First Contact

We were looking for the fall.

A fall, in this case, refers to a meteorite located based on eyewitness accounts or similar tracking of an impact event. Its counterpart is the find, where a meteorite is discovered in the field without prior knowledge of the impact.

Back to the story. Some friends and I are amateur astronomers, and we were lucky enough to see the meteor as it streaked toward the ground to become a meteorite. Since we hadn't planned to head home before the small hours of the morning anyway, we jumped in a car and headed straight for it. Of course whats-his-name who's always bragging about his friends at NASA was trying to call them, but maybe they find him annoying too because they didn't answer.

It took us a few hours to find it, and Shivani was sure that we wouldn't be able to find it in the dark. She was wrong. None of us were prepared for what would happen once we got there, though. It wasn't a spaceship or anything -- something that large couldn't be confused with the small chunk of rock we expected. It was, however, a small metal cylinder. I'd like to think most of our little club are slightly more intelligent than average -- that's what everyone seems to think when we mention our love of astronomy or physics, anyway. However, intelligence does not imply common sense, and scientific types tend to be more curious than average. Lucas, an astrobiologist by day, picked that extraterrestrial object right up. Idiot.

So anyway, I was halfway to the car screaming for him not to do anything else in about a microsecond, but it was a bit late to take a cautious approach. That little cylinder started glowing almost as soon as he picked it up, and things are a bit fuzzy after that. I do remember waking up in isolation at the hospital with a fever, an atrocious cough that burst some blood vessels in my eyes and turned my sclera red, nausea, dizziness, numb toes, and a migraine. To be honest that's about all I remember for a while, though. My only solace was that Lucas came down with the exact same case of the space flu.

It took two weeks before all of us stopped having symptoms, and another three before the doctors/suits/military types were convinced that we weren't carriers for an alien bioweapon that would wipe out life as we know it. Even after they released us we had mandatory weekly check-ins for a while. They wouldn't tell us much, but that didn't stop Lucas from speculating as to whether whatever we had was more like a virus, a protist, or an extremophile bacterium I can't pronounce or spell (physicist, not a biologist). I told him to stuff it because he could have gotten us killed. He hasn't spoken to me for a while.

This all was finally, finally fading into one of those funny stories you tell people at parties when the sequel hit. I was just lying in bed trying to fall asleep when a voice from nowhere said, "Hello, Astrid."

I jumped right out of bed, turned on the light, and looked for an intruder. The room was empty.

"I'm afraid it's not that simple," continued the voice. "But from what your friend told you, I'd say I'm most like a colonial protist."

Expletives raced through my head and I punched the wall a couple times. Then I sat down, covered my ears, and tried to convince myself it was a nightmare.

The voice persisted. "I apologize. I realize now that this is fairly disturbing by your standards, but it's the only way I can communicate with you."

I sighed and leaned back, considering a multitude of questions that seemed impossible to choose between. The first one I could muster was, "How do you speak English?"

It's strange to say, but I could feel its? their? amusement. "I've been watching since we met. English was tricky, but I can assure you there are other languages that are much harder to learn. Plus I am by profession a combination of a linguist and a sociologist."

I have to admit I started getting genuinely curious. "So... just how much intelligent life have you run into?"

"There are only a couple I know of, but considering how hard interstellar travel is there could be plenty more that I haven't met. I'm a bit surprised you haven't asked how I'm talking to you, though."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, 'How are you in my head' seems a bit redundant since it's obvious you're whatever made me so sick, which means you probably have access to my nervous system or something."

"Close enough. I apologize for the sickness, but as you might guess it's difficult for me to initiate symbiosis without running afoul of a foreign immune system."

A sudden thought occurred to me. "Does this mean the rest of the astronomy club is talking to a voice in their heads about now?"

Finally the voice paused. "Human immune systems are unlike others I have encountered," it said slowly. "If there had been survivors in other hosts I would be able to tell."

I have to admit, I felt a bit sad at that point.

"Don't be," the voice continued. "I am using singular pronouns because that is what you're used to. I am a colonial organism after all. I was the only individual to come here to minimize the risks. As long as some cells survived I am still alive."

I glared at the wall. Was this thing reading my mind?

"I apologize again. From now on we will share a link. Emotions can be felt automatically, but thoughts will not be shared without permission. Also, you may be upset to hear this, but once a bond is formed it cannot be broken until one of us dies."

I sighed and stood up. "So we're stuck together? It figures. What should I call you?"

I felt hesitation. "Perhaps you should pick an appropriate name."

"How about Xena? Maybe Stella or Luna?"

"Xena. I like Xena."

I grinned. "Well then Xena, shall I take you to my leader? Call the UN or something?"

"I suspect we should start at your next check-in. They will be more likely to believe us that way."

So anyway, that's the story of how an alien ambassador is living in my head now.