Floating in the viscous, plasmatic, dark matter—The Soup is what I’ve always called it—shouldn’t feel as uncomfortable as it does. It’s a fluffy weightlessness made wholly unsatisfying by the fact that, despite none of us having nerve endings, it’s cold and loud.
I shouldn’t be cold, because we don’t have a physical system to perceive the presence or absence of heat. Also, speed generates heat and The Soup rattles with vibrations. Not happy hippie vibrations: agitated wasp and bee vibrations. All of that friction should keep us warm, but I always feel cold, like in November when you think you’re fine without a jacket only to have your bones wracked by a shiver like a macabre windchime in a nor’easter.
Now that I think about it, cold and bee-ish describes the sound, too. If a thousand bees were complaining about how cold they were, that would be the noise. Or radio static to the tune of “But Mooooooooom.”
The Soup sucks.
Even that is a madding process. We’re already pressed against each other in a fluid state. Imagine an overcrowded subway car, except the butt pressed against yours is really flowing and dripping across your butt like liquid sandpaper, and vice versa. When bodies come available, that congestion turns into a rush for the exits as countless consciousnesses jostle for a finite number of physical vessels. We all scream forward, fighting to get past, around, through, or over whatever is in front of us in the hopes of getting the one we want.
Naturally, humans are a popular choice, but I have mixed feelings about them because of their… well… mixed feelings. I’m sure you know what I mean; the highs are high and the lows are low.
When you’re a human and your best friend dies, it’s devastating. When you’re an iguana and that happens, it doesn’t really phase you because that hawk had been eyeballing the two of you all afternoon. On the other hand, when you manage to not bungle an exhilarating physical maneuver as a human, you’re consumed with elation. Drop from the sky safely onto the ground, something birds do literally every hour: adrenaline rush. Physically overpower your peers with strength or speed, something that every other species does to earn the right to eat, see the next day, or ejaculate: earn a trophy (though the quality of trophies that humans disseminate spans a broad range).
Some humans have a saying, “Mind over matter,” of which they don’t fully comprehend the truth. Evolutionarily, they have chosen mind over matter. They have sacrificed physical prowess for mental abilities. They, then, have to compensate for their diminished physical prowess with mental ability, and pretend like they have accomplished something noteworthy, as though everything from bugs to gorillas doesn’t perform similar feats as a matter of course.
Once, before I ever had a human, I got shunted into an ant. Ant bodies are not popular destinations, and that bias from The Soup colored my feelings at the beginning. Slowly that fell away as the charm of being an ant became undeniable.
I was really enjoying it. The sense of purpose and community, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment, were fulfilling. When you’re an ant, there is no hemming and hawing about how to spend the day; your to-do list is in your DNA. And everything you do leads to tangible achievement. You can see the food you collected or the tunnel you dug. There are no emotions in your way, leaving you to wonder if you’re better at processing them than you were last year. If you end up in a fire ant body, you aren’t even alive long enough to grow as an ant.
And I went back to that well a few times. Plus, it’s nice to get your first choice, even if it means selecting an unpopular first choice. I had a run where I went ant five times in a row.
After that stretch, I went for a human and actually got it—my first time as a human. My perception was all out of whack. I had gotten used to picking up 40 times my body weight, and didn’t realize how weak young humans are.
No one ever talks about how vulnerable they are in the first few years. I understand why. Being a baby is not exciting, and by the time you get out of the human body, you barely remember that time because it was decades ago.
When I got back to The Soup after my first run as human, I went on about all of the chaos I’d sown, not beginning life as an unsturdy potato.
So, I was laying there with my ant mindset thinking, “I’m gonna lift up that dresser,” and rolled off a changing table. Shattered my nose and arm. I ended up being left-handed and unable to breathe out of one side of the nose. Nothing too bad, but it stuck with me and I promised myself my next body would be mobile upon birth.
I grew up and started to get a sense of what it meant to be human. But after that first go, it took me a while to race for a human body again.
Once, while trying to be clever, I made a break for a type of shark that was almost extinct, thinking the competition would be slim. I slipped around the others while they went for safer apex predators.
The volume of the static increased as I concentrated on the finish, permeating through anyone zipping in front of me. When a body becomes occupied, it blips away and another replaces it instantly, if another is available. But in the final reach for the shark body, I was edged off-course as some other entity got there first. I had no time to change course.
I wound up in some blob of a fish at the bottom of the ocean. The cold, dark pressure confused me. The only way I knew I was out of The Soup was the quiet. I couldn’t handle it, just floating and waiting for an ambush. After a month I let an eel catch me.
When you’re kicked back into The Soup, the discomfort hits like a wall. There is no gradually becoming annoyed. Right away it feels like you’ve been there forever and you have to get out.
In the next rush for bodies, I just took off trying to get to the front, figuring I’d worry later about what the creature was. I tried to keep up with the wave of consciousnesses as a strange body flashed into the cloud in front of us. I didn’t recognize it and I could tell none of the others did either. We parted like a sea to avoid this unknown existence. I couldn’t break through the pressure. I thinned myself out, then shrunk myself and ricocheted like a BB, but I caromed into the strange body.
It was still dark and floaty. Maybe the swarm had shoved me past the bodies. That thought died quickly when the silence asserted itself. Back to the bottom of the ocean.
Except it wasn’t cold. Everything felt neutral. I tried moving to get a sense of the body, and even now I don’t know how to describe it. I felt immense. I moved, because that’s what I wanted to happen, but I still felt stationary. I tried to find my parents. If this body was mammalian, they should be there. Or the other offspring would be there if I’d hatched. There wasn’t anything, just a different, less familiar void.
Even at the ocean floor some movement will catch the few light particles that fought into the depths or something bioluminescent will reveal itself. There should be light I thought. And then there was, brilliant and blinding. Still, I saw nothing. The light dimmed to a light gray. There should be something. And then there was. Land rose from the gray light like a submarine surfacing. I thought that if there was land, then the gray above must be sky, which is when it darkened to blue except for a dozen tufts of white clouds that formed.
Then I wondered if there was water in this place or was it a desert. Nothing happened. I sat and waited for an instinct to kick in. If you’re a bird (which was my best guess at the moment, since I seemed to be up in the air) eventually your senses will direct you to food or water. If you’re something that doesn’t need a lot of water, the body will tell you to do something else. I kept waiting for that to happen. It didn’t. I can’t tell how much time passed before I thought there should be water, and from over the horizon came a river racing across the land before settling below me.
I waited again, unsure how everything escaped my notice until I wondered about it. I haven’t moved since then. I planned on counting the days, but there haven’t been any. There should be nighttime eventually. I wonder what my predators are. Every body has predators.
Now the sky is dimming. Nighttime is finally arriving.