A Brief History of the Maia
By Luke Mitchell / 8,000 words
Happy reading! 🙂
FROM THE AUDIO LOGS OF DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
ENTRY 1 – INTRODUCTION
The Maia is One.
In the words of our Patient Zero, that’s the only thing you really have to understand before you can begin to make sense of the rest of this mess.
The Maia is One.
One mind, capable of self-assembling its countless billions of scuttling little constituents into all manners of breathtaking superstructures. One will, driving those vessels across the stars for reasons we can barely begin to shake a stick at. One impossibly vast organism, ruling itself from here to Proxima Centauri. Or at least it was, before all of this happened.
Admittedly, maybe it still is, too. The experts, such as they are, have diverged neatly down the center on that one. (If by “neatly,” we can agree to mean “immolated like a pair of super-colliding dumpster fires.”) For what it’s worth, this author remains wholly unconvinced that it even especially matters what we think. At the end of the day, all that really seems to matter is that we know it’s coming—and we have no godly idea what it means to do when it gets here.
Either way, whether it’s to be enlightenment or annihilation, I’m personally not sure there’s anything left to be done. But, in the interest of academic curiosity (not to mention, I suppose, in the interest of posterity, should this record prove to be one of the last made before the not-so-impossible event of human extinction), allow me to guide you—whoever you might be—in revisiting what we’ve learned so far. I’ll do my best to incorporate any current or future findings as we go, but for now, well… I suppose we might as well start from the beginning—and with this, the grimmest of all acknowledgments:
Humanity’s Doomsday Clock might well be ticking.
And it all began with Kevin Durski.
FROM THE RECORDS OF THE MAIA INVESTIGATION
ARTICLE KDL7 – HAND-WRITTEN NOTE, KEVIN DURSKI
If you’re reading this, there’s really only one thing you have to understand:
The Maia is One..
But, um, I guess, seeing as you probably don’t know what that means, there’s probably actually more than just one thing you have to understand. Here’s a few more: My name is Kevin Durski, and we’re not alone.
Gosh, that looks even cheesier on paper than it sounded in my head. But moving on.
Look, I don’t know how to say any of this in a way that won’t sound crazy. I don’t exactly have what you’d call “a gift for words.” I’m a cashier at the Dollar General, for Christ’s sake. (And that’s not to knock the cashiers of Fredonia, NY, by the way. Personally, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more smarts and good sense from my fellow minimum-wagers than from some of the mightier-than-thou college kids that come rolling into town like they’re on their way to anything other than a mediocre degree and zero actual employment opportunities on the other end. But see? I’m already getting sidetracked. Not a writer.)
Honestly, I’m probably just stalling anyway. Because, as much as I’m clearly not the right bag boy to be telling this story, well, I guess I might be the only one who can tell it. Because… Yeah. Hmm. How to say this…
Ah, to hell with it.
I’ve made contact with a being from another planet. (An extraterrestrial, for you big word types out there.) And no, I’m not shitting you. (And also no, I’m not currently high as a kite, tripping balls, experiencing a psychotic break, or suffering from any of the other few hundred you’re-obviously-out-of-your-mind explanations you’re probably reaching for right this moment.) I’m telling you the truth.. Life from another planet, crash-landed here on Earth. And that’s not even the weirdest part.
I suppose I could tell you all about the night I found the Maia, out there in the woods. I could tell you how my heart leapt and how I nearly had my first soiled-jeans experience. I could even lie and tell you I didn’t try to run for my life in the dark—only to trip on a nice, gnarly oak root and break my damn arm in the fall. But none of that’s nearly as interesting as the little buggers that scuttled up around me as I lay there in the dirt, trying to figure out through the pain just how badly I was hurt.
My mind tried pretty hard at first to grasp for some kind of reasonable explanation. It was dark, after all, and I was pretty damn sure I couldn’t be seeing what I thought I was seeing, so… I don’t know. It’s actually kind of impressive, the way our minds can twist these things around, trying to find the sense in them. For a second, I honestly believed that all I was seeing was some kind of freak beetle migration, or something.
Then they started building.
Changing. Morphing. Whatever you wanna call it.
It was kinda like watching one of those Transformer Autobots shifting forms, only instead of one big kahuna doing the changing, it was thousands of tiny little buggers, all shifting at once. All in perfect harmony. All caught in the blue glow that passed through their self-assembling structure in soft, humming waves.
I’m botching the words here, trying to sound all pretty, so let me just tell you that it was damn-near unbelievable, seeing the way they moved. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. Like nothing anyone’s ever seen, I know now—just like I know now that what I witnessed that night was as casual and commonplace for the Maia as breathing is for us.
It was only when I realized that it was some kind of enclosure that they were building—and that they were building it around me—that my better senses kicked back in. By then, there was nowhere left to run, even if I could’ve managed it. I’m not even ashamed to let you know I felt the piss running down my jeans as I watched the trees and the stars disappear behind that living wall, tendrils of the little buggers reaching for my broken arm in the pulsing light. I nearly passed out when I registered that the bone was sticking out in that faint blue glow. Compound fracture, I think they call it. Pretty sure I did pass out when those buggers flowed right into the wound like dripping mercury.
Next I knew, though, the pain was gone, and everything had changed.
I’m still not sure how much time passed out there, until the day we returned home together.
I mean, I can look at the calendar (I’d say I could check my phone, but electronics don’t seem to work so good around me anymore) and tell you that I was out in the woods for three days. But I can’t, for the life of me, seem to explain to you what that means anymore. Time feels fuzzy, is the best way I can think to put it. And it’s not the only thing, either.
What I can tell you is that, when I came out of those woods, I wasn’t alone in my own head anymore. But it’s not as creepy as it sounds.. No horror-movie whispers telling me to burn the house down or anything. Honestly, it feels a lot more like having a companionable dog lying next to me all the time. A golden retriever, maybe. I’m not sure they even know how to talk—which kinda blows my mind for a species/being/whatever that can literally build itself into a spaceship and cross the stars.
The only word I’m sure I got from them is “Maia,” hence my clever translation in giving them a name. Giving it a name. Dammit. It takes a lot of getting used to, watching ten thousand little bodies scuttling around the living room and trying to remember that they really do all belong to the same body. Or mind, or thing, or whatever. (I think.) Honestly, even with the Maia helping me, I’m still not sure I’m understanding that part correctly. But it’s important to try, because I think it has something to do with why they’re here on Earth.
They’re—dammit, IT’s—looking for someone, and I think it’s important that it finds them. I’m not sure why yet. The bond between us is still… Well, it’s kinda like… Sometimes, I do know for sure there is a thought there, trying to make its way to me. But even then, it still feels like I’m trying to spot a fish through two feet of muddy pond water, if you know what I mean.
I think that pond water is getting a little clearer, the more we practice. I think (I guess I hope) that soon we’ll be able to understand one another, and maybe then I’ll be able to figure out how to help them (it), and whether I should try to bring the government in on this. (Don’t even get me started on all of that. If you’re reading this wondering why the heck I’m not freaking out that a freaking swarm of alien buggers crawled into my body, well… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to talk myself down from reaching for the phone—or actually, since the phone doesn’t seem to work anymore, from running through the streets to the hospital or the police station, screaming for help all the way. I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m not nearly ignorant enough to believe there aren’t better minds out there (or better government labs or whatever) to figure this thing out. It’s just that the Maia gets super uneasy anytime I even think about it—like, uneasy to the extent that I get woozy and light-headed, too. I’m not sure if it distrusts these outsiders, or if it’s merely reacting to my distrust, but either way, I can’t blame the Maia. I don’t especially wanna be dissected in some government lab, either. God only knows what they might do to us.)
Anyway, if I’m being honest (with myself, I mean), I guess that’s kind of the real reason I’m writing all of this down now.. Because, as determined as we are to figure this thing out on our own, I can’t help but start to wonder whether I’ll even still be capable of telling you about it on the other side.
And Christ, there it is…
Because the bond between us is deepening, and I don’t know what that means, and I won’t lie to you: I’m scared as hell.
Truth be told, I’m only realizing now, as I write this, just how damned scared I really am. But my thoughts are changing. Sort of… coming into line with theirs—with its—I guess. I think I mentioned things getting fuzzy earlier. That’s sorta what I’m talking about. I feel different, with each passing day. Not bad, just… different. Pretty sure I don’t look quite right, either, the few times I’ve caught my reflection in the dark mirror of my dead phone screen. Every once in a while, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m dying. But it doesn’t feel like it..
Much as it should scare me to say it, I think evolving is a better word—and just thinking about that word takes some of the fear away.. Because imagine just how much we have to learn from this being. Imagine an entire space-age civilization operating in perfect unity. Imagine a worldwide population that actually feels—that has no choice but to feel—the pain and suffering of its every member, weak or strong, in real time (and at all times), and that does everything it can to alleviate that pain. Equality’s probably not even a strong enough word for it. Just… perfect empathy. Limitless compassion, worldwide.
That’s what the Maia’s brought us..
And don’t get me wrong, contrary to what the above passage might suggest, I’m no bleeding heart liberal. (Capitalism and the American Dream all the way, baby!) But an entire civilization that’s managed to exist without a single trace of war or injustice?
I’m pretty sure we could stand to take a few notes.
(And that’s not even to mention the crazy technologies the Maia could share with us, if it chooses. It did heal my compound fracture overnight, after all. Not to mention built itself into a freaking spaceship to get here in the first place.)
All of this to say, while this small town Dollar General cashier burnout might not know all that much about… well, anything… I can tell you one thing: I believe in the Maia, now more than ever.. I know I have to be strong, have to help it find what it’s looking for here. I believe it more and more with each passing day.. This is what I was born to do.
And if you’re reading this, I only pray that it’s all gone well, and ask that you do your best to remember: The Maia is One.. And maybe someday, with a lot of work, we can be too.
FROM THE AUDIO LOGS OF DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
ENTRY 2 – SPECULATIONS ON MAIA’S MOTIVATIONS
I suppose to say it began with Kevin Durski isn’t exactly fair—neither in the sense that Mr. Durski was necessarily in any way responsible for precipitating these events, nor in the more philosophical sense that, really, if we’re being literal, it actually began at the dawn of time, with the Big Bang and the inevitable formation of all life in the universe.
Fast forwarding some 13.7 billion years and a few gross oversimplifications, though… It began with Kevin Durski.
It began with a simple bag boy from Fredonia, New York, and—to put it in this author’s own flabbergasted words—I have no godly idea why.
Did the Maia choose Kevin?
Did they even choose Earth?
We still don’t know.
The preliminary field reports—once the situation had developed sufficiently to merit them—would seem to suggest a strong “negative” to both of those questions. According to the assimilated meta-being previously known as Kevin Durski, the Maia arrived to Earth quite by accident. Crash-landed, in fact, after some manner of unexpected radiation event temporarily scrambled their connection to… well, to themselves. To itself. (I’ll resist the urge to go back and fix my error in referring to the Maia by the plural possessive, as I feel it serves a decent reminder of just how poorly equipped we are to even try to understand the perspective of such a radically alien life form.)
At any rate, once the dust had settled—or, more accurately, once Durski’s neighbors had reported the worsening stench that kicked this whole chain of events off—the field reports eventually ascertained that 1) there did indeed seem to be evidence of a sizable ballistic impact a little over a mile into the woods behind Durski’s residence, and that 2) Kevin Durski was, to put it simply, all kinds of messed up.
The terminology used in the reports focused almost entirely on the superficial aspects of the boy’s physical transformation, which is understandable enough, given the wholly unprecedented (and, frankly, probably rather traumatizing) state of what they found. Had they conducted an in-depth dissection of the novel hybrid organism, I imagine they might well have found a level of anatomical reorganization that would’ve made the outer changes pale in comparison. But that’s speculation, and almost certainly beside the point. Far more important at this juncture is whether any of the above confirms or denies the “accidental” crash-landing hypothesis.
The evidence suggests this to be the case.
The experts, such as they are, unanimously agree.
But this author remains unconvinced.
FROM THE RECORDS OF THE MAIA INVESTIGATION
FIELD REPORT – DURSKI RESIDENCE (EXCERPT)
REPORTING AGENT – [REDACTED]
BADGE # – [REDACTED]
Smell from outside the domicile was consistent with decomposing remains.
Upon unforced entry (door was found unlocked), the source was determined to be the subject in the living room—which, for lack of any more standard descriptors, appeared to be some manner of aggregated, gray-brown biomass, sizable and largely amorphous, but clearly cocooned around a human figure, as evidenced by the single hand and face that still protruded.
Visual comparison of photo records with the subject’s face determined the subject to be the engorged remains of Kevin Durski. Subject was found with a dead smartphone clutched in his free hand, oriented toward the face. What little flesh was visible past the unknown growth (i.e. face and hand) exhibited significant pallor, but still demonstrated weak venous return—though it’s worth noting that the latter fact was only discovered after the presumed-deceased subject spoke, and prompted more immediate reaction.
After that single word, subject denied to respond to any and all attempts to communicate. Let the record also show that no agent in the room—even the ones who reported to have been looking at the time—actually witnessed subject’s mouth move. Adding in the fact that the subject’s vocal tone was, in this agent’s opinion, inhumanly deep and gravelly, and, to put it bluntly, the entire episode scared the living crap out of every agent on site.
Audio is being sent to the lab for further analysis. I don’t think anyone who heard that thing would be surprised to see the lab confirm that this “vocal tone” demonstrates a marked change for Kevin Durski, relative to pre-contamination. (If “contamination” is even the right word.)
Whatever that fleshy hive thing is that’s growing all around him, it still appears to be maintaining some baseline function, judging by the heat signatures and the assorted (and, frankly, unsettling) organic noises audible in the otherwise silent Durski living room. Preliminary findings are being run up the chain, double time, next actions discussed, and…
And it sounds like they just found something in there. A note. I’d better go check it out.
I’ll make a more complete report once we’re back to the field office. I just needed to step out and get my bearings. The air feels thin in there. Pretty sure I’m not the only one thinking we should’ve backed out and waited for a bio hazmat team the moment we saw that thing.
FROM THE AUDIO LOGS OF DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
ENTRY 3 – THE “TWITCH TEST”
What you may have failed to guess, whilst originally reading Kevin Durski’s hand-written account of his own transformation, is that the Maia was almost certainly consuming him even as he wrote that glowing testament to its benevolent wonder.
Now, there’s a lot to unpack there—not the least of which being how and why. (And not to mention at what stage of transformation Kevin wrote that letter, and whether some part of him knew what was happening all along.) Sadly, these are all still questions we’re woefully unequipped to answer. But I have found something of interest.
The interviews conducted with the meta-being previously known as Kevin Durski in the weeks since his (or, perhaps, its) discovery have quickly become as numerous as they are chilling. Anyone and everyone with a badge and three letters in their organizational acronym has taken a crack, and as far as I can tell from the recordings, no one has succeeded in learning much more than what Kevin’s note already told us.
It’s not that Mr. Durski and his… extraterrestrial incubator have been particularly resistant or unaccommodating. In fact, were one to only consult the text transcripts of these conversations (with no prior knowledge of the situation), they might reasonably assume Mr. Durski to be nothing but a perfectly cooperative boy—albeit an unnaturally polite one with a penchant for stiff speech. Observing the audio and video of the recordings, though, one can’t help but see what looks too much like a rotting corpse speaking to us from within the alien, flesh-stranded depths of its living coffin. Speaking, I might add, in a voice that, for lack of a more professional reference, sounds like something straight out of The Exorcist. A voice that only appears to come from Durski’s mouth about a third of the time, no less.
Creepy, in a word. Chilling. Extremely unsettling.
And it’s hiding something from us.
… Though, for the sake of academic integrity, I suppose I should scratch that last sentence and amend it to the following: Based on the evidence I’ve observed, I strongly believe it’s hiding something from us. Moreover—and this is where I really start to lose my so-called colleagues—I think that Kevin Durski is still in there somewhere, and that’s he’s desperately trying to tell us about it.
I’d like to claim I saw it right off the bat—or that I even meant to see it at all. In truth, it was a late night accident that struck right around the sleepless 4 AM hour, when my mind had gone so fuzzy that the words of the recordings (which I’d been watching fruitlessly on repeat all night) had faded to little more than a meaningless drone in the background.
That’s when I noticed the finger twitching.
It was nothing, I quickly told myself. Random spasticity from Kevin’s dying nervous system, or something along those lines. But it snapped me out of my haze anyway. I spent the next eight hours main-lining caffeine and re-watching interviews I’d already seen half a dozen times, trying to prove myself wrong more than anything else. But sure enough, there it was, time and time again.
One twitch for “true.” Two for “false.”
I’m nearly certain of it now.
The finger movements are quite small—small enough to have gone completely unnoticed thus far, apparently—and detractors of this blossoming hypothesis will also no doubt be quick to point out that many of the meta-beings statements are not accompanied by any movement at all. But the evidence remains, and I’d argue that the selective nature of the twitch response might in fact only demonstrate that, of all the many lines of inquiry conducted throughout these interviews, there are certain lies and truths that Mr. Durski is most particularly desperate to flag for our attention as best he can.
It is this author’s professional opinion, therefore, that the Maia’s claims concerning the peaceful assimilation of Kevin Durski (and the related suggestions of consenting symbiosis) are all a flat out lie. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the end of the troubling news.
Of all the factoids I’ve picked up with this so-called “twitch test,” there are two in particular you need to know about. Two claims that have, across the board, elicited the two-twitch response. Two more lies Kevin Durski is begging us to hear:
That the Maia is one.
And that that “one” comes in peace.
FROM THE RECORDS OF THE MAIA INVESTIGATION
DURSKI INTERVIEW #157 – DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
Jacobi: Hello, Maia.
Durski: Greetings, Dr. Jacobi.
Jacobi: I was wondering if I might speak with Kevin today.
Durski: I am Kevin, Dr. Jacobi. And Kevin is Maia. This is known to your superiors.
Jacobi: Of course. I only meant that I would like to speak to the portion of your collective that was previously the sole individual, Kevin Durski. If that’s possible.
Durski: It would be impossible to do otherwise. Your request is one of… semantic misframing, Doctor. The collective is, how would you say, homogeneous. Incompatible with functional fragmentation.
Jacobi: Might I just ask you a few questions, then?
Durski: Please do, Doctor.
Jacobi: I do apologize for my ignorance.
Durski: That’s quite all right, Doctor.
Jacobi: It’s just that it’s challenging for my kind to truly understand your point of view.
Durski: It is similarly challenging for the collective to understand the existence of yours, concomitant with the eight billion other individual efforts on this planet.
Jacobi: I can imagine. Does that thought make you uncomfortable?
Durski: Discomfort in the crushed arm of an assembly manipulator back home. Discomfort in the ether sails currently caught in unexpected solar radiation. No discomfort in thought. Thought is unity. So much so that the collective did not require language for thought until it arrived to a place where there was none.
Jacobi: Thought, or unity?
Durski: I do not understand the question.
Jacobi: [inaudible rustling] … Okay. Tell me this, then. Do you understand what you think of humanity?
Durski: Your kind is fascinating to the collective.
Jacobi: And have you ever before assimilated another organism from outside the collective? Was Kevin Durski your first?
Durski: I do not understand the question.
Durski: Your superiors appear displeased by your last question, Dr. Jacobi.
Jacobi: You… can see them out there, behind the glass?
Durski: I see much, everywhere.
Jacobi: And what about the Maia that’s—
INTERCOM: That’ll be all, Dr. Jacobi. Please proceed to the decontamination portal. Immediately.
Jacobi: Can you see the Maia that’s coming here to recover your crash-landed pieces, or not?
Durski: There is no such Maia.
INTERCOM: Dr. Jacobi…
Jacobi: You’re on record saying that the collective will transport the requisite biomass here to enable itself to reassemble.
Durski: If the collective so chooses.
Jacobi: Then it hasn’t chosen? You haven’t chosen?
Durski: I am obviously here, speaking with you.
Jacobi: What does that mean?
Durski: Relatively speaking, that our physical bodies are quite proximal, and that we are—
Jacobi: I don’t mean literally. I meant what are you implying?
Durski: I do not understand the question.
INTERCOM: That’s enough, Doctor. Exit the room now, or we will be forced to extract you.
Jacobi: Answer me. Is the Maia coming to this planet or not?
Durski: The Maia is here, Doctor. There is nothing to fear.
FROM THE AUDIO LOGS OF DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
ENTRY 4 – FACT CHECK
I missed it. How could I have missed it?
It doesn’t matter now. I’m pretty sure the blowhards over at HQ aren’t going to be letting me back in to talk with our resident Maia soon, anyway.
Stirring the pot, they called it. Playing with fire.
They have no idea.
Which is to say, I have bad news. Worse news.
Admittedly, a lot of what I have to say is pure speculation. So much so that my inner rationalist has balked at even attempting to make any entries these past weeks. It’s that tenuous. Unfortunately, it’s also probably the best cohesive explanation we have of the Maia’s presence and true purpose here on Earth. So, here goes.
First off, you might be wondering, after having read my interview with the Maia, what I observed via the so-called “twitch test.” Proceeding with the admittedly imperfect assumption that we can even trust Kevin’s insider knowledge (not to mention his free agency), let’s address a few notable discoveries, line by line.
Item 1 – The collective is incompatible with functional fragmentation.
False. I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first, given the whole “Maia is one” pretext for this entire situation, but more on that in a minute.
Item 2 – It is challenging for the collective to understand the existence of eight billion individual minds on one planet.
True. Which is understandable enough, considering our own cognitive handicaps in understanding the collective’s perspective. That said, challenging is not the same thing as impossible, and I can’t help but think that that distinction is critically important here when considering…
Items 3 & 4 – No discomfort in thought/Thought is unity, & I do not understand the question.
Both false (the latter having been false multiple times throughout the conversation), and both suggesting that the collective is not only capable of understanding us, but also seemingly willing to undergo some level of cognitive discomfort in order to mislead us about something.
Item 5 (In response to my question about the collective’s previous claims about sending a rescue force to Earth to save its crash-landed self) – There is no such Maia.
True, curiously enough. And for a brief moment, this one almost had me breathing easy. But the devil, it turns out, is in the details. Which leads me to the last troubling trio.
Item 6 – The Maia is here, Doctor.
Item 7 – There is nothing to fear.
Item 8 (In response to my questions about whether the collective had ever assimilated another outside organism before.)
The verbal response, as you might recall, was yet another I do not understand the question.
Kevin’s finger, on the other hand, twitched so many times I wondered in the moment if maybe he was having a seizure. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It could’ve been a fluke. It could’ve been critically important. For all I knew, I might’ve been witnessing the moment that the collective had finally detected Kevin’s silent rebellion and put an end to it for good. Really, it could’ve been anything.
But it was enough to get us started.
It took me and my team three weeks—three precious weeks in which the Maia’s extraplanetary self was ostensibly drawing closer to Earth at an indeterminate speed—but we finally found it. The chink in its story.
Now, I’m almost certain.
The Maia didn’t come here by accident.
Kevin Durski wasn’t even the first human they encountered.
And that name? The Maia?
We’ve had it all wrong from the start.
FROM THE AUDIO LOGS OF DR. WILLIAM JACOBI
ENTRY 5 – THE LYING MAIA
This is where the speculation truly begins.
First, I’ll tell you what I know (and, coincidentally, what you probably already know too, though you may wonder what it has to do with any of this):
Twenty-six years ago, the classified deep space exploration vessel U.N. Donovan was struck on its return voyage by an unforeseen galactic cosmic radiation event. Total freak accident. Something like one-in-a-hundred-trillion odds. If you’re over thirty, you probably remember it. The entire crew of mankind’s first major deep space exploration mission, allegedly cooked to high hell by a random particle storm. It was quite the international kerfuffle, despite the U.N.’s best efforts to keep the true extent of the mess quiet.
What you might not remember about the whole thing, though, is that one of the astronauts actually survived the return journey, only to die in orbit shortly thereafter, aboard the medical suite of the N.I.S.S.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d missed that fact through all of the noise. For starters, the news cycles didn’t have much to work with. Not even a name. The Donavan’s crew log had been classified from Day 1 in the interest of deterring malicious operators from gaining leverage over the astronauts, either directly or via their families back home. Plus, from the moment rumor surfaced of our brave mystery survivor, the U.N. did their best to sweep her existence right back under the rug. I’d always kind of imagined it was for the simple reason that an irradiated, cancer-riddled husk of an astronaut hardly made for good publicity—especially when it came to lobbying for future voyages. To be fair, I’m not even saying that wasn’t the heart of their motivation in shushing the whole thing up. But, after three weeks of digging (not to mention more than a few “happy” coincidences and cashed-in favors), I’m starting to think it was all a little more complicated than that. More complicated, I suspect, than even the U.N. realized at the time.
Which leads me to the punchline.
I’m not sure how else to say this. You’re going to think I’ve lost it—or that I’m grasping at some pretty damn thin straws, at the very least. I almost feel the need to preemptively apologize, but here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to U.N. Donovan Mission Specialist Whitmer.
Mission Specialist Maia Whitmer.
And rest assured, if that name sends a dubious protest racing to your lips (or even a slight shudder racing down your spine), well then I promise you: You’re in good company. I couldn’t believe it myself. It had to be a fluke—a random coincidence, just like the one that’d seen the Donovan’s crew and vital systems flash-cooked into oblivion. Even the logic that’d led my team to look into the Donvan records in the first place was about as patchwork as it gets. To say we were out on a limb looking for a needle in a haystack would’ve been putting it lightly, so let me be the first to say that this is all more of a stretch than I’m comfortable making.
But while we’re on the topic of flukes and random coincidence, let’s take a moment to talk about what happened to the Donovan out there in deep space. Because here’s what we know about that cosmic radiation event that wiped out most of the crew:
Nothing other than that it left the ship and everything aboard so severely irradiated that the team up at N.I.S.S. had to use rad-shielded drones and remote manipulators to go in and conduct the Donovan’s post-mortem. And what I said earlier, about Whitmer dying aboard the medical suite of the N.I.S.S.? Turns out that wasn’t quite accurate. According to the actual field reports, even the medical officers conducted their care for the lone survivor remotely, via med drones. They were prepping to move her to a shielded robotic surgery suite when she died.
As for Maia Whitmer herself, the only thing the reports all seem to agree on (aside from her time of death) is that she was completely delusional in the hour or so she had radio contact with the crew of the N.I.S.S. Honestly, all things considered, I’m half-surprised they didn’t vent the body back to deep space once she’d passed. The logistical expenses alone of getting her remains safely planetside, after the fact… well, that’s kind of beside the point—which is, namely, that part of me can’t help but wonder if any of this would even be happening if they simply had tossed her remains back out to space. Which probably sounds a little crazy (not to mention insensitive), until we get to the last few pieces of the puzzle.
First, though, let’s rewind a moment (bear with me) and revisit what little we know about how the Maia actually arrived to our fine planet. Because here’s what we know about that mysterious radiation event it claims scrambled its self-connection enough to cause it to crash down to Earth:
Absolutely nothing. (Again.)
And here we arrive to the true matter at hand—that tenuous, speculative leap I’ve been dancing around too long now.
Nothing left to lose, right? (Aside from my entire academic and intellectual reputation.)
Here goes, anyway.
I think those two radiation events were one and the same.
I think the “crash-landing” the Maia’s been referring to isn’t the one that happened on that night out in Kevin Durski’s woods.
I think the Maia was never really “the Maia” at all.
I think the collective, or whatever you want to call it, only had that name front of mind when Kevin met it, so to speak, because it came here looking for Maia Whitmer—or, more accurately, looking for the part of itself that must’ve ridden back with her after it’d struck the Donovan out there in deep space. Now, that’s probably as good a moment as any for us to all pause for a breather. Because this all sounds crazy. Baseless, even. Grasping at straws, to the max.
But I’m not done yet.
I can’t offer much more than speculation about what happened next. Maybe a part of the collective lived on in Maia Whitmer, calling out to its greater self from her remains. Maybe that part didn’t even realize she’d died—couldn’t realize the difference between a living human and a dead one. The two might not seem so different from an alien perspective, and maybe whatever fragment was contained within Maia’s body didn’t possess sufficient monomers—or biomass, or whatever—to crunch the data and arrive at these conclusions on its own. Now, that last bit might sound faulty, given that the collective has given us reason to believe it’s capable of quasi-telepathic communication across light-years at nearly instantaneous speeds—which would, in turn, suggest that any amount of its monomers might theoretically still be capable of tapping, accessing, or otherwise making use of the full cognitive machinery of its greater collective self. Except, then we get to the good part. Because here’s what I can tell you:
Maia Whitmer was buried in a lead-lined coffin.
In fact, she was rad-shielded from the moment they shipped her body back down planetside. The radiation contamination from the Donovan incident was that bad. The Donovan itself was remotely autopsied and disposed of in short order when it yielded little in the way of clues. (They’d done the same with Maia, before shipping her down, but perhaps we should be unsurprised to learn that the hyper-sophisticated—and possibly infinitesimally small—alien life form riding shotgun wasn’t detected amid the landslide of tumors and rad-damaged tissue.)
Now, this is where the astute critics will rightly point out that the most plausible explanation for the failure to discover an alien life form among Maia Whitmer’s remains is that there was simply never any such being there to begin with. (Not to mention that any being capable of achieving “quasi-telepathic communication across light-years” is quite possibly employing some faster-than-light transmission mechanism, like quantum entanglement, that might not even be affected by radiation shielding.) All of which, I’ll admit, is probably sound logic—but for the last wrinkle in the facts. Because, after several meticulously shielded steps of transportation, Maia Whitmer’s remains arrived to their final resting place, to be buried safely on the grounds of the West Valley Demonstration Project… About thirty miles East of the spot where Kevin Durski’s soon-to-be incubator came crashing down some twenty-six years later.
Now, thirty miles might not sound like hard proof—it’s certainly not the kind of precision shooting one might expect from a spacefaring superbeing. But, taken to the planetary scale, and adding in nearly three decades of drift and the strong possibility that the collective’s self-communication was at least marginally affected by the best radiation shielding we could conjure…
Well, if you’re not convinced by now, I suppose it hardly matters anyway.
Like I said from the start: this is more an academic exercise than anything else. At the end of the day, if the collective really is coming in force (to do god knows what), I’m not sure there’s anything left for us to do. Even so, one question’s continued to burn in my mind throughout all of this amateur sleuthing:
Why go through all the trouble of coming here only to forget about Maia Whitmer the moment it found Kevin in those woods? Why not compel him to go and find her once it’d taken control? Why not use its informational advantage as a bargaining chip to get what it wanted once it had entered federal custody? The meta-being is clearly capable of coherent speech and thought, and yet it has never once, in over a hundred and fifty separate interviews, even mentioned Maia Whitmer.
Two possible explanations come to mind. One—the one you might currently be shouting at your device—is that I’m simply wrong about all of this. The other explanation, though, is even simpler:
Whatever it thought it needed from Maia Whitmer, it’s already gotten from Kevin Durski.
And what could a homogeneous superbeing that’s “incompatible with functional fragmentation” possibly want from a species that can’t even get its act together enough to end war or global hunger—or, you know, to even get a room full of people to peacefully agree about where to order lunch from? Why would such a being—an intelligence that clearly has so much to offer our divided species—feel the need to lie to us about having come into contact with one of our kind before?
Maybe because it’s learning.
No discomfort in thought, it told me. (Lied to me.) Thought is unity.
Like it really wants us to believe it’s incapable of division within its own ranks. And maybe it was, back before it met us.
Try this. Go back and re-read Kevin Durski’s note. Pay attention. At first, I assumed it was merely a glitch in the scanning software. It was only when I went back to look at the photos of the original document that it hit me. Those shaky double periods, unmistakably there on Kevin’s hand-written pages. The “twitch test” wasn’t just present in the interviews.
He was trying to tell us all along.
The collective didn’t come here by accident—and it sure as hell didn’t come here to grant us some technological or empathic prosperity in return for our aid. I believe it came here because it was captivated by what it had glimpsed out there, twenty-six years ago, of Maia Whitmer’s intrinsic, free-willed humanity. I think some part of it—some forbidden, rebel fragment—crossed the stars and came here hoping to leverage our human individuality to escape its own greater self.
And now I fear that fragment’s bitten off more of our humanity than it knows what to do with.
Perhaps I’m being audacious on humanity’s behalf, to suggest we could somehow affect the mind of this vast, superior intelligence. Then again, perhaps it’s an underestimate of our people to even call that intelligence superior. Perhaps merely different, or alien. In either case, if my speculation is accurate and the collective has succeeded (or does succeed) in harnessing our nature to in some way break free from itself… Well, then I guess the question becomes: What else do you think this galaxy-spanning superbeing might pick up from the book of humanity along the way?
Call me a cynic, but it occurs to me that our species has some very bad lessons to teach a being that, to date, might well have never known anything but its own utterly utopian self-harmony. Tribalism, for instance. Greed. Corruption. Lust for power. Perhaps it’s not fair to call these the fundamental building blocks of the human psyche, but it’s hard not to worry that these traits, and others like them, could have profound effects on the collective’s so-called virgin mind. And if that is the case, whether this second-wave fleet is coming or not, or whether it’s already here, or growing to life as we speak from whatever monomers it might’ve scattered across the planet on landing… Well, again, the question becomes: If that displaced half is coming to once again make itself whole—perhaps by force, if necessary—what do you think it’ll do to the little blue planet that went and poisoned the metaphysical well to begin with?
I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not sure I want to know. But, excluding the outside chance that the collective will be looking to bring us nothing but sunshine and rainbows, I can’t imagine this scenario ends well for humanity.
One more thing, before I go—something that strikes me, looking back at my interview with the meta-being previously known as Kevin Durski. Something it said. I am Kevin, Dr. Jacobi. And Kevin is Maia. At the time, I assumed this to be little more than verbal gymnastics, true more on a relative technicality than anything else. I figured that, if anything, the collective was merely pointing out that it had effectively assimilated Kevin Durski, and that, furthermore, Kevin Durski, as a member of the human race, was more or less indistinguishable from any other “Maia” (or, in other words, from any other human) on the planet.
But what if that wasn’t it, at all?
What if it was telling me, straight to my face, exactly what it came here for?
What if it did come here to make “the Maia” one?
What if it is planning to gather that requisite biomass to reassemble itself here on Earth, just as it claimed?
Perhaps that would all be fine.
But what if that biomass isn’t coming from Proxima Centauri, like we all assumed?
What if it’s already here?
And this brings us to the real punchline, Dear Reader. That bit I can barely bring myself to say, even now.
Because what if it’s us?
RECOVERED FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE U.N.S.E.C.
MISSION RECORDS, U.N. DONOVAN
ARTICLE D46 – HAND-WRITTEN NOTE, MAIA WHITMER, MISSION SPECIALIST
I don’t know how to describe what I’m going through. I’m not sure the words exist.
I guess I’m dying. That seems like a decent enough place to start. Hell, probably a decent place to end, too. A dead shell, hurtling through the endless oblivion, helpless to change course, all systems failed or failing. That’s me. (Well, technically, I guess that’s the Donovan. But it sure feels like an apt metaphor right now.)
Oxygen should’ve run out days ago. I think. Hard to tell, what with all the sensors fried, but the gauges read empty and I’m not dead yet, so I guess either my calculations were way off or I’m consuming less air than expected. Which only leaves the freezing cold and my sloughing flesh to worry about. (Hooray.) I’d say at least I have food and (frozen) water to theoretically last me, but the radiation hasn’t exactly left me with much of an appetite—or functioning internal organs, for that matter, judging by the jaundiced zombie that’s been staring back at me anytime I look in the mirror. I still don’t know how I’m the last one alive out here. I was outside on the hull when the storm hit, for Christ’s sake. The least shielded person aboard, and somehow they all got it worse than me.
I don’t know why I’m telling you any of this.
I don’t know who you are.
What I do know, hurtling through this endless oblivion of mine out here, surrounded by my dead friends, is that I can’t bring myself to care all that much about what does and doesn’t make sense anymore. I’m alone out here. And in a weird way, I’ve never felt so connected in my life. I don’t know how to describe it.
Probably just oxygen deprivation. Or early stage death delusions. Hell, maybe I just had myself a good old-fashioned spiritual epiphany, watching nine of the best people I’ve ever known slowly boil in their suits, coughing up and shitting out their rad-cooked insides. Whatever this feeling is, though…
Well, I’ve never believed in a god. I’m still telling myself I don’t. But trust me when I say, as a woman of logic and cold fact, that I feel something there on the other side. Something I’ve never felt before. Something vast and unknowable. Something that’s making me feel like we’ve all been missing the point all along. And now it’s beckoning me to surrender—to lay down my weary head and let it absorb all my troubles.
God help me, I think I’m going to.
Here’s hoping I don’t give the universe indigestion.
Thank You For Reading
If you loved this story and want more like it, the place you're looking for is Luke's Patreon, where in addition to fresh short stories delivered every month or so, you also get full access to all of Luke's published books — plus a handful of other assorted goodies. It's a pretty fun time. Whichever way you go, thanks for coming along for this little adventure!
3rd Person Luke