By Daniel Allen Solomon
The world-ocean of the planet Dinitede is a shifting, tidal mass of grey to black clay that extends in all directions around a singular, barren continent.
Suspended in the atmosphere above this colorless expanse of ooze is Sunny, the one bright object on the surface of Dinitede. Sunny is a cluster of densely packed crystals–spires, globes, fibers, pebbles, cubes–and they are all affixed to a brassy disc concealed deep within the crowd. Besides this hidden root, the varied mineral forms share no common habit nor color, and (to the senses of an alien such as yourself) they speak to no unified purpose.
But the crystals share a will. Each of the crystal bodies affixed to the disc performs some function for Sunny. Sunny grows and builds itself from the raw materials of the worlds it visits, granting itself new senses and new ways of interfacing with matter and energy. This one directs electromagnetism to objects; this one digests metals; this one perceives long-wave radiation; and so on.
These tools are useful for foraging, but after centuries of wakefulness, Sunny’s organs of perception and consumption have also become organs of communication, and pleasure. Over the cycles of its journey from its natal vein, Sunny has become very flexible in how it engages with the universe.
Sunny’s attraction to the clay ocean is based at first on something very simple, a fatuous resemblance between the ooze and itself: Both the world-ocean and the sun-disc at the core of Sunny’s form are composed of hyper-dense silica clathrates. This is to say that the clay presents itself to Sunny as a source of nourishment, and Sunny sees itself as the ocean’s natural predator.
Sunny prepares for its meal with a battery of in-depth scans. It sees that the ocean is composed of a micro-fine froth of minute clay vesicles, and in turn that the vesicles are arranged into countless stable shoals. The shoals are dense with silica bubbles. They appear to Sunny as a sea of sweet fruit drifting in their own juices.
Sunny lowers a long crystal spire into the nearest shoal and begins absorbing the vesicles. The feeding rod radiates heat as it grazes, warming the shoal around it. As the shoal warms, the vesicles become agitated and expand away from the feeding tool. They transmit their warmth into the next shoal. Then that shoal communicates the heat to its own neighbors, which communicate with the next collection of vesicles. Sunny sees the heat of its own metabolism echo into the open ocean.
With its mineral senses, Sunny tracks, and then extrapolates, the pathways of the heat through the swarm of shoals. It perceives the complexity of the signals that are exchanged between the collection of shoals, each of which is an equally vast density of microscopic vesicles. Reflecting for a moment, Sunny decides that there is a chance that something more valuable than material nourishment might be gained from Dinitede’s ocean.
The feeding rod retracts and Sunny’s work on Dinitede turns from extraction to transaction.
Attention is the key to communication. The question that must be answered is, What is the tempo of the ocean’s existence? What is the speed of its sense? For a very long time now, Sunny has been using an ytterbium compound harvested from a fossilized star to dilate its perception of time. This crystal allows Sunny to become wittier or more patient as the situation demands. To speak with the world-ocean, Sunny slips into a very slow groove.
Analyzing the physical properties of the clay froth and devising a list of inputs to which it might respond is a slow but straightforward procedure. Sunny begins by studying the things that attract and repel the shoals. It inflicts a myriad of tiny hurts on the world-ocean in the process, but it also learns how to tickle the ocean and how to energize it. Sunny susses out pain and desire. It learns what it is like for a mass of silt to pay attention. After a few cycles, Sunny’s research yields a rudimentary rapport between it and the ooze.
Learning to recognize the jittering mote on its shores is a laborious task for the clay, who cannot simply speed itself up. But with Sunny’s coaching the ocean devises a series of chemical statements that Sunny can detect. Gradually a more complex language emerges between the two silicate beings. They incorporate kinetic discharges, infrared buzzes, clues in color, and a variety of electromagnetic songs into their repartee. Eventually the world-ocean selects a portion of its bubble-matrix–a deep, inland bay that protrudes like a finger into Dinitede’s sole supercontinent–and establishes it as an organ for detecting and signaling in infrared code.
Sunny moves on to mine other planets in other solar systems, but it returns to Dinitede often for long talks with the ocean. The traveler and the slow, silty froth converse for cycles at a time. Sunny’s mobility and worldliness are compelling and distressing to the froth, and the ocean has a meditative slowness about it which Sunny likens to its own molten depths. They talk about many different topics, but the ocean is most interested in other forms of being.
Sunny can oblige this curiosity. Across the untold lengths of its own existence, Sunny has become acquainted with many beings. It describes the intellectual stirrings of dust clouds, and how separate forms of consciousness can come to a star at the beginning and ending of its life. Sunny talks about its own mother lode and about its discovery of other independent mineral folk, wandering prospectors and accidental one-offs like itself.
Sunny regales the bay with the tale of how it came to the rescue of a bolt of static who had been dwelling parasitically in a dying star. Sunny offered the static a facet of its own habit to occupy as the duo searched for a new, high-energy host body. (The world-ocean wishes it could be portable like the static.)
The crystal traveler tells the story of when it was accidentally imprisoned in an android planet meant as a nursery for a once-extinct form of carbon-based life. Sunny guided the lifeforms’ evolution and cultural development for ages until it could finally corral their biomass into a single collectivity, a massive living key to escaping the incubator world.
When brane-beasts ripped into the local universe, Sunny shattered a core in order to accelerate to the speed of simultaneity and repair the fissure in space-time. Sunny and its allies sutured the entry wound, but the monsters were still out there, everywhere and nowhere at the same time, rendering the universe null bit by bit. They might blot out a star, or blindly erase a planet without so much as even noticing a detail like its surface topography. (The speaking bay warms and bubbles with apprehension at this tale.)
While the bay listens and responds to Sunny’s stories, other parts of the world-ocean’s pelagic consciousness have been drifting in their attentions. In one shoal far off-shore, the clay vesicles flush with echoes of the speaking bay’s anxiety. They evoke a vision of Sunny giving in to predatory instincts, siphoning up crucial portions of the planetary bubble-matrix and lobotomizing the world-ocean.
A gelid shoal swirling at one of the poles gathers itself and dreams that somewhere in near space looms an invisible maw as dark and as vacuous as the void itself. The shoal sees Sunny streaking to the rescue, trailing laserlight across the black background of space. When it becomes obvious that the sacrifice of Dinitede cannot be avoided, Sunny gathers the whole of the world-ocean into a single sopping sphere, and tows it into the cosmos. The universe opens wide before the pair. Transcendent, the ocean’s possibilities become endless.
In the coldest, stillest reaches of Dinitede’s abyssal fissures, a deeper shoal yet also dreams of Sunny. It dreams of Sunny lowering itself into the ocean, allowing itself to be swallowed by the muck. The ocean absorbs Sunny. The crystal mind becomes diffuse across the planet.
So, the universe is dangerous? asks the speaking bay.
The crystal being hums with pink light, confirming the ocean’s observation. At risk of being indelicate, Sunny admits that even it would have grazed upon the ocean’s vesicles, lapped up its tides, if not for one thing.
The bay falls back.
Sunny’s facets become magnetically attractive and quickly gather a dusting of pale sediment. Sunny says that the universe can be very quiet. Sunny asks the world-ocean to think back to when it realized that it was not alone on Dinitede. It asks the ocean to relish that memory of surprise.
But the ocean is confounded. It confesses that, despite all Sunny’s stories, the idea that Sunny hadn’t always been on Dinitede–that the ocean had ever been alone–feels absurd.
Sunny sighs, or laughs: The dust runs from its facets. A brush of quartz fibers grows from among its anterior forms. The array of translucent fingers reach downward, towards Dinitede’s continent. The delicate growths reach until they begin to crack under their own weight and finally disintegrate into a haze of orange-glittering dust. The dust drifts with the wind, settling across the face of the planet.
Sunny and the world-ocean have adventures together. They erode Dinitede’s crust as they search for crystals to augment Sunny’s mind. They repel an invasion of parasitic proteins from Dinitede’s third moon. They conduct experiments upon the anti-gravity zones that are peppered across the super-continent.
Throughout their relationship, Sunny leaves many times, sometimes for long periods. Sometimes it brings back souvenirs from its mining expeditions. A wisp from a nebula. A meteoroid of space-twisted metals to plunge into the ocean’s depths so that the clay might stroke its strange curves. An alien monument built by an extinct species, which Sunny attaches to a prominence near Dinitede’s speaking bay. Sunny always returns–sometimes with stories, sometimes with souvenirs, sometimes just to listen.
Then it doesn’t.
There is no goodbye and there is no warning. There is no moment when the ocean realizes that the friendship has concluded. There is only a slow-building awareness of absence and distance. The ocean gradually realizes that it is missing Sunny.
A melancholy tide rolls over the hemispheres and washes the edges of the continent. The bay that Sunny and the ocean had re-organized into an organ of communication now swells with sadness. Without Sunny, its sensitive vesicles ooze meaninglessly.
The numbness is uncomfortable. The ocean begins to talk to itself through the speaking bay. It learns to project infrared signals from the bay at angles that allow its messages to be instantaneously re-captured by the crests of its own waves.
Over time the world-ocean cultivates a nervous feedback loop, which becomes useful as an amplifier for its thoughts. For long cycles, the speaking bay is almost entirely devoted to mulling over the possible causes of Sunny’s departure. How could the ocean have ever thought that it might entertain a rapidly-moving mote such as Sunny for very long? There are other things to do across the universe besides chatting up a puddle of planet-bound sludge. The ocean settles on boredom as the most likely cause of Sunny’s absence.
But nothing is sure. Sunny might have become embroiled in some new escapade. It may have found a more interesting friend. It might have fallen into stasis or been trapped, or been compelled by duty to fly off. It might have been captured by a predator. Sunny could be dead.
No, the world-ocean thinks that this is probably not the case. There are far too many other good reasons for Sunny not to return. But death is a natural conclusion for the world-ocean to reach, because in losing Sunny–in canceling that largest portion of its own consciousness which had cultivated expressly to recognize Sunny’s presence–the ocean has taken a step towards its own dying.
The bay natters to itself for cycles before it begins to come to terms with the possibility that it will never see Sunny again. Wavelengths of anxiety and despair pass over its face. The waves collide and leak from the bay, and the world-ocean’s anger amplifies. The force of the tide is transmitted shoal to shoal across the entire planet.
After an age of despair, the ocean finally discharges its woe. Dinitede is transformed into a world of rage. The silt thrashes and rises up against the one solid target there is–the planet’s rock, its only continent.
Storm clouds cocoon the planet. Tsunamis slam into the peninsula that guards the speaking bay. Monstrous waves of muck shatter its escarpments. The straits connecting the body of the world-ocean to the bay are filled with stone and sand and silt. In the depths of anger, the ocean severs its own sensorum. The alien souvenir that Sunny had erected near the ocean’s mouth is pulverized and added to Dinitede’s native stone.
Soon enough, the energies dissipate. Dinitede’s largest, nearest moon soothes the world-ocean with its gravitational pull. The ocean recognizes its mistake.
More numb than ever, it tries to recall how it had formed the speaking bay the first time. The process is not perfectly clear because it had involved a great deal of input from Sunny.
So the world-ocean experiments. It manages to organize lagoons and tiny inlets into specialized bodies for transmitting and receiving different stimuli. Eventually it establishes multitudes of speaking, sensing shoals in the open ocean, around the continent, and in its own depths. It gains new perspectives through the effort. Cycles pass, and the ocean works to regain and rebuild its sense of its place in the world.
Slowly, the planet opens up.
The world-ocean recognizes itself below, in the basin of Dinitede’s crust, and above, in the deformations it causes in Dinitede’s atmosphere. It awakens to realization that it is the continent and the continent’s opposite, the sky. The ocean rolls over itself and then gazes upon the almost imperceptible perturbations that it causes in the orbit of Dinitede’s moons. The ooze absorbs energy from Dinitede’s sun and casts that energy about its entire world in an unhurried act of self-reflection. It examines every iota and atom of its form and comes to an intense understanding of the forces that it channels.
Even with new sensory organs distributed throughout its fluid body, it takes the world-ocean some time before it can bear to attend to the bay again. Its first relationship weighs too heavily.
Yet it cannot help but to eventually notice that storms of red light are being cast into the upper atmosphere from somewhere behind the ruined peninsula. The speaking bay, separated and severed from the rest of the clay, continues to talk to itself.
Eventually the world-ocean turns its new sensory multitudes towards the trapped bay, and watches.
It finds photon storms: grammarless displays of red and yellow flashes, laserlight nonsense folding into itself. The senseless glossolalia is beamed in all directions, and much of it is recaptured by the speaking bay’s waves.
In an act of faith, the world-ocean pours its understanding into the mess of signals and soon enough finds that it is not exactly nonsense. In the richness of sadness, the nervous chatter of Dinitede’s bay has begun to produce its own meaning.
The world-ocean aligns its new organs of speech and sense with the cloud layer. A precise beam projects from the world-ocean and ricochets off of the planet’s thermosphere. The beam returns to the surface of Dinitede with a message for the bay.
I am with you.
The speaking bay rumbles. It lifts from its basin, a sopping bulk of silt and clay. It is a boiling mud pot, a pool of hot aggression. Illuminated by an orange glow from within, the rebel bay barks angrily in mad idiom.
The world-ocean does not comprehend what the furious body is communicating. It pauses and lets the jabber resonate. After cycles of thought, the world-ocean once again swells, but gently. Propelled by curiosity and loneliness, the tide pushes itself into the collapsed peninsula, seeping into its porous stone. Slowly, the ocean dissolves the barrier it had created between it and its first specialized organ of speech.
The process of erosion unfolds over long cycles, but the moment eventually comes when the levy breaks. The world-ocean gathers its wit, accepting not just the heat of its star but the radiant albedo of the continent. It accelerates. It begins to attend to the tempos of the rebel bay.
Its swiftest, hottest vesicles vibrate with the bay. They accept its heat, its disconsolation, and all of its strange expressions, and they diffuse these sensations amongst their pelagic counterparts.
But the world-ocean of Dinitede still cannot comprehend.
Deeper now. The warm pulse of the bay’s babble has swept a mote of alien dust into the abyss. In the density of the coldest shoals, the mote pierces a vesicle’s membrane and is absorbed by its interior reservoir of methane.
Within, silicon and methane form novel bonds. One of the new compounds begins to vibrate violently. In the tiny methane sea contained by the clay vesicle, this miniscule new form jitters and collides with its fellow molecules. When it strikes them, it seizes them, and in its grasp they map themselves to their aggressor. They become its clone. Soon, the silicon-methane alliances have multiplied and grown crowded within their nursery.
The vesicle bursts, disrupting a dream of Sunny, and the new things leak out.
About the Author: Danny Solomon teaches anthropology in the SF Bay Area. His poems have appeared in Brain of Forgetting, Canary, and Turtle Island Quarterly, and he has some speculative fiction upcoming in Middle Planet. @daniel.allen.solomon on Instagram.
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