I despised the med bay by now. Nobody could blame me for that. A month in quarantine coma had been enough to resent every hint of that particular shade of green. Mother and I were back to engage in another excruciating hour of exams. Scanning, fidgeting, neurological and psychological testing, drawing blood, and other unpleasant procedures, I endured them all. Who else was the guinea-pig on board? At least he took down the images of my eye, my brain, and that parasite inside my head, so I didn’t have to look at it.
Cricket’s appearance made Mother suspicious and quite worried. He wasn’t expecting it to appear so fast, he told me during tomography. The parasite had taken over one of my eyes and the connected neurological tissue all the way to my visual cortex. So, it could make me see things, among other inconveniences. Like taking over the rest of me, for real, kill my personality, maybe even my body.
Parasites didn’t kill their hosts, did they? I imagined myself as a puppet, moving through the ship, vacant look on my dumb face, drooling like a proper zombie. Couldn’t hide the shivers. Mother stopped what he was doing and asked if I felt fine. “A bad thought, buddy. Just a bad thought.”
First, I couldn’t believe Cricket wasn’t real. I had memories of her, I knew her birthday, her likes and dislikes. I had even memorized her duties and timetable, so I wasn’t butting in her down-time, and she could enjoy her beloved solitude. For me, she was the engine whisperer, the mastermind keeping the ship functioning and in one piece. She was the mousy little girl with amazing skills in robotics, engineering and the most awkward and poor social abilities. She was so real, that Mother Goose had to show me all data from the archives, before I could accept, that she was a hallucination.
Funny how I knew a whole backstory, to a person that never existed in the first place. Funnier even, that I never really had any kind of social contact with that imaginary person. What weirded me out most, was that I wasn’t upset at all. As if all of a sudden there was this cushioned area inside my mind for inconvenient themes, like Cricket, that made me go: I don’t care. I had a stowaway in my head and mind, who looked at everything I knew and experienced. Then the idea scurried away and I felt energetic and happy. Happy!
I told Mother about the ‘fuck-it’ area in my mind. He nodded and assured me, he had expected something similar. What he told me next, was a bit outlandish for me and my standards. My new standards wheeze-laughed at the news.”The parasite is trying to connect with you. It is learning your language to attempt communication in some ways. Any language might be too abstract for the first contact. Emotions are the basis for connection, meaning, and motivation. It will make you feel safe, warm, and cozy around its presence. Damn, this thing is elegant!” Wasn’t it enough that it took an eye? Did it want more? How the hell wasn’t I pissed off? “So much potential!” Mother Goose fangirled.
This was going to make things complicated. If I was to see random things and persons, how would I know, what was real? What was the point?
An idea hit me like a baseball bat to the head:”What if the cleaning company was a secret military research lab for controlling, enhancing soldiers without having to spend time on playing bingo through the spinning wheel of mutations, being able to weaponize civilians of any enemy country, being able to scout out mammal brains for-” The idea tore and disappeared. I couldn’t put it back together. What just happened? I breathed and searched again for the rest of the idea. Mammal brains where were you hiding?
I looked at Mother, who stared at me, slack-jawed. I blinked.”You heard that, right?” He nodded and waved a recording device in front of my face. Thank God, I wasn’t imagining that.
“You should wear one of the smaller devices at all times. We must record your sleep. Let me try something.” He put the recorder down and sat down in front of me. He breathed in slowly, then looked me in the eye intently. I tried to avert my gaze so he wouldn’t stare so awkwardly, but he didn’t let me. He focused on my eye when it finally dawned on me. His stare was not for me, but the parasite. I relaxed and let him examine my eye to his heart’s content. He seemed to sense a change and asked: “Do you want to be called Cricket?”
My mind flooded with pictures of chirping crickets, grasshoppers, locusts in all colors and sizes. I told Mother about my reactions and tried to keep up with the descriptions of what I fantasized about. There were some from Earth, from other planes of existence I couldn’t recognize. There were cricket-like things from other planets, and finally, the engine whisperer appeared in my mind’s eye. I winced at ‘my mind’s eye’. Man, I wasn’t funny. Cricket, the imagined human, laughed. I nodded. “You did it. It’s communicating. It’s alive!” I bear-hugged Mother laughing, and we almost toppled to the floor.
Wait, other plains of existence? How did I know about them? “Bubbles.” The word pronounced itself. Really? Bubbles? Ok, thoughts bursting into my thinking process, kindly put back the door, that you just kicked in. Cricket shook her head. Fine! Will I have shower-conversations with you? Cricket blushed and nodded. “Are you kidding me?”
Mother looked confused. “Sorry buddy. For a second, I forgot you were there.” Must be frustrating listening to this end of my version of whisper down the lane. “There are different planes of existence, and they are touching each other like bubbles do. You know, when children play with soap. The other thing was, that I won’t be alone, not even in the shower.” Mother raised one brow incredulously, but nodded slowly.
“You are the only person alive who can jump from revealing answers to eons-old physical and theological questions to shower thoughts. It means nothing to you, am I right? I wish I had your resources.” Cricket shook her head. Interesting. I let the flow of explanations right out of my mouth without thinking a thing.
“Cricket said I was compatible because there was something wrong with my brain in the first place. That made her choose me. The chemical balance between my neurons is slightly off, different from Pomona’s, Shepherd’s, or yours. I think she can smell that.” I rubbed my face. Oh, this was nuts! Fine! Chose the blunt sword then, loser! Cricket shook her head again.
“Seems there is a place in my Amygdala and Hypothalamus that she can fit herself into like a key in a lock.” I sighed and gestured to my head.”The Locus coeruleus is another target of hers. I had problems there. I meant less resistance, and more satisfying results.”– Really?- “She usually inhibits impulses in that area, but with me, she changed tactics and very much enjoyed the results. Plus, I was the one needing help.” I was the one needing help? With what? “I had received a trauma to the head and the swelling and bleeding was about to kill me.” Wait, what? I didn’t know that…
Mother grinned like a Cheshire cat. Oh, I knew that grin. Nonono. It just meant trouble for me. There was now something that matched his mind. He loved Cricket already. “No! No. No. I know that grin. You won’t make me talk about science. Not now. You have to invite me for a candlelight dinner first. Or at least a noir movie and Bourbon. Then we talk dirty.”
Mother’s involuntary belly laugh was contagious. It made me laugh too. It felt warm and sincere. As if the stress, frustration, and fear he had been dealing with, just fell off of him. He was suddenly free of it and couldn’t stop laughing. Even Shepherd stuck her head in to investigate the noise.