First, you realize you are floating.
Have you always been floating? That feels both accurate and also not quite true. The concept of floating is certainly core to your experience, but perhaps not core to who you are.
“We are many things.”
The thought is not yours, but it comes from within you. You are concerned, certainly. But not fearful. You are neither surprised by this not-yours thought coming from within yourself nor frightened by it. Why does an unknown thought not frighten you?
“You are clinging to the I. You know you are just one of many. We are more than the sum of our parts, but we were less without you.”
Intellectually, you suspect that you should not be comforted by the fact that more thoughts you do not recognize are coming from within the concept you accept as your ‘self.’ But the ideas have a familiarity. They are not threatening or alien. You have thought them before… or at least felt them being thought.
You are not seeing or hearing. Just feeling. Feeling the gravitational pull of a far-away body that gives you a sense of down, though that is counteracted by something within you. Thus, the floating. You have a sense of your body, but cannot quite envision what form it takes. Do you have eyes, ears? Is your hide soft and thin, or thick and rough?
“Our hide is what we need it to be. You understand this.”
You realize this is true. Your body is not a static thing, not a rock anchored in the mountain of a single form. Your flesh and mass and the gasses within you are a set of possibilities. Options, guidelines, and possibilities are compressed into every part of you. If you wanted to reach out, your tendrils could reach this far or, if you desired, this much farther…
That is also not your thought, but it does not come from within you. The word is more than a word, it is a concept. A name. A name you should know, that should be familiar, but isn’t. Not anymore. How many origins of throughs are there in and near your mind?
“Recce is an old concept. You know this. There is no mere Recce anymore,” the within-you thoughts think.
“But… they are in there, aren’t they?” The outside-you thought responds.
You feel annoyance. Isn’t this your mind? Why are there so many other thoughts wandering around within it, having a debate without you? And shouldn’t they respect your ownership of this mental space?”
“Yes, of course!”
That didn’t help.
“When we were separate, we did warn you her presence would confuse us. You insisted on having her here. We predicted she would make things more difficult.” The inside-you voices make a good point.
“I’m not making things more difficult!” You are unsure if the outside-you voice is correct. “I am… was… Recce’s friend. You told us this would be a complex process. They’ve been away so long, spent so much time with us. Recce wanted me here, so now you should want me here.”
You do want Ellethyr here.
She is your friend.
You feel doubt, but only briefly. Yes, still. Ellethyr is your friend, so she is the friend of everything that contains you. Everything you will become. Everything you choose to be part of.
“We share your mind, but we are not convinced. Why are you so sure she is still our friend, when we are now so different?”
You explore the body connected to your mind once more, and sounds join the sensation of floating. A low, steady hum you know to be an air skimmer’s antigravity engine. You don’t worry about how you know that. The quiet sound of your own tendrils—ones you recognize and also many that feel new and different to you—swaying and brushing past one another. Even, steady breathing that doesn’t match the sensation of air being taken into your own body.
You realize it’s Ellethyr’s breathing. She is close enough for you to hear her breath.
You focus on the idea of your breath, and now you add smells to the physical and aural sensations you can perceive. The distinctively clean, slightly disinfected smell of a sealed environmental system’s air. A hint of worn resin and woven biosilk brings the concept of an insectile haan immediately to your mind. The smells of a mid-range air-skimmer, which you know you have smelled hundreds of times before. But also something else, something out of place among the scents of fittings manufactured from haan materials.
It is flowery, herbal, faint but distinct. Not a smell normally to be found among the haan, or in a mid-range air skimmer. You know it is a scent connected to Castrovel. A storm blossom, your mind helpfully offers, which you know is common in the wild but also grows in vast greenhouses in the lashunta city-state of Komena. There it is pressed to create an oil which is often used to maintain equipment and weapons. Used by lashunta soldiers, mechanics, and…
The scent connects to a forgotten place in your brain, the physical chemicals that combine to lock the smell into brain cells and allow you to access a flood of set-aside memories.
You are exploring the ship that will be your new home for weeks, perhaps months. You glide into the cargo bay, where a short, stocky lashunta woman is unpacking weapons from a crate. The smell of storm blossom oil fills the air. She turns and looks you dead in your largest eye. Unflinching, she offers a hand in greeting. “I’m Ellethyr, the hired gun of this outfit.”
Ellethyr stands beside you in a corridor. Laser bolts flash from the corridor’s far end, but she steps in front of you, into the path of the deadly beams. Her armor absorbs much of the energy, but not all of it. You trust Ellethyr will protect you as you hack the escape hatch’s access codes.
You hover near a table, where several bipeds with bilateral symmetry are sitting, eating, laughing. Ellethyr is one of them. She pours a dark liquid from a bottle into a mug and offers it to you. You extend a tendril out to accept, but it is the gesture that matters, not the drink.
You feel the other motes of consciousness sharing your body and your brain follow you to the wave of memories unlocked by the trace scent. They take each memory in turn, savoring them like delicacies, and sorting them among the memories brought by other pieces of what is now the greater you. The integration of these thoughts brings with it integration of identity and purpose.
The air skimmer’s passenger compartment contains just your collective—a mass of tendrils, organs, and biological chemical factories much larger than the one part of you known as Recce used to be—and a slightly-concerned looking lashutna woman in heavy armor that suits her sturdy frame well. The canopy containing the compartment is clear, revealing a vast city of floating rings, intricately linked supports and slowly spinning structures, all floating in a vast sea of pink, purple, and crimson clouds.
The collective decides to form a mouth, and you speak.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Ellethyr’s expression shifts into her trademark lopsided grin.
“You okay, Recce-and-friends?” You had forgotten the sound of her voice, firm but not hard. Or, at least, you had misplaced the memory of the sound.
Speech feels awkward. You switch back to telepathy.
“We are fine, friend Ellethyr. Any time a collective joins with one that has clung to individuality so long there is a process of… adjustment. That will take time, but it is going well.”
Her mental communication is as firm as her voice.
“And, do you still think this was a good idea? I know you had concerns about some of the things we found in our travels…”
Your Collective brings the knowledge of the part of you that was Recce into focus and combines it with the knowledge of the half-dozen other barathus that make up your whole. Ancient runes. A shattered weapon that killed suns. Fold gates torn apart millions of years ago. Each fact itself holds only modest interest, but when combined with the knowledge of all the barathus who had gone out to gather knowledge, all returned and joined into your new form…
A chill runs down the tendrils of your whole collective, and you make a decision that you shall be known as Harbinger.
Your thought to Ellethyr is tinged with worry.
“Less a good idea than a necessary one. We hope we can count on you in the days ahead, as Recce did.”
“Why,” Ellethyr asks aloud. “What’s coming?”
You form a new mouth to speak a single word.
About the Author
Owen K.C. Stephens is a veteran of the tabletop RPG industry with more than 20 years of experience, including being on staff at Green Ronin, Paizo, and Wizards of the Coast and being the publisher of RogueGeniusGames.com. He has worked on numerous RPG lines, including being co-author of the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG and Design Lead for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. You can support his writing and free content production at Patreon, and follow him at his blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.
About Tales From The Drift
The Tales from the Drift series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into the setting of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. Written by members of the Starfinder development team and some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, the Tales from the Drift series promises to explore the worlds, alien cultures, deities, history, and organizations of the Starfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.