A few months ago we posted a story starting point titled “Crystal Gods” (which you can read here). Our story starting points provide writers with the opening paragraphs of a story. We then ask writers to continue the story themselves, in their own unique way. Author Thaddeus Howze used our “Crystal Gods” starting point to create this artful piece of original fiction.
by Thaddeus Howze
Jayvin approached the crystalline plant structure with curious eyes.
It was old. Centuries old. And it had grown to enormous proportions. Little wonder the villagers revered it so deeply; it must have been here for countless generations, and the way it glowed was… Jayvin wanted to think of it as magical. He tried to see it through the villagers’ eyes, he really did, but to him it was actually kind of eerie.
At the base of the crystal, the villagers had carved a series of shallow stone steps, and a deep fissure cut right to its glowing heart. This must be what the villagers called ‘the alter’. Jayvin could believe that their offerings affected the crystal in some way — or rather the lifeforms living inside it. Perhaps it — or they — could even be reliant on them in some way. But the miraculous powers Yin’Hal had described… No, that was impossible.
“Hey, Jayvin. Come look at this.”
Jayvin was the junior science technician on-board the Scoutship Investigare, sent to the planet to make a collection of scientific data for the Hegemony’s galactic database. The initial probe released onto the planet revealed a number of study-worthy structures, some natural formations, two dozen various plants and animals and the local sapients who called themselves the Marin’Hal, or The People of the Crystal Palace.
The senior science officer Dupree, had a different view of the most noteworthy of plant structures, the blue-green crystalline colossus, a decidedly non-magical one. The man had ice water in his veins and a heart that functioned on a purely logic-driven mechanism. Jayvin was happy he hadn’t chosen to accompany them to the planet and stayed on the ship citing a need to complete requisition orders for their next, more important, mission.
Dupree had already written this planet off as a lost cause. There was no chance at profit or a finder’s fee due to the local indigenous population. For a scout crew, planets without intelligent life netted the most from their corporate masters. The natives were already quite intelligent, had an understanding of life on other planets, even though they had no apparent interest in building spaceships.
Though the translation program they used was still less than perfect, the translation, as near as they could understand was “Why would we want to go anywhere else? We are already at home.”
The exo-biologist Dr. Carine Fisher had a completely different perspective from Officer Dupree and cultivated the same sense of fascination with the planet Jayvin did. She was already looking deeper into the fantastic flora and fauna than the science officer ever did. Every world no matter how intelligent the sapient life might be was a treasure trove to her.
Approaching the heart of the great flower with Dr. Fisher, Jayvin kept his log recorder gathering every scrap of data on this giant structure possible. The natives did not prevent them from approaching the plant but the longer they scanned it, the more like an animal the crystalline structure seemed to be. Not quite flora, not quite fauna, for that matter, not quite crystal though it appeared to be a structure carved from a single long chain molecular matrix. It drew its color from local minerals in the soil and the natives indicated it changed its color as it entered different phases of its existence.
Dr. Fisher was bubbling with enthusiasm as she gathered samples. The shaman, Yin’Hal, whose name meant, the soul of the People, said a collection of tiny samples would not hurt the great plant. “Jayvin, the central region of the planet actually seems to have a series of structures within it that may act as a nervous system. They are found only in the central region and their level of complexity is fifty thousand times denser than any other cellular structure in the plant.”
Jayvin adapted his scanner and studied the readings. “This level of density is only found in animals, and higher order ones at that. It resembles something akin to a nervous system. Are you sure we are translating what the local shaman Yin’Hal said?”
Fisher, absentmindedly, sat down on the platform region in the central hub of the plant, apparently affected by the heat of this inner forested region. Nearly fifty-seven degrees centigrade was difficult to handle even for engineered humans designed for extreme environments.
She was from a lower gravity world and thus would stop to take breaks more often than Jayvin did, whose parents were heavy-gravity miners in the Orinus Cluster. One of the reasons he got this job was because he could carry more equipment than most of the technicians on the Investigare. That and his functional IQ of 164. The Hegemony educational specialist thought he would be a natural at Exobiology due to his experiences on the deathworld his parents had chosen to mine and survive on.
When she sat down, she dropped her equipment and arched her back as if she were being electrified. Jayvin reached out to grab her when the prehensile tail of Yin’Hal gently held my hand back. The tail had incredible strength and while gentle, he would not be able to reach her unless zhe wanted me to.
“The Chareun’Hal has chosen her. It would be better to touch not.” Yin’Hal spoke gently and my translator necklace repeated his statement in Galac Three.
“How long will she be like that? What’s happening to her? Is she in danger?”
“She harmed will not. Chareun’Hal fills with wisdom and prepares for transition to the next world.” The simian-like form of Yin’Hal while half Jayvin’s respectable height of two meters, was clearly physically his superior. The scans of the species indicated a sophisticated level of genetic development which bordered upon the Hegemony’s best gene-engineering.
The Marin’Hal were physically fit, retaining their faculties throughout their long lifespans. All the members possessed a variety of superior traits including heightened intelligence and psychological balance.
All of the interactions with the Marin’Hal indicated they knew nothing of duplicity, nor envy and were not capable of telling an untruth, not even having a word for the concept. They shared everything and had no concept of ownership. “We hope you will consider taking communion with the Chareun’Hal when she is finished.”
“I will sit here and wait, if that’s okay.” Jayvin didn’t want to leave her if he could help it.
First Science Technician Jayvin sat there on and off for sixteen days. He became quite worried when the plant structure began to fill the “altar” with a thick webbing that developed so slowly he didn’t even realize it was happening at first. But different members of the Marin’Hal would sit with him, since they all had specified duties to perform, each indicated all was as it should be.
The captain called down and bellowed that the two of them had a standard month to complete their survey and that their time was nearly over. Jayvin assured him everything would be ready to go on time and with enough data to make the survey more than break even. Xeno-biologists of the Hegemony would pay Investigare well for the biological data of X’Hal and its inhabitants. Not what our corporate clients would for complete physical resources of a planet but definitely enough to fund two or three more major expeditions to survey-worthy systems.
The Captain grunted and likely went back to work on preparing the ship for its next jump. Jayvin had spent his two weeks doing the rest of the survey since he was told there would be plenty of notice when she was ready. He found the Marin’Hal both funny and fascinating, often in the same breath.
He found the local forests filled with integrated farming techniques. The Marin’Hal were able to show how they harvested the local forests in a pattern that did not destabilize their growth or over-harvest the forest. There was a series of soil enhancements done from a variety of domesticated animals, always underway keeping the forest around the Charuen’Hal rich and vibrant and the extensive families of the Marin’Hal fed and comfortable.
Their language was rich and diverse and actually broken into several layers, with a separate language for mathematics, history and science. He was never truly able to understand how they described art because it seemed there was an “art” to everything. As he learned more about them, he discovered an underlying artwork in everything they did, no surface went uncarved or modified, he had not recognized it as art until he learned to complement the unique etchings of each Marin’Hal home. The time passed productively. By the time Yin’Hal told him Dr. Fisher was ready he had almost forgotten she was on the planet.
The climb to the center chamber was much easier than his first visit after recognizing the pattern of mathematics this planet’s inhabitants embedded in everything. When he reached the inner chamber it was almost clear again and he could see Dr. Fisher. But there was something wrong with her appearance. It was only as the webbing cleared did he know what it was.
When she woke it was shocking to find her blue eyes had become the golden color of nearly every Marin’Hal. Just as shocking was the beautiful coat of golden fur she now sprouted from every visible patch of skin.
Recognition of where she was seemed to return to her in a few moments and then she smiled. She reached into her pocket and found her communicator. She activated it and spoke rapidly into it.
“Captain, I don’t think you want to rush right out of system, just yet.” Her voice had become smoky and deep, something Jayvin found compelling.
“Who the hell is this and how did you get Dr. Fisher’s communicator?”
Before she could speak again, Jayvin covered her mouth with his hand. The captain’s hello vanished into the vast chamber below as it slipped from her hand and down the stairs.
“You might not want to call the ship just yet. Remember, they don’t wear translators on board all the time.”
She look back at Jayvin as he considered the softness of her new golden fur. “Why would it matter if they did?”
“You realize you are not speaking Galac Three, right?”
“Right now, you are speaking in the native language. Fluently, I might add.”
She stood still for a moment as if taking a mental inventory before speaking again. Her voice quavered as she switched roughly to Galac Three, the primary tech language of the Hegemony. “If there ever was a time to renegotiate your pay rate, now would be the time. I wouldn’t even move from this spot until you get a renegotiation.
“This planet isn’t just beautiful and inhabited. We were so wrong about this system. This plant/animal/fungus isn’t being worshiped. It is part of the entire neural network of these structures on the planet. This node is just one of these organs. It functions as some kind of realtime array connecting each of them to a central brain. This planet is alive!”
“You mean this planet is aware? Sentient?”
“Yes, and better than that, it can connect to any other one of its kind in real time. Yes, that connection that normally takes two weeks just to get to the inner communication array and back to us? They can do that instantly. While we wait.”
Jayvin sat down staggered by the implications. “Who can they talk to? What are its limits?” It was the technician in him. He had to know who could be reached and how.
“Each of these worlds, if willing, could send and route trillions of communications links to any such world like themselves. It might not work for every kind of comm-link need but it could certainly make any enterprising captain and his partnered-planet wealthy enough to retire from the drudgery and monotony of a Scout ship captain and his crew. Emphasis on crew.”
“You might not want to sit down there too long, young one.” Yin’Hal poked Jayvin with his tail. “Unless you are prepared to be chosen for transition.” He gestured pointing at Dr. Fisher.
“Noted.” He started to stand up and then sat back down. “What does it feel like?”
Fisher smiled and her tail rose up and flicked him on the nose. “Like being in communication with a webwork of information formed from billions of minds. You can’t retain everything but what you could learn might set you up for life. Just focus on what matters most to you.”
“Oh, and I hope you like the fur, it can be removed but it takes much longer for the process to be reversed. There is an adjustment time before it’s safe to remove it. So it means at least a year with a beautiful coat of fur.”
Jayvin looked at Dr. Fisher and smiled. “Yes, I like the fur. Quite a bit in fact.”
Fisher looked at Jayvin, as if for the very first time. Her smile was radiant. “I think it will look good on you too.”
Fisher stepped out of the central chamber of the Chareun’Hal and the Marin’Hal stepped back with her. Jayvin smiled and said before the transition began to take place, “Guess you get to explain why we’re going to be two weeks late and why both of us will need to hire our own stylists before we move into the luxuries of retirement.”
Story by Thaddeus Howze. Thaddeus is a writer of multiple genres of speculative fiction. More of his work can be found at Hub City Blues.
Artwork by Alex Pascenko.