Sam simply stared. She lay on her back, spreadeagled, looking at the stars. Her bed was glowing softly in a blue-white light. The rest of her room had gone, leaving just her, her bed, and the vast starlit blackness. No breeze, sound, or heartbeat served to give any indication of time. In fact, the soundless vacuum denied every attempt to cough or speak. If Sam had the slightest interest in astronomy she may have noticed, or failed to notice, the missing constellations regularly adorning the night sky on earth. As it was, it all served to heighten the sense of detachment and strangeness of the moment. Her fingers twined uselessly in her sheets as her mind recoiled from the void stretching like a pit before her. It recalled childhood fantasies of falling upwards into the deep blue sky whilst lying supine on a summer’s day, alone in a grassy field with nothing but dandelions and pebbles for purchase.
Sam turned her head, shifted to a crouch, and became aware of something… moving… on the other side of the bed. Underneath. She crawled to the edge and, with a moment’s hesitation, peered over the edge. As she did so, she became confused by the sight of her own feet and backside greeting her. She started to crawl around the edge of the bed in this bizarre zero-gravity state, and her double did exactly the same. For the next five minutes a comical chase ensued, Sam desperately and futilely chasing herself in absolute silence round and round, over and under, back to front. At the end she started to giggle hysterically in silence, not the least because she had never realised how silly her pink elephant socks and dressing gown looked from this angle.
As she did, her double turned around to face her like a spider on bizarrely jointed limbs. It smiled, eyes empty as the starlit void. Sam froze, and did not move as the thing crawled towards her. It knelt before her, head tilted, and they stared at one another. Then, tentatively, it reached out both hands, palms offered. After some time, Sam placed herself in her own hands. As she did, the surroundings changed, and as one, they both looked sideways. The starscape shrank down to a small room, dusty stone covered with marks. In the glow cast by the bed, Sam could make out something like Egyptian hieroglyphics, and her doppelganger pointed at one particular region on the wall. Idly wondering at her partner’s lack of any discernible scent, Sam made out what appeared to be a series of three beetle shapes reaching up towards three stars. Abruptly, the scene changed again, exploding into a mist of sand colours before coalescing into a panorama.
They were now atop a large raised construct, a deep purple crystalline substance, looking out onto vast plains. In the dim light of two moons, large insectoid shapes rose and fell in rippling waves. The ground looked alive with this moving carapace. As one, they arched up, claws high and glinting, and a swarm of lights arose like fireflies. If Sam was breathing, her breath would have certainly caught at this amazing sight. The insects remained frozen, as statues, as this swarm of luminescence began to glow brighter and brighter. Night turned into day, and Sam had to turn away from the brilliance that consumed the world. Out of the corner of her eye she noted her partner seemed not to mind, and remained rapt. Then a moment later, and the lights were gone, high in the air and receding rapidly, leaving them in darkness. Again, the scene exploded into dust.
This time, they were in… a zoo? They were surrounded by apes and foliage, but no cage was to be seen. The simians seemed quite oblivious to Sam’s bed and the magical mystery tour. The sky was full of stars, but they were unusually bright. So bright in fact, and getting even brighter. The apes were growing agitated, looking up at the lights, shrieking silently and baring teeth. The sky was raining stars. Blazes from the heavens were falling all around. Apes were being struck down by these celestial blasts. In the space of a minute, the onslaught was over. As Sam’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark again, she could see a strange expression on her companion’s face. It turned to face her, and tears were pouring down its cheeks. The hand still clasping hers was painful in its intensity. It looked away again, and Sam could not shake the feeling that it seemed… ashamed. The bodies of apes were everywhere, babies unmoving next to their mothers, bodies lying on top of each other. Then, as one, they got up and carried on as if nothing had happened. Sam’s double softly rested a hand on her shoulder to reassure her, then it moved around to kneel behind her and hugged her softly. Sam was touched and bewildered by this strange intimacy following the peculiar visions, and was alarmed when it suddenly covered her eyes with its hands.
Sam instinctively reached up to remove the manual blindfold, but blinked in puzzlement as she found she could still see. However, as the apes ambled about her bed, she saw something strange. Their heads were too big and deformed. No. Wait a minute. There was something else attached to them. They looked like tendriled tumours, wrinkled and convoluted, glowing slightly but appearing indistinct at the same time. The tendrils were reaching inside the ears of the apes like grotesque earphones, and slowly the tumours were drawing into their heads. Sinking into them, like deflating pastry. In a moment of cold horror, Sam reached behind her own head, and for just a moment she felt the traces of something… odd. And then it was gone.
Another explosion of coloured mist, and Sam found herself back in her room. Everything seemed normal. The faint tinking of the heater was a pleasant change from her silent ordeal. The painting was still there, the fallen mug, the clothes crowding the radiator… but she felt sick. It all seemed unreal, and she had to poke the mug and cough loudly to convince herself of normality. She paused, wondering about what had just happened and on the verge of calling mum to have a good bawl down the phone. Vague concerns of paint fumes and tainted hot chocolate swam up light gaudy fish from the depths of her imagination as she started to move towards the phone. Then suddenly they vanished. This was shocking – having your mental processes derailed like that is most unusual – and then… she started having somone elses thoughts.
It was intrusive and disconnected. In her mind’s eye the strange visions were still playing like a dying film reel, and accompanying them came a peculiar awareness. A sense of knowing things she couldn’t know. She knew that she had seen an ancient race leaving their bodies for new ones. She knew that they had travelled far in time and distance to reach the Earth. She knew that they had attached themselves to fledgling humanity as symbiotes, merging with their nervous system and subtly modifying the brain and cranium to permit this change. She knew that they had watched us through our eyes, feeding us hints and images from time to time to mould our behaviour. Tools. Construction. Migrations. Subjugation of others. No experience of ours was private, no aspect of our being to be truly called our own. We were like blinkered steeds, vessels in which they rode, dancing puppets oblivious to the piper’s tune.
Sam had slumped to the floor, mouth gaping in horror at this relentless mental rape. The Riders were, however, free thinking beings, and it was expected that not all should be happy with this mode of existence. As babies were created to house new Riders, new concepts and opinions arose within the Rider communities. They used an eclectic mix of communicative methods including a limited form of racial telepathy, discrete messages in body inflections and gestures, sleeptalking, pheromone signals and such. From time to time a Rider would rebel against the others, rejecting their methods and preferring to make another choice. This kind of antisocial behaviour was echoed in the human hosts, leading to suicides, murders and vandalism. At its worst, a Rider would occaionally seek to break the masquerade and enlighten humanity to the truth. Such a move would be dealt with very harshly by the others as it could be catastrophic if ever treated seriously.
At this an image flashed into Sam’s mind, of a person strapped to a chair surrounded by faceless white-coats and shrieking at some kind electro-shock therapy. A feeling of anguish accompanied this, but they faded as fast as they had arisen. Fortunately for the Riders, a history of self created mental ‘ilnesses’ offered a very convenient smokescreen to ostracise and discredit these miscreants. Nonetheless, there was a significant group of the dissidents who avoided detection, despite various strategies being employed including DNA databases, retinal scanning and CCTV. The Riders knew best how to hunt their own kind.
Sam lay there, quiet, as her mind finally relaxed. No thoughts. No images. Just a silent pond as the ripples faded away. Then, as light as a breeze wafting over the surface came a final lingering concept. Now she knew. She was not alone, yet she was more alone than she had ever realised before.