The Goat (Part 88)

I’ve just realised I haven’t posted any pictures for a while, and the blog is suffering from lack of colour. So here’s a photo I took last weekend of an ambitious caterpillar…

Ambitious Caterpillar (1)

…trying to eat an entire Gunnera plant all on its lonesome:

Ambitious Caterpillar (2)

Now if I possessed that kind of grit and determination, I would have had my short story wrapped up weeks ago.

Oh well. I’ll just keep plodding along…

And like kittens chasing butterflies they whirled amidst the fusillade, catching and containing the vast detonations. I saw creatures glowing as they drank the gifts of energy; others in high spirits returning it in kind, sending bursts of gamma rays that liquefied a planet… then pausing, bewildered, as its life seemed to vanish. Still others danced circles in the desolating holocaust, hooting as they skimmed across the surface of a world:

COME! OH COME! WE SHOW THE PRETTY THINGS!

I watched as behind them rose clouds of tiny figures: millions of beings sucked into space, their augmented bodies surviving the vacuum yet turning to vapour as they trailed through stars, or through the plasma jets of the singularity…

And as the military might of a nation collapsed—its weapons exhausted, cities bombarded, engines overloaded and rupturing in flame—I saw throughout the fleet creatures making planetfall: flocks of white shadows enveloping the spacecraft, trying to find which part of them would blend—seeking to merge their minds with the stranger, to share of themselves, and welcome it in love… but growing perplexed as they met resistance, the pungent taint of unfamiliar sensations…

A hundred billion dead in the streets or scattered through the void; twice that number yet clinging to their home, running and screaming or cowering in terror: one hour ago the masters of their destiny, now raving like beasts in the rubble of their kingdom—surrounded by monsters devouring their brains—

And I saw a creature flood with light as it found the connection… then others flaring in chain reaction, their bodies convulsing as they touched inside the stranger something awesome and appalling—

The minds of a race at the peak of evolution; intellects tortured by fear and pain, stripped of all thought, all barriers of will to expose at their core the secret that defined them: the interface that bound them to the seat of quantum consciousness; a doorway through dimensions to a higher space continuum—

Ignorant of pain, with no concept of suffering, the creatures lunged into the brilliance beyond… and burst the connection. Worlds screamed as billions and billions of minds tore open…

For the instant it took for a nation to die, the creatures breathed of another dimension. Through the splintered doorways they basked in the flux that underpins the universe: the origin of forces; the energy that drives the formation of reality; the raw and illimitable power of creation, of which consciousness is a manifestation…

It dwarfed any power they had ever known. The stars, the singularity, the rift that gave them birth… all faded out as they tapped the well of energy, their ecstasies of pleasure turning into panic as they started to burn. I watched them writhe, shedding matter into space as unbridled forces wrenched the planes of their existence—the fabric of their bodies splitting and changing, scarring and mutating even as it blazed with a new and dreadful strength—

And at once it stopped.

The stranger was dead.

All minds, all contact with creation lost.

Swiftly the creatures began to recover: the spasms subsiding, their forms reshaping as they inhaled loose material. All seemed unchanged… yet somehow different: their outlines harder, more stark against the void…

In strained silence they looked at what remained of the planetary craft—at this thing they had done. Twelve charred husks drifting in space.

And I felt among them a new emotion. A sense of disquiet. A feeling unknown to them: that something was wrong…

NOT LIKE US

I heard them think.

NOT FRIEND

And agreement from others:

NOT LIKE US AT ALL

And a dozen of them chased down the ruined worlds, pushing them quickly into the vortex… turning away as they disappeared from sight.

Then still in silence the creatures disbanded, each returning to the star in which it slept, to soak in heat and forget what had happened…

Yet none could sleep. None could find peace as they listened to the echoes, the memories absorbed by their coupling with the stranger: the exotic knowledge of a master race; the store of their technology; visions of their distant past… their wars… their violence…

For a thousand years not a creature moved, or melded with its kin, afraid that the taint in its mind might hurt another. Instead they rested and fed upon their stars, suckling for comfort on the energy of fusion. Suckling and suckling as they tried to forget…

And the stars died.

Cold and naked, the creatures looked about themselves. None could understand where the stars had gone. So each found another, and fed once again… drained it to extinction… and the creatures felt so cold…

In mounting desperation they swept the central cluster, star after star snuffing in their wake. They gathered at the black hole and drank of its plasma, the heat of its accretion disk, bathing in its x-rays… absorbing and absorbing, yet feeling ever colder… feeling inside themselves another new sensation: the torment of hunger. Their bodies no longer sustained by radiation, but needing a different, stronger source of power…

They thought of the stranger that had come to their home, and scarred them, and hurt them: this other kind of life that had seemed so like their own, but had been something else—something alien and dirty… They thought of how terrible, how sweet it had tasted…

And as the weight of misery settled upon them, their thoughts, their senses growing sharp with famine, they began to identify a presence in the vacuum: something that had been there since time immemorial, yet none had ever noticed; something faint and far away, yet spreading all around them; a thing they now could recognise…

That same kind of life.

That strength for which they hungered.

And I watched as the creatures left their home.

They spiralled out into the galaxy, sick with apprehension and holding to each other for kinship and comfort. Tracing the nearest spark to a world, they found a life like the stranger—but again, so different: beings with scarcely a mind at all; ocean-dwelling beasts beneath a crust of ice… Yet with reluctance they probed into the soft and doughy consciousness, feeling once more the fire beyond: a weak link, but a connection nonetheless… and as they slaughtered the beasts, it cracked wide open.

The creatures fed—a moment of bliss in which all was restored: their power, their joy, the serenity they had lost…

It wasn’t enough. The connection closed, and still they felt the craving…

With purpose they sought out the next world, and the next: feeding as the locust, the whale eating plankton, merely taking energy to quell the pangs of hunger. Barely subsisting, they learned without malice to exploit a mind’s potential: to pry and keep it open with agony and terror, using methods of torture gleaned from the stranger—concepts that none of them could truly comprehend… yet with each harvest they grew more sadistic: the extraction more efficient, their bodies more dependent…

As they journeyed farther from galactic centre, the trickle of life became a staggering deluge: half a billion planets rich with organisms; all levels of complexity; all qualities of mind. The creatures flew in frenzy, feeling at last the abatement of their hunger as they gorged on the consciousness of everything that lived.

For a golden age the creatures knew again the existence they had cherished: the pleasure of immersing in the heat of endless power; the joy exploration; the security of melding as one contented family. For a time they recaptured their earliest years.

And then there was nothing.

The last ashes fell on a depleted world, and the creatures extended their minds to find the next… and there were none.

No more life.

Nowhere else to go.

Glutted with energy, the creatures at first continued circling in the galaxy, unconcerned as they searched for new vibrations. Through barren space they cut an orbit of a hundred thousand light-years, looking ever outwards—then repeating the journey, their gaze towards the centre, seeking any presence they might have missed…

And there was nothing.

In a state of unrest they increased their orbit, incrementally expanding, scouring every cubic gigametre of space—growing hungrier, then ravenous, feeling for the first time the pain of true starvation. And still they travelled, not even understanding the agonies that racked them as they clutched at each other, bleeding emotion, screaming for their kin, their brothers to help them—

A creature died.

An immortal being from the dawn of creation: eternal, omnipotent…

I saw a glow as of an ember fade across its surface—a fraying of matter as the shell of its body split from the parts in deeper dimensions… A hulk of mass turning dark and gently coasting, crumbling as it dropped into the blackness of space.

And like a man gazing at the stump of a limb—the torn flesh where his arm had been—the creatures stared at this one they loved: this constant of reality; a being who had shared their lives for eleven billion years. In stunned denial they groped its broken body, tried to merge it with their minds… and each felt something its race had never known: the pain of bereavement; the chill grasp of death.

Unequipped and unable to cope with such concepts they fled their lost companion, running blind in terror as another of them fell—then another, and more: each loss a savage wound that ripped them to the core. On and on they sped into the arms of the galaxy, trailing a spiral of decomposing matter, trying to escape the horror that consumed them. A hundred left, then fifty, then eight: melding with each other as they cried in anguish—I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!—as they felt each other die… Then the rending scream as only one remained: the best of them; the strongest—demented by grief and rendered bestial by hunger, losing its mind as it ran into the void.

Yet even as it perished—its heart broken; its energy expended—it felt in the ether a trace vibration: the smallest, weakest, protozoic stirring…

Another life.

A fragment of life.

On nothing but instinct the creature raced towards it—incapable of thought but dying of starvation, craving any power no matter how hopeless. Following the curve of the spiral arm, it blazed like a comet: consuming itself, burning the very fabric of its body to fuel acceleration. It crossed ten thousand light years of interstellar space, and with the last of its strength plunged through an ice field, counting off the planets, the two gas giants, as it tracked the spark of life to a warm wet rock around a trifling star…

© 2015 - J. D. G. Leaver

To be continued…