a short story
Gary Baker, June 2013
(the conclusive end to a 2 part sci-fi)
Acier arrived on the floor of the Tear bridge with a soft shush. His feet first hit the smooth metal alloy meant to feel more like the ground cover foliage back home. The sensation was as pleasing as reaching his home world once again with the intent to stay.
It would never happen, he knew, especially since his kind had long since expired in this desolate universe. Only the ability to preserve their remnants had saved the entirety of Acier’s race as such individuals had been slingshotted themselves into deep space using the large gravitational pull of the nearing sun. Acier had been awoken years ago, by the queen herself, sole survivor of the Elders, a lone soul in the universe dedicating the rest of her existence to seeking out others like her; others with the physical inability to expire without some severe exorbitant force that could push them from this realm.
As is, she kept herself at the heart of the Tear, feeling everything, knowing all. Wires had been installed into her tendrils to allow her complete cognitive control of what could be called her majesty’s escape pod.
Acier moved through the seats to reach a cordoned octagon of red in the floor, then closed his eyes and let his queen choose if he could come to her.
With a clank followed by a hiss, his queen activated the floor mechanisms and he began to descend level by level into the deep regions of the Tear. Whole floors passed by in slow succession as the blue-white lights of the surrounding hallways seemed to scan him.
He watched carefully, relishing the sights of his kind again. Here a floor of livestock, tall lanky spheroid beasts on stilt-like legs with deep azure filaments that grew from various openings in their sides. The filaments were prized for the superb flavoring capabilities when mixed into various dishes, while also providing plenty of sustainable energy for the light of healthy tendrils. Then came a floor of open rooms where silver boxes had been stacked with supplies from their home planet, now a mausoleum of originals to be scanned and replicated due to the impossibility of ever getting more.
Acier grimaced. He had family back there, a loving self-daughter whom he had once thought would take his place onboard the starship cruisers one day. He’d had a home; nothing too large, a simple ord’ui floating over a plot of gerha jungle where he once wished to raise more self-kin and reach out to begin new genetic codes with a female he’d met in the academy of Jk’Nal.
But all of that was gone now, along with his ability to self-replicate.
Somehow, in the turmoil of the aptly-named Tear fleeing from an exploding sun mere light years before it happened, his body had closed itself off from being able to self-replicate. That was why he’d chosen to undertake this mission: to take upon himself that one mission required of one lifeform of his genetic sequence access to the realms of the Elders. And since he was alive and capable of acknowledging his sequence, truth dictated that his genetic sequence had yet to achieve this greatness.
It was odd, Acier noted, that many of the human religions and beliefs had almost strikingly similar ideas, and yet they knew not how close to the universal truth they had come.
He passed a level of bedding material grown artificially from jungle organisms believing their blue UV light to be the sun that no longer existed in this realm. Waves of moist air rolled over him, thickening the shaft airspace like the wafts of solid carbon dioxide. And still the floor descended, as though intending to reach the very base of the Tear, itself.
Finally an orange glow began to consume the fog that still held at Acier’s feet and spilled into the shaft like a gaseous waterfall from above. He let his eyes close as he breathed his preparatory breaths. While he knew his queen well, Acier had never actually met her face-to-face. It would have been damning for any of his kind to see her before the ship had come to a halt, as taking her mind from her tasks could have resulted in catastrophic collisions with free-ranging asteroids or planetary debris.
As is, she had been forced to swerve the ship twice since entering the nearby area of this planetary system, due to electrical arrays sent out in relative arcs from the human homeworld, and once again three planets out.
The fog around Acier thickened and grew, now more orange than blue-gray. At this, he knew the floor was almost at the bottom where the fog collected during the times when the ship was at a standstill. He felt the floor slow, and a loud metallic shudder emanated as the floor he stood on ceased descending with an orange fog consuming him as though he’d been dropped into a vat of dye.
Instantly he kneeled to place his forehead on the chilled floor, laying his tendrils flat and void of color in outward lines from there. “My queen,” he released.
My son, Acier the Brave.
Her voice tickled in his head, placing colors he’d never seen at the forefront of his thoughts. Her grace touched him with a severe loneliness that his body absorbed like a sponge submerged.
It is good to feel your presence again.
Suddenly the orange shifted, slowly altering to a placid rose pink. He couldn’t help but raise his head to take it all in. It was magnificent. The fog swirled with vortexes he couldn’t feel, while dancing with hues of white and faded blue-greys in whirlpools of light specked with the debris of darkness. “My queen,” he whispered, unable to contain his awe, “your presence...” he searched for the right words to describe it, for some way to portray his feelings for such glamorous beauty.
I know, my son. She cooed against his mind, her touch as gentle and tender as a lover, and you have done well, Acier. Your bravery in facing your mission has brought your sequence much honor.
It was more than he could bear, the magnanimity of his gracious reverential wonder brought tears to his eyes. He felt them linger at the base of his vertical eyelids before tracing his cheeks to his chin, then as they broke free and splished on the floor beneath him.
He felt as her majesty seemed to chuckle, the fog taking on a faint green glimmer to one side before returning to pink. Come here, oh Acier, come closer to me so that I might bestow upon you my image.
Acier looked, wide-eyed, in the direction that the green had been. She was serious. He leaned back onto shaky legs and attempted to let the lessened gravity carry him toward her. This was precisely what he’d expected, yet now that it was happening he felt it blasphemously wrong. Her body should never be seen, her image never be shown.
It was an act worthy of death to look upon an Elder, and yet the willing gift meant more honor to a genetic sequence than the triumph of war or genetic variance. Such a gift could practically raise him to the status of Elder in the next realm, forevermore he would be second only to his queen and her kind.
Never before had such an honor been given to a sequence as low as Acier’s. Even the late leader of his nation had been denied such a privilege.
His footsteps echoed in the vast room, tracing depths unseen through such thick clouds of color and moisture. Each step was a travesty of hesitation and fear. He battled the thought of fleeing as such a gift seemed beyond his ability to handle. With each successive step, he found a darkening shadow nearing him with light coming from all around.
Finally he stopped. This was it. One more step and he would see her as more than just a silhouette. One more step and he could never take it back.
He lifted his foot to step forward, his leg slowly tracing into deeper swirling patterns in the pink light... then stopped and took a hasty step back before throwing himself to the ground in a reverential bow.
“Forgive me, my queen,” he released as though it had been pent up inside him for ages on end. “I do not deserve this honor, for that I am grateful that you even offered, yet I feel there is more to do yet that I have not been able to discover.”
A delicate laugh lit the room with ruby and purple spots arcing about like fireflies in the backdrop of light rose-pink. You are wise beyond your years, my son, she cooed. And you are, indeed, correct: I do not sense an Elder within this planet.
Acier let tears once again ravage his cheeks. The thought that he’d almost done it blew him away. The fact that he almost desecrated his sequence not moments after achieving such greatness took all his awe and turned it sour within his core. Had he been any bit less hesitant, he would have ruined his sequence for all of eternity.
Stammering, he let his lips quiver words into the audible realm. “So what do we do now, my queen? They will wish to meet you and our brothers still in hibernation.”
Well as my expert in Earthaen affairs, what would you have me command?
He thought about it, noting the various disciplines on the surface that would attribute their sudden departure as an act of terror, as an act of fleeing from what the humans believed themselves as an impossible force of power. The humans would think Acier’s kind had been sent to judge the human strength to determine if the planet could be taken in some universal game of conquest. If the Tear left too quickly, the humans would forever seek out his species to exact upon them the terror only their own race knew. They would claim it wrong that his kind chose to keep their interstellar technology from them, that his species could dip as deeply into petty squabbles as the hoarding of knowledge.
Yet if they did not move on soon, the Elders out there may never seen his queen before their own stars blew out.
“My queen,” Acier released as calmly as he could in an attempt to show how strongly he believed this wise, “I suggest we stay to resupply, sell our secrets for items the humans might think of as valuable. If we ask for resources such as all the scientific knowledge they have gained, in exchange for some of our own, they will not have reason to come after us.”
Once again, my son, you are wise beyond your sequence. She reached out for his mind and left a lingering series of colors as vivid as a kiss that would last forever. It is too bad your honor wouldn’t let you come closer to receive my image.
At that the pink light faded to a low orange again and Acier made his way to the platform to return to the Ring. From here, Acier knew he was in charge of anything related to the Earthaens and their planet. Once he felt it to be a decent enough stay with the sentient apes, Acier would have his people return to the Tear and their journey to recommence for the next planet with life.
Somewhere out there would be another Elder for his queen to rekindle with. Somewhere and sometime, he hoped to be sooner rather than later, he would make sure his queen saw another of her own kind. Acier just wished it could happen before he saw an end to his sequence, and his life as a whole.