Returning to our quarters after my session, I ignore the other scouts sitting at the table and head toward my bunk. There is much to review about the session. As my head touches the mat and I close my eyes, I hear a voice off to the side.
“You’re called away a lot.”
I open my eyes and turn my head to see another scout looking up at me.
“Was it another session?” it asks, without concern for my rest.
Realizing I’m not going to get any rest after all, I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bunk so I’m looking down at the other scout.
“I was gone a long time on this mission,” I tell it. “The Commander is just reviewing my reports with me.”
The other scout blinks a few times before responding, “Oh, was that you? The one who went first and created the assignments?”
I nod a little reluctantly, wondering what’s been said of me.
“How did you know what to do? How to assign positions to everyone? What materials to ask for?
I nearly smile at the eagerness to learn that this one shows. “The knowledge comes with experience — not only from missions you’ve been on, but from the other scouts as well,” I tell it. “Each generation passes it on to each other like I am passing it on to you. Maybe there will be a mission that you lead. You will need to know these things too.”
The other scout tilts its head. “Will you tell me about it? The process?”
Looking down at this one, it reminds me of my talks with Nemel and how much I gained from those exchanges. With a quick move I hop down from the bunk so that we are at eye level with each other. “The Commander sets the rendezvous point on your way to the mission. You must return to these coordinates at a specific time for extraction.”
“What if something happens before that. What if your mission is compromised and you’re in danger?”
“When I was dropped off initially, I had a sack of gear — clothes for the life form I would become, containers for all the samples I would obtain and a beacon. The sack is made of the same material as the shuttles, so you have to remember where you stow it as it will blend in with its environment.”
“So, you don’t bring all that gear with you?”
I shake my head. “No, because you never know if you will be searched or what kind of abilities the life forms have that they may be able to detect it.”
“How do you get the samples to the ship then?”
“I have become very adept at hiding samples while on a mission. The packs that we seal the samples in prevents further deterioration so they don’t have to be sent right away. This last time, I was able to pass them off to another scout.”
The other scout tilts its head, “I didn’t think we worked together.”
“It depends on the situation. On this mission I was a Bormea visiting from another city. I had another scout act as my servant. Since the Bormeas never leave the compound, I needed another who could come and go more freely. The other scout was able to bring in some of our devices without detection.”
If it’s possible, the other scout’s eye seem to grow even larger. “Like what?”
“I had asked the Commander for a scanner. It can see through flesh to the bone structure as well as layout of internal organs. We use the scanner for more detail work. Because the Bormeas are so elusive the probes barely provided us with even a visual. We needed this information not only for studying but also so I could become one.”
The other scout momentarily spasms — our version of a shudder. “What was it like to become one of … those?”
Transforming into a Bormea haunts me still. Becoming the thing that the Caysas loathed and feared after leaving them in a vulnerable state, felt like an act of betrayal. But I couldn’t tell the other scout this. Instead, I visualize it like all of my previous missions — as part of the process.
“It would have been an interesting process to watch,” I tell it. “To make it easier on my system, I transformed back into my natural form from that of my previous life form first. Then, after a metamorphic state I began to visualize the form I was to take on. The process works from the inside out, so, while I can feel shifts taking place inside, the changes to the exterior of my body are initially barely perceptible. As I focus on the process more, beginning to imagine how the form thinks and acts, the shifts within speeds up.” Even as I speak, I vividly recall the process.
* * *
After the skeleton forms, tendons, muscles and organs take shape. The exterior and the actual shape of the body develops based on this. The enormity of this new body rivaled anything I had been in previous missions. At first I wondered whether I had let the process go on too long, feeling the chest, arms and legs balloon outward in an almost grotesque manner. Instead of the lean, muscled tone I had developed working with the Caysas, my arms were flabby, my hands puffy and my fingers splayed out because of their thickness rather than dexterity. The Bormea’s skin felt thick and rough, almost like the hide on wild beast. It had a dark tone too, which was even deeper in the many creases and lines in the skin.
Reaching up, I touched my face to feel how much it had changed and wondered again if I had gone too far in the process. My new head, the size of a small boulder, was firmly entrenched in my shoulders. If the Bormea’s ever had necks, they were lost in the maturing process. Little ears wiggled in fleshy half-circles at opposite sides of my head, a sign that the Bormea’s had little use for listening. I left the top of my head for last, savoring the feel of the many cronacs and the reaction I would receive when I made my appearance. The little horn-like growths jutted out from my head with such vigor I couldn’t help but begin to identify with the Bormea’s sense of pride over having them. As far as I could tell the cronacs were of no physical use and yet were an essential part of a Bormea’s identity.
* * *
“So, the scanner worked?” the other scout’s voice cuts through my thoughts.
I nod. “Yes. I not only used it for initial scans but had it smuggled back in later so I scan in closer proximity. The others were supposed to scan the compound as well.”
“What did you find out from those scans?”
“That seems to be the problem,” I reply. I glance over at the other scouts at the table. “At some point the scanner went missing.”
I look back at my bunkmate, “Yes, that’s partly what the Commander was asking me about.”
“What about the others?” it asks, turning to look at the others. “Wouldn’t they know?”
“Possibly,” I reply, scrutinizing the group again. “The issue with that is I think the scout that was my servant was recycled.”