It is an odd thing, to exist in two places at once. It is a circumstance which I suspect the vast majority of beings do not ever have the opportunity to experience. I experience it often, now, and I have become accustomed to the difficulties of manipulating multiple bodies in tandem; of the oddity of multiple, vastly different perceptions and communications, all happening at once.
Yes, at present, I know what it is like, and in fact, it seems normal to me, but that first time the experience was entirely novel. I knew, particularly after learning to make use of eyes, what it was like to spread the perceptions of one body over a large area. In a way, having two bodies at once is not that different. Yet at the same time, it is.
You see, the first way I went about it is inferior to my current process. I didn’t yet have the capacity to maintain the link between the consciousnesses that inhabited both of the bodies I inhabited: my main body, and my simulacrum. I devised a way to let them operate independently, but it left each of them handicapped and unable to share their experiences.
Nearly losing my main body after my first experiment led me to attempt only pushing a part of my consciousness into my simulacrum after I detached it, and, after several failed attempts, it worked. I find this time difficult to narrate, because, as I said before, existing in two places is an odd thing: and this was not quite that, even, but something even more divergent from common experience.
It was more like I was existing twice at the same time, in different places, with no ability to share between those existences until they came back together. I had to split my mind in two, so that I could maintain the functionality of both bodies. If I put too much into one body, when I severed the connection, the other collapsed; if I put too little into a body, it never functioned.
Therefore, by necessity, both bodies were less intelligent than they were as a whole. I decided to store as much of myself in my simulacrum as possible, for it was the vessel by which I would be interacting with the world and learning. I left my main body just enough so that it remembered “our” purpose, so that it remembered our experiences and our goals, and, most of all, what my simulacrum meant to it. That way, I ensured that one part of me would not attempt to destroy the other.
The first time I split myself into two entities, I made no attempt at an extended journey. I decided before the split, so that both halves of me would be in agreement, that my simulacrum would walk a mere mile away, and then return to my larger self. In this way, I could experiment further with how successful my separation had truly been.
During this time, the version of myself contained in my larger body was content to wait. Looking back, I hardly think of that half of myself as really being me, since I installed such a low level of consciousness into it. It still existed at a much higher level of sentience than any other member of my base species, but hardly anything like the processing ability to which I was accustomed.
The mind contained within my simulacrum felt much more like my real self, though highly constrained by the bounds of my imitation human biology. It had walked this far before, during my first encounter with the humans that had killed themselves, but this experience felt different. My mind and my perceptions were far more encapsulated, unable to reach out to the surrounding territory, unable to access the majority of the mass I was used to having at my disposal.
That mile felt like the longest mile I had ever travelled. At the time, my human body seemed so lacking in grace compared to the style of movement to which I was accustomed. My footfalls landed heavily on the ground. At times I tripped and stumbled on loose roots or fallen branches. Uneven ground, which had never before presented a challenge to me, became an obstacle.
Any distance seems like an infinity when every step is a clumsy struggle. I wore clothes I had taken from the family of Roamers, including sturdy trousers, a tunic, and the hoods and masks that had been worn by the females. I covered my feet and hands with boots and gloves. I altered the color and opacity of my outer layer so that it would resemble flesh, at least without a close observation, but covering myself brought me more confidence that my true nature would go undetected.
I didn’t expect to encounter any humans on my brief excursion. I hadn’t detected any in the area earlier that day, though I hadn’t made a thorough exploration and my perceptions certainly didn’t afford me even limited omnipercipience. Fortunately, my expectations proved accurate. I suspect that, no matter how good my physical disguise might have been, the sight of me stumbling alone through the woods might have dissuaded any humans from desiring contact.
I did, however, encounter something that was definitely not human.
I had never seen anything like it. That did not mean I had never encountered anything like it, of course, since I was still relatively new to vision in general. Still, I did not recognize it, and I didn’t have my main body to encompass it so that I could attempt to identify it that way.
When I saw it, for the first time in my life, I felt fear. I was alone in the woods, my consciousness constrained to a small, fragile body that relied on bones and the imitations of muscles to move. The fear thrilled me, because it was illogical. It was something a human might feel. I could easily abandon my bones and my clothes and slip away, if I found myself in true danger.
It walked on two legs, like a human, though it stood taller than me almost by half. Its arms hung at its sides, its fingers draping past its knees. I stepped around a tree into an opening in the woods, too small to be called a clearing, but with enough space that the creature stood out.
It stood still, staring at me with wide eyes like black disks set into its head. It had pale flesh, which, in places, cracked and flaked like the bark of a tree. Its mouth bisected its chin. Strange protuberances, like bent, warped cylinders marred by knots, grew from its head and shoulders.
I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say, or whether I should say anything at all. I had the idea that there was an intelligence, of some kind, behind those foreign eyes. Yet I also found myself filled with a strong belief that, whatever this being was, it wouldn’t understand me.
I found myself wishing that I was with my full body. I would have trapped the creature and, like Telan, attempted to learn from it. It filled me with curiosity as strongly as it filled me with the overpowering desire to flee.
It had no obvious natural weapons. It made no move to approach me. It made no sound. Its eyes stared into mine unceasingly, unblinking, filling me with the sense that, should I not take appropriate care, it would destroy me.
I stepped backward. I brought my hood down, removed my mask, and shifted one eye to the back of my head before I turned around so that I could walk faster. I gave up my pretense of acting human. I wanted to be able to watch the creature as I departed, in case it should decide to attack.
It did not. For as long as I could see the white shadow of it through the trees, it stayed frozen in place. No matter how many trees I put between us, until it passed completely from my view, I could see its eyes upon me, tracking my despite their lack of motion.
The return to my body was the new longest journey of my life. Twice I paused to look around me, for I saw something white between the trunks of the trees. Yet when I stopped to look, I did not see the creature nearby, nor did I hear anything other than the typical sounds of the woods: air passing through the leaves, and the quiet murmur of small birds and animals.
I feared that the creature might catch me while I was weak and exposed in my smaller body. The vast majority of my consciousness was stored here. If my simulacrum was destroyed, I would use years — centuries — worth of effort in building up my intelligence by feasting on that of others.
At the same time, I hoped that it would follow me all the way back, so that I could use my larger, more powerful form to capture it. I wanted to know why it looked more like it was made of carven chalk than flesh. I wanted to take its eyes from its head and see how it saw with those callous, dead orbs. I wanted to know how differently it thought from humankind, and whether I could learn to think like it, too.
I wanted to know where it came from.
My desires were not realized. I returned to my body with no more appearances from the pale creature. I felt relief as strongly as I felt disappointment. I merged successfully back with my full body, which should be the strongest memory from that time — after all, it was the entire point of the experiment. I easily reconciled the dual sets of memories, since I had expected them. It all seemed trivial next to the drive I felt to know more about the creature in the woods.
Reunited into one, I retraced my steps, flowing through the woods at a swift pace my simulacrum could never hope to match. I found where the creature had stood. It had departed. I spread myself over the area, thinning out so that I could feel every part of the forest in a wide area, to no avail. I found no hint that the creature had ever been there.
Part of me wished to attempt to continue searching for the creature, if only to know its origins; if only to confront it when I was at my strongest, so that I could deny that I ever feared it. A greater part of me held onto the desires that had been a part of my life for a much greater amount of time.
I resolved to continue to pursue my existing goals. I would locate another group of humans, or perhaps a small human settlement, and approach it with my simulacrum in an attempt to blend in. I hoped that I would prove successful, but now, I held that hope for another reason. I hoped that a human might be able to explain the pale being from the woods.