"Eyes barely open, I silenced my alarm. Work in two hours, but I needed at least thirty more hours of sleep. You know how that feels, but for me it was literal." Thorn continued over the sounds of agreement. "So I dragged myself out of bed, not thinking how literal that phrase had become either. Down the stairs and into the living room, and my dad screamed. He was looking up at me from behind the kitchen counter peninsula. That's when I knew something was different."
"Really?" asked Evan Bernstein. "You didn't feel anything? I mean, you're new, what would you call that, tail, body, …"
Bob Novella interjected, "I think any herpetologist would insist on 'tail-body,' as one word, maybe hyphenated, maybe not."
Evan continued, "OK, tail-body. It's just so long, like, sixty feet? That would be about 20 meters long, for international listeners. With it that long, you must have still been upstairs, maybe even still in bed. Didn't that register as strange?"
"Actually," Dr. Steven Novella spoke over Thorn's reply. "That makes sense neurologically. From my observation, Thorn's brain is properly mapped to this new physiology. I've even witnessed unconscious fidgeting and other ticks in the extra pairs of arms and the tailbody. I wouldn't expect any mental alarms to be raised when the brain thinks everything is working right. You have to remember how little attention we actually pay to most of what our bodies do. Then add on the compromised mental state of waking up, tired or not, and you're going to miss even otherwise obvious signs like longer fingers or slithering instead of walking."
Cara Santa Maria spoke up. "What I really want to know, and maybe now is a good time to describe it for our listeners, why this design? Both for your new body and your ship?"
"First on that," Evan jumped in, "I'd like to just say how stoked I am at this. When a portal opened in my living room to the bridge of the USS Voyager I thought I was dreaming, but I've never imagined anything like the alien that greeted me. Bob keeps saying he doesn't think any of this is happening, but I don't know, I think I am sorta. We're in space!"
Steven added, "I too am only extending provisional assent to the reality of this experience, as I really do with everything. Just like the time we visited the CIA I am moving forward with what I see and am told, but not for a moment do I assume that any of this is the truth. I'd like to think we extended the same courtesy to the Warren's when they invited us to their haunted museum."
"Their basement," Even and Bob said together.
Steven continued, "But we really should get back to Cara's question. Cara, would you mind describing our host, since today that is clearly not me."
"Of course. Thorn here appears to be a six-armed feline person with a furry snake body, er, tailbody. Main colors are lilac and/or lavender with black tiger stripes, mostly green hair with some gold spike ridges. The general aesthetic is a monstrous feminine with these big muscular clawhands and six breasts in descending sizes down the chest. This definitely qualifies as 'furry' which we've spoken about in previous episodes. Before we hear from Thorn about why they look this way, Steve, how would you rate their appearance if it were a sci-fi movie review?"
"The design is clearly derivative of terrestrial creatures and mythology, it's a chimera in its own way. A white tiger gorgon with a touch of Hinduism. Keeping in mind that I'm saving a 10 for an alien that is something truly unearthly, I'd give this an 8.7. But I had a couple of minutes to speak with Thorn before gathering the rest of you for recording. They have several bodies, one of which is the moon-sized shapeshifting vessel we are on, which I would rate as 9.7."
Cara picked up, "Interesting. That was my next point, this ship, while most of what we can see looks like the bridge of Voyager, as Evan pointed out, the corner we are in shifted to exactly replicate your recording studio, from your memories?."
"Yes, even down to the dings and dents on the tables."
Cara nodded. "So, Thorn, why this body, why this ship? And why did you want us to be your debut to the world?"
Thorn inhaled deeply with lung sacs running along the length of eir tailbody. "Well, you are right, I am a furry. This ship, called the Ark of the Lasting Peace, and this body are two of my main fursonas, the avatars we use in the furry fandom. I have several other bodies aboard ship as well. Most of those a feline hermaphrodites as well."
"As to why the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe? I've been listening to you rogues for years. I listened to your book and even loaned out a hardcopy of it to a friend. I came to love and trust you all. There was even a point where, five years late, I grieved with you over losing Perry DeAngelis, I even wrote about it on your forums."
Steven noted, "Yes, we hear from many listeners who feel the same. In many ways, he was why we even have a podcast at all."
Thorn resumed, "But, the real reason why; given neurological humility, I have to admit that I could be imagining all of this, my greatest wish come true. I can now do almost anything I want. I'm an orbital nation unto myself. I can revolutionize travel and shipping using my portal tech, help establish colonies on other worlds. Heck, I'm pretty sure I could give most people on Earth any body they desire. But only if I'm not just dreaming. And you guys are the ones I trust most to figure out what's going on and be honest about it. You have the skeptical tools to pierce any of my cognitive dissonance and other biases. And those tools have been amazingly helpful."
"What?" Bob asked. "Is this the part where you tell us we are living in a simulation? That we've run our course and now it's time to delete us?"
"No. It's just that any brain aboard this ship becomes a temporary part of my systems. So I've been running some processes through your brains to come to conclusions I wouldn't have been able to reach on my own. You see, I have tons of brains of my own now, but they all think as me. Your mental frameworks have convinced me that this is real. Your perspectives have also helped me decide what I need to do."
"And that is?"
"Take over the world and enslave humanity! Just kidding. I'm here to protect and help my fellow beings. I'm reaching out to all nations and many specific organizations to optimize the aid I can provide with my technology and my fleet of smaller ships. The Ark is designed to harvest resources from planetoids and manufacture anything I need.
"But more importantly, you also helped me realize that using people's brains without their consent is a violation of their personal autonomy, and as a Satanist that is against my religion. I apologize, it was unforeseen. Moving forward potential visitors will be informed that neural integration is automatic and they should not come aboard me unless they are OK with that. I'll be setting up a base on Mars where visitors won't be integrated at all. Others will be established across the solar system once I've spoken with the astrophysics community about how to proceed."
The rogues were all stunned at this revolution.
As portals formed on the bridge Cara was the first to speak up. "Yes, that is a violation, more extensive than I suspected even. Glad we could help you come up with a protocol for handling that in the future. I understand that it's not what you intended to make us feel, but if you are rooting around in my mind then I'm sure you understand why I'll be leaving now." She stood to return to her California apartment.
Thorn corrected, "I actually don't know what's in your mind, I can just run processes through your mental framework, which, I guess, can reveal things in your mind, like when I had Steven's mind shape the equipment he was comfortable with for recording. Sorry, that probably doesn't help. All these new brains are taking some getting used to."
Realizing they would all need some time to process this, Steven wrapped up the show. "All right, well, thank you, Thorn, for letting us join you this week on your ship. I look forward to a more extensive tour another time. Thank you, rogues, for joining me. And until next week this is your Skeptics Guide to the Universe."