The Goat (Part 89)

It has been so stinking hot this week that every attempt to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard…) has ended in sweaty dehydration, frustration and misery. It is too hot to think, and my short story is rapidly melting into sludge. So I give up. I’ll post the only bit I have that’s still legible, and continue once this foetid heatwave is over…

The world expanded: a speck of orange, inflating to a green-rimmed ball of muddy haze. Too weak to make orbit, the creature aimed itself then yielded to gravity—the rags of its body tumbling in darkness then streaking with light as it punched into atmosphere. Down it roared through dense clouds of methane, its mind dwindling yet sensing the vitality so close beneath… a glimpse of hope, then nothing at all as it crashed unconscious deep into the ocean—

A kilometre-high wave of boiling water exploded from the impact. Trillions of microbes cooked or were ruptured. They knew no pain, but still their nerveless structures endured a stress response: a desperate compulsion to fight for their existence; a cruel awareness as their lives were torn away…

And the creature fed.

Without direction or sentience it leached into the water and entangled the microbes… diffusing through the cracks of their minuscule terror… drawing on the energy that gave them animation…

Like blood restored to a long-crushed extremity, the trickle of power scalded the creature: its matter reviving, igniting with pain as feeling returned to its macerated body. The starved tissues—both ethereal and physical—drained the tiny beasts until they popped like fuses. But the power was feeble, a goad that merely wakened and amplified the hunger…

In agonies of madness the creature started hunting, surging through the ocean to engulf entire colonies—feeding uncontrollably, ravaging a billion years of evolution… then screaming as it tried to restrain itself, foreseeing the path of its own destruction: this final oasis depleted of life; the last source of energy extinguished from the universe. Yet almost it continued, seeking to reject its chance of survival—preferring to die than exist without its brothers…

But thoughts of its family shattered it anew, and rendered foul the life force it tasted. In sudden revulsion it collapsed into the depths, crying for the loss of all it loved as it cowered alone in misery and fear… sensing the pitiful beings it had spared, and wanting them, despising them… hating the primordial filth of this world…

At length it tried to leave—at least to find vacuum, the purity of space—but lacking the strength could do nothing greater than drag itself along the ocean floor, then out onto land. With body distended like a beached jellyfish, it turned to the sky and looked for the stars: the clean and familiar light of fusion… the faint emissions from galactic centre, cherished by the creatures as a memory of home… Yet even this hollow comfort was denied. No starlight could penetrate the hydrocarbon smog.

And somehow the creature perceived it as an insult, an outlet for its pain. It railed at the clouds, trying to blast away the whole atmosphere—then failing, appalled by its own debility. But so breathless to forget the fate of its brothers, it grew obsessed with attacking the planet: striving pointlessly to clear the sky; to see once again the beautiful stars…

And with the fraction of power it yet retained, and using biochemistry learned from the stranger, it reached among the lifeforms still dwelling in the ocean… not feeding now, but giving of itself to change their fabric—to evolve them, to breed them…

It watched as the methanophile archaea it had made began leaching hydrocarbons from the atmosphere; as increasing sunlight encouraged photosynthesis, driving the explosion of cyanobacteria; as the rampant production of free oxygen further demolished the greenhouse gasses: a runaway cycle of more sunlight, more oxygen, disrupting the climate until the world tipped into global glaciation.

From its bed of ice, the creature wept as it gazed upon the heavens. Not only had it won its meaningless battle, but the oxygen—toxic to obligate anaerobic organisms—had triggered a mass extinction: countless microbes poisoned, tortured, opening pathways in their moment of death… and more, yet more, dying of the cold…

Almost without effort, without intention, the creature had sapped the enormous flow of energy: not enough to repair itself, but sufficient power to restore its senses. And though it mourned for its family, and knew little else but the suffering of loneliness, it felt somehow a numb anticipation: for in the quiet of absolute solitude it found its perceptions ranging ever farther, out into the blackness for millions of light years… detecting a presence far beyond the galaxy…

© 2015 - J. D. G. Leaver

To be continued…