Symbiosis

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Chapter 13 - Revelations

[What do you mean ‘sustenance’?]

[The high frequency energy emitted from this... source... is perfect for growth.] Growth? I suppose there were some species of radiotrophic fungus back on Earth that used pigment melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy. But is it possible for an organism of this size and complexity to survive off radiosynthesis? If this alien can use gamma radiation like plants use sunlight, then it’s a fascinating discovery that would’ve had any of the biologists on board wetting their pants. It also explains why the alien has been holed up in the reactor chamber.

[Is that why you boarded the ship? For food?]

[No. The Great Fount, blessed be its light, provides all that is needed for growth. Myself came as ordered by the Eldest.]

[And why did this ‘Eldest’ of yours, order you to board my ship?]

[...To investigate.] My frustration at the aliens’ vague answers is starting to get to me. I can feel my anger rising, something I know that the alien can pick up on while our minds are linked. I need to find out exactly what this alien was sent here to do, and I won’t be accepting anymore dodges.

“Enough! More than 100 innocent humans are dead! I demand to know why, and what your part in their deaths was! You owe me that much for the hell you’ve put me through since I woke up!” The alien seems to freeze at my mental accusation. Without even realizing it, I subconsciously vocalized my demands as well, not that the alien could hear it. I need to get control of myself, I can’t let this end in another fight.

[Myself… supposes some clarification is in order. But your mind is not well equipped for large transfers of information. Myself suggests you brace yourself.] Then, my head swells, and I’m swept to a time and place far away.

With a thought, I magnetize my atoms to bind myself to the anchor where the honored elder I am petitioning for information arranged to meet. As I cross the void between us, I absentmindedly spread my limbs out wide to partake of more light from the Great Fount. As I do, I ponder the negotiation I am about to attempt.

Rumors suggest this elder has made a breakthrough in our understanding of photons. If it is true, then the Flock may finally solve the issue of the photon’s dual nature as a wave and particle. A most vexing quandary. Our manipulation of the fundamental particle can only go so far when its nature as a particle or wave is unclear. A frustrating constraint that has stymied even the Eldest for some 1,500 revolutions now. Hopefully my discoveries in manipulating the strength of the charge of electrons will be enough to tempt an exchange of information.

After two revolutions, I arrive at the ferrous anchor point. I reverse the polarization of my atoms to slow my approach into a stable orbit. The history of these anchors has always fascinated me. They are one of the few areas of historical knowledge that interested me enough to scour the Repository for information about them.

Their construction was one of the Flock’s greatest achievements. The material for their construction had to be slowly pulled from the distant belt of debris and directed to fall deeper into the Great Founts gravity well. Only by the combined might of many long dead elders that lived as far back as the Eldest’s youth could the distant matter be coaxed into their current positions.

Once in place, the large masses of material were refined down to the metallic components and shaped into perfect spheres. They were then arranged into a grid surrounding the Great Fount and had their relative velocities killed, putting them in geostationary orbits. The size and metallic nature of the spheres created the perfect way to leverage the Flock’s ability to magnetize our own atoms as a form of transportation.

The anchors revolutionized our entire way of life. No longer did we have to be content to drift along in the relative position of our birth, confined to the circumstances of our location. Or so it is said by the elders who contributed the information to the Repository. But such events were long before my creation.

At that thought, the elder that has been waiting for me notices my arrival. They adjust their orbit around the anchor to bring themself within range to establish a mental link. Since I am the one who requested this meeting and had the audacity to make an elder wait, I begin the exchange by sending them a reserved but respectful greeting and ask permission to enter into communion with them.

It takes a few moments for the elder’s vast consciousness to churn into action and respond with a flat and uninterested reciprocation. This elder is relatively old and large, about 100 times my own size and age. Its one contribution of note is represented by their second pair of eyes. To have made only a single significant contribution at their age is an indication that they have not achieved much in their long life. They are almost 4,000 revolutions old and have not yet earned any scribes to help organize and effectuate their memories and neural connections.

However, if the rumor of their discovery is true, then it will surely bring them all the attendants they will need for countless revolutions to come. Not to mention a new pair of eyes, to symbolize the insight of the contribution. The insight this elder offers will enable many other discoveries to be made. I intend to be one of the first beneficiaries of their breakthrough and pull ahead of the others in my generation.

After greetings are exchanged, I send a mental query asking if they have truly unraveled the secret of the photon, then wait patiently. The elder, with the same lack of enthusiasm, responds in the affirmative. Excellent. Given the distance between this elder and any other Kindred besides myself, it seems I am the first to make a play for this sacrament. The others will likely have dismissed the rumors as the mad ramblings of an old but unsuccessful Kindred. While usually they would be right, the potential benefit is too great to ignore this time.

With great anticipation, I make a formal request for an exchange, though there is hardly a need to. The elder knows that there is no other reason why I would be here, petitioning a low status elder such as itself. They merely gaze back at me, suspicion clear in its four eyes and brownish color. They assume I could not possibly have anything that is worth being privy to its key discovery before it is contributed to the Repository.

In response, I outline what my own discovery could allow it to do, without betraying any of the actual mechanics of the process. Contained within a single transmission is the conceptual understanding of how to weaken the charge of the electrons in the atoms that constitute our bodies. This conceptually simple, but incredibly difficult manipulation allows us to pass through solid matter.

The elder takes a concerningly long time to process the information within its crowded memories and jumbled thoughts. When the elder does eventually grasp my offer, they seem less than ecstatic. The communication sent to me expresses doubt over the usefulness of this knowledge, given how rare it is for Kindred to have any contact with solids. There are some incredibly large spherical formations of solid matter that distantly orbit the Great Fount. But they are much too far for any of the Kindred to ever bother to visit. After all, who would ever willingly distance themselves from the Great Fount and stunt their own growth.

I am about to continue my persuasion by hinting at some other theoretical applications of my offered sacrament, when the elder’s mental fluctuations begin to change. They seem to be searching recent memories, within the past 50 revolutions, for something specific. Eventually, they find whatever they are looking for and suddenly seem very keen on making the exchange. The rather abrupt change in attitude is suspicious, but this exchange is exactly what I wanted, so I tentatively agree.

Both parties then take to preparing a neat and concise transfer of information. As soon as the simultaneous transfer is complete, I take to processing the new information. Spectacular, to think the secret of the photon’s dual nature lied in its oscillation frequency!

Before I can perform anything other than a cursory inspection of the new information, the elder reestablishes our mental link. Curious, I offer greetings once more and query what they wish to convey. The elder is practically radiating satisfaction when they inquire if I am old enough to remember the Eradication. The event was somewhat recent by an elder’s standards, some 3,000 revolutions ago. But that was still well before my paltry life of 50 revolutions. I inform the elder of such and am rewarded with every elder’s favorite pastime, lecturing the youth on events from long ago.

It is a story I have heard 100 times from 100 elders. A fantastical tale of intelligent lifeforms who were neither of the Flock or even Kindred. These strange animals crossed the void by living in hollow vessels to protect their weak constitutions.

While most Kindred then were at first curious about these strange and novel beings, the Eldest, recently risen to the rank, saw them for what they truly were, invaders. Here to displace us from our rightful place at the seat of the Great Fount. They would start by claiming the celestial bodies that orbit the Great Fount. Then, once they had a foothold, they would move to evict us from our rightful home, or, failing that, destroy us.

But the Eldest, in his wisdom and power, united the Flock and used their understanding of the fundamental forces to annihilate the invaders and the vessels they infested. The Eldest used his immense mind to harness the very power within the Great Fount itself. With great solemnity, the Eldest ripped off a sliver of the Great Fount and used it to burn away the invaders. Hundreds upon hundreds of the vessels were destroyed in a single stroke. All but one, so it may carry a message back from whence it came, to tell of the consequences of encroachment.

The elder’s story is interrupted by an almost inconceivably massive electromagnetic wave that washes over the Flock. The wave contains a simple and unmistakable message. Congregate. There is only one source which can project a mental communication of such clarity, such power. The Eldest has called the Flock together.
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