A Chance Encounter
The Entity floated through the darkness of space, as it had done for the entirety of its existence. It was an example of one of the oldest life forms in the universe, though partly because it was also one of the simplest, its body nothing more than a tenuous cloud of ions and messenger particles. For several million years, it had tracked its way around this and many other stars, blindly and instinctively searching for others of its kind, a search that most would proclaim futile. In the long ages of searching, this particular Entity had found only one. But now, between the fourth and fifth planets of a small stellar system, the Entity’s luck was about to change.
If the Entity knew of feelings like yearning or loneliness, it would certainly feel them. Separated by the vast gulfs of space, each member of its race yearns to find its peers, each one searching with infinite patience. On the all too rare occasion when this did happen, and two of these entities met, the two living clouds would slowly merge together. During this transformation, they become something new, greater than the sum of their parts, never to separate again.
In the vast distance, this particular Entity sensed a moving object, shining like a blinding light, which it knew at once to be the indication of another life form. It moved closer until the light resolved itself further into a close grouping of almost two dozen separate entities, moving together and, more importantly, in its direction. If the Entity knew of elation, it would have felt it. Shifting its mass slightly, the entity accelerated away some of its own gases to move into the direct path of the incoming life forms--shedding lifeblood to prepare itself for the glorious merging which would soon take place.
Eight months into a voyage which was scheduled to take one year, thirteen days, and five hours, the Captain of the R.Borillian looked worriedly upon his instrument panel. A red light blinked, one which very rarely required his attention. It was labeled
Looking back to the screen at his left, he scrolled through an article, dense with equations and figures, titled On the Eccentricity of Lunar Orbits in the Jovian System. It was written by one of the astrophysicists on board. He’d never been good with names, or physicists, for that matter, but it was either the bearded one or the guy with the glasses. Carrying sixteen scientists, five of his crew, and a disproportionately large amount of cargo, the ship raced at ten miles per second through the vacuum of space, intent on reaching the three inhabited moons of Jupiter.
The quest for extraterrestrial life, the scientists reminded him daily, is what brings mankind to the outer planets. The frozen seas of Europa, Ganymede’s oh-so-precious magnetic field, and the volcanism of Io had been the only topics of discussion among the labcoats aboard, each factor supposedly contributing to the chance of life emerging either on or beneath the moons’ surfaces. Even now, there were dozens of research teams drilling and scraping and digging, trying desperately to unearth even a single microbe in the hopes of forever cementing their names in the history books.
A door behind the Captain slid open with a pneumatic hiss to admit one of the biologists, who clumsily floated into the room. He held four thick books, two in each hand, and a pen between his teeth as he floundered his way into a chair. Finally settled, he nodded to the Captain and spread the books out to hang in the air in front of him. Breaking the silence of the otherwise quiet observation deck, a faint beeping from the
The Captain barely had time to notice the sound before a sharp pain stabbed into his head, one which he would have likened to the feeling of his brain trying to rip itself free from his skull. The Captain looked to the biologist, who was convulsing wildly in the air, obviously sharing the experience. Involuntarily his eyes clamped shut and his hands went to his head, though the blinding white pain remained for several seconds until fading to dull blackness. It was after this point that the Captain, and the rest of the scientists and crew, would breathe no more.
The official report on the incident would later conclude that, after passing through an otherwise clear region of space, the R.Borillian was showered with radiation, whose origin and nature are as of yet still unknown. There were no survivors among the crew; every one of them had suffered from either hemorrhagic strokes or other complications stemming from burst blood vessels in the brain. One crewman, however, survived long enough to shout his last words into a transmission aimed for Ganymede. The last transmission is as follows:
“Hello? Is anyone listening? I’m trying to transmit...oh God, they’re all dead...Something’s happened, my ears are bleeding, I’ve got a terrible headache, they all just stopped moving, and I don’t know what to do...please, it just hurts so—“
[End of Transmission]
The Entity continued on its path around the Sun. Such a wealth of life had been found, and yet none of them were compatible, none ready to combine their life with itself. If the entity knew sadness, it would have felt it. Although an opportunity had been lost, the Entity would have consoled itself in knowing that such a great gathering of life was completely unprecedented among its race, and that the pleasure of such a momentous sight made the encounter well worth the trouble. Besides, for a being which was all but immortal, there would be plenty of chances to try again.