by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in All Worlds Wayfarer, March 2020
One of my scouts flies through the space station’s ductwork. Another flies out among the aliens who are crowding through the dock and maneuvers above them, looking down, seeing where I am, what this space station is like. Most of me clusters in a high corner out of sight, near the airlock I’ve painstakingly flown through, one body at a time, unnoticed, tiny, unimportant. The spaceship I arrived on doesn’t know it had a stowaway, let alone a thousand, bound together telepathically. A thousand tiny bodies, each many-legged with shimmering pairs of wings. One mind. I am Mazillion, and I am the first of my species in space.
An alien vessel piloted by bipedal mammals came to my planet, and I snuck aboard. I didn’t want the mammals to know about me, so I kept my bodies huddled close, balled up together, wings held still, no buzzing. I listened to the mammals moan and gibber. Eventually, I realized their vocalizations were a form of speech. Slabs of meat in their mouths danced, and they listened to the ripples and waves in the air made by the dancing. It seemed a strange way to talk: so much easier to watch a dance than to reverse-engineer it from the wake it leaves in the air.
Occasionally, I sent feelers out — single scouts, bodies with only six legs and one pair of wings apiece — to search for food. But I found no scraps of food left out by the mammals, and I didn’t dare risk discovery. Instead, I cannibalized myself — eight-legged bodies eating six-legged bodies; ten-legged bodies eating eight-legged bodies, saving as much of my own complexity as I could.
A tenth of my bodies died on that trip through deep, cold space. Decimated.
I wondered so many times if it was worth it.
Would I die, having seen nothing more than the stars from a new angle to show for my bravery? True — the ascent from my homeworld had been stunning. My people have theorized for many lifetimes that our world is a sphere. I am the only one who has seen it. But my voyage turned out to be a one way trip, and now I am stranded on this space station.
My scout from the empty ducts returns. My scout from the crowded docks flies almost beyond the reach of my telepathic neural network. I feel dizzy, flying over all these bizarre aliens. I almost forget myself, consumed by wanting to see just one more bizarre sight: flower-covered plants that stroll and roll like tumbleweeds; smooth-skinned, glistening amphibians with powerful hind legs and bulging eyes; and so many fur-covered mammal species. All of them seemingly sentient. The least of them is more advanced than the most brilliant minds on my world… because they are here. In space. And only I, from my own species, have made it this far. And even I, only by hitchhiking. Who would have thought mammals and frogs would be so successful? The plants do not surprise me. I have always admired plants for their patience and tranquility.
I summon self control and pull myself back together, bringing my scout body back to myself. All my bodies dance and buzz and whir with excitement, twitching legs, flittering wings. I am of two minds, and I cannot resolve the internal conflict. Part of me wants to hide in the ductwork, grow stronger, sneaking out only when necessary to seek out food and sustenance.
Another part though — strong and brave — wants to do something new. Something we have never done before. Become something new.
I consider my options, laying low to begin with. But as the weeks pass, the adventurous part of me grows stronger. More and more of my bodies agree. To live among these one-bodied aliens, I must become like them. At least, a little. I will engage in mimicry, an age-old tradition among successful insect species. So many of our ancestors developed bodies that physically mimicked the shapes of plants for disguise or the shapes of predatory avians for protection. Together, my selves will come into a single shape and mimic a new type of body, for a new reason.
When I have come to a decision, all of my bodies in harmonious dancing agreement, then I descend, one body at a time, pouring down from the ductwork into a dense shape. My bodies pack close together, wings and legs brushing against each other. Some of my bodies become feet, hovering slightly above the space station’s metal floor. Rising from the feet, my bodies form two columns, combining into a trunk and then splitting apart again — two arms with a head in-between.
I stand in the quiet corridor that my scout bodies selected. My densely packed bodies rise together on one side, lifting our left arm. I have seen how the bipedal aliens walk, lifting one leg after the other. That is too hard for my thousand-fold bodies. Together, my selves float forward, straining to hold our shape. In this way, I float into the crowds of bipedal aliens whom I’ve only ever watched from above before.
The aliens step aside, giving me space. A red-furred canine tilts its head, inquisitively. A green-skinned amphibian makes a gulping noise, reminding me uncomfortably of sub-sentient amphibious predators from my homeworld. My bodies are frightened and lose their cohesion; momentarily, my new bipedal forms flies apart into an amorphous cloud. But I exert great will-power; the dancing of all of my bodies harmonizes, and I pull myself back together.
A biped. Like all the other bipeds. Floating through the crowded station halls. Okay, not exactly like all the other bipeds. But close enough.
I float towards a place that my scouts have seen — a place called The All Alien Cafe. I have seen through my scouts’ multi-faceted eyes that all kinds of aliens congregate here. I enter, approach the bar, and with some difficulty, send a dance rippling among my closely-packed bodies telling them to hold their form, but bend in the middle. I simulate sitting on a barstool, floating above it actually.
A feeling of pride fills the thorax of every one of my bodies. The bartender approaches me. The bipedal bartender has a long, prehensile nose and asks with those strange moaning sounds, “What can I get you?”
My scouts have seen this, watching other aliens at this bar. I have learned the language that most of the aliens speak here by listening closely. I know what to say, and my bodies shudder their wings together, buzzing in a carefully modulated way: “ONE SUGAR JUICE PLEAZZZZE.”
The elephantine bartender nods and says, “Coming right up.” Moments later, the bartender places a frosted glass filled with a pink liquid in front of me.
“THANKZZZZ,” I buzz with all of the wings of all of my bodies in concert. Then I enjoy the cold, sweet beverage, letting each of my bodies take a turn perching on the glass lip of the cup and dipping their own tiny proboscises into the sticky, sugary pink juice.
I have succeeded, and it tastes sweet. I am a biped now. At least, when I want to be.