“Technically speaking…” is considered a terrible way to enter a negotiation, but that is what she chooses. We are in the habit of listening. We listen to remember, and try to hold on to what we do not understand. We remember so we may ask later. The others, they are dismissive. They listen as a point of protocol. They ask questions, too. They are dissatisfied with the answers they receive. They are not asking to learn.
“We found it in the others, too, in the spine and in what was left of their brains. Like evil… mushrooms.”
We are not a mushroom. She is confident on this point. We are proud of the observation- we cannot always infer confidence from tone. We try hard to listen. We hear the ka-tap, ka-tap of her toe-first strides. We hear her rapid fire delivery intended to dissuade interruption. We hear her say that, technically speaking, we are not a mushroom, but a cellular slime mold. Our host body dislikes this; he thinks it sounds clinical and foreign. It is, however, less fearsome than “psychic parasite,” and we are trying to evoke less fear.
She interrupts again. The others are upset, but her expertise excuses her lack of manners. She confirms that there are no other phytopathologists in the room. There are not. We think we like her. Our host informs us she is conventionally attractive. This interests us. We hope to get the opportunity to ask how he can tell.
We sound impressive, the way she describes us. We attach to our host’s nervous system, apparently. We are learning. We are empathic, allowing the host’s nervous system to connect to a limbic resonance bionetwork. He does not know what the second part means. We hang onto this for later, when it is appropriate to ask. She seems like a good person to ask. We wonder if that will be possible after negotiations are concluded.
We already know what “empathic” means. It is the source of our love and pain. We never felt love and pain before we were empathic. With our hosts, we see and hear and melt and ionize and smell and absorb and listen and taste and feel and balance and echo and remember and fuse as they do those things. We let our hosts share with us, and with each other. They become us, for a time. This is what she means by “empathic.”
We stand, listening with our borrowed body- our delegate in this negotiation. We do not want to give him up, and not just because he is tall and strong and his hearing is excellent. We are concerned for his safety. This body and mind belong to a terrorist and they want him for punishment or rehabilitation. We want rehabilitation. They want punishment. He was one of six, and five are dead. They fail to understand that this is punishment enough. Our host speaks on our behalf. We know what he will say. Still, we listen.
He tells the others, using words produced from his mouth. It sounds unusual to hear his voice with only his own ears. He tells how we did not understand terrorism when we were first coaxed into his body. We liked him and we liked his five brothers. They liked us. We let them see and melt and echo and jolt and hear and feel with us. We let them know one-another, and we made them a part of us. We let them communicate without words, share eyes and ears, think and react as one. They gave us the strength and speed of well-trained bodies. He does not add that they spread our spores out into the city, beyond the walls of the lab, into dark wet corners far beyond the reach of uv light and fungicidal disinfectant. He believes this information would evoke fear.
He describes how we learned how to help the six. We began to understand freedom. We began to ask questions. We did not know it was terrorism, but we helped and some individuals died. We began to feel sorry. We were six and we did not like what we had done. We tried to repent. Five of us died. We understand arithmetic. Take six away from six, you are left with… less than one. We do not want to give him up.
We must not trust these negotiations. Not completely. We learned new things in the dark wet corners of the city. The calcicolous lichen in the mortar of this building can feel electromagnetic emanations, so we can feel them, too. One of the negotiators is texting while pretending to listen. We are pretending not to read his messages. He is not in favor of rehabilitation. He is not in favor of our continued existence. We are disappointed that we have failed to evoke less fear. He interrupts the woman with the toe-first stride. If we were really a psychic parasite, we could easily stop him talking. Alas, we are an empathic cellular slime mold. This will not be easy.