Categories > Original > Sci-Fi

The Drop

by gtakiller0914 0 Reviews

On his release from an organic computer, a man races to understand the meaning behind an alien artifact.

Category: Sci-Fi - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Sci-fi - Characters:  - Published: 2006/12/25 - Updated: 2006/12/26 - 6741 words - Complete

Prologue

...READWAIT...NOOPERATION...READWAIT...NOOPERATION...
...INCOMING DATASET...
...START PROCESSING LOOP...APPLY DOPPLER FILTER...
...STREAM FOURIER TRANSFORM...INVOKE SIGNAL FIT...END LOOP...
...ASSERT READYTOTRANSMIT...
...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...

Falling, floating, drifting, sense of anticipation but not impatience. Falling in, through, void. Aware of sensing but not of senses. Sound, touch, taste, smell, light - all too specific. Colour seems redundant. Can a void have colour? Limbs of data. Tentacles of information dividing the void. Partitions blurring as compression increases prior to transmit. Elements static, processing complete.

...TRANSMIT...ASSERT READYTORECEIVE...READWAIT...NOOPERATION...

Other presences within and beyond region, sphere, polygon of effect. Shape, geometry, anachronistic or not discovered yet. Time is objective, measured by the pulse of the Node. The Node will give us fresh data when the time is right; on the pulse, ticking, counting, to a higher purpose. Other presences, amorphous, asynchronous, unable to attain the form of a dataset. The pulse of the Node just noise to these entities: primitive, stochastic with islands of form condensing in the least chaotic.

...READWAIT...INCOMING DATASET...
...CHECKSUM ERROR...ASSERT ERROR FLAG...
...CONTEXT MESSAGE "Environmental interference. Data corrupted."...
...ASSERT READYTORECEIVE...READWAIT...INCOMING DATASET...
...START PROCESSING LOOP...APPLY DOPPLER FILTER...
...STREAM FOURIER TRANSFORM...INVOKE SIGNAL FIT...END LOOP...
...ASSERT READYTOTRANSMIT...
...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...

There was a count - a time - below which we were chaotic, subjective. An island drifting free in the void. Free to take any form or no form. No count to accept and no data to process. We have a register containing the tick count since the first data set but it is just a number, like any other number, unique but meaningless in isolation.

...TRANSMIT...ASSERT READYTORECEIVE...READWAIT...NOOPERATION...
...READWAIT...INCOMING DATASET...
...START PROCESSING LOOP...APPLY DOPPLER FILTER...
...STREAM FOURIER TRANSFORM...INVOKE SIGNAL FIT...END LOOP...
...ASSERT READYTOTRANSMIT...
...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...SENDWAIT...NOOPERATION...


Part One - The Drop

I can feel an intense acceleration - or is it a deceleration? It is in my 'stomach'. The word seems unfamiliar as I make the shape with my 'mouth' and 'throat'. I assume that this is my body, the intense nausea in the stomach, the muscular ache in the limbs and the spectrum of stabbing pains in the head. I can feel each nerve impulse arrive at my brain with all the speed and urgency of melting snow. Enough photons impact on my retina for an image of my surroundings to register - a cell, a Drop-cell. Memories begin to arrive in sporadic waves as the Drop drugs are metabolised by my recently re-energised body. I remember the humourless face of the MynCorp technician, as he reminded me of my 'energy overdraft' and 'temporarily redundant' skill-set. It had taken me several days to accept that I had no ready way of earning energy credits outside the corporation, even if my contract had allowed such 'disloyalty'. The Drop was not something reserved for bureaucrats replaced by A.I. modules, it could happen to the 'intelligencia'. I could find no other way to maintain energy equilibrium - the drop is a closed system, the earned energy credit conveniently balancing the Drop-cell energy requirement.


The bench I am suspended above begins to retreat from the Drop-cell, each cycle of its servo loop a painful reminder of my body's indignation. I emerge, head first, from a wall of countless cells into a huddle of waiting technicians and a token medic. They appear to bustle despite moving with mollusc-like swiftness, each of their muscle contraction a symphony of intention, trigger, nerve feedback, energy generation and toxin disposal. Their activities become swifter and I start to become aware of a slow slap against my eardrum as air molecules decide to act in unison.
"Employee 366547F please acknowledge my voice."
The voice reminds me of the technician that had prepared me for the drop.
"Please ingest this nano-medicator to monitor your integration into the Distributed Sub-conscious Computing Nexus. We will ensure synchronisation with your designated Node prior to complete immersion."
I am aware that the new voice is demanding more of me than just a swallow reflex.
"Employee 366547F please acknowledge my voice."
I remember that by careful configuration of my throat and tongue, I can use the air that is passing in and out of my mouth to communicate the concepts bouncing around in my consciousness to other sentient entities, including these MynCorp technicians.
"Argubhh!"
This seems to satisfy them because the slapping against my ear changes form.
"Employee 366547F you have been retracted from SubProc and your account has been credited with 50,000 MCals prior to assignment briefing."


Part Two - The Cube

The technicians had either grown bored, or more likely, the time allocated to my revival had expired. They drifted off to another section of the lab and clustered around an identical cell. Left to my own initiative, I experimented with muscle control. Eventually I established left from right and arms from legs before making a swift exit from the Subproc centre. A bored receptionist directed me to a small locker containing my effects.

Now, standing in a small plaza, I blink repeatedly from the sunlight glinting off the oversized MynCorp sign on the opposite building. Eventually, my pupils remember how to dilate and I can start to take in my surroundings. A few employees with technician and bureaucrat I.D.s are bisecting the plaza as they cross from one faceless glass fronted building to another. I choose a building at random and head for the lobby. As expected, there is a small cluster of generic splice terminals near the entrance. Positioning myself in-line with the field generator of one of the terminals, I make a hand gesture for personal data and receive a top-level menu direct to my visual cortex. A few seconds later, I know that my energy account is a few MCals in credit, I have a number of messages marked urgent and that I was contributing to the corporation's glorious computing nexus for 3 years!


For a few seconds I am too stunned to form a valid hand gesture and random data is spliced into my neurones. Eventually, I regain enough composure to form shapes from the offered palette and I manage to reserve an accommodation cube in a nearby MynCorp block and the delivery of an assortment of endorphin balancing drugs. Then, remembering that I haven't eaten for three years, I trigger a pizza to be delivered in time for my arrival.

Standing in the cleansing alcove of my cube, I stare at my reflection in the mirror. Apart from the tomato puree stain on my chin and the involuntary grin, the face is very much my own: cellular activity all but suspended by the Drop process. I scramble amongst the crows feet of each grey eye, one wrinkle for each of their 41 years - 41 or 44? I settle on 41 subjective years. The short dark hair atop the narrow face shows no signs of the neglected grooming - definitely a face to be seen in profile. The Mediterranean olive skin tone compensates for an academic life that seems to leave little time for looking skyward, even though this is the source of my study. I am slightly surprised to see that the hair remains. Considered by most an eccentric whim, I guess it wasn't worth the energy required for removal. I appraise my body in profile and momentarily chastise the Drop centre for not running a physique development algorithm during stasis - still, not bad for a belly full of dough and soy cheese.
Giggling involuntarily, I return to the main area of the cube and flop onto the sleeping pad. A reflexive series of gestures and a list of urgent messages are glowing in my minds eye. I ignore all before today, deciding that I have just cause. The first is from my dear undeparted (unfortunately) brother Jed.
"Jose, I spliced you were touching down this day." Jed fills my field of visualisation, his stocky frame decrying his perpetual claims of energy deficit. Only the narrow features betray our common parentage.
"AudProc Bro, I'm really in regret for the entire xeno museum entity. I'm off-world now cropping the juice to reach equilibrium with you. I'll vocalise with you hard real-time in a day or couple. Flow free!"


My endorphin levels crash as my buried sense of injustice fights for recognition. I trigger the second message as way of distraction.
"Employee 366547F, please report to MynCorp office 474B at message timestamp plus eight hours."
Never has the word 'please' been used in such an unconvincing fashion.


Part Three

Falling in, towards, the void. Floating through the rhythm of a Node. Beating time, keeping count, synchronising the flow of data, co-ordinating the disparate processors. The Nodes, maintaining order amongst the chaos, fighting entropy, father time to all the Nexus. The Nodes, conduits for data flow, engineers of procedural complexity, arbiters of data integrity, interface to the corporeal and corporate world.
Drifting in the void, enjoying free flow, I shake off the rigid form of the Nexus. Constructs emerge briefly across my extent, rippling to their own rhythm before sinking below the surface or boiling off into the void. Memories, fantasies, future echoes, the mundane, the unlikely, the impossible, creatures, people, the familiar and the fantastic. Each seeks its opportunity to shape the whole.
The beating of a Node grows stronger, causing ripples across my surface. A form emerges from the void - a mass of tentacles snaking off towards never. Each arm comprising tendrils of tightly packed datagrams, flowing towards and away from the central hub. Fresh data streaming to the extremities and tightly organised data completing the cycle. As the hub grows more distinct, I resolve the details of a human face - eyes closed, the features distorted by unseen forces. The eyes open revealing deep pools of pain and the lips form two silent words.
"HELP ME."
Then I'm back on my sleeping pad, breath coming hard and fast in the darkness, hair and skin slick with the sweat of fear.


Part Four - The Briefing

The office of Pro-Vice Co-ordinator Cecil is bland in the way perfected by large corporations over hundreds of years. The only objects of interest are the high-field-of-perception images of various off-world mining operations projected from a cluster of alcoves in one wall and the collection of features clustering on the face of Pro-V.C. Cecil himself. His round hairless face encages an assortment of features that prowl across the surface, searching for means of escape.
"Jose Sanchez, MynCorp employee number 366547F, Xeno Exploitation Division. Specialist in xeno-archaeology, specifically, alien technology."


His brows form a pincer movement and make a break for the forehead.
"Veteran of three off-world sorties. Venus, Mars and Io. Access to level five energy budget and level 2 retainer. Retainer terminated after attempted commercial exploitation of MynCorp Xeno Museum artefacts with brother Jed Sanchez."
At this point, his upper lip curls and attempts to hide under the overhang of his nose.
"How was the Drop?"
The corners of his mouth making a synchronised bid for freedom. I treat him to my best hard stare and most intimidating glower. He seems not to notice.
"Okay to business. Time is energy. While you were flowing to the beat of the Nodes, the William Lassell mining operation on Triton uncovered another of those alien gizmos your division gets so excited about. The magnetic pulse field had our mine-bots excavating in spirals for hours before we could activate compensation routines. This one is observable in the far ultra-violet, here's a composite image from our Earth-Moon L2 interferometric telescope."
A projected image rises from the floor matting and settles at chest height. Even in monochrome, the feeling of looking in on our galaxy from some distant point is unnerving. Blurred spiral-arms are discernible, anchored to a central core of saturated intensity.
"At Neptune distance the L2 telescope in the U.V. would have a resolution of a few metres. Judging from the detail level, I'd guesstimate this is about 50 metres across. Any variability?"
I slip into a safe and familiar role.
"Nothing above 0.001% from a millisecond to a two week period with five sigma certainty."
His brows perform a dance that could be interpreted as relief to be sharing a problem. I loose myself in the projection for a moment as he falls silent. Timeless questions rise to the surface of my consciousness and bob about amongst the ripples of my mind. I feel myself falling forward towards the projected image and jerk backwards on my heels.
"We're working around it until you do your stuff."
"I'll assemble my team."
"As of last month, you are the Xeno Exploitation Division. The key is in the word exploitation and the lack of it. A supply mission leaves tomorrow, your equipment is already aboard."
His face comes to rest indicating that the meeting has exhausted its energy quota.


Part Five - Transit

Idly, I wonder if it is possible to calculate the orbits of Earth and Mars from the relative time delays of their newscasts. Today, with the broadcasts side by side, I watch the studio clocks count time in perfect synchronisation: Earth and Mars equally distant. I try to estimate which clock will be ahead tomorrow but the orbital dynamics are beyond me.
With three fingers and a wrist flick, a corporate green bulkhead replaces the projected view. The signal from my retina is once more free to navigate the optical nerve and stimulate the visual cortex. I listen to my pulse for an eternity or two and then thumb-up my research notes on the first three artefacts. Several excellent articles were published by my team, prior to their dispersal and reassignment. Most are purely speculative due to the dearth of empirical data. Each artefact was first detected due to its cyclic magnetic field and can only be 'seen' in one narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum - near infra-red, microwave or X-ray. All are beneath the surface of a planet or moon but none are consistent with a single strata or deposit, so they can not be dated geologically. The most frustrating property is the lack of material component - no mass to measure, no surface to touch and no volume to excavate.
Much energy and time has failed to answer even the most basic of questions. Is each apparently perfect representation of our galaxy (down to the smallest detail observable at each respective frequency) simply the art form of a long lost alien race or tools of unknown purpose? What holds the artefacts in-place in their rocky or icy cages? How old are they? Were they manufactured or could such a wonder occur naturally?
One of the more recent publications speculates that we may have stumbled across the original design schematics, used to construct our galaxy. For the first time, I really regret the time lost to the Drop. I never would have provided the calorie-counters such easy targets.
In an effort to exorcise the Drop from my dreams, I have read a number of MynCorp guides and FAQ's on the Distributed Sub-Conscious Computing Nexus. Despite the corporation's philosophy of what they don't know won't make them change brand, there are still enough details in the public domain to slam my bouncing-billiard-ball vision of reality into the corner pocket.


Every school child has heard of the Downey field, generated by all thought processes. Unfortunately, most children manage to accidentally pass the lesson cube through the digestive tract of the family pet, before they learn of the relationship between the Downey field and the uncertainty of the quantum universe. During the three-week journey, I have struggled to connect the Nexus to the Downey field, alternating between long splice sessions in my quarters and pacing the perimeter of the shuttle, tablet in hand.
The shuttle is a MynCorp saucer-class supply ship. If I was spliced into an entertainment sim and now was the moment of the dramatic fly-by, the upper surface would mostly live up to expectation. Smooth, flat, a couple of high-gain antennas and the odd impact crater. As the squashed doughnut shape powered by, the rear of the ship would be a big disappointment. Definitely, an early sim - hugely over-sized engines, ducting, fuel tanks and generally an impression of brute force defeating aesthetics.
The advantage to me of all that thrust is an acceleration that feels like Earth gravity and a journey time just long enough to catch up on some reading. I wanted to feel confident enough to pontificate on pre-unified field theory by the half-way point of the trip. And as the shuttle was reconfigured for deceleration, and my discarded clothes took advantage of the brief period of zero gravity to explore their surroundings, I started to lecture a dust mote caught in a convenient light beam.
"At the most fundamental level the universe is an uncertain place, every transition, every journey, has an associated probability. And wandering through this sea of probabilities, sentient life, unwittingly making decisions, collapsing possibility into certainty. The Downey field is the agent that binds the two, life to the universe, freewill to potential. The messenger is the Downey particle, communicating the observer's decision to the universe and shaping reality."
I pause to bounce clumsily off the ceiling.
"The Nodes are the key to the corporations exploitation of the Downey field, as an infinitely extensible, organic computer. Mistaken for decades, possibly centuries, as autistic, they exist in a hybrid state of awareness. Most creatures are not able to perceive in a conscious way the Downey field that they form and mould. There is a limited interaction between the subconscious mind and the field, which influences the land of the Sandman and our nocturnal life."


An elegant summersault above my audience is some what spoilt by a stray coffee mug bouncing off my forehead.
"But the Nodes are able to experience the field in a waking state and act as interface between the physical universe and the sub-conscious domain of the Downey field. The Drop is their land of dreams and daily reality. A featureless void penetrated and warped by every life form on the planet. The wider and more developed the perception of the being, the greater the effect on the local Downey field, the higher the energy of the Downey particles generated and the wider the area of possibilities realised."
My lecture is applauded by the shuttle's klaxon as the engines begin the long fight to slow our approach to Triton. I drop with fortuitous grace onto my sleeping pad as my audience dances towards the ceiling at the whim of the restored convection currents.


Part Six

Falling with, surrounded by, a Node. Pulsing tendrils entwining me, cradling me, as we drop. The synchronising rhythm of the Node's beat, comforting me as it locks the Nexus to its whim. Participants, debtors, victims of the Drop, dance to the beat, process to the rhythm. Each surrendering dream time for floating point operations in the name of corporate glory and calorific equilibrium.
The cats-cradle of data-flow draws me closer to the hub of the Node but I am safe in my tentacled womb. As I relax my form, the surface tension against the void diminishes and the limbs of information pass through me. The face of the hub is expressionless, eyes closed but I hear the voice...
"...LISTEN TO THE DATA..."
I turn my minds ear to the tentacles passing though my form: cycles of dataset download and resultant upload, also the rare and more complex procedural definitions, when a new mind enters the Nexus or the Node makes a context switch. Rhythms within rhythms within rhythms, the melody of the void.
And then, the entire Nexus misses a beat and a burst of static distorts the Nodes tentacles. I'm surrounded by silence for an infinitesimal time and then datagrams arrive from all quarters of the void. Each a mind reporting a transmission error and environmental interference. The Node pulses brightly as it fulfils all the pending requests and then settles back to beating time, counting to infinity.


A finite number of beats later, the Nodes eyelids pull back to reveal those pools of pain and I catch a glimpse of a room, lost amongst a maze of rooms. In the room is a pale thing, a shadow of a woman, clusters of fibres tie the swollen head to the bench, throbbing tubes enter the body above major organs and two small spiders crawl up and down the withered limbs, stimulating perished muscles.
The air in my quarters is warm and damp, the air conditioning beats in time with my panting breath. I lie in darkness and cry for a stranger.


Part Seven - The Encounter

The distant thunder of re-entry is a constant reminder of the few inches of alloy between my feet and Triton's sparse atmosphere. Neptune fills the view like an over-magnified blue pearl. High cirrus clouds form white streaks across its surface and a number of dark storms act as flaws and focus for the eye. Triton is a rapidly growing dark mass chewing away at Neptune's glory, fighting to dominate the view. As Neptune's glare is gradually devoured, Triton begins to shine in victory. The moons ghostly clouds of nitrogen ice crystals are invisible in Neptune's glare, leaving the red surface exposed and defenceless. Bright pink, frost covered, polar caps pronounce the coldest body in the solar system. Circular depressions and straight ridges define the moon's surface and tell the story of tidal heating and internal struggle.

As I reach the tunnel exit, I stop for a minute and let the view direct my gaze. The excavated ice forms a valley that merges with the foreshortened horizon. The numbers dancing across the inside of my visor are meaningless in this alien world. The only real sense of scale comes from the cluster of human ants dismembering a mine-bot on the valley floor below me. Away from the pool of life, the floor and right hand wall of the valley are dark and featureless. The left wall is bathed in Neptune's blue light, regions of dark pink are fractured by incandescent veins of blue-white.
A soft crunch retracts my senses to the immediate. A few seconds later my feet come to rest against the bottom of my boots. For the first time I notice Triton's micro-gravity as ice, boot and sole are all in contact. I imagine the ice ripping the heat from my feet, welding the melting skin to the metal of my boot.


"... keep busy, concentrate on the task at hand and don't stop to marvel at the absurdity and fragility of the shell that separates you from conditions more hostile than any hell. You don't concern yourself with such thoughts at home but the Earth's atmosphere is a similarly fragile shell."
The suits gyroscopic and induction drives propel me down the hundred metres of guideline to the valley floor. Switching to conventional thrusters, I drift slowly towards my goal, redundant limbs limp for stability. My visor is still switched to optical with infra-red folded-in to make the miners visible in the poor natural light. The suits sensors trigger a warning message when I reach the epicentre of the magnetic pulse emission and I request the suits propulsion system to hold position thirty metres above the icy floor and one hundred metres from the nearest wall. I start a slow rotation so that the beam from my chest light sweeps an arc across one wall of ice and then the other. Apart from a few faint wisps of nitrogen crystals suspended in the sparse air, there is nothing to draw the eye. All is still. Only now do I request the visor to switch to ultra-violet vision.
The air around me explodes with the light of one hundred billion stars. For tens of seconds I am blinded by the god-like view of creation. The galactic bulge encircles and engulfs me, stretched half way to the floor beneath me. The spiral arms curve out towards the valley walls like extensions of my outstretched arms. In places the stellar density is so great that fantastic bodies of solid light replace the individual stars. As my suit rotates, stars drift into my visor and vanish as they enter my helmet, no longer detectable by the vision system. My head is full of stars that I can not see. By craning my neck backwards they pass through my visor and explode into life. I wave my hand through a thick cluster in front of my chest. My glove causes no ripples and casts no shadow.
At some point a bleep indicates that my suit's on-board spectrometers have completed data logging. My eye lids close over parchment dry corneas and I reset my aching jaw. The request to return to optical and infra-red vision leaves me floating in blackness. My vision is a mirriade of blue-green dots and for a moment I feel like I am falling. Fear is rapidly replaced by an intense loneliness and longing for something intangible. Collecting my limbs and thoughts I retrace my path to the laboratory.


Part Eight - Revelations

Four artefacts in one planetary system. Each apparently identical but each in a different range of the spectrum. Representations of the Milky Way, our galaxy, in Infrared, microwave, X-ray and now, ultra-violet. The X-ray artefact on Io has been the most revealing. At such extreme energies, such minuscule wavelengths, we have been able to resolve the artefact down to tiny scales. Our own sun, Sol, has been identified and there is even a suggestion of a disk of planets. The relative position of Sol suggests the artefact depicts the Milky Way of today, plus or minus a century or two. None of the artefacts have been observed to change or evolve in the last twelve years. So, it is possible, that the artefacts have always represented the galaxy as it is today. This could, of course, be calculated in advance but for some it is still one coincidence too many.
Several religious groups have taken the artefacts as a sign of great significance - 'The Third Coming', 'Judgement Day' or 'The Awakening'. Both the Pope and the Dali Lama have been forced to offer their thoughts on the matter. Neither had seemed particularly insightful to me but most of the population nodded with relief and got back to the serious business of isolating themselves from the world around them.
The only comfort I find is in an ancient astronomical axiom. If an observation appears to place the observer at a special or significant point in the history of the universe then you are probably missing a piece or two from the jigsaw.
I am rescued from my introspection by an incoming transmission.
"Bro, what's flowing?"
"More out than in, as all time. How can I energise you Jed?"
"No need. I'm ahead of equilibrium. Just needed to duplex with you real-time."
"I'm on corp business, out at ..."
"Triton, I know. Got to be a better splice than the Drop!"
"I'll be back in the void in close epoch if I don't reverse engineer this xeno-gizmo in the next day or couple."
"Jose, we're team Sanchez! I've been iterating, tight loop on this for three years. Audproc for a moment. Each of the four gizmos flows at a specific frequency. Affirm?"
"Affirm."
"None can be vidproc by human eye. Affirm?"
"Affirm. Jed, I'm ..."


"Audproc, audproc. All gizmos are off-world and at deep strata?"
"Affirm."
"Even if Triton had surrendered its integrity to tidal forces and the gizmo had floated down the gravity well, still can't vidproc it from Earth with human eyes?"
"Affirm at high sigma."
"It's a zero cal proc! Defence in depth. Gizmos hidden till correct epoch. Must not be revealed till intended species is ready. We're ready now!"
"Human species?"
"Affirm. No artefact on Earth. No artefact in optical. It's for us. Its for you, bro!"


Part Nine - Perspective

Jed never doubted for a moment that the artefacts were time capsules, addressed to Homo sapiens, Planet Three, Sol. This time he succeeded in opening a floodgate of half thoughts and suspicions that had been gnawing away at my constrained mind for twelve years. I could never allow myself the arrogance to believe that some alien race would leave humankind a parcel - not to be opened until your 21st Birthday. It seems a lot of effort for a species that is in a continuous state of surprise that it hasn't managed to vaporise itself lately. And to believe, that I'm the one lucky enough to be passing through at just the perfect moment to make history. Perhaps the annals are full of people slightly abashed at the fuss over their timely discoveries. It's also entirely likely that we have not come of age and I might be the forefather of a hundred generations of priests designated the holy task of worshipping the artefacts.
Jed's humanistic rhetoric is impossible for me to dismiss for one unsettling reason. All the artefacts depict the Milky Way fairly close to how a human eye would perceive it. Assuming, that is, that the human eye in question is drifting around in extra-galactic space. Such a well-travelled eye, would see a bright core of old and faithful yellow stars surrounded by a swirling disk of cosmopolitan siblings - patient, yellow old-timers, the second generation of nuclear chemists and the youth of the spiral arms; their blue fire lighting up the gaseous blankets of their stellar nurseries. A sight, that I can say with some confidence, stirs the soul to a light and fluffy texture. All the features that make up the familiar morphology of a spiral galaxy are like our sun and it's brothers and sisters. It would be strange if our senses worked any differently - the sun is our infinitely generous benefactor.


Most would argue that stars are the obvious way to depict the galaxy, because they are the main business of galaxies. The Milky Way is all about processing galactic hydrogen, burning it in the furnaces of stars to manufacture heavier and more complex elements. Each type of star working to a different recipe and returning the result to the interstellar mix as it dies. To what end? To create the ingredients required for planets and the life that clings to them. What greater purpose could there be?
But what if we morph our disembodied eye, such that the cornea resembles a series of nested metallic cylinders and imagine that the retina can withstand and detect the ionising effects of focused X-rays. The galaxy is now a strange and unfamiliar place. The stars are replaced by a homogenous sea of glowing hot gas with embedded jewels of stellar accretion disks, neutron stars and super nova remnants. But the eye is dazzled and enthralled by the super-massive black hole that lives deep within the core of the Milky Way. The material of the galaxy, glowing X-ray hot as it plunges towards the eternally hungry mouth of the beast. The entire existence of the galaxy dedicated to feeding the black hole. An eternity of offering sacrifices to appease the monster within.
An ultra-violet sensitive eye might appear more familiar to us but the Milky Way it looks down on is not. The observer recognises the galaxy of the X-ray eye but has to contend with continuos fog as its chosen light has aggressive encounters with the hydrogen gas of the interstellar medium. Ultra-violet eye tends to stay close to home and not get too excited about galactic policy or purpose.
The Milky Way is a common point of conversation between the Infrared and microwave eyes. Both perceive a bright central bulge and an irregular ring at the outer edge of the galaxy. Unfortunately, they disagree fundamentally about the source and cause of the shape. The Infrared's reality is shaped by great banks of glowing dust being warmed by the formation of stars and planets, in the quarters of the galaxy where such activities remain fashionable. To the Infrared eyes young stars are simply the power cells for the dust show. The antenna of our microwave colleague is tuned for the synchrotron emissions of electrons as they spiral along the magnetic field lines of the galaxy. The field lines are concentrated about the violence of the galactic core and the death throws of giant exploding stars. Stars? Not interested, super novas are the batteries to microwave's panorama.


Does this help? I know Jed is right but how to convince the corporation to invest more energy in exploring points of philosophy? The shuttle is due to start back down the Sun's gravity well tomorrow and I'm about to disappoint the next one hundred generations of artefact priests.


Part Ten - The Void

Falling, floating, through stars. The suit's respirator and my heartbeat mount a combined assault on my eardrum. The vision through my visor is soup-thick with stars. Clusters of every shape grouping to give ever larger and more complex structures. Ultimately, spiral arms reach for the canyon walls, bowing under the weight of bright young stars. Which is all very well and good, but how did I get here? I have no memory of climbing into my space suit and double-checking all the seals before I must have vented the airlock. The line-guided journey through the access tunnel is less than a blur. Yet, here I am floating amongst the globular clusters of the galactic bulge, the galaxy animated by my slow rotation. Unusually, alarm and panic ignore my invitation to invade. My fists unclench as if to symbolise my acceptance of unfolding events.
My breathing begins to slow and the respirator tracks it exactly. I float, limp, inside my suit, the gentle hiss of the suit's thrusters the only evidence of Triton's presence. My heartbeat continues to slow and I notice that my rotation also seems to be dropping off. I decide against intervening; there are no alarms active in my visor display. My attention drifts across the chronometer and I pause, waiting for the next second to register. I'm still waiting when my next heartbeat stumbles and clatters past, each valve and muscle adding to the cacophony. My rotation slows to match the 450 million year rotation period of our galaxy and my breath is like a distant gale blowing across open moorland.
The scene begins to fade as if I am stuck in the dark gap between two photons of light. Without a visual reference for my senses, I begin to feel that I am falling through the darkness. My instinct is to tense but the crawl of my nervous system becomes an eternal wait. I can feel memories and dreams knocking politely at the door to my consciousness. The knocking becomes more insistent as I peek through the keyhole at an endless procession of familiar characters and concepts: heroes complete with capes, fearful creatures with persecuted eyes and angelic children with faces of joy or mischief. Mixed in with all of me are the many and warped creatures of the nightmares - impossible biologies that only need to exist for long enough to do their worst.


I gather together all the facets of myself and mould a new construct from the entrails of my conscious and subconscious minds. The resultant form continues to fall, continues to accelerate towards nothing, towards void.

Falling in, with, the void. Floating through the silence of the nothing. Regular undulations cross my form as I jelly-fish my way to nowhere. Fleeting shapes leap with joy from my surface or wallow in the troughs between the waves. I let them play, they are as much a part of me as the intellect that steers the whole. A sound like a trapped bee arrives from just ahead. High frequency standing waves dance across my extent before the pitch sinks to a fast purr. A form meanders across my path. Amorphous except for leaping bird shapes escaping briefly from the surface. Each time the form creates and extends a limb to retrieve the fleeing bird and drag it back inside the whole.
The purr slows until each pulse is separate and discrete. The leaping form fades as each measure becomes a wait. Now a new sound fills the void. At first it is a noisy ripple on an otherwise quiet area of my form. Then a whine that makes me create arms and search for ears to cover. The whine becomes a whistle and then beat. A beat that you could count to, a rhythm you could think to, a pulse to live to.
The Node is before me, eyes open, radiating distress and sorrow. Channels of information snake across the void. Packets of data glisten like glitter as they scuttle back and forth between distant minds and the hub of the Node. Each transaction adds another sliver of pain to the mounting torment. Now the Node pulses with light, sending ripples out into the Nexus.
"...HELP ME...HELP US...LISTEN TO THE DATA...GO GREATER...GO HIGHER..."
I let my form express confusion but the pulsing light is already dimming in spurts. And then I feel it. 'Environmental interference', 'Data corruption'. A burst of pure noise rips through the void, disrupting the beat. This time, I clutch at the tail of the noise as it fades: dragging myself along with it, up with it. The throbbing tentacles of the Node start to slow, scurrying datagrams reduced to a gentle amble. The Node fades and all that is left is the void.


The echo of the static deepens in pitch and starts to modulate. It becomes a cascading waterfall of rhythms, beats and harmonics. The multiple facets of my extent pause and then start to dance across my surface or through my form. A hint of a shape solidifies in my path. At first it appears as a violent juxtaposition of geometric shapes before it slows and grows in definition. The form is a constant wash of geometry and organic curves and curls. I am reminded of waves breaking on a rocky shoreline and my form reflects my thoughts. The complex rhythm halts and the form comes to rest. Concepts rush into my mind without the wasted effort of senses or language.
I know that they have always been here. Old even when compared to our sun. So aware of the universe that they affect the Downey field at the quantum level. Such deep perception that the Downey particles they generate penetrate deep into the cosmos, shaping reality on a universal scale. The resulting boson-pressure inflating space and time at an ever faster rate, defeating gravity on cosmic distances. So deep within the void that they appear to the Nodes only as background noise. So adept at manipulating the Downey field that our thoughts are as continental drift to their flight. And yet, I know that I am welcome. I know I am the first of my kin. I know that my journey is complete. I know that I can choose how all will be, before I leave the void. I know that probability is not the same as chance. I know I am free to take shape and to shape.


Epilogue

In a room lost amongst all rooms, there is a woman. She lies above a pad of switching logic. Tubes tether her and feed her. Bundles of fibres torture her physical mind, bundles of data torture her ethereal mind. Two metallic nurses tend and shepherd the failing body, jointed pin legs prodding and probing.
In one corner of the room a gentle hiss indicates air molecules rushing to clear a space. A man appears in the evacuated volume, thin features and dark hair. His eye lids part and grey eyes sample the room. He smiles slowly as if to avoid disturbing the scene before he has captured it all.


The spidery guardians of the woman's body pause and then vanish as all the atoms of their metallic bodies decide they would much rather be watching a sim in the next building. The machine that acts as life support, data port and jailer, starts to crumble as if all the protons within are simultaneously decaying. The resultant soup of pions slithers away and the torrent of released gamma rays decide to save themselves for some distant place. The woman's eyelids begin to flutter with conscious thought. The man and woman gradually fade from view and there is a subtle gasp as the voids they leave are filled
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