There had been light, and there had been noise. If the creature had been sentient and awake, unprotected, it would not have survived. It didn’t like noise, but the cold, hard light was anathema to its existence. It had crashed on this blue rock for reasons it didn’t know, couldn’t know, and had unfurled itself from the craggy rock that had been its home, vehicle and incubator. It was not an especially pleasant sight, like a living oil spill, formless, shapeless, sometimes tentacles, sometimes webs, a blob moving through the underbrush without rhyme, reason or direction, aimlessly wandering while its instincts were still half-formed. Woodland creatures would sniff it curiously and then scurry away once it got too close. It was barely aware of its environment, didn’t know how to be aware, didn’t know how to be. It barely was.
It had been on Earth for three days, cowering in the shadows of trees during the day, slithering around at night in no particular direction, until it got to the edge of the small forest it had landed in. There was a clearing, and its rudimentary perceptive abilities and almost non-existent cognitive ones got together to make the decision that, if light was unpleasant, going to a place without shelter would be bad. It didn’t exactly make this decision, but the beginnings of gut feelings were there. They were there just for long enough for an excited golden retriever to walk up to it and shove her nose three inches into the formless blob out of happy curiosity. Many things can be said about golden retrievers, but that they might possess a sense of personal space and careful decision making is not one of them. She wasn’t even aware of what the creature was doing until she tried to pull away.
The creature, the thing, the mass, had found a host. It had found a host that was biological and mobile and not fast enough to get away, and it slowly pried apart the dog’s very molecular structure to slither inside, and before the dog could yelp or panic, with a sound that should have been a ‘schlorp’ but was more of a ‘fwhump’, the creature was inside her, finding her central nervous system and binding itself around it, all according to instincts that were older than time itself in a creature younger than a mayfly.
The dog was scared, of course. Something had gone up her nose and it had been a lot more unpleasant than that time she had tried to sneeze while drinking. Her owner had been sort of upset and very amused but she’d been mostly baffled by the painful stinging in her snout. This was like that but also not and also worse. And then the creature started to learn. It learned about the dog’s owner, and it learned about running on four legs and about how amazing little squeaky balls were. It was, most of all, learning how to think. It was coiled around the retriever’s brain like moss on a stone, and it was learning how to brain.
The dog shook her head and trotted around a bit more, sniffing things she maybe shouldn’t, and she only narrowly avoided being stung by a particularly patient wasp she nudged with her snout. Finally, her owner called her back. The creature listened inside but did not understand the noises. It understood to a certain extent what communication was. The dog had a sense of it so the creature did too, but other than the knowledge that this was her name, it didn’t pick up on.
It retreated a little bit more as the dog hopped around in the rough direction of her owner, and thought about things as best it could. Building off the canine brain, it was slowly learning how to think, but it was rudimentary, as if through a fog. Vague understandings. Fear. Don’t fear. Fight. Don’t fight. Feed. Don’t feed. Other things starting with F. But not concrete thinking, not really. But a part of it was slowly, like a hamster swimming through honey, trying to come to a conclusion. The conclusion it came to was that, if the dog had a name, then maybe it should too. It didn’t know what this name should be -- it had no tangible concept of language, after all -- but it knew that it existed and therefore should have a name.
It spent several hours trying to think this thought, and it was only after the dog had fallen asleep that it realized that thinking had taken that long. There was a sense of frustration. Tomorrow, it thought slowly, it would find a new host. It thought this for two hours and then figured how to sleep, or, if not that, then at least a close enough approximation. It woke up to the dog trying desperately trying to lick her own butt and falling off the couch.
The next day, it came to a realization. This happened when the dog was being scratched behind its ears, which it loved, and then had its ears rubbed, which it didn’t. When one owner told the other that “she really loves this”, the creature realized that the dog had no way to communicate slight discomfort. Her rudimentary instinct to appease her owner superseded her ability to express how she felt. This was a problem.
The creature existed to heal and coexist. If it couldn’t tell if it was helping or hurting, couldn’t communicate with its host, its presence was inherently wrong. Whatever the creature wanted, it could not ask the dog. The dog did not understand. Whatever the dog wanted, it could not tell the creature. The dog reacted to the same primal instincts the creature had existed as only hours ago. It could not agree to anything. It couldn’t consent, or reason, or make decisions. It couldn’t cooperate, only obey or disobey, whether that be its owner or its instincts. And the creature, for the first time in its short existence, felt disappointment. It felt sad, and upset, and all those negative emotions one might feel when something nice has been taken away. It was sad, because the dog was nice, and she enjoyed chasing her tail and being pet, and coexisting with it would have been nice.
But the dog couldn’t say yes, so the creature didn’t ask. It slithered into the recesses of the dog’s mind and stayed there, observing quietly in the background, not in despondency but patience. There would be time to mourn the loss of being a dog later. Now it had its own instincts to follow. It needed a host to be itself with, and it would find one, one way or another. But it would not take what was not freely given. Something deep inside itself recoiled at the very idea of it. It was not a parasite.
The dog’s owners were nice enough people but, the creature realized, they were not a good fit. It realized that, where the dog could not agree to anything, there was something missing in the couple that would not make them suitable hosts. They were clearly sentient. They were sapient. The creature had felt nourished by the dog’s excitement and felt no such nourishment coming off the two people. It would be an upgrade for the creature, but not fair to the people. So it stayed in the back seat of the dog, and watched her go through her day, learning about this world from its limited perspective.
This changed one day when a smaller person came up to the dog and started petting it and immediately the creature realized that this smaller person had all the emotion and energy that would sustain it, and it jumped from the dog to the small person’s hand. The child screamed in surprise. He didn’t even realize what it was he was seeing. Something dark, a little purple, with some other colours swirling in there, had touched his hand, and now it stung. He screamed again, tentatively, and noticed there was nobody else around. So he walked into the other room, where his parents were talking to the dog’s owners, felt that this was an appropriate setting, and started bawling.
Only minutes after merging with the child, the creature realized that this was still not a good fit. The young human was clearly more intelligent than the dog. It was capable of forming coherent thought, of making words and sentences, and it was coming into itself. But a cursory scan of the child’s surface thoughts and memories assured the creature that it could not be held responsible for its own actions. The smaller human was not a good host. It was too weak, but more importantly, it could not meaningfully say yes or agree to anything.
But it was fair. So it stayed in the background noise of the child’s brain, letting him be consoled by his parents for what they thought was a scare, and they were scolded briefly for leaving their child alone with a dog. The creature observed. Now that it had access to language, it started to quickly understand what was being said. All these people had names too. It was starting to feel more keenly the need for its own name, but still did not find anything appropriate, so it hid in the dark recesses of the child’s mind.
That night, when the creature was in bed, it considered revealing itself to the child. How to do so? Was there a fair and equal way to do so? The child was not particularly clever, it was still growing. But so was the creature. It was still learning. But it also realized that it was learning a lot faster than the child. To push him forward would be to interfere in a way the creature found abhorrent. The child needed its space to grow. Forcing it in a direction where it was more likely to agree to what the creature wanted was tantamount to forcing it to begin with. So again the creature felt a sense of loss. The child felt things intensely, and it was nourishing. Being a child, snotty nose and scraped knees and all, was an exhilarating experience, and the creature would definitely miss it. But it needed something more. Something, someone it could help. Someone that could ask for help in a meaningful sense. Something it could exist alongside of as an equal, not as captain of a ship. It briefly enjoyed the fact that it now had access to idioms and metaphors. Those were nice. Humour was definitely a great addition too.
It thought more on names. On what it was. On who it was. It lived in the darkness here, and felt like this was appropriate when it came to thinking of itself, but it was not dark as such. It existed in a space between the dark of nothing and the overwhelming brightness of the outside world. It was safe in here, in the in-between.
A few days later, the child went back to school and there were many other children like him. He lived close to school so he walked, with one of the older humans, and through his eyes the creature looked out greedily at the world. It was full of things the child didn’t understand, and so neither did the creature. It was all fun and fascinating. Part of it was deeply excited to experience this world, but it couldn’t, not without a host. Not without existing properly. On the way back from school, something happened.
It felt something. Something wrong, like an open wound in the world. The pain that came off this wound drifted through the air in waves and it felt itself nourished, almost bloated, at the intensity of these feelings. It gently nudged the child’s brain to look around, to find the source of the feeling. No such luck. The feeling slowly ebbed away. The child shook his head, not knowing why he had felt the urge to scan the environment like he just had, and took his mother’s hand again to lead him home. It was going to be the weekend soon, and considering how short the route was, maybe the child would be in the vicinity of the feeling again soon. Hopefully. The creature felt that, if the cause of this wave of pained nourishment was indeed a person, an adult, then it would likely make a good host.
It was Friday, and the child had stayed late after school for a program where he learned some extra math. They were walking home when they came past a store. Two men and a woman were standing talking there, all tall adults in the child’s eyes. But the swirling energy of feelings came off one of them powerfully, and it knew that this was its host. For the first and last time, it took control of the child’s nervous system, guiltily so, and approached the adults.