Bonus Post: Damselfly

Something I’ve been thinking of uploading for a while! I don’t write prose often (enough), but a couple of weeks ago I was set the challenge of writing a short piece of insect transformation for a formative assignment on my Science Fiction: New Worlds module. (I know – I’m ridiculously lucky in my degree options!) I took the instructions liberally and this was the result.

Damn Self Lie

So it begins.

I admit that upon entering the consciousness of the selected creature, a recently hatched and seemingly perfect male Ischnura heterosticta (that is, the common damselfly), I had not expected to experience a high degree of disorientation. The process I have undergone is not by any means a true transformation – my own, blessedly human body is asleep in its harness, its regulatory functions preserved by the instinctive and mechanical instructions of my still functioning cerebral cortex. Instead, my consciousness is inhabiting the fly’s nervous system, via a temporary electronic transference.

My choice of the damselfly has somewhat baffled my colleagues, but it is a perfectly rational one. I might have transferred myself into a dog, or even an ape, but this seemed like a petty challenge to me. The brain of an ape is of a similar size and only slightly reduced capacity to that of a human; to mimic human consciousness within an ape, who even on their own is able to learn to communicate and solve simple puzzles, would not only be simple but might present problems in distinguishing the two consciousness’s. Suppose that, on waking in the ape, I would be able to use a computer – how would I be able to tell that my functioning intelligence was entirely a product of my own transmuted brain, and not enhanced or supported by the natural intelligence of the ape? No, instead I have selected a creature who seems to me the most alien, most devoid of humanoid intelligence. I admit that I am no entomologist – I have little knowledge of the behaviour of insects – but I have always thought them quite simple creatures, and therefore perfect for my task – should I be able to rewrite the human psyche onto the body of such a creature, I should be able to tell if it has been perfectly replicated without distraction by the desires and instincts of a higher creature, such as a mammal. As to it being a damselfly, I will admit that it was a purely whimsical choice. I have always thought them contentedly stupid creatures, but excessively beautiful. It pleases me that if I should done the garb of another order of creation for a few hours, it might be one whose movements are those of the slenderest ballet dancer, artful and aimless.

But I digress. I was about to describe the moment of my awaking in this new and unfamiliar body. For some moments after I had attached the last electrode and set the program to work, I seemed to be lightly asleep, and my consciousness drifted into hazy worries about the lock on the laboratory door. In the next moment, I became intensely aware of my body. It reminded me the most of waking from dream-sleep, when the dreamer is aware of their presence in the room and the heat of their awakening limbs, but as yet unable to move. I felt the strangeness of my new body extending around me, but as yet was unable to cognate its parts – the wings held above the body in rest, the bulky thorax and extended abdomen, the cage of the pronotum in which my now minute heart beat haemolymph at a pace so fast I could barely make out – but no, I could. As I woke my senses had slowly recovered, and seemed now attuned to my environment, and I realised that I could hear each individual beat, although the rapid pace had been too fast for me to distinguish before. Indeed, the world around me seemed slow: I had positioned a little clock beside the vivarium so I might keep track of the length of the experiment, and it showed barely a minute had passed since commencement. To business, then.

Before starting out, you must understand, I had carefully planned how I might spend my brief time in hexapodic form. I had planned a series of experiments for myself, designed to allow me to test my intelligence against my insect form. Among them was a maze, whose route I had memorised, to test my powers of recollection; a series of toothpicks with which I was to attempt to form patterns, and a few other small puzzles I had meticulously crafted out of tiny fragments of rubber and wood, hoping desperately that my calculations as to the creature’s weight/strength balance would be correct. However, as I began to take in my surroundings these considerations slipped from my mind (or perhaps I should say, the insect mind which I was inhabiting). I had instinctively tried to stand, as a human might on waking in a strange space, but my brain had not corresponded to my new body – it had not translated my human desires into insect mechanics. Instead, my wings flapped desperately, thrusting my light body with impressive strength at the glass walls of the tank. I hit it and fell to the floor dazed. It seemed that I would struggle to accomplish my tasks if I continued to imagine instructing my human body – I must let the human mechanics fall away, instead of trying to read them onto the damselfly. It made sense to me, even as I lay sort and irritated: there is no logical reason why the body of a fly should correspond to a humans. I could not think of insects as altered humanity. To function in this body I must learn to think as the damselfly. With irritation, I relaxed, and my lithe body moved – the limbs darted forwards and I returned to the place I had started. It was a beautiful motion; my abdomen lifted and balanced my heavy body against the ground. I was almost startled enough to fly again, but I instructed myself to keep calm and allowed my wings to close above me.

Having established some rudimentary control of my body, it now seemed to me fruitless to waste my time on my preset tasks. The rubber smelt strange and unappealing – I registered and processed this thought with a little surprise – but there was another smell emanating from the far end of the vivarium, far more pleasant and interesting. I flew over to explore, and discovered that on the other side of a cloth partition I could distinguish the thin blue streaks of other damselflies. Surely I would use my time far better to interact with these creatures? In observing our differences – but then she saw me. She was new hatched too, cornflower blue, ladylike, and as she flitted up to the cloth and then back into the cage I cursed myself for not allowing a communication hole between sections. I should speak to her – no, speak was not the right word. Indeed, I do not believe that any of the thoughts that presented themselves to my mind in that time came in words. Instead, a bright, unfamiliar understanding came to me – of how to dance so that she might ignore my brood brothers – but I quelled it in horror. These were not my thoughts. If some insect consciousness remained, I must repress it, although it would make an interesting addition to my study. The overwhelming primal instincts of the lower orders. An argument to our superiority, certainly: could an insect have turned its back on that glittering nymph and returned to scientific tasks of mazes and matchsticks? I could not laugh for lack of a human mouth but the laughter rose up in my mind as I squashed the insect in my brain and returned to human consciousness, fully Professor Dorian.

At that moment, the damselfly consciousness who I had unwittingly transferred into my human body broke free of its restraints and stumbled blindly into the vivarium, tugging free the electrodes which formed its only connection to the machine. The insect was awake[1]. More I could say, but the life of the damselfly[2] is mercifully short.

[1] Yes, this is my only ‘reflection on one of the texts studied in this block’. Sorry.

[2] And indeed, the formative assessment.