive, zoomed in on the places where my eyes were looking. So I saw in exquisite detail the dark bags beneath my eyes, the scraggly stubble marching across my chin, the haggardness in my cheeks. I hadn?t eaten, at least not that I could remember. I was hungry, and thirsty. I needed to get the hell back to the shuttle.

 

The Abhijñā noticed me almost immediately when I set foot outside; they must have been listening to me. And word of my one man pilgrimage back to the ship rippled through the city with the speed of a thrown rock?s reverberation in a pond; telepathic gossip. They followed me, but at a distance, always leering, trying to stay on the other side of bushes and buildings.

 

Alone, they seemed to regard me with a knowing suspicion, that I had broken from my crewmates to get up to dirty things with a local. I wondered what kinds of sexual mores they had, if maybe the chastity police were going to meet me at the city limits to relieve me of my genitals, or for a shotgun wedding. I really wished I hadn?t lost my pistol.

 

It was a long walk of shame. But I made it back to the shuttle unmolested, uncontested, even. The only notice I was leaving came when I waved goodbye to the city, and an Abhijñā woman, seeing the gesture, returned it, confused.

 

I boarded the shuttle and entered orbit. I ate some of the rations on board, and drank some of the water, then took a nap. EngDiv woke me with a call as the Nexus approached on an intercept course. ?Good to see you made it back. We received SecDiv?s messages about losing you on world.?

 

?How?d the trip around the solar system go??

 

?As we got further away from the planet we regained more of our functionality. Cap, here?s the odd thing. We knew we were too blasé about, well, being manipulated, right? Well it seems the Abbies were upping endorphin and dopamine levels in our brain. The nanobots in our CSF should have recognized that and made noise, right? Well, it seems their computers were doing something similar to the nanomonitoring system on the ship; the telepathic aliens have telepathic computers.?

 

?They didn?t give our ship an STD, did they??

 

?Diagnostics are all coming up clean. And a sector-by-sector comparison with the backups isn?t showing any long-term changes. They just told the computer everything would be cool.?

 

?So their technology smoked a dooby with ours??

 

?Pretty much.?

 

?Huh.?

 

?But on that note, we?ve got your shuttle going to the quarantine bay. Consulting with SciDiv and MedDiv, we think you?re probably all right, but unlike the rest of the ground team you were exposed for a far longer time period to the people, atmosphere and possibly food and drink. If anybody?s come back with a testicle-eating bacterium, it?s you.?

 

?That?s a pleasant thought.?

 

?Just a reason to be cautious. Shouldn?t take more than a few hours to clear you. But in the meantime, you?ll have access to the decon suite, which is basically the same set up as your cabin. There?s even a shower in there.?

 

?With a full suite of cameras, I assume.?

 

?Hey, if your twig and berries have been replaced by the Thing, it?s better we know about it before you go shaking it at the rest of the crew.? I was wondering if he meant the Rock Guy or John Carpenter?s when I heard a blee-bloop warning signal over our open channel, and he knit his brow. ?Bad news, bossman. Your shuttle?s setting off the sensors. You?ve got a contaminant. Something big enough the sensors flagged it through the hull. Hopefully you just stepped in some alien dog poop or something. But you should hit that shower. I?ve got techs standing by to receive your clothes.?

 

I stripped off my uniform as the shuttle entered the quarantine bay, trying not to make any Freudian inferences about the juxtaposition. I dropped the clothes into a drawer that opened into the quarantine lab. As I approached the shower the door opened and water began spraying out of the nozzle.

 

The water was warm, and it made me have to pee, but since I knew it was also being collected in the quarantine lab to be analyzed, that it was best I hold it in. I held my hand out and soap squirted from a nozzle under the showerhead. I started to lather myself, when a thought popped into my brain:

 

Touchit.

 

It wasn?t the first time I?d had the urge to touch myself in the shower, only the first time it had been vocalized so forcefully. But medical probably was watching, or at least would watch the tapes. And I wasn?t looking to give them that much of a show.

 

I rinsed my face. There was movement on the other side of the shower door. I pushed it open violently. The Abhijñā translator was standing there, gaping. I had to fight the urge to cover my nudity, since there wasn?t anything to cover with. A moment later the ship dispensed a paper towel, but by then I was stuck trying to keep up decorum.

 

?I?m sorry. I hope I?m not intruding.? She was trying to be coy; I was trying not to betray my anger or surprise- at least not yet.

 

?That depends on which intrusion you?re speaking of. I woke up naked in your apartment, and I?m not particularly puritanical about who sees my birthday candle. But I don?t remember inviting you onto my shuttle.?

 

?I don?t suppose you remember much of Abhijñ, captain. But presuming you aren?t using shuttle as a metaphor, you did not invite me.?

 

?And just how did you sneak onto the shuttle. It?s just a cockpit. There?s nowhere to hide.?

?I didn?t bother. I just asked you not to notice I was there. You were tired. Anxious. Hungry. Thirsty. It was a simple enough thing to encourage you to pay more attention to those things and not?

 

?The little man behind the curtain.?

 

She pointed to the dispensed towel and said, ?But he?s not wearing his curtain. Also it?s cold in here.?

 

?What I mean was that?s pretty sneaky, sis.?

 

?I?m reasonably certain we?re not related. Besides, different-sex siblings are genetically dissimilar enough in my species to safely procreate.? 

 

?That?s? creepy, if you?ll tolerate my interspecies intolerance.?

 

?No excuses necessary. Your taboos exist because procreation amongst siblings and even close relatives is not safe for your species. The taboo is simply irrelevant in mine.?

 

?Except that it does make your planet a little more like Alabama than I?d have assumed at first blush.? I stopped myself from making banjo noises; I didn?t figure she?d understand, anyway. ?But the more important question is why are you here??

 

?Imprinting allows simultaneous access to another mind, completely. Telepathy is like a handshake. Imprinting is far more? intimate. Like making love. No one from my species has ever imprinted with a human before. The result, for both of us, was intoxicating. I don?t believe, from what I can recall, that either of us sought a union consciously. The idea grew from the imprint, and infected the both of us. We found one another without seeking. We were not of our right minds.?

 

?But I am an Arahant, a chaste priestess. By relating at all, and particularly with an outsider, I committed an unforgivable sin, stained my Order. When you awoke, I was pleading my case before a tribunal. They decided to have me put to death. So I ran. I snuck aboard your shuttle.?

 

?So you?re saying there are no strings attached to yesterday. But I don?t know that I can keep you here. Particularly if your planet wants you back.?

 

?But you also can?t return, either. You have a schedule to keep to. You?ll likely never return there. And all they know is that I disappeared. Their thirst for blood travels only as far as their eyes can catch what offends them.?

 

?So you?re the contaminant. Which is good, because I think I?ve probably got everything you could possible have to give.?

 

?An unfortunate, though apt, choice of words.?

 

?I don?t think I?m going to like your elaboration.? Kisshertouchhertasteher. ?I thought it was your crazy planet full of mindfucking alien brainwaves, but we?re off world, gaining distance every second, and I sincerely doubt you?re doing that on your own.?

 

?So you?ve met the dibba-cakkhu. I?m sorry for that. The dibba-cakkhu lives within all the Abhijñā. I feared that by touching you, she would touch you, too. The dibba-cakkhu are symbiotic. They formed parallel to the Abhijñā. Some believe they are the souls of our ancestors. They are telepathic, though more weakly so than my species, but in tandem, the union of both is stronger than either alone.?

 

?In larger colonies, like the one on Abhijñ, they openly share knowledge and experiences; there is no self or individual, only grouped consciousness. They don?t know anything because nothing can be known, though they suspect many things. It is not unlike your internet: a collection of knowledge of questionable parentage and veracity.?

 

?And your dibba-cakkhu likes you. It senses that you will bring it many new experiences, that it will hope to someday bring back to the whole.?

 

?But the dibby-caca complicates things even more. I can?t have both of us wandering around with psychic worms that are going to call back to the home world any time I haven?t provided them with enough brain-worm-porn.?

 

?The dibba-cakkhu are a social creature, certainly, but their desire to communicate should be sated with the two colonies on ship.?

 

?Ah. So as long as I keep you around, I?m not a fucking antennae leaking information to your people. And what if I decide I just want to cut the little fuckers out??

 

?There is no known way to successfully remove the dibba-cakkhu. They do no permanent damage.?

 

?In your species. Who?s to say they won?t decide a human brain makes for a good buffet? Or that they won?t cause cancer? Or impotence??

 

?If you?re concerned for the latter I?m sure we can arrange to test your potency regularly.?

 

?I thought ugly-bumping with outsiders was verboten.?

 

?Your people have an expression, ?once bitten, twice shy.? My people have a similar expression, only we like to be bitten, and that of course changes the ending to the parable.?

 

?You are a minxy little telepath. But the problem I have is: how can I know that what you?re telling me is the truth? How can I make a decision, to boot you or give you asylum, and even pretend that you aren?t subtly manipulating my mind.?

 

?We are limited in what we can accomplish through telepathy. We can pull thoughts out, to read them, we can put thoughts in someone?s mind for them to see, but we can?t push them on someone, to make them believe something they wouldn?t. As you?ve noticed, we were able to affect the mood of your crew, but only subtly, in ways they were willing, even happy, to be changed. It is not unlike hypnosis, if you prefer a cultural touchstone. I don?t believe it?s a natural upper-limit, simply that my people believed it would be impolite to attempt to control others, so it?s a skill we never sought.?

 

?So there are no dicks on your world??

 

?Oh, there are. But they?re tempered by the fact that everyone, inadvertently, shares their thoughts. We may not pry, but there?s leakage, similar to your body language, and what it tells me now about your? potency. But as far as manipulating you,? she stopped, ?en tendre unintended, I?d admit manipulating you as much perhaps as any woman, or even any person, in my situation might. But I understand the distinction you?re making between appealing to your emotions, as opposed to? altering you.?

 

?Yeah, and the one solution, the only solution, really, I keep coming back to is shooting you in the head. When I first imagined it, I thought taking it to that extreme, maybe then I?d be able to tell I was in control, but what if even then you allowed me to get that far, only to pull me back at the last second. I don?t think there?s a single way for me to prove to myself you?re on the level.?

 

She reached behind herself, and produced my missing pistol. She handed it over to me, and I checked its charge, still full. Then she said, ?I admit, distressing as the thought is, that you have two courses of action open to you: killing me, or trusting me.?

 

?Taking at face value what you?ve said about not being able to make me think something, do you know what I?m thinking? Have any clue which way I?m leaning??

 

?I?m apprehensive; human thoughts are still new to me. Your commbox prepared us to reach out to the speech centers of the brain, but higher reasoning is more complicated. You picture executing me, and how that would feel, and contrast it with ruin befalling your crew, caused in some way by misjudging this situation.?

 

Her face flashed fluorescent blue in a shape that reminded me of a Japanese woodblock wave, and somehow I knew what that meant. ?You?re afraid of me.? She didn?t confirm it, but she was embarrassed to have shown it. ?It isn?t proof, because I can?t know how conscious your camouflage reactions are. But you don?t have to be. If I can find a way to make this work, I will. Just try not to kill me in my sleep- I?ve had too many ex-girlfriends try it to write off one more as mere coincidence, and I don?t want to have to admit it Maggie that maybe it really is me.?

 

?Ex-girlfriend??

 

?Might be a little presumptuous, but a reasonable facsimile, I?d think.? I stumbled on the middle of the word; something about the way she moved towards me made me emphasize ?sumptuous.?

 

?I?m flattered that you would wish to possess me. But perhaps I?m not ready yet to be relinquished.? She moved her face towards mine, and I found myself preparing to kiss her, and trying to remember how we?d done that before. Then the air switched from the overly stale quarantine supply to the only slightly stale air of the rest of the ship.

 

?Quarantine protocols are lifting,? Haley said.

 

?El capitan?? It was EngDiv. I pulled him up on my eyescreen. He was trying to avert his eyes. ?Uh, well, now that we know the contaminant was an Abhijñā that pretty much clears things on our end. Um. Med and SciDiv still want the pair of you to stay in there, just while we run some tests. Definitely want the both of you showered; no comment on whether that was one at a time or not.?

 

?I get the idea,? I said, and hung up. She was already removing her clothes. ?I?m sorry if I should know this already, but what should we call you??

 

?Vipisana Samatha.? She brushed past me to get into the shower; I was still wet, and now getting cold. ?Are you coming??

 

?One moment. I just need to make a call- and try to stay out of my head.?

 

?Of course.?

 

I called SecDiv. ?Apparently my cavorting with the Abhijñā translator caused a bit more of a diplomatic incident than I realized. She stowed away on my shuttle, and I?ve granted her asylum. I don?t want her here, risking the ship and the crew, but I also can?t see any way around kicking her off the ship that doesn?t amount to murdering her. Having said that, you?re my oldest friend on ship, the person who?s known me the longest and the most completely. She can influence me- I?m just not sure how far. So if I start acting wrong, or making decisions that don?t make sense,? I hung up on the words, then forced them out, ?shoot her.?

 

She nodded her head, grimly, then smiled a little. ?I think this conversation probably stands as pretty stark evidence that you?re still you. But we?ll be careful with her. You be careful, too.?  

 

I hung up. And for the first time in several minutes I realized I was still holding my pistol (not a euphemism). I looked at the weapon, still with a full charge, and then to the blue silhouette slightly obscured by the shower door. As I approached it slid open. I set the pistol down on the counter, and pushed my way past her to the water.

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