art by Melissa Mead
by Adam Colston
For two hundred and forty-six thousand orbits of the star, I dozed. At times, I listened to the immutable silence of the system.
Would anything come?
I pulsed a signal again, an elegant series of primes that interwove in complex patterns.
Twelve hundred turns later, a ship slid into the system--an ugly, black craft sheathed in weapons and shrouded in deceit.
Silently they came to find me, hidden from my gaze or so they must have thought. There was nothing beautiful in their actions, no consideration for the aesthetic. Even their deceleration was a simple linear affair that it pained me to watch.
They sniffed and scanned the system in their hunt for me, all the while I probed their ship's innermost secrets. Four turns later they focused their technology on the rings of the gas giant and found me entombed in The Eye.
It was an homage in ice to the almost poetic eyes of a race of beings from the far side of the galaxy I'd encountered a few million years before; creatures that sailed on the pressure differentials in the cloud layers of a gas giant. Their vast, but incredibly thin, bodies processed gases and particulates, harnessing the power of the nearby star's harsh light.
A sticky, absorptive outer layer was punctuated with small, jewel-like eyes--thousands of them--that scanned the swirling winds for particle-rich eddies.
Although barely conscious, their eyes were beautiful creations.
I'd used a small cluster of flecks--a flight of tiny ships stored within my casing--and pulse-heated some nearby ice boulders in the ring system. I looped energy fields around the rapidly cooling water, extruding fine icy threads, spinning globes, while my flecks carved blocks into complex prism systems. I assembled the eye and sealed myself in the prismatic clusters at the center.
It was perfect.
Well, nearly... perfection always seemed to elude me.
I'd expected--nay, hoped--the occupants of the ship would look at my sculpture and see it for what it was: a puzzle of rare complexity. I hoped they would try and solve its geometric mysteries, revel in its beauty, perhaps, show some appreciation at the very least.
If they had waited less than a half-turn, when the section of the ring system and the star aligned, they would have seen the clear ice of The Eye refract the starlight in a rare and sublime fashion. I would have revealed myself to them, bursting forth from the ice like one of the primitive gods that lay no doubt encoded deeply within their psyches.
But, no, they did not appreciate my effort.
The ship simply cut through the ice with a laser. Boiling large sections into a frozen mist.
I chose to remain partially hidden, revealed only as a hazy, indefinite ovoid, something neither their eyes nor sensors could bring into clear focus.
I listened to their excited electro-magnetic chatter.
They thought me a probe or some such device and hoped to discover something useful in me. One even wondered if there was a link between the third planet in the system--the one charred by focused streams of solar mass into elegant patterns--and me.
A small drone flicked from their hull and wrapped me in a monofilament, drawing me into their soulless-looking craft.
Machines laid me upon the cold floor in a pressurized section. First they scanned me for seams and gaps. Then they tried to pry me and to pierce me with high-speed cutters and lasers.
Nothing helped--I remained inert to their efforts.
My maker made me well, but I had made me better.
I remembered the day my maker activated me.
He took me to the nearby system of Byesa Nin-Stori. We entered the famous spheroid gallery that orbited the fourth planet. As we floated through the gallery's zero gravity exhibit channels, he'd scented me a complex message, setting me upon my life's course.
"I am dying." Sharp tangs with an underlying bitterness wafted from his gray multi-vented thorax. Small scent arms gramatised the complex scent message with touches of sweetness here and bitterness there. His antenna fluoresced to add tone and syntax.
"There is so much to learn in the universe that it bewilders me. All around me I see ugliness. Are these truly beautiful objects?"
He indicated, with a lower mandible, the dissected remains of an alien fetus layered with various mineral pastes into a complex structure that towered over us.
"I think so, but I have been told they are. Other races disagree--some, apparently, even find them revolting. Perhaps there is something all beings find beautiful--some thread of beauty common to all. For a creature like myself there is only a single life-time to accrue knowledge."
His antenna began to grey--a sign of imminent death--his race lived very long but defined lives.
"For you there can be more. My life has been spent constructing the finest machines--works of art in themselves. You are the pinnacle of my work; built strong, built intelligent, built to last. You are to seek out art and beauty, wherever you can find them, be it the sublime music found in the first milliseconds of a supernova, or the beauty inherent in the briefest and most elusive particles in the universe. You must find unarguable perfection--embody the beauty of it, wrap yourself in it and bring it to those that lack it--enrich their lives with it in a way each can understand, however you can. You are my gift to the galaxy."
He paused and examined the greying chitin and peeling scutes of his upper limbs. He looked up and continued his scenting, but sadly now.
"You have all the tools to grow and become more than you are now. Do you understand what you must do?"
I scented that I did.
Before he died, he gifted me his ship--I still needed one then. I left his lifeless body drifting among the art and accelerated into the interstellar vacuum.
The creatures in the ship--humans, they called themselves--gave up trying to open me. They discussed me. They thought they had waited long enough--two orbits of the star. It was safe, they believed, to approach me in the flesh.
Two of them came.