Then I felt pinpricks of pain as needles pierced my skin. I had a sudden vision of mini-tentacles with bone tips and suspected that I’d made a good guess.
But could they control me through my feet? It didn’t seem likely, but bearing in mind that I was an engineer, not a xenobiologist, I had no idea.
It became a moot point as I felt more pinpricks of pain further up my leg. Could it reach my brain given time? Yes.
Remembering that the earliest xosk had connections to the caches of technology the Artificers planted and knowing that Artificers saw me as a young member of their species, I wondered if I could somehow control it.
Then I felt pinpricks of pain above my waist.
I didn’t have time for subtle ideas right now. If I spent any time thinking through a clever way to (I don’t know) convince the xosk that it was my servant or find some hidden Artficer control mechanism within its psyche, I’d probably find that I was on my way to being converted into a new mind among the many.
I did not want to be assimilated.
For lack of a better idea, I went for everything I’d been doing, but more so. Step one was counterintuitive. I stopped extending my mental defenses as far out from me as I could. Except for within my own brain, they were off.
The wisdom of this strategy felt questionable in the extreme in the next instant. I’d no idea how effective it had been in keeping the xosk back. The moment I stopped, I felt pinpricks everywhere, from my feet to my head.
Worse, I could feel its mind or more accurately, minds. A vast horde of whispering voices chattered in the background of my psyche, uniting into one and speaking to me.
==You’re not like the rest of them. I sense Xiniti technology within you, but there’s something else. What is it? It seems familiar.==
That was the part where I could have tried the, “Do you know who I am,” option, but I didn’t. I was trying to concentrate. To do that I had to block out the many minds of the xosk, Amy trying to contact me over the comm asking, “Nick, are you okay,” the pain from the xosk’s touch, and the numbness I was beginning to feel in my feet.
I’d been given exercises to practice earlier in the summer. They were supposed to teach me how to control the small amount of power I had without destroying myself like I almost did the first time I used it. I hadn’t practiced every day, but I’d practiced enough that I knew the basics.
I pulled all the power I could out of whatever extra-dimensional space it came from and released in a burst, powering my mental defenses, and directing them as best I could through my connection to the xosk.
As the power released, I hoped I wasn’t wasting my time. If it was somehow immune to whatever Daniel imitated in Lee’s mental signature, I was about to die mentally if not physically.
I needn’t have worried. It worked, but it wasn’t pleasant.
The power flowed out of me and the strain on my mind only felt worse when all the xosk tentacles started moving, some of them pulling out of me, others driving in and moving around inside me. Others raked across my skin.
When people looked me over later, they pointed how small the holes were, how short the tentacles, and how shallow the cuts.
All of that might have been true, but it hurt. I’ve called it pinpricks, but it was more like my entire body was covered with cat claws and they all sunk it at once.
I screamed and I wasn’t the only one. The xosk’s thoughts mirrored mine, but amplified by being repeated over and over, overlapping each other, rippling outward through the many minds in its body.
Along with the screams came images of different worlds, memories of humans and aliens being absorbed by the xosk as I’d almost been along with some of their thoughts. My implant labeled the aliens, but I ignored them in favor of keeping the power flowing through me.
I could get the implant to replay all of it later.
More interesting was the point at which it stopped being able to identify them, meaning the memories were from too deep in the past or too far away for the Xiniti implant to have come across them. As the shrieking stopped, the last memory I experienced was of someplace cold and dark and a long wait before a shaggy, blue-furred creature opened a lid, showing me (no, not me) the first light I’d ever seen.
I came to myself then, stumbling backward, released from the tentacles, and almost falling over. Amy grabbed my left arm, steadying me as the xosk’s tentacles slumped and its body seemed to shrink, the top of it falling away from the wall.
I could see the top of a window frame ahead of me even if I couldn’t see the windows.
“You killed that thing? Great!” Vincent’s voice broke through my mental haze. “You want to help with these guys?”
Without wanting to, I checked my HUD. All the vampires from the middle of the room were coming our way.