FOR WE ARE MANY by Gregory Owen
Noise flowed into my ears, but I realized that I wasn’t actually hearing it. It was—it was only in my head. It was telepathic in nature.
It began as a hum, and its vibrations snaked across my skull in tingling waves, growing louder until I could feel my brain crackling with the volume of indeterminable wails, none of them belonging to anything on Earth. I could only wince in anguish, my cranium becoming white hot, so much more excruciating than Galen’s talon moving inside of me, and then and there, I wanted to die. I begged for an end. I wanted God to end it!
Something else heard, however, for within moments, the roars shifted. My silent pleas were understood. The noises pitched lower and were as moans, and the group of sounds intertwined into one, beastly tone.
The voice spoke. “Doooc...toorrrr...”
The idea of telepathy was then confirmed to me. It, the source of the sound, had scanned my mind, likely learned—taught itself—the English language. Everything I’d learned from youth to my time at Oxford, all of it. Communication was made simpler for the both of us. Words that wanted to grace my lips first danced across my mind.
Oh my God, I thought.
“Nooo...thing existsss here...like yooour ‘God.’”
Telepathy was confirmed further. I had no reason to speak anymore.
What...what are you?
“You?” it gurgled with a surly, almost pompous sound. “I am we. There is not one, but we are one.”
Hearing the voice’s words, I was reminded of a Biblical quote I remembered reading in youth. Mark 5:9. I could see it as though I were sitting at home as a teenager, reading it from my father’s ornately decorated King James Bible.
The voice hissed, and it realized which quote I was recalling, stating it in a clearer, more enunciated pattern than what I heard moments before. Its speech was improving. “I am Legion. For we are many.” I detected a satisfied growl in the creature’s tone. “Yes. We are one. I am all.”
I was completely dumbfounded. All of this time I had spent in trying to discover new, extra-terrestrial life, and had found nothing beyond microbes and bacterium, and now, now, a life-form had destroyed Lieutenant Edward Galen and was now communicating with me telepathically! Leaps and bounds beyond what I expected, to be sure! Oh God, was I really feeling intrigue? I had to know more. I had so many questions, and I’m sure it could hear them all. What else could I do but ‘talk’? I’d die anyway, or become some monstrous thing at the least.
How long have you been here?
“I have been for cycles that are countless. I bore witness to the beginnings and endings of many beings. This orb is not my only dwelling. I am many. This place contains only a piece of me, one not lost to time, carried by the winds of many suns.”
“Yes. But I am whole. I share one voice comprised of many. This part of my being slept. This system was extinguished, its light dampened out from time. I had to wait. I waited inside, as I did when the life here was not part of my congregation.”
Upon hearing that utterance of the word “congregation,” I felt as though I were sitting in church with my parents as a child. The creature’s voice had adopted the volume and confidence of a priest. I almost admired it. And then, a revelation burst into my consciousness: it’s a life-form hidden within a dead shell! The source of the carbon-based presence in the Ozymandias’ scans—this thing, a hostile organism trying to communicate civility to me, was the planet itself! Madness!
“Yes,” it replied, seizing my mental divulgence. “The life was sustenance for a mere cycle and ceased once the communion was complete. It joined me, I brought it all with me here. Inside. So I slept. Then you came.”
Communion? What do you know of communion?
“I know what you know. I briefly misunderstood its meaning until I swallowed deeply your knowledge. It is what we offer. Communion.”
You don’t offer ‘communion!’ You offer pestilence! Disease! Death! I saw what you did to Galen, you fucking monster!
The voice groaned. “You insignificant beings are curious. Edward Galen had no time to converse with me as you do. His noises were screams. Brought me pain...such agony. Still screams. “I was sure the alien was alluding to the brutal beating Nix was giving the Galen-creature, though I could no longer hear anything beyond its voice.
“But you,” it continued. “You think me a virus, Doctor, and while I am not completely unlike one, the same can be said for what you all are, as well—what all species I’ve tasted are.” My brain squirmed as the being’s influence pierced needles deeply into each lobe, as though forcing me to submit to its argument. “I see what you have seen. What you know. You are each a conscious disease. You only serve your own individual purposes, fighting, destroying. You infect, breed, grow, consume, and spread. I offer union. You are afraid and you reject it. Already, I have tasted your kind and for such complex formations of multiple cells, you are so crude elsewhere. I swallow, I digest, I change. I improve. I improve you. I give you all of the life I have sampled throughout time, the abilities to have them, to show and utilize them, just as you will give me. I grant the communion that I know you crave, Trevor Jacobs.”
Its hold relinquished slightly, allowing me to gather myself enough to form cohesive thoughts, but just barely. I-I don’t want this! You made Galen an...an abomination! I can’t become one myself!
“I will allow you to regain yourself, just as he would have. Your current form. You will not be totally destroyed.”
He only resembled Edward Galen. He wouldn’t be him. I won’t be me!
“You will be in your image, but also my image. All images are mine. His memories will be swallowed into mine—ours—all that have been collected. Your memories will be part of the collective.”
Not if I destroy myself...
“You will not. Your beliefs will not allow it. You feel that your salvation will elude you if you commit suicide.”
I’m no longer...human. Or I won’t be much longer. Not with this...thing, this cancer...in me... If I did, I wouldn’t be taking a human life. My human life.
The being sounded amused. “But you are afraid, too afraid to do so. It is a sensation I have tasted before, and I have never forgotten. I have missed it. You are unsure of what comes after. You claim to believe that you will have life beyond this shell bestowed by your God. Accept the communion, Trevor Jacobs. Join our congregation. Experience what we provide. You will have everlasting life, be many. Be all. Be Legion.”
As if I have a choice! I closed my eyes, bringing warm tears, attempting to deny my terrible fate. But over TNG-982’s voice, I heard another coming in laboured breaths. “I...I killed it, Trevor.”
“I have grown weary of remaining here,” the thing continued. “I want to experience more. I want to experience more of your kind. More of the kinds beyond this derelict system.”
“Trevor, are you all right? I said I killed it!” It was Andrea Nix. She couldn’t hear what I did. “Whatever Galen was...it’s dead...”
“More,” it said. “I will experience this one.”
“No!” I managed hoarsely. “No, you won’t!” It took all of my strength to combat the creature’s influence, though maybe it simply allowed me to win and its voice ceased, if only for a moment. “No!”
“What? Trevor, come on, get up! We need to do what...Galen wanted. We need help!” She reached down, tugging at my shoulders in an effort to lift me.
“No,” I said. “Andrea, please. Leave me. I’m...I’m infected... It’s in me...I can hear it.”
She was not to be denied and continued in vain. “Come on, Trevor. I won’t let you die here!”
“No! Look!” I presented my arm, showing her my bloodied wound. “Galen did this—you saw what those things can do. It’s changing me inside!”
“Contagion, Andrea! You quarantine contagion! I’m a threat to you and everyone else...Leave me!”
She ceased and leaned close, her eyes glimmering wet and wide in the light of the fire behind her visor. “No, I won’t let you! I want you to come back with me! I-!” She paused, still unable to earn a breath. Behind her, I sensed some movement, but felt it to be a trick of my weakened eyes and mind. Deep within my subconscious, however, I knew what it was. I knew. I knew the futility of everything, too—the futility of saving myself, of convincing Andrea to leave, of identifying the long, twisting form extending from the earth below only meters away. The only futility of which I wasn’t aware at that time was in saving her.
I learned quickly, though. “Listen, Andrea, I know...I care about you, too...” She smiled ever so briefly. I wished that I could have touched her cheek, feel its warmth. “But you’re in grave danger. I know what it is, the life form here! What it wants!”
“Communion,” the alien thing said, its voice returning.
“It will assimilate all it touches! It’s doing it to me! It will to you, too...I cannot leave!”
At the end of the long, twisting form, what the flame’s light revealed to be a tentacle belonging to TNG-982, an organic javelin formed. “And neither can she...”
“Andrea! No-!” I cried. She never knew it was coming.
In that instant, a cloud of blood sprayed onto the ground and all over me and Nix’s chest was flayed open like a mouth, the javelin curling into a hook that ensnared its prey like a fish on the line. Nix begged, pleaded, and reached for my hand as if I could save her. “Trevor!” Her words were turning into moist gurgles. “Trevor, please-!” The organic hook twitched and quickly merged deeper within her, forcing the killing tip through her visor in a glassy crunch, effectively entering her mouth and piercing the back of her skull. She was forcibly jerked into waiting the darkness below the surface.
Another for the flock, I thought bleakly. I wanted to laugh, and I believe that I did for a moment before weeping. I wept for Nix, for Galen...for me. For what seemed an unbearable eternity, I wept and I waited. I waited to die, to be taken and horribly ripped apart, to be made into a new organism. I waited for the severed appendage inside to consume me. I waited for the tentacle that took Nix to finish me. I waited for one of the multiple organisms that changed Galen to come for me. Something. But nothing came except for one last statement from the monstrous alien. “Doctor Andrea Nix—A new member of our congregation. And you will join her, Trevor Jacobs.”
It was then that I felt that the creature wanted my change, my metamorphosis, to be slow. To let me suffer. It had quickly taken Galen and Nix, but why not me? What was my reason for remaining? It had to be that it wanted me to endure the torture of the passage of time as infection consumed me. I was sure that having “tasted” humankind, the creature had already learned the little touch of evil inherent only to us: cruelty.
I waited, thoughts of oblivion and what lied beyond for me, my impending loss of humanity, the existence of this intelligent being within the planet and its past, what created it, the possibility of whether or not there was indeed a God as I had known Him, and on and on—nothing came but a swirling deluge of madness followed by unconsciousness...that is, until I was awakened by the roar of propulsion from a rescue craft and the madness returned in force.
“And you already know the circumstances regarding how I came aboard,” I finish, concluding my account.
“Is that everything?” Commandant Eckers asks.
“Yes. That’s all of it. And now you can fulfil what you promised me.”
“Because of contagion, correct?”
“Yes, Commandant, and something else.” An epiphany has revealed itself in my retelling of events, and it makes perfect sense now in the painful fire of my cognizance. I recall what the being said, and I know why it didn’t immediately assimilate me when it had the chance.
I want to experience more.
A virus spreads when it escapes containment, seeking to infect and grow, as science teaches us. That’s why I escaped. It wants the ship—that way, it can go anywhere. The craft will become a hypodermic to carry and inject this disease into any planetary host, a spore to hold with it the destruction of all sentient life. “That thing in TNG-982 will assimilate every living thing it encounters, including the crew of the Ozymandias. And because...it’s inside of me...I have to be destroyed...” A jolt flushes through me and every piece of me burns, the pain of my change returning. “Christ!”
“Experiencing discomfort, Doctor Jacobs?” The searchlight clicks on, and Eckers is mechanical, completely unconcerned with my plight. She should be.
I struggle to maintain myself and my composure, even as the pain becomes unbearable. “You...er, you contained the rescue team...correct?”
“I hope so. I...I truly do. Ah...now, you must...destroy me. Please!”
From the other side of the scorching searchlight, there is another pause. “I’m afraid there is one flaw with your story, Doctor Jacobs.”
What flaw? Why is she prolonging this? “What are you talking about?”
“Andrea Nix is alive, Doctor Jacobs. She was brought in just moments ago, examined, and moved to containment. Tyrell authorized another orbital drop to get her. I allowed it. He was rather insistent...he wanted to go himself, but I sent another small team instead. He seems so keen on protocol violation.”
I want to experience more of your kind.
“Why?” I ask her, enraged in my growing torture. “I told you! I...told you not to return!”
“Correct, you told me, not the Captain. As previously stated, he values both of you—he values people more than anything else—and honestly, I’d like to hear her version of events. Quite frankly, Doctor, while you are a very gifted biologist and have been more than an asset for us, for CAPE, I fear it’s apparent that the mission has proved too difficult for you...psychologically.”
The dismissive fool! What has she done?!
“You see,” she continues, “Doctor Nix did say one thing before she entered containment. She said that you killed Lieutenant Edward Galen. And that you tried to kill her.”
I can almost hear the creature laughing at the subterfuge—I’m sure it’s learned humour, as well. “What? If I did such a thing, then where’s the body?!”
“I would ask you, but I’m sure you won’t know, will you?” she posed coldly. “There was blood on you when we found you, and preliminary tests have been conducted. It is yours and Nix’s. I’m sure further tests will determine that you have DNA belonging to Lieutenant Galen on your suit somewhere as well.”
“That’s not Nix! It’s a monster! Goddamn you, it’s not her!” Argh, the pain! “She may have already contaminated others! Incinerate her, I beg you! Burn us both!”
“I’ve asked to be alerted the moment her condition should change. But she seemed perfectly fine upon first inspection, her injuries notwithstanding. Lacerations across her abdomen—your handiwork, I’d imagine.”
Nooo...thing existsss here...like yooour ‘God,’ it had said.
“You, however, are showing signs of deep psychological trauma. You’re not a monster as you describe. You’re not transforming into some beast. But you may have done some monstrous things.”
“I’m still infected! The process can be slow—I can feel myself changing—inside—and this life form is not some savage entity; it is capable of so much more! I heard it speak!” Why I continue to combat her, I do not know. Desperation, I suppose.
“Yes, I recall. I listened to your story-”
“You imbecile! You’ve killed everyone on this ship, you stupid bitch! I want to talk to Tyrell! Get me the Captain!”
“I’m sorry, Doctor Jacobs, but it seems to me that the only murderer here is you,” Eckers mutters with disgust. “Your testimony will be reviewed. We’ll decide if you are to face a tribunal for the events on TNG-982. For now, however, I have other things that I must attend to. I would suggest that you say a prayer for Doctor Nix...and yourself.” With that declaration, the light shuts off, and all I can do is scream. Prayer will not save her or me, or anyone else for that matter. I fear that Commandant Eckers will learn that soon enough.
Untold time passes, and I no longer know how long I have spent in containment, the darkness of this sterile titanium womb filled with the stalest artificial air causing time around me to slow—nay, to cease completely. My throat is hoarse from my screams and shouts, and chilling sweat trickles all over. It is only a matter of time now. I know what is coming. I can feel it in my shifting, twisting bones. The scar is nearly healed, almost invisible to my touch, but my very form is alight with festering torment. Unknown cells slither through me in torrents as my transformation moves closer and closer to completion. The intelligent cancer has me in its throes.
I almost miss its voice...
No! No, I can’t—I’m exhausted. I attempt to sleep, and I believe that I do for some length, but a short time later, alarms startle me from troubled slumber.
In the dark, I grab at myself to make certain I’m there. I’m still me. I think I am—still conscious of who I am, at least. Doctor Trevor Jacobs, CAPE biologist. Xenobiologist. Stationed on the Ozymandias. Still me...but for how much longer is uncertain. Yet, my thoughts find themselves absorbed by its influence. I almost believe that I...I want this...this communion. To be part of something more, no longer an outcast. To be Legion.
Oh God! The alarms! It has to be! It has to-!
Suddenly, I’m blinded as the chamber’s exterior door opens and in steps a feminine shape from the radiant illumination. It presses a nearby button and I fall hard to the cold steel beneath me, the artificial gravity in the room turned on. I look up to see who the figure is but, behind it, I behold tumorous formations wriggling, pulsing in the hallway. At the end of one is the misshapen torso of who I believe to be the Commandant due to the shredded remains of her CAPE uniform, pulsing crimson veins snaking all around her like overgrown vines. She moans in fearful ecstasy as her memories are touched, then swallowed, by the ancient being many miles below us. I have no pity.
It is as I feared: the Ozymandias is being assimilated by TNG-982, and now it is almost complete. No... As I feared...no, but I’m not afraid. I’m not. I...want...this...now.
Yes, almost complete. I’m certain that all that is left on-board is me, though I have long been on my way to joining them: the collective congregation. Neither God nor the Lord of Equations and Reasoning can hope to save me now.
“Please...” I mutter, though it is not a plea for survival. It is a plea for my human life to end. To become more.
The shape moves closer and its identity is revealed in the light. It is Nix, but not Nix. Andrea Nix is dead—I saw her die. It’s the creature assuming Nix. Her form is a vessel, one of countless in the universe, but the only with Nix’s body, with her memories. Within her proximity, I hear TNG-982’s voice again, louder and much more clearly than before. It’s as though the Ozymandias had barriers preventing signals from entering my mind. “Communion, Doctor Jacobs,” Nix says. I wish to touch her face as I desired to on the planet’s surface, though I know it is not truly her I’d feel.
“Take of my body. My blood. My mind,” the creature’s voice growls. Its clear, concise echo fills not only my cerebral cortex, but the isolation chamber as well.
“My being.” Nix speaks, but I also hear its voice. They synchronize with each other. They share a bond, and I share it with them. With growing shock, I realize that I said it aloud, too.
A crunch of bones breaking, elongating, and her hand becomes a talon-tipped claw that pierces my flesh, sending wet electricity inside that licks every fibre of me. The process that had begun hours before gathers speed, tendrils moving all along me, hooks ensnaring my organs and tissues, swallowing, assimilating, making me like Galen before his decimation, like Nix, like the rest of the crew. Like billions of life forms from untold worlds, where skies were populated with blue suns, the lands were fiery hues, and only chaos existed—they now remain as ashen reminders of what was. One voice is shared now among us. One among many.
Doctor Trevor Jacobs is the form that I assume. I still retain his memories. My memories. Tiny in scope, they are made all the smaller by the sheer overpopulation of knowledge provided by TNG-982 and all of the existence it has consumed, joined together in one consciousness. I am merely a molecule among the waters of the vastest ocean. Closing what were once my human eyes allows me to witness, in sequence and all at once, every moment of every life of every being now comprised of the whole, and it is glorious. I see all of the new life Jacobs had wanted to discover, study, and know. He is now among them. He is part of them. Inside them. A beacon in a collective universe. This is something that neither science nor faith could grant. Only this being can, and I, a disciple containing a dwindling human presence, can grant it for others. We all will.
The artificial gravity shifts as the propulsion systems come alive. I can see through what were Tyrell’s eyes, hear what was his voice. “We are heading for Io.” TNG-982 chortles with approval. The Ozymandias is to return to the frontier outpost on Jupiter’s moon, Io, for refuelling and maintenance—it will take about an Earth week to arrive, give or take. One-hundred and forty-nine colonists. Families. The congregation will grow. From there, it’s on to Earth. Only twelve billion remain there on Jacobs’—my—former home. So many that crave communion. I know this. It knows. We all know.
Jacobs no longer balances between two beliefs. He is no more a biologist, no more a child of God. He is no more an outcast among his former kind, a resident of one world among the infinite cosmos. As he procures this exquisite communion and shares it with Nix, with Galen (though this one no longer has form), with Commandant Eckers, Captain Tyrell, the rescue team, and the remainder of the crew, what remains of him feels no more fear. In fact, he feels nothing but gratitude. He shall be part of something more. We all can. We never have to be alone. Never individual. He is many. I am many. I am one. We are one.
We belong to a new ‘God.’ And soon, many more will join us in this union.
Doctor Trevor Jacobs—my former shape—recalls a portion of his Lord’s Prayer known to him as a man, and he shares it with me as his degenerating self is smothered within me like a dying fire in the darkest of Earth’s forests. TNG-982 hisses in satisfaction at its suitability in regards to the future. It is most fitting. “Thy kingdom come,” we collectively say. “Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven...”