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art by Melissa Mead

An Impossible Matter

Sylvia Anna Hiven lives and writes in Atlanta, Georgia. Her fiction has previously appeared in Daily Science Fiction, EscapePod, Stupefying Stories, and more. Find her on Twitter @brynnfarusiel.

Thorn had seen so many orbs on their journey. Some were large, some small. Some were red and scorching, some cold, craggy rock. But in this swirl of light, the thirdly orb looked different.
It was the color that caught his eye: blue and green, with wisps of white swirled around it. He stopped for a star blink, taking in the soft colors and the perfectly round shape.
"Thorn. You're falling behind." Grand Patri's mind was soft but unyielding, humming thoughts into Thorn's own.
Thorn withdrew from Grand Patri's touch, flicking light toward the orb and a question to Grand Patri.
"Do any of the orbs have a name?" he asked, emphasizing the seriousness of his inquiry with colors of green and gold.
The returning thought red-bloomed. "No. Why would they? They're just physical matter. No reason to name pointless matter."
Physicality and matter, Thorn thought. Those were the things that tethered you, kept you prisoner—what the schools had to flow around to proceed. Physicality hindered your thoughts, your hums, and it blocked communication and movement.
"But it's beautiful, that thirdly orb," Thorn vibrated. "Might it not be of use for something?"
"Of use?" Red thoughts turned purple and hazy. They were late, and Grant Patri was impatient. "Thorn, do you not pay attention to the knowledge points we cross, and the information left for you in them by the Befores?"
The knowledge points, bright dances of light, were scattered all through the void. Thorn always obediently tapped into them when he passed them by, and he partook of the wisdom of the schools that had floated through the void before him. But often, he questioned the information left behind by the Befores. He particularly questioned matter.
"Yes, Grand Patri. I do partake. But I just wonder sometimes."
"I will tell you of the thirdly orb." Grand Patri projected black and snappish, in criss-crossy slashes of information. "If you get close to it, the gravity will pull you to the ground and you won't be able to move. It has matter made of liquid, and matter made of rock, and sometimes the rock breaks and burning matter spews out like the burning stars we pass. The matter on the orb can be cold and freeze you, or char your thoughts to a crisp. It's a dangerous place."
"Could..." He hesitated. "Could anything live there?"
There came a shimmy of laughter. "Live? Oh Thorn, you are but a youngling. No, nothing can live on an orb. For that, you'd have to be made by matter."
Thorn forced out the obvious reply. "And that's impossible."
"Indeed." The thoughts came gentler now, not so impatient. "You must partake more from the knowledge points, Thorn. You must leave these childish thoughts and fantasies behind."
Thorn wanted to protest. He wanted to say that Grand Patri was too stubborn, too old and too assuming--too unwilling to consider that the impossible might be possible. Perhaps things of matter could exist, only in such different ways nobody had thought of them yet. But Grand Patri floated on, and Thorn had no time to protest.
He caressed the thirdly orb with one last vibration, storing its blue and green colors in his mind. And perhaps it was just in his imagination, but for a fleeting moment, Thorn imagined something vibrated back.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Author Comments

I've always been bothered by the assumption that extra-terrestrial life can only exist in forms and on planets that are similar to our own. I wrote this story to imagine what the same philosophy might sound like from the perspective of something very alien and different.

- Sylvia Anna Hiven
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