Head-on it was nearly invisible—a mere point of light as bright only as the faintest and most minor background star. If viewed obliquely, however, it was something different. The inconsequential speck began to elongate and brighten with the angle and it became a distinct and very artificial, linear form. The object began to move, slowly drifting against the ubiquitous stellar backdrop. There was a brief flash, a pulse of platinum light at the object’s tapered rear and it accelerated, its magnitude expanding and it began to stir a sense of size and mass.
As it approached, the surface of it became visible—a damasked metal, reflective and shimmering. The ship was bulbous at its front, though the nose appeared sharp, as a teardrop, giving it a vaguely avian form. The rest of the structure tapered long and impossibly acute—the entirety of the craft evoking a sewing needle, traveling in the direction of its eye. Though mostly smooth and entirely free of markings, small antenna-like protuberances extended along its spine and side. The anterior bulge contained areas of darker metal, rectangular in shape. It began to emit powerful signals in a microwave band—non-repeating and encoded in binary. The emission was deep and startling and evident of a terrible power within.
The ship continued on a vector away from the yellow, main-sequence sun of this system. As it passed, its proximity to that sun became conspicuous. Another silent, platinum flash at its rear and it further accelerated, approaching the sun’s first planet: a baked, darkened sphere. Sensors inside the ship began to register the phenomena, though minuscule, almost imperceptible in magnitude—a whisper, a slight and distant melody. The phenomenon was recorded and analyzed and it was determined that the sought complexity was lacking—an investigatory orbit would not be necessary. Within a few moments it approached the second planet, a shrouded insipid world covered in thick clouds of carbon dioxide, flashes of lightning viewed in multiple points of the spectrum by the watchers. The sensors registered nothing but silence—a complete absence of the phenomena. As the whispers of the first world faded to nothing, the song of the third began.
This world, though similar in size to the second, was alive. Its oceans were already visible, growing with each passing moment as the ship approached. Clouds of water vapor drifted high in the obvious atmosphere—white painter’s strokes softening the edges of the harsh brown-green of continental land masses and blending organically with the ice of the northern and southern polar caps. The ship’s trajectory would take it close, and it decelerated to an orbital speed. Already the strength and complexity, the organization of the phenomena here was evident. As in others the ship had encountered, there was a correlation between the presence of an ecosystem and the quality of the phenomena associated with a planet. The builders of the ship had designed its sensors to express the received data in an audible form and the translation became a song, a hymn sung by this blue world.
The song was not beautiful. It was dirty, strange, disharmonic. There was a croaking, discordant rhythm repeating itself as an initiate monk chants Latin verse. The tones of the song ranged from profound and deeply low to random, high-pitched cries but most of it averaged in the mid-range—a vague, haunting contralto. The listeners never judged or interpreted the song and a literal translation was beyond their purpose, beyond their mission. Another listener though, perhaps born of the world recorded, might hear a voice in the planet’s song—a lone, strange voice speaking too loudly in an otherwise empty cathedral.
The ship, now in orbit, approached the solar terminator, the line of twilight marking the boundary of day and night on the planet’s surface. As it passed overhead, from day to night, unbroken darkness stretched along the surface from horizon to horizon. Only the polar aurora, a shimmering ring of electric color, green and blue with an occasional red, stood apart from the darkness. Completing a full orbit, the phenomena analyzed and recorded, the ship left this blue planet like those before it, the song fading as it traveled further from the system’s sun.
A smaller red planet, dormant, silent to the listeners on the ship, hung next in the alignment. This was followed by the largest world of the system, a gas giant whose phenomena could be sensed millions of kilometers away. The structure of the phenomena here, too, was highly complex and the song sang deep and old and masterful. The distances between the worlds at this point in the solar system were greater and a platinum flash behind the ship was followed by a strange contortion of the light of the background stars near its front. The ship accelerated within an instant to tremendous speed.
The listeners on the ship noted that the remaining cold giants all exhibited the phenomena in varying degrees of strength and complexity, although none warranted an investigatory orbit, save that of the blue terrestrial world and the first and largest of the gas giants. Having completed its survey, the distortion of light preceding the ship through space expanded and became more distinct and the craft once again accelerated greatly, traveling in a few seconds past the halo of cometary objects marking the end of this sun’s influence and out, out into the further spaces between the stars.
Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.
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