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Learning to Think

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Her grin was the textbook definition of cheeky. “So what you’re saying is...that you basically can’t think on your own?”

The goad worked, the alien growling through grit teeth. “No, no that is NOT what I said! I’ll have you know that I’m highly intelligent! My intellect is far superior to your own piteous human constructs.”

“But...you just admitted that you don’t form your own connections. Hell, you can’t even speak without scouring Jonesy’s boxes for phrases to say. Earlier, you mentioned that humans have a vast amount of storage space. Does that mean that you just don’t have a long term memory?”

Mr. Gray looked even more flustered, stuttering with indignation as his grip on the steering wheel tightened. “W-what?! No! Before I came down here, my knowledge was derived from a hivemind, a psychic collection of information amassed since the dawn of my race. I didn’t NEED to retain memories of my own, I would just learn what I needed from the collective consciousness and add to it with my own experiences.”

“So...you basically Googled it.”

Mr. Gray deadpanned, “...I’m not even going to bother hunting down Jonesy’s files to decipher the nonsense you just spewed.”

“Google. It’s a website. It’s got information regarding everything about anything that you could possibly imagine, and it’s only growing larger as more humans keep adding information to it. So, instead of learning things for yourself and retaining the information...you just googled whatever answer you needed.”

Mr. Gray looked at a loss for words, his shoulders slouching as he stared hard at the road ahead. These invasive questions were really starting to get under his skin. “That...ugh, I guess. Sure. I “Googled it”, happy?”

“Not really, now I’m even more curious.”

The alien resisted the urge to throw Jonesy’s head back against the headrest in frustration. “Oh that’s just fucking fantastic, isn’t it? Fuck me Freddy, you’ve got questions for everything, don’t you?”

They bounced in their seat a little, pointing wildly to Mr. Gray. “See! See! “Fuck me Freddy” , that’s not a phrase you know on your own! That’s just something you picked up on from Jonesy’s files! Come to think of it...you cuss wayyy more than Jonesy does.”

“What? You got a problem with my fucking language?” Mr. Gray sneered.

She snickered. “Not really. Though it is kinda funny to hear you say stuff like that.”

“...Funny? How on earth is it funny? I’m not amused in the slightest. I’m cussing because you’re pissing me off.”

“I know. That only makes it even funnier.”

Mr. Gray’s right eye twitched. “...You’re lucky that I’m too preoccupied with driving to smack you.”

She sniggered even louder, playfully stretching to where her fingertips brushed against his nearest shoulder. The bodysnatcher flinched at her initial touch, though Mr. Gray couldn’t help his satisfied sigh as she teasingly massaged into his sore taut muscles. Rest assured, she was determined to not let him enjoy the gesture too much. “Aw don’t be like that, Gray. You’re using KIDDIE language to cuss. Shit in your hat and wear it backwards, Bruce, Fuck me Freddy” ; those are all things I hear kids on the playground say when they’re trying to act tough. It’s juvenile. You’ve got to see at least SOME of the humor in that, right?”

Mr. Gray noticeably flushed, a telltale redness gathering in his cheeks as he exhaled sharply through Jonesy’s nostrils. Obviously, the byrum invader from beyond the stars had had no idea that he’d been using “kiddie language” the entire time he’d been on earth. What’s worse was that Jonesy had probably known all along and neglected to tell him. Bastard. He shrugged out of her grip with an irritated groan. “Great, fucking great. Now cussing’s been ruined for me, too. Are you just deadset on pissing me off? Because I won’t have any problem with fixing your little red wago-” Gray cut himself off too late as he realized that he’d relied on yet another “Jonesy-ism”.

Which, of course, she ate up, her mere snickers graduating to full blown laughter as she clapped obnoxiously, “Oh my LORD, Gray. You’ve really got it bad, don’t you? Jeez Louis, do you have any sayings that are original?”

Mr. Gray smartly elected to draw silent at that. Frustration and embarrassment rolled off the alien in waves as he pursed his thin lips. First chance he got, he was going to ditch this horrid little nuisance. First fucking chance he got.

She seemed to realize that they’d pushed him too far. Silence was far less fun than angry shouting, after all. She’d probably need to apologize to get him to start talking again. She blew a long breath through her cheeks as she reached out for him. Gray’s skin temperature was damn near blazing, his anxious body heat seeping plainly through their thin t-shirt.

“Mr. Gray…?”

The latter grunted at their touch, stubbornly attempting to shoulder out of her grip. When that didn’t work, the alien tensed, Jonesy’s eyes darkening as the byrum curtly sent a sharp painful blast of telekinetic energy through their mind. She yelped in pain, curling up like a dying insect as she clutched at their head. Christ, it felt like a brain freeze on steroids.

Fucking hell ! C’mon, Gray, no need for violence! Look, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to rib you so hard.” Ok, so the guy didn’t like being touched. At least not when they were ticked, that is.

Mr. Gray shook his head, a humorless smile crossing his lips as he stomped on the accelerator. “Oh you’re hardly sorry. The only thing you’re sorry about is that I’m ignoring you. Besides, it seems that violence is the only way to get a primitive little miscreant like you to fucking leave me be.”

She rolled her watery eyes, her desire to argue overpowering the pain. “Again with the demeaning of my own race? You sure to love to default to that when it comes to having intellectual discussion. Just why are we so inferior compared to the likes of you? At least we have our own bodies! And at least we can form our own thoughts without help from another fucking race!”  

The alien’s eyes narrowed as he snapped, “For you information, I HAD my own fucking body at one point! It just didn’t agree with your hostile atmosphere. SECONDLY, you creatures are violent chaotic little flesh monsters slave to your emotions, hormones, and lord knows what else! You may have cognitive independence, but that just makes you ever the more unpredictable in the first place! At least MY race understood how to function as an efficient unit. My race was able to infiltrate and conquer countless planets before we came to yours through our cumulative knowledge, force, and numbers! You may see me as a naive laughing stock, but I’d LOVE to see how you’d fare if you were exposed to US and had to rapidly adapt to fit in. I may not be perfect, but fuck me if I’m not doing the fucking best that I fucking can!” Mr. Gray slammed a fist against the horn as he concluded his rant, Jonesy’s ginger locks hanging in messy strands over his eyes. The car was doing a steady 90 miles per hour, the wind rattling through infinitesimal cracks in the windows. For a moment, Gray panted, Jonesy’s throat raw from his screaming as he took several deep calming breaths. Anger - while it never failed to bring him savage hateful pleasure in the heat of the moment - often left him feeling filthy and hollow. The irony of him succumbing to his own emotions was not lost on him as he shot his unwelcome passenger a baleful glance.

Her expression was unreadable. Though she’d been initially put off by his tirade, she was more than capable of reading between the lines. It was a moment before she spoke again, her eyes imploring his own, “Life’s been hard for you ever since you landed on earth, hasn’t it? Disconnected from your own kind. Forced to adapt. I can’t even imagine the severity of the culture shock you received.”

Mr. Gray’s eyes softened, his foot letting up on the gas as he begrudgingly nodded. He was aware that the latter was pitying him, but he was loathe to admit that he enjoyed it.

She pressed on, “However...you putting my race down isn’t warranted...and I think you know that deep down. After all, we’re the ones that managed to stop you guys in your tracks. We won. Not through some random stroke of sheer luck...but through strength, coordination, and…” She paused, licking her lips nervously. “ Infiltration. Not literally like you guys did, but figuratively. At some point, you must have stopped blindly mirroring how we thought, felt, and acted to fit in. No, you started to feel it for yourself, and you liked it. You like feeling emotions, you like losing yourself in the moment, you crave stimulation. That’s why you drink from your host’s well of emotional juices all the time. That’s why you pluck sayings from your host’s wordbank. You enjoy being human, Gray, just admit to it.”

Mr. Gray’s expression was pained, the usurper torn between wrath and shame. He stuttered uselessly for a moment, before resorting to staring at the road once more. His words were almost inaudible, his voice was such a low rasp. “Alright, you got me. I don’t just enjoy it. I love it. Fuck me dead, do I love it.”

She blinked, not exactly expecting him to be honest so quickly. “Wow...well, yeah, I figured as much-”

His fingers drummed anxiously on the steering wheel as he bit his lip, talking right over her as he shook his head, “Humanity is just so fucking addictive. The more of your ways that I’m exposed to, the more I long to be just like you fuckers. I can abandon this body, you know. I can exit my host’s system and reform into my “grayboy” appearance, but I wouldn’t be human anymore. I would lose everything that I’ve become. Emotions, sensory awareness, higher thinking: all of it gone. I would revert back to how I was and that…that notion terrifies and infuriates me. I can never feel without a host. I can never think independently without a host. I’ll never be me without a host.”

Her expression furrowed. Ok, so Gray seemed to be in a really big pickle. Like, the biggest pickle she’d ever heard. She hummed with discontent as she rubbed their arm, “But like...are you sure? Have you ever tried, oh I don’t know… doing stuff without your host’s emotions, memories, etc.?”

Mr. Gray looked at her flatly, his voice just as deadpan. “Oh wow, such an innovative thought has never occurred to me. How long did that idea take you? Six seconds? Eight?”

She narrowed their eyes at him, crossing her arms, “Yeesh, no need to be so snappy about it. But like, seriously? Have you ever actually tried it?”

His eyebrow raised pointedly, “No. Because that’s impossible. It would be impossible for me to think now that my species has been “silenced” by your soldiers.”

“That may be so...but things are different now. You are different now. You’re the only one left for a million light years around, right? So what if the information lies with you now? You’ve been adding to the “collective consciousness” with all the things you’ve learned on earth, right? Who’s to say that you can’t use that?”

Mr. Gray blinked, daring to feel hope for a fleeting moment before his expression returned to discontentment. “I...I guess I could give that a try...but, that...that would still be my host’s information, wouldn’t it? Plus, I doubt I’d retain Jonesy’s emotions. Your human emotions stem from a tiny gland nestled deep in your human brain. While I might remember how to talk like your kind and how Jonesy’s emotions previously impacted me, I’d be physically incapable of actually feeling them for myself. I’d just be “blindly mirroring” information as you so put it.”

She narrowed their eyes, resting her head in her hand as she blew air through her cheeks. “Hmmm, that does sound pretty tricky… Ok, we’ve reached a stumbling block, there. But, at least you have the ability to think for yourself! Seriously, try it. C’mon, I’ll start a basic conversation on something random. And you pitch in based on the knowledge that you yourself have at your disposal. No Jonesy files.”

Mr. Gray looked a bit off put, rolling his eyes from habit before petulantly sighing. “I highly doubt that you’ll be satisfied with the results, but if it means you’ll stop bothering me, then sure.”

She bid him a cheshire grin, “Sounds like a plan to me. Ok. So look at this weather we’re having? Fucking awful, am I right?”

Mr. Gray hummed, looking up and noticing the sky to be blue, the sun’s golden beams illuminating both himself and his passenger. Much to his chagrin, his mental self automatically navigated to the “weather” section in Jonesy’s mental storage, three-fingered hands hovering over the possible responses available. With some effort, he tore himself away from the files, forcing himself to draw conclusions about her statement. It was spring in the south - the sun was beaming gloriously over rolling fields of green - and he knew from experience that he loathed the cold with a passion. The frigid sting of dagger-like snowflakes piercing his face as he floundered about in the slush of Maine’s winter vividly played in his mind’s eye. So no, no he didn’t agree with her statement about the weather being awful. How to express it, however? Again, Gray floundered, trying to form cohesive sentences without drawing upon Jonesy’s word banks.

His passenger looked on eagerly, practically watching the gears turn in Mr. Gray’s head as he struggled. It took Mr. Gray a good minute - Jonesy’s face screwed up with concentration - before he responded.

“No. The weather is good. There is no snow.”

Ok...admittedly that was a kindergarten level simple sentence, but it was also a huge step in the right direction! For a being that merely repeated what they heard without fully understanding the context, this was immense. Gray not only understood that she was incorrect, but had also backed up his claims with evidence from a previous experience. He’d connected the past and present without any outside help.

She surprised him, loudly cheering and applauding, “That’s the ticket! You’re on the right track! Oh, I’m so proud of you~!”

Mr. Gray flushed - one hand touching his lips as he thoughtlessly copied Jonesy’s own nervous mannerisms - before he implored them with wide eyes. “Y-you really thought that was good? That was so...so-”

“YOU! That was so YOU, Gray! That was all YOU. There’s hope for you, yet! Sure, it was simple, but it was also completely from you! If you keep trying like that, soon you’ll develop your own way of talking. Hell, maybe even acting! I’m pretty sure your host isn’t as irritable as you.”

Mr. Gray snorted, “Probably because he hasn’t had to put up with you. Lucky for him, he’s been sleeping throughout this entire drive.”  

She snorted, rolling her eyes as she placed a hand on his shoulder. Mr. Gray’s eyes followed her hand briefly. She was an awfully touchy one, he noticed. However, he was in too good of a mood to dissuade her. Instead, he chose to revel in the feeling of victory. Had you asked him a month ago, he would not have been able to manage what he’d just done. The realization that he’d actually made progress...was...well, it was reassuring.

He was pulled from his mullings as she started massaging him again, moaning softly despite himself as she repeatedly nailed the tender knot in his tense shoulders. She really was quite adept at massages, he’d come to realize. He felt his muscles relax beneath her touch as he drove on. Ok, so maybe he could put up with her for a bit longer than he was letting on.