Sitting on a comfortable cushioned seat in the ready room Benjamin yearned for the days in the recent past when this room was his office. But that would not happen again. Maybe in the last months leading up to the arrival at RV-p296.

If they would let them land.

Once word was out that they had taken linkers on bord, the entire colony might be preparing to deny them landing.

And he couldn’t blame them.

This is a feast for Egger. I can see him barging through that door already, yelling. His head dark red, the veins on his neck standing out.

With a sigh Benjamin closed his eyes, but still got up.

“Csilla?” He entered the command centre. His first officer approached him. “Sir.”

“I want you to keep communication lines to RV-p296 closed for the time being.” With a displeased expression she looked to the communication officer’s station. “It’s too late sir.”

Cussing Benjamin lowered his head. “We need a plan, sir.”

He knew that. Slowly he dragged his feet to the door. “Get me an appointment with the governors. Face to face, no video conferences. Be there as well.”

Before he realised it, Benjamin’s pace brought him to the detention center, to the isolated cells with the twenty something linkers that had been brought aboard.

Out of instinct he sought out the first linker he ever met, the Charles woman. “Greetings again, Admiral.”

He returned the greeting, looking her in the eyes. “What does it feel like, what you are feeling? Why have the others of your kind isolated you and sent you to us?”

Genuinely thinking for a moment she blinked a few times. “A longing for solitude. A curiosity how individualism feels like. The collective mind feared that this curiosity might disintegrate it, thus it severed all ties to affected minds. A few of us were isolated, the experience was mostly horrifying, the collective mind drew strength from that, but there was a nagging doubt. We are the embodiment of that doubt.” She feigned a smile, but Ben could see that she was terrified.

“How does the experience feel now? The program coursing through the networks of this ship is disrupting your ability to link with the others.” He nodded in the direction of the other cells. Some of the inhabitants were sitting in a fetal position in a corner, next to them, in the next over cell another, in the same position. Almost as if they could link, but Benjamin saw them holding hands, trying to feel that they aren’t alone.

“We are,” she paused, her eyelids fluttered. “I…I am, alone. Terrified. There is only one source of thought, mine own.” She took a few deep breaths. “Imagine, being surrounded by friends and family, all your life, feeling all the love and kindness that brings with it, and suddenly youre marooned. No friends, no family. Only strangers who never felt that level of intimacy, and can not provide you with a worthy substitute.”

“In essence, you’re addicted, as well as you are discomforted.”

“Yes and no.” She inched closer to the bars separating her from the Admiral. “We feel incomplete. Phantom limb like. All our lives we have been part of the collective mind. Now we are not.”

Nodding Ben began to understand. “For some plants it is possible to cut off a branch and make it develop roots on its own, although they’re not part of the tree anymore. I hope the same can be said about you.”

“Our…my thoughts exactly. Our…my father, brought knowledge of that into the collective mind from his father’s experiences, as well as genuine biology experts.” Her feigned smile shrank with each time she had to correct herself. “Just understand that integrating you into our society will not be easy. For any of us. There is a lot of mistrust and surely hostility against you.” The fact that your implants cannot be removed isn’t working in your favor either.

Donning a more genuine smile than before the young woman nodded. “Surely we can contribute to your society in a meaningful way. We retain knowledge of our common consciousness. We still actively think, and work on problems when we sleep, unlike you.” She took a step back as Benjamins glasses vibrated, spooked by the unusual sound.

Quickly he answered the call from Csilla, telling him that the meeting with the governors was set for an hour from then.

“There is one vital thing we must do before you can begin the long journey to becoming part of our society.” He smiled a painful smile. “You must have names.”