I've never had to crash-land before, but here we are.
The ship's engine started leaking coolant due to a micro-debris impact, and even with the air filtration system in my suit I had to get out of there as quickly as possible. Getting out while still in space wasn't a good idea, so I hurried towards the closest planet with a breathable atmosphere and landed as quickly as I could.
I've patched the hole now, and the system diagnostics are running. I was glad to find out landing here turned out to be a good call, since I never would have been able to fix it if I'd still been in the ship. The landing itself is more a crash-landing in name than in effect, since it was an unwanted landing but not a crash. The remaining damage is merely superficial and getting the ship upright wouldn't be difficult once the diagnostics were done.
So, time to go on a bit of an adventure, I thought to myself. Surprisingly, though an uncharted world, the best description I could give is earth-y. The grass was brown, and not because it's dying, even the little sprouts are. Other than different-looking plants, though, there's nothing here I haven't had to rationalize on previous landings in slightly different forms.
When I climbed a small hill, I noticed a valley, with what I assumed and hoped was water. I made my way over there and tested it with my environmental scanner. Water. Now that's good luck. While my ship can filter water out of waste and condensation in the air, the quality does become worse over time. Stale, most of all. Some fresh water (after heavy filtration) would do me wonders over the remainder of my trip.
I used my water bag to scoop a gallon or so up and noticed something moving to the sideof me.
A small, furry animal with big, black eyes looked up at me. It cocked its head to the side and just kept looking. He looked harmless. Cute, even.
"Hello there, fella," I said, offering him a handful of water.
It looked at the water, back at me, then turned and ran.
"Welcome, humans," a voice boomed painfully loud. Not painful to my ears, though, but to my head in its entirety. That loud.
I looked around and saw nobody who could have possibly been that loud. Especially without hearing it? That part was weird.
"It is good to see humans again," the voice suddenly said.
"Who are you?" I asked through clenched jaws.
"We are the life."
Suddenly I noticed many more furry animals were approaching, all the while staring up at me with their big eyes. Their heads were all cocked the exact same way.
"We see you. You offered water. You are good humans."
As the voice spoke, slowly, the furry little things just sort of wobbled their heads in unison.
"You know humans?"
"Not this one, other one. You came before, we learned your language through them."
"You are not the first."
"Hmm. Okay, well, that explains the English, but why do you refer to me as 'humans'? I'm just one human."
"I apologize, the other one explained this too but in our excitement we forgot."
The animals parted into two groups and from the distance, a bigger animal came out of the bushes and walked towards us. It walked in between the two groups of smaller animals and stopped in front of me.
It looked like a bigger, far less cute version of the smaller ones. It looked, to me at least, like a cross between a wild boar, a mouse and a monkey. I don't know how to explain it any better. It looked properly odd. The eyes were different, though. Not black, but white with pupils. It looked straight at me. Something in its look made me feel strangely comfortable. Like I could trust them.
"We are the life. We are interconnected. You are singular."
I never knew that could ever sound so sad, but after almost half a year alone in that small space ship, I really did feel singular. Lonely, really, but singular would work as a description.
"How exactly are you interconnected?"
"We are I. I am us. They are me, and I am them. I am the nexus of our interconnectedness. We are not connected socially like you are, with rules and agreements and the breaking of rules and disagreements. Our mind is one. Our bodies are separate but we feel them as one."
Holy shit, I thought to myself, this might be an actual hive-mind! We've found pseudo-hive-minds before, where there was a melding of minds of multiple entities into one, but there was always a leader. There was always one mind controlling or subduing the others to a certain degree.
"So you're the leader?" I asked. Might as well be direct.
"No, 'I' am not. This body is different but the mind is equal. The body is, however, stronger, longer-lived and has a bigger capacity to relay neural signals over a larger distance. It is the nexus."
"So you guys are a networked species?"
"We are. Without the nexus we are slower, less intelligent and we need methods of communication that have to travel through multiple of us. This state lies between you humans and us as we are now."
A hive-mind. An actual hive-mind. This is the discovery of the milennium, and the only reason I found it was because my ship was made with a very strict budget in mind.
"I can't wait what the scientists back home are going to do when they hear about you guys. They'll go mental."
"Hey, why did I never hear about you guys? What happened to the other human you mentioned?"
"We asked him not to leave."
"What do you mean?"
"If he left, he would have exposed us. We saw in his mind what humans do for their science. We did not want this for us."
"And did he stay?"
I looked around. I saw no proof of human settlement, not a cabin or shack, nothing. I realized he might be miles away, but still wanted to know where he actually was. Talking to him might provide more information about this planet, and a human perspective would be even more helpful. Especially from someone who'd chosen to stay.
"Where is he? I'd like to talk to him."
"He is us, and we are him."
My throat tightened. I looked in its eyes and realized. The reason its eyes were so comforting before was because they were human eyes.
"Did you... Is he...?"
"He is the nexus."
A chill ran down my spine.
"You used his brain to upgrade your... Network?"
"Yes. It has made us better."
I took a small step back, "Was he willing?"
"He is willing now."
I took another step back. The creatures started lowly moving towards me.
"I, err, I think I should go," I mumbled as I started slowly walking backwards.
"We can see what you think. You endanger us."
All of them took a few steps forward quickly.
"We want another nexus."
They took another couple of steps forward.
"Join the life."
I turned and ran as quickly as I could. They were fast too, but I was much taller and could jump over obstacles they had to move around.
I managed to get to my ship in time to worm my way into the cockpit and lock it tight. Diagnostics were good. As the animals streamed over the front window, clawing at it to try and get in, I flipped the start engine switch and sat back.
When I took off, I must've killed half of them. I was surprisingly okay with that.
I took pictures from way up high and documented everything. I made a note of another human landing here and disappearing. Perhaps it was possible to find out who it was. When I finally made my way to the nearest space station, I worked for a few weeks on a detailed report, all the while hitting up contacts to find the best agencies. research institutions and media outlets to send this to.
I wanted to make sure we'd send a scientific party there. Prepared to deal with the life.
And to definitely do what humans do for science.
Author's note: This is version 2, rewritten March 22nd, 2017. I rewrote it because it's one of my favorite stories of NaNoPrep '16 and it was very rough around the edges. Now it's not!