The entire experience was most perplexing. I sat still. A hard surface beneath me felt like the familiar cool metal of the Ahwahnee. It merged with my surroundings. White; intangible. I could almost feel the colourless phosphorescence against my jagged skin. My fingers ran the length of my forearms, tracing around overlapping scales. The moss was gone. Only pale patches remained where lichen had once grown. Yet I felt no metabolic effects. I was neither hot nor cold, hungry nor satiated, tired nor energetic. My symbiont organisms, without whom I could not have synthesised the energy to remain conscious, were gone. I raised an arm and examined it closely. Not since my fusion with the orbosh tree had I seen so much of my skin. My bareness extended down. My uniform, gone.
I had often wondered where I’d be without that uniform. Would I have remained beneath the thick canopies of Sheern? Perhaps there was comfort to be had amongst the farrenth branches. To live out my days surrounded by the rush of wind through the grasses, nourished by the citrus flesh of the lom palms. Now I knew. I’d be neither here nor there. Another person entirely. Made up of the same cells and atoms and electrons and quarks, perhaps. Destined to be broken down, recomposed and recycled; subducted under continental crust and cast again into a long night or a desert breeze. That uniform was my armour. Symbolising my exertions, my search for relevance and the collective ability of a social fiction to affect the icy realities of the medium in which we all grew.
The fertile soils of Argosia were my beginning. The cold black of space was my end. All are seeds, carrying forth a thousand ideas, philosophies and lessons on a solar wave. On far shores, some take root. Others fall endlessly, grasping and clutching at unforgiving rock. There’s a richness to our stories, textured like a vast orchestral composition. Expressions and feelings mingle, bold and grand but very, very fragile. The music is quieter now. A faint melody, high and mournful. A single, pale shoot poking hopefully from frozen ground.
It approached me from a great distance. A pinprick at first, it grew and grew. It was black, like a tunnel mouth, though it spun. Soon it filled my entire field of vision. The pockmarks on its surface told a violent story. Eons of abuse revealed themselves in the pits and crags. Creped with igneous folds, it was as if the sphere before me had been burned to a cinder in the furnaces of Kuzud. Its rotation was slow and deliberate. Each millimeter revealed more charred, darkened nothing. Barren sand, eroded in the thinnest of atmospheres that clung to the orb as it careened through the galaxy. It had no orbit path. Its journey, begun countless millennia ago, no end. Photons that brushed against its surface came not in torrents from the life-giving fusion of an embracing sun. Instead, they fell in drips and meagre trickles from tiny points of light far off in the deep abyss.
It turned and turned. From a corner seeped a glow. It spread like a wound across the skin of the world. Deep, scarlet, almost purple hues bled into fire-red crimson. But this was not a living world. No dynamo core churned up convections of magma from down within. No magnetic fields controlled the passage of tides and the movement of winds. This was growth. My mind recoiled as more of the red veins revealed themselves. Gripping the surface, they pulsated almost rhythmically. The once dead planet was now gripped in the throes of life, and it spilled blood-red light across space for all to see.
That world fell away. I remained, suspended in the stars as it continued along its rogue path. My white surrounds dropped into the dark, too. A peacefulness came over me. Nothing lay beneath me. Weightless, I tumbled as slowly as debris caught on a cosmic gust. Then, from above me, those gleaming eyes shone out. It felt as if a white-hot lance had forced its way through the front of my brain. Yet I couldn’t tear my own eyes away from that piercing stare. Another appeared. Then more. Unblinking, they lit up like nearby stars. Some moved, attached to invisible heads that peered curiously towards me. The pain tore through me, ripping through my nerves. I clutched at my temples and screamed. They joined. Our concert of pain tore across the galaxy. I shared the horrors of the Blood Dilithium.