I stood at the edge of a swamp in North Carolina. I knew I had to get to what was waiting on the other side. I scratched my head and I hesitated, considering going around.
I kneeled by the muck and considered what leeches and other things might be swimming there, might wrap themselves around my ankles in the wet. I might be able to wade but there might be spots that would mire me or be too deep. The humidity made my limbs feel heavy. The amount I'd used them already felt like a dizzy spiral around each bone.
I heard a wet schoschoscho coming from behind me. My back tightened. Inside my head I heard an invitation. I looked back and there was a dark slug about 4 feet long and at least a foot and half around. It again invited me to climb on and it'll take me across. Something about the voice assured. I intuitively trusted it. I got on its back and it loped across the pond scum as though it were a mixture of horse and hydrofoil.
Time passed and the world faded back into bright. I was again at the shoreline but with memory of months of daily times together. I found that as its thoughts went telepathically to me, so I could return the ideas. I learned it, who I had no referent name, was not one of its kind. It was stranded from space and one of a dispersed collective. It could shapeshift. One of the more common forms was like a sowbug on earth, about that size, except more elongated and iridescent. I took that as a matter of course as it has no qualms with my bipedal form.
I looked at the sun dapple, how leaves seemed silver from sun. I was anticipating what we'd talk about today. Soon I could feel the approach. As we travelled and I could feel the rippling muscles beneath me unsteady. The energy had sputters in it. As we passed under the canopy through narrow and wide spots of wet forest, I learned grave news today.
Its kind were discovered by wrong individuals of my kind. There was to be a rally to consider options of exodus. Without a second thought I said I'd go.
It was early pre-dawn and the chosen spot was low rolling hills. I had just visited a contact on the other side of the border in West Virginia. She was the human spouse. At the old age home she sat bedside. The human was missing. She looked anxiously. One of the creatures could hold human form for short bursts but to the level of detail that would satisfy a doctor's tests was exhausting. The creature was on break. It wasn't a sustainable pace. She opened the side table to show all the flowers nad chocolates human friends had brought that outpaced what she could consume. Her husband would eat them but the creature couldn't. Her real husband was with the creatures in a treatment center. This would be hard to explain to human doctors. It would be hard to get him sent home to rest when the creature's test results didn't mimic physiology properly. It was all very awkward.
I related this story to my friend who would pass the situation into the collective.
I brought with me human individuals who I trusted to have the compassion as first thought, giving them only a sketch of the safety issue at stake. Across the distances I could sense the directions of approaches of creatures.
Sympathetic humans were coming as well. I could see their shapes appear but we couldn't talk to one another in the same way at the same distance. There was a sombre atmosphere. There had been such gatherings before but not within my lifetime and I was told they were more festive. This was a pooling of what we knew.
There were humans who had decided the creatures were a threat or a soulless curiosity to study. It was hard to say which was worse. They had learned they could see the creatures and had become afraid. They learned that when in symbiont form with a human, for example a rapid course of diabetes was certain and the human lifespan shortened. This information ripples thru the group. And protests, It was a kind of holiness, a kind of soul marriage and a richer life before the loss of partner. And the creatures could treat with medicine if they knew this case erupted.
More stories came back. Some humans had found a spectrum of light that would make the creatures visible to the humans who couldn't see them. I jarred, not having realized that not every human could see them. Another intelligence passed through that there was a net, a loop of citizen army who were broadcasting this light to try to collect up the creatures for examination. Examination from one species to another was rarely good.
One creature passed around mentally the diagram that the citizen army were using. There were ripples of chuckles from all direction as if an earthquake riffled. When it came to me I saw the disproportional centipede with ominous front eyes and the color patterns all imaginative but wrong. It was like a child's caricature. At least having wrong information was in our favour.
How widespread was the search for them? We had holes in our information. Some suggestions said it was a national net and we could escape to Canada, or at least to the relative security of French Canada. Some of the humans had contacts that would enable some to slip through the border there without questions.
There was the matter of travel-form. Would they risk travelling naturally or hold the exhausting human form and have the time delay of faked paperwork. How fast did we have to move? How fast could we move without causing ourselves to be detected? Did we have enough transport? Would it be safer for more people to become symbionts to travel across country? It was a permanent decision, not to be taken lightly or rushed into, except if the sweep came in, inside another was the safest, most invisible place to be. There were a lot of logistics to work out.
We decided that the most secure plan is multiple plans, each according to conscience, knowing what the others are doing. As for me and my friend we would try to slip over the border into the northern wilds of Quebec. As symbionts or a pair? We would let the decision lie between us with the coffee cup between our seat. We'd come to a decision by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.