What is the deal here? I write telling you that we’ve discovered an intelligent life form, with six freaking wings and an aggressive history, that Doctor Andromeda, world saving Listener, has embarked on a suicide mission to the alien world, and no response. Once again, no response. What are you planning back home, on Earth? Are you afraid of the Murmur? Or has the truth about Earth not sunk in yet? The planet is dying, there’s no question about it. We’ve heard straight from the planet herself.
I bet you’re afraid of Listeners, aren’t you, President Morgan? Still afraid of what Andromeda knows that you don’t know. Well, you might want to know that I’m stepping up to the position as lead researcher on this vessel. Andromeda Victoria is ill…the parasite has taken up a role as the Collective in her mind. She believes it to be sentient, and her humanity may be in question. I would appreciate a response. Orders, perhaps, even.
The Vespin vessel was shaped almost like a bird- its exterior was painted black and adorned with bioluminescent stars, making its outline hard to determine. The window of the cockpit was the same iridescent color of the Vespin. Dhashya’s eye spots glowed bright green, and an entrance into the shop opened before us.
“Visitors first,” Dhashya mumbled, and followed me into the ship. Its interior was free of wires and computer screens, which made me wonder- how did it fly? The walls of the ship seemed to breathe, expanding and shrinking in rhythm.
“Excuse me…but what is this? This isn’t a ship…” I asked Jasya.
The Murmur accentuated the word ‘vessel’ in my thoughts. No, it wasn’t a ship- it was a living being.
“This is Nayha.”
“Nayha grows as we do, lives and breathes. Feels and thinks. We were born from Nayha, and we live in Nayha.” So, a symbiotic relationship- Nayha, as they called the ship, traveled with the Vespin. In return, the Vespin likely cared for this other being.
Jasya produced a musical buzz from his mandible. Nayha responded with a similar hum, and I suddenly jolted forward. Before I realized it, the frigate was out of view, and in front of me stood a completely unfamiliar landscape.
“Welcome to our home satellite. Aditya.”
I was thankful to the Murmur for translating- without it; the buzzing music of the Vespin would have been indecipherable to me. They had no ‘words’ but spoke in rhythmic vibrations of mouth parts.
“We will lead you to our Queen. She will decide what information she wishes for. Make your suggestions to her.” They led me through numerous catacombs, lined with jewels of various kinds. Rather than a beehive, Aditya resembled a temple. This structure, too, had qualities of a living being. The bejeweled walls inhaled, exhaled-grew, shrunk, as if I were inside an organism’s lungs.
“I would really like some more information on Arjuna’s inhabitants, if your Queen will allow’” I suggested.
“Only she can decide what knowledge to give. She will not listen to us if we try to persuade.”
My sense of time had been lost months ago, once the voyage to Arjuna had begun. Therefore, I cannot recall how much time passed before the bejeweled catacombs opened into a grand cathedral. I was so taken by the beauty of the structure itself that it took me a few minutes to focus on the iridescent mass before me. I gasped despite myself-it was the Queen. Unlike Dhashya and Jasya, she lacked eyespots. In fact, she had no eyes at all. But her entire body was covered in bioluminescent starspots. Unlike queen insects on earth, this queen’s abdomen was not gravid with eggs, likely due to the ‘equality’ of the Vespin sexes. It occurred to me that perhaps all females had the ability to reproduce among this species; not just the Queen. Her body was sleek, agile-looking, and utterly beautiful. Despite her lack of eyes, I knew that she could see me somehow-she faced my direction, followed my every move. The biologist in me hypothesized that she likely sensed vibrations in the ground.
“She wishes to speak to you now-and asks permission to look at your information storage device.” Instinctually, perhaps-I couldn’t tell if the Murmur directed me to do so, or not-I kneeled in front of the Queen, and with both hands out, offered her my Notescreen. For the first time, I saw her forelimbs extend towards me-they were mantis-like in build, and iridescent in the little light that filtered through the ceiling. She took the Notescreen from me in a surprisingly gentle manner. A rush of joy overtook my body, a feeling similar to when I tapped into the Collective back on Earth. The Queen gazed at the Notescreen for a few moments. The backlight from the device reflected off of her face. At last, she spoke.
“Earth,” Her voice gave me chills. Much like the Earth Spirit, her voice was gentle, loving. If ancient humans had heard this creature’s voice, surely they would have believed her to be a Goddess. “I remember Earth. I remember being told of your species’ evolution. No existing civilization could believe it. Highly evolved apes? Your ancestors’ behavior was so..violent, so primitive. We never suspected a species like yours could ever exist. Each individual of yours is such a paradox.” The Queen flipped through the Notescreen information quickly, until her gaze rested on a single slide .I saw in a reflection that it was the information on Arjuna. “Our species used to be very violent. We were raiders. Conquerors. Our empire had no equal. This entire galaxy was in our control. Until we ventured onto this planet, the one you call Arjuna.” The Queen continued to flip through the slides on the Notescreen. “We didn’t know what was on that planet. It had always looked quite empty, a prime place for colonization. However, when we arrived on Arjuna, we found a diversity of life unlike any other we had ever seen. Arjuna was beautiful. It was like a paradise. However, once we began colonization, we ran into problems. I see your species has had a similar situation as ours. The parasitic organism that dwells on the planet…”
“The Murmur,” I specified.
“I saw on this data transfer device that you named the organism…might I ask why? More than one quarter of the entire empire was wiped out by that organism. Many of my kin suffered an agonizing death. The dying spoke of a whisper. A whisper in their minds.”
“That’s where it got its name. I heard the victims talking about the whispers in their head.” I wondered if it would be ill-advised to tell the Queen my infected status. She would likely be even more shocked and disturbed by the fact that I was not only infected, but that my body had indeed accepted the organism as part of it. Or, rather, the complete opposite. I suspected the Murmur had accepted me. It shared knowledge with me, had become like a companion. Or another brain. From what the Queen was saying, it was unlikely that any Vespin accepted the protozoan into their system. All of the infected died during the epidemic.
“The epidemic forced us to change our way of life and regroup. So many died that conquering other races became impossible. We were spread so thin that we had to leave all of our colonies. We had only one place to return to. This hive. We are no longer raiders or conquerors. Rather, we have become traders. We are a peaceful civilization now. While our fall from glory was a deadly one, we recovered well, and became more enlightened because of it.”
“Can I ask you something?” The Queen rested her gaze on me-I took that as a go-ahead. “Did anyone survive the infection?” Her expression did not change, making her reaction to the question hard to read. Then again, how could mandibles form a smile? Or a frown, even? How could a creature without eyes portray emotion? She didn’t seem angry, however, for she answered calmly and politely.
“No, all of the infected died. No matter what rank, or what clan they were from. Once the…Murmur…infected the brain, all victims died. According to your observations, the Murmur is only pathogenic at its second life stage. I find your research admirable, if not a little fool-hardy. How have you not become infected, even when the majority of your crew have fallen ill?”
“Some of my people have survived infection somehow. Instead of destroying the brain of its victims, some of the infected seem to incorporate the organism into their systems.”
The Queen flipped through the Notescreen again, silent.
“I am one of those who accepted the Murmur into my system. So far only one more has fully accepted it. And one of my lab assistants seems to be immune.”
“You are a Listener, correct? That’s what you call neo-humans. You are more highly evolved than the rest or your species. You are directly connected to the Planet’s life source…how lucky you are, Andromeda Victoria.”
“I think the Murmur is sentient…even what you told me about what happened to your people on Arjuna. Something seems too… convenient about it. Please, if you are willing to, exchange the history of your people and the details of the events on Arjuna. In return, you can have any information that you want.” The Queen made a pleasant-sounding noise, perhaps a Vespin laugh.
“I have all the information I wished for. I will upload the entire history of my people onto your device. I trust you, neonate.”
That word, ‘neonate’. New-born. The Vespin was an ancient race. In a way, perhaps calling me ‘newborn’ was a term of endearment. Or a reference to Listeners. Neo-humans, as she had stated earlier.
She continued: “And as you are infected, yet alive…the only way you can speak to my people is through the parasite itself, lodged in your brain, translating instantly. The Murmur has adopted you, it seems. You have been accepted by Arjuna, while we were rejected. Perhaps it was our aggressive nature that did us in.” The Queen silently summoned two nameless underlings, both holding what looked like transfer devices. However, there was no obvious trace of technology about them. Rather they resembled tomes more than anything else. But like everything else in the hive, the tomes pulsated with life. The underlings attached the first tome to the Notescreen, and then the second. To my disbelief, the tomes ceased to exist, without warning. What had been a sleek human technology, the Notescreen, was now a blend of organic matter and human innovation. The metallic lining of the holographic touch-screen now moved with signs of life, rising and falling, inhaling and exhaling. I smiled, despite the strange circumstances.
“There is one more mystery about Arjuna. While we were there, exploring, investigating our resources, we found what appeared to be signs of another sentient species native to the planet. We were forced to leave before further investigations could take place.” One of the underlings handed me the hybrid Notescreen. “Andromeda, it is my belief that your people have been chosen to discover the secrets of Arjuna. My people were never meant to live there. The Murmur made that choice. Now go. Go, and save your species. You can contact us with your Notescreen in an emergency.”
Nobody spoke to me when I returned to the frigate-not even Simon. Aggravated, I addressed the issue in my usual way-bluntly and openly.
“I’m doing my job, Simon. They gave me invaluable information about Arjuna. I have the entire history of their people. The Queen was gracious and supportive of our species.” Simon sighed and approached me.
“Can I talk to you in private?” He asked. I nodded and exited the research laboratory. “Andromeda, Rosalia and I both agree that your infection is interfering with your objectives. You’re going insane. Leaving with strange aliens to go to their ship? Trade information with them without government permission? They could have killed you. Or even all of us. Not only that, but during the time you were gone, what if one of the infected had died? But you’re lucky. Instead, some of them- actually, just follow me. You need to see this.”
He led me to the medical wing- on the way in, instead of twenty or so life support machines beeping, I heard healthy human voices. We arrived-and I set my eyes on a room of standing, healthy people, all of them with a blurry red mark on their face. Some of them waved to me and smiled-others averted their eyes and mumbled something to their neighbor.
“The vaccine we designed worked.” Simon explained, “But I’ve already written to the Institution of Colonization and I’m asking to be put in charge of all Murmur research attempts and fauna research when we arrive. I’m sorry, but you’ve allowed the mission to become less about our people, and more about a parasitic alien organism.”
“Simon,” I could hardly talk-the joy at the survivors thanks to my antibodies did not mix well with the knowledge that I had been betrayed by Simon. To prevent my situation from getting any worse, I said nothing. I did not talk. I simply nodded and excused myself from the room, fists clenched so tightly that my palms bled.
I didn’t break down into tears until I found a nicely isolated hallway. There was still metabolic waste left behind on the floor by the Murmur’s infectious stage. It stuck to my shoes and left footprints in the residue.
“Even off of my planet, Listeners are feared.” I was still a Listener out here, with the Murmur as my Collective. Simon’s betrayal reminded me of my peoples’ past; the Silent Wars had caused the deaths of many of my kind. Listeners had never been truly accepted by the Silent, ‘normal’ humans. Maybe I was simply being used for my entire life. My life had been devoted to studying Arjuna-I had saved lives with my antibodies alone- and here my closest friend was rallying the crew against me. Even off of planet Earth, I was being persecuted because of my ‘gift.’ It occurred to me that Listeners would most likely never be fully accepted into human society. Even if the Collective were replaced with a symbiotic organism, even if this same organism dwelled within all humans on Arjuna, I would never be accepted because I could communicate with it directly.
Why did I love my species, Homo sapiens? Our shambled mess of genetic material held so many paradoxes. The Queen was correct about that one. Simon should have embraced me upon my return, if not only for the fact that the survivors were well, due to the vaccine I’d devised. Instead he betrayed me while I was with the Vespin, receiving invaluable information related to our mission.
And to think that I’d loved him…
That wasn’t what truly hurt, though. I thought he loved me. I thought he felt strongly for me.
I thought wrong.
Suddenly, my heart burned. Humans were disgusting creatures. Traitors and backstabbers, evil enough to have sickened our own planet to the point of such desperation that they’d drafted a child to solve their problems.
The Murmur alerted my attention to a life form approaching- a human. Not in the mood for an intraspecies conflict, I turned to run. But he was already behind me. Simon.
“Why are you here?” My voice was emotionless, flat. Did he truly think I would want to speak to him right now? “Go away. I don’t want to see your face. I don’t even want to hear your voice. You were my friend, however you went out of your way to destroy any bonds we had- not to mention my career.”
“That’s not what this is about, Andromeda. My intent wasn’t to hurt you. I was…am…worried about you. You’ve changed. You don’t even think much like a human anymore. I don’t even think you’re trying to study Arjuna. I think you’re just trying to find a new Collective.”
“I think you’re first concern isn’t the species’ survival. And that’s why I recommended that your post be taken. That’s our first objective, Andromeda. The migration of our population to Arjuna.” Simon didn’t look angry. He truly looked concerned.
“I received detailed information about Arjuna from the Vespin, for that purpose.”
“No, you wanted more information on the Murmur.”
“Yes, and I found out that the Vespin empire was toppled by it!”
Simon opened his mouth to speak-but any response was stolen from his lips by what I had just said.
“I have the entire Vespin history! They also told me that it’s possible another sentient species dwells on Arjuna. We might not even be able to colonize. Even if every human is injected with my antibodies and becomes Accepted, there may be another organism waiting to wipe us out.” Simon stood silently. “There’s more than the Murmur to worry about. Everything we need to know is on the Notescreen.”
Through arguing, Simon and my friendship had somewhat repaired itself. For the moment.
“I’m not touching that thing,” He joked. I didn’t smile, still angry.
“Good, I wouldn’t let you anyway. The Queen entrusted the information to me, and me alone.”
Simon and I walked back to the medical wing, to assist Rosalia in her checkups on the newly awakened Accepted. We walked silently, but amiably, despite the circumstances.
Rosalia had herded everyone to a room nearby but separate from the medical wing. Everyone was healthy, although my joy was still overshadowed by Simon’s betrayal. I didn’t wholly blame Simon, however-I was suspicious of Rosalia. Had she convinced him somehow that I was insane?
Some of the newly Accepted approached me with their thanks. So someone had told them about my creation of vaccine; probably Simon.
After the examinations ended, we held a meeting with all of the awakened passengers to designate jobs and reassign work forces. The meeting was oddly nostalgic. Most everyone was smiling-save me. The meeting ended, and the cleanup crew, made up of about seven men, went to work scrubbing the mess hall and ridding the hallways of the metabolic sludge left over from the epidemic.
Simon and I returned to the lab. I laughed when I passed the horribly broken laboratory door, despite my dark resolve. Simon glanced at me and started laughing, as well. We laughed together until I remembered what he’d done to me.
“Simon. Please don’t take my job away from me. I’m not insane, I’m simply out of place out here, in space. The Murmur is intelligent, Simon. The Queen believes it is sentient, as well. She said it chose to destroy her people, but it has accepted Man.”
Simon said nothing-the panicked thumping of my heart resounded in my head, even louder than the beeping of Agostino’s heart monitor. I glanced momentarily at the image of his brain scans. His brain activity had flat-lined completely, despite the inoculation.
“He’s gone,” I informed Simon, “We should let him die and inform the ground base immediately.” Simon bit his lip- an anxious gesture.
“I never received a response from Earth,” He responded.
“I’ve sent several hundred mission reports to the ground base, multiple reports daily- and haven’t received one response. So I don’t think you have to worry about losing your title. It’s either too late for Earth, or we were abandoned once they heard about the Murmur.” Simon bit his lip too hard, and wiped the blood from his mouth. I smiled slightly. “If you want to know what I actually believe-it’s that this entire mission was a hoax. Haven’t you noticed that all of the passengers had some sort of influential position on Earth? And this mission was never announced to the public?”
“What reason would the government have to do that?”
“Well, if they wanted to utilize whatever we have left on Earth…or if they never believed you and the other Listeners from the beginning…”
“They sent us on a dead-end mission?”
“I’m thinking more of a suicide mission…”
And then it struck me. “The Vespin already knew about our species and our planet…have they made contact before?”
“I doubt any negotiations would have occurred…our species is too xenophobic. We’re afraid of different mutations of our own species. What makes you think our people could bump into another sentient species- giant hornets, even more- and not just try and blow them up?” Simon said matter-of-factly. Unfortunately, he was right.
“The Queen would have told me, and if she didn’t I’m certain it will be in the files she gave me. Not only the history of Arjuna, but of her people entirely.” To my surprise, Simon suddenly grabbed my wrist and pulled me into him. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. My heart skipped a beat-should I be angry, or happy?
I had wanted nothing more than to be in Simon’s arms ever since we’d become close-however, after he messaged ground base to suggest I be removed from my post, my trust for him was tainted. And yet I still felt the warmth grow in my chest. And I didn’t pry Simon’s hands from me.
“I’m proud of you, Andromeda,” He whispered, “Through everything that has happened, you remain strong.” And then his lips came down onto my forehead, soft and warm. I froze, uncertain of what to do, or where to go from here. His arms tightened around me.
“I…I can’t,” I attempted to pull Simon’s arms from around me. “Simon, I just can’t. Have you forgotten what you did? And isn’t there something between you and Rosalia? I just can’t. Not right now.” Simon loosened his grip slightly.
“I think we both know how we feel, Andromeda. I didn’t truly realize it until you left with the Vespin. I’d never been so worried before, aside from when you got sick. I thought I’d lost you.”
“But you should trust me enough to know I’m not stupid. I can sense there’s something between you and Doctor Rosalia, you’ve wanted to be with her a lot lately.” Simon let go of me completely. I gently pushed against his chest and away from him. “I’m sorry, Simon.” I wasn’t sorry, actually. Not at all. I found it hard to trust humans. I always had. Silent humans were dangerous, and had always been. “I have to go search through the new data records, and find out what we’re going to do with ourselves now. Since it appears that the government of Earth never truly intended to migrate our population at all…”
Those fools. There would be no salvation for human kind. Those left on Earth had received a death sentence. A slow, violent death, along with all of the flora and fauna of Earth. The Collective’s days were numbered, now. I could only imagine what the Listeners at home were going through. Their entire existence was like a time bomb, hearing the countdown and knowing they could do nothing to stop the death of the planet.
“We don’t know that yet, Andromeda. Maybe communications are simply down. Maybe they can’t even receive messages. We can’t possibly know the truth right now.”
“I also sent a report in, and have received no response. Simon…I think our mission was a distraction from something the government planned to do on Earth. Nothing more. And we were sent here because otherwise, we would have been in the way.” Simon frowned. I nodded once, and turned to leave.
How could he toy with me that way? To inform me that he no longer viewed me as able to perform my duties, and then hold me? Kiss me? He knew perfectly well that was what I always wanted. And even more, he had dropped Rosalia’s name. They were conspiring against me together. What else were they doing together? I loved him.
I found an unused cabin and hunkered down with my Notescreen. The moment I turned it on, I noticed a difference in the screen’s appearance. The files on Earth were dwarfed by the files on Arjuna and the Vespin. Even the Star Fly files had grown. There were also files on numerous races and planets I had never heard of before. My heart raced. How much had my species been missing for all these centuries?
I selected the new files on Arjuna. The planet image projected became larger and larger, until, at last, I set eyes on the surface of Arjuna.
Tears dripped slowly down my cheeks. It was beautiful. More than I could have ever hoped for. The Murmur within me simply thought, “home.”
The image zoomed in until it stopped, and centered on a small civilization tucked away in a vine-covered hillside. From a small, hut-like building emerged a Vespin.
“The forests are deep and dangerous here,” The Vespin narration was spoken in English, pre-translated. “However, the amount of life is astonishing. Never before have I seen such diversity. This planet is prime settlement land, filled with prey and resources to live on.” The Vespin subject came closer and closer, until somehow the point of view of the image became first-person. “This is Noriya reporting from Arjuna’s primary establishment. This planet…I can’t believe it.” All I could see of the Vespin narrator from his point of view were his antennae. He walked towards a large stand of trees, and entered a dense forest. It was obvious that the foliage dwarfed him. The light of the two suns in the Talon Galaxy was blocked by the canopy of the trees above. Noriya continued to walk, until he reached a cliff. Quite possibly, the cliff-face could fit two skyscrapers from Earth. Down in the bottom of the valley, I could see a fast-moving body of water. Along the cliff sides there was a multitude of plant life. Suddenly, Noriya jumped off of the edge of the cliff. My body flew backwards in a panic, trying desperately to cling to the cliff face, before I remembered that I wasn’t really on Arjuna. These were the memories of a colonial Vespin. He flew across the cliff effortlessly, and continued on the other side-a forest equally dense. However, on this side of the gorge, there appeared to be a stone path.
Why was there a beaten path on a newly colonized planet?
Noriya walked until he found his way to a pile of rocks. There didn’t appear to be an organization to them at all-until Noriya focused on the large crumbled structure behind them. The structure was coated in an oddly colored slime. Noriya stepped closer to the structure, and stuck a chiloped in it.
“Wait…”I whispered to myself, “That’s the byproduct of the Murmur…in its second infectious life stage!”
Noriya examined the metabolic product, and returned to the colony establishment-acting as the unknowing vector for the organism. His report ended abruptly. The hologram faded, and the Notescreen returned to the data log.
“Shut off,” I told the Notescreen, and pushed myself to my feet. So Noriya and his colony were the first to become infected. And the Queen had been right about a mystery civilization on Arjuna. However, it appeared that whatever civilization had been there before was ancient, and no longer existed. In order to build a structure of any sort, the species had to be intelligent. Sentient, most definitely.
Suddenly six more months on this ship felt like an eternity. Sure, I could see Arjuna through the eyes of a Vespin, an individual long dead from an infection that lived within my very mind, but it wasn’t the same. I found myself a quiet room away from the noisy cleaning and cooking of the newly Accepted. I hadn’t slept well in what felt like an eternity, so I curled up on the floor and closed my eyes.
“Andromeda! Hey, wake up!”
I cracked an eye open and saw Simon’s form hovering above me.
“Hey, Andromeda! Wake up, there’s something you might want to see.” I stretched, and sat up.
“What?” Simon shook his head at me and helped me to my feet.
“Well, didn’t you wake up on the wrong side of the floor?”
“Don’t push your luck,” I warned him jokingly. “So what is it you want me to see?”
Simon took my hand in his and pulled me to the mess hall.
“Sit down,” He told me,” And close your eyes.” What could he possibly want from me? I humored him. Oddly enough I was filled with nostalgia. Here, in the noisy mess hall, it seemed almost as if nothing had ever gone wrong.
“Okay,” Something was set on a table in front of me. “Open your eyes!”
I did as I was told. In front of me was an entire meal.
“The kitchen is finally open again!”
Simon and I had been forced to nibble on whatever food we could find for months. A full meal was a blessing. I ate eagerly. Simon watched me, eyes wide.
“Wow, who knew you could eat like that, Andromeda?”
“Shut up, after this I’m going to watch more of the files the Vespin gave me. I need a break.”
The noise in the mess hall was prominent enough that we had to yell to hear each other. Normally the noise would bother me…but after everything that had happened, the human voices were a comfort.
“I’m going to watch with you,” Simon invited himself.
“I guess that’s fine, as long as you stay quiet and don’t annoy me.”
Why are you not answering us? Simon has sent you over one hundred progress reports. Even when he told you about the Murmur, and about the high death toll, you didn’t answer. You sent no orders, no emergency plans. You haven’t even sent us settling instructions for Arjuna. I’m beginning to suspect deceit. Perhaps you’re not a believer in the Earth’s present condition. You are no Listener, President. I’m telling you right now-if you don’t heed my warnings, all life on Earth will die. We must migrate to Arjuna, or the human race will die!
By the way, despite the infection that wiped out half of the crew, another half has accepted the infection. It roosts in the brain, and temporarily increases brain activity. There is still a chance.
Please answer us.
-Doctor Andromeda Victoria
“My colony is dead. My head whispers with mysterious songs, as I lie here and send you what will likely be my last transmission. I am sorry, my Queen. I have killed us all.”
The image of Noriya, his exoskeleton shriveled and beginning to peel, faded from view.
“Simon,” from the ground where I sat watching the holo image, I kicked at my colleague. He woke with a start. “How in the hell did you manage to fall asleep during a memory of an alien race?” Simon removed his glasses to rub his eyes and smiled.
“I can do anything when I put my mind to it,”
“You’re an idiot,” I mumbled, and stood up.
“I’m just emotionally drained, there is a big difference!”
“Not with how you’re acting.” I smiled at him warmly. “Well I’m going to just watch more. If it’s really that uninteresting to you feel free to leave.” It sounded polite, but I was actually kicking him out. His snoring throughout the entire duration of the file had been distracting. I didn’t hear his footsteps trail away.
I turned and motioned for the vids to continue- but before I could even order the tomes to resume, Simon hooked his arms around my waist and pulled me towards him. My first instinct was to push him away, tell him to cease and desist immediately- however, the other side of me wanted only to push myself against him, and devour him within. Simon’s lips, soft and warm, met with mine. The Murmur filled my mind with many questions about his genetic makeup, comments about his physical stature, his health. But this wasn’t only about genetics. The fire burned within my chest, and my spirit flew.
Simon moved one hand from my waist to my thigh- wherever he touched, I felt a warmth, a tingling sensation like no other human contact I’ve ever felt before.
“Simon, what are you doi” He stopped my speech with a passionate kiss.
“Andromeda. I know this is sudden, and especially after all that’s happened, I understand if you want nothing but to shove me away from you- in fact, I wouldn’t blame you. But I love you. I have loved you since the day I set eyes on you. And I know you feel the same way, I can see it in your eyes, read it in your voice.” He resumed the kiss. I could either fight, and maintain my dignity, or at last give in to what I knew I had been longing to feel for a very long time. I wrapped my arms around Simon, and drew in closer to him. We stood entwined, pelvis to pelvis in aggravating stillness, when all I wanted was motion. Nothing but motion.
Simon moved within me that night…or day…keeping track of days had become nothing less than a losing battle since we’d left on our mission. Regardless, Simon had made me his the moment we became one.
Perhaps it made me a bad person- but as we lay naked together my primary thought was how terribly livid Rosalia would be if she ever found out that Simon had chosen me, after all. She must know, I told myself. Simon had been my friend for years. At times it seemed he knew me better than I knew myself. And now we had seen the most intimate side of each other. It hadn’t been our intention- however there was electricity in our embrace. Simon did no less than light a fire within my heart and soul. The Murmur had urged me on, as well- intensified everything. I had heard numerous times from other Listeners that the union was doubly intimate as a Listener. Rather than just physical pleasure, and emotional passion, Listeners dug into their partner’s very being, felt everything their lover felt. Sang every tune their lover moaned into the air during coitus. The Murmur had a similar effect, I guessed.
I watched Simon, naked beside me, as he slept, and resumed the tome, my cheeks red from the strange mixture of emotions whirring about within me.
This was an account of Yuliya, a female Vespin assigned to explore the ruins on Arjuna in depth. She walked among corpses of her kind, picking her way through them before taking flight and arriving at what appeared to be a cliff hanging. She squeezed through a small break in the stone, which lead her to a magnificent structure within.
The statues lining the chamber looked remarkably avian, feathered with pointed beaks. Yuliya wandered the chamber, observing her surroundings. The walls glowed a brilliant green, possibly from microorganisms growing on the stonework, illuminating the room as if the sun shone through the cavern walls. There was no doubt about it- sentient beings dwelled on Arjuna- or, rather- had once dwelled on Arjuna. They were bird-like, as well, from what I could see. Either they were, or their deities were. Suddenly, Yuliya’s first-person image began to blur, and the picture of the chamber turned to one of the chamber floor. The image faded, and the tome announced the end of viewable data available.
So that was what the Vespin had gifted me with- very few memories of their attempt to conquer Arjuna – but also the deeply hidden knowledge that if sentient life no longer existed on this planet, it once had. There was a secret on Arjuna, perhaps a dark secret. A dangerous world awaited my species, especially if this advanced species still lived. By now, they must be aware of the human exploratory crafts that had been sent here long ago, during man’s second exodus into the heavens.
That made me question whether the Murmur had evolved naturally, or if it had been created. Could my precious endo-symbiote simply be a genetically engineered biological weapon crafted by some ancient, highly advanced species of avian solely to keep invaders from their home?
At that moment, the frigate computer announced, in her cold mechanical voice, that we had only one month left before reaching our destination. Dread filled my heart. This truly was a suicide mission. Surely the tenants of Arjuna- if they were still alive- were aware of our approach. What dark secret waited for us on Arjuna? Suddenly my new home and my new Collective had become a dangerous trap, rather than a neo-human genesis.
“Did you hear that Andromeda? Only one more month left in this damned vessel!” Simon had startled me with his sudden happiness, completely unaware that I had just realized that a sentient species surely existed on Arjuna, making us the invaders. This was exactly what I hoped most to prevent. How had our exploratory craft missed this crucial fact? From what I could see on the tomes, the traces of ancient structures and settlements were obvious, and should have been visible from orbit, especially with our recent advanced equipment.
“Simon,” I stammered, “Something is horribly wrong about this.” Simon tried to kiss me- not purposely, I slapped his face away from mine. “This isn’t funny, Simon!!” He held his cheek and stared at me in disbelief. I never hit people- it was against my morals, and he knew that perfectly well. His features hardened and he straightened out, a sign that he knew something was definitely seriously wrong.
“What…what is it? Andromeda?” My voice shook as I tried to explain the situation to him. His expression grew somber, and I remembered that Simon had received no response from home base. Not one throughout this entire journey. He had already suspected this mission to be a trap, a way to get rid of those who still had faith in the Collective. Of course the government of Earth wanted me gone- I was literally the voice of the Earth, telling our entire species to change our ways. Encouraging the abolishment of capitalism. Preaching against industry, advising humanity’s first planetary migration.
They most definitely wanted me dead.
Which also explained the abysmally vague press coverage of our mission. Upon our leaving, the media simply announced our voyage as an exploratory mission.
“Bullshit,” I said out loud at the thought, “This is no exploratory mission. This is a suicide mission!” My eyes filled with tears, not from fear, but from anger. Those fools back on Earth had doomed the planet, single-handedly guaranteed the extinction of our species.
Simon’s eyes, too, filled with tears at the horrid realization.
At that moment, Rosalia rushed into the room grasping a Notescreen tightly.
“We’ve received word from Earth. And it’s not good.”
Immediately, I reached for the Notescreen.
Earth is at war.
That was all it said.
My body shook so badly that reading the message became a challenge. Earth? At war? Again?!
“Those idiots! Those fools! Couldn’t even hold peace for a year when the entire planet is in jeopardy! Tell me!” I turned to Simon. “What have they sacrificed the Earth for at last? Oil? Electricity, stone, coal? Wood?! Fur? What is wrong with them!? The Earth is doomed. She is no more.” Tears streamed down my face, as Simon pulled me in close. “Arjuna is our only hope now. We have no where else to go now.”
“Something tells me that Arjuna was the only place left for us since the Silent Wars.” Rosalia stared at the both of us, a confused look on her face.
“What did I miss?”
“This entire mission was a damned trap. The rulers on our own damn planet wanted the lot of us dead.” Simon gave no more details than he felt necessary. Doctor Rosalia obviously didn’t quite understand the severity on the situation. Then again, neither did Simon.
I was the only one on this ship who truly understood. We were trapped, with no where to go. Arjuna was no longer a safe haven. Our own people had betrayed us, hidden the signs of advanced life on the planet. Shipped us off to certain death, just so they wouldn’t have to change their ways.
I was again disgusted with my species. What an embarrassment. I hoped that somewhere back home someone was fighting for the planet, and then quickly came to the realization that a government official wouldn’t have bothered to inform us of the war on Earth.
The anonymous messenger must have either broken into the home base compound, or turned against the others there. Someone down there did care. They’d sent that message for two reasons- one, to inform us, and two, to declare that there was indeed one person down there who still had enough humanity left to fight for Earth.
“Rosalia, can I send a response please?” Simon asked, and looked at me for approval. I nodded, my mind still wandering elsewhere.
One month, I told myself, one month and I finally get to see what horrors lie in wait for us there.
I met Andromeda when we were both young, about five years old. I doubt she even remembers me, but the moment I set eyes on her I loved her.
That’s why I sent her the message. It’s her right to know that Earth will die soon. It’s not what I wanted- or any of the others in the compound, for that matter- but the President wanted his power to be absolute. He wanted all that was left of the forest, and the last Great Lake- the only one not dried up yet. What began as a small uprising of Listeners turned into a full-scale rebellion, which led to the inevitable. A second Silent War, and genocide. The President wanted no less than the complete obliteration of all Listeners on the planet. They weren’t human, he claimed in numerous propaganda holograms aired all over the planet, they were subhuman, feral monsters that wished to outbreed the Silent.
Against my own morals, I stayed quiet, although I could hear and feel the planet dying around me. I had no choice- if the President found out that I was a Listener, he would have me executed.
So I sat silently in the office of the Devil himself, waiting for him to step outside for a smoke.
I eyed the new message alert in the corner of my desktop Notescreen, eager to hear from the frigate’s crew, Andromeda specifically. Now that they knew someone was on the inside back on Earth, finally able to answer them, communications would improve.
As I assumed, the President offered me a cigarette, and after I turned it down, left the room. He would be gone for almost exactly a half hour, just long enough for me to search more records- death records, war records, mission records- and inform them of what was happening. I had been reading their transmissions from the start, although against my wishes I had been strictly ordered not to answer any of them, nor to inform anyone of their whereabouts. The President was completely unaware of the nightmarish-but-intriguing events that had occurred on the frigate surrounding a parasitic organism native to Arjuna. He had no idea that Andromeda Victoria, the legendary young scientist and Listener, hadn’t simply had the influenza upon her departure for Arjuna. Rather, she had been infected with a deadly, pathogenic, contagious, protozoan.
Immediately before Andromeda’s departure, unbeknownst to any other human on this planet, or any other, I had stolen a small blood sample of Andromeda’s drawn during her bout of illness.
The serum sat, refrigerated, in my chamber in the prison-like bunker I now lived in and worked in for ‘safety’ reasons. It was nothing less than a maximum-security prison to me. From what Andromeda had messaged me, many passengers on the frigate had not only survived the Murmur epidemic, but also incorporated it into their bodies. These few Andromeda had termed, “The Accepted.” She believed the Murmur to be sentient, and with the ability to choose who fell at its hands, and also who could make the organism a functioning part of their brain. An extraterrestrial endosymbiote, which functioned as a sort of Collective-for a Listener, that is. Or, more realistically, only for Andromeda Victoria, the girl who heard the Earth Spirit’s cry for help. For everyone else it seemed only to scramble their thoughts.
Regardless, as a Listener myself, I was more likely to survive a Murmur infection than the President, as well as most of the humans left on the planet.
Bioterrorists- that’s what they called people like me. But in my eyes, bioterrorism engineered for the betterment of humanity and the Earth’s salvation was a superior alternative to genocide and murder. At least an infectious disease would give them a fighting chance. Bullets bombs and lasers didn’t even have the decency to test someone’s strength and character before taking their life in a spray of begging flood and layers of massacred tissue. And rather than a new, improved race of humans, they only left behind spilled blood, detached limbs, and the smell of gun powder. Sometimes the echoes of death cries were carried through the collective, from a bird who witnessed the cruelty of man, or an ant colony placed nearby a murder site.
Joseph Heimdall, I told myself, you just might be Earth’s only hope.
I opened the new message from the frigate.
Whoever you are, thank you. We are aware that this entire mission is a trap. My dear Earth…President Morgan has overstepped his boundaries this time. We know that you are on Earth’s side, likely a Listener. Please keep us updated. We have only a month before we arrive at Arjuna, and I fear the trap the government of Earth has set for us. Through another alien species, I have discovered that Arjuna once housed a sentient, intelligent species of avians…
How much time has passed on Earth since our departure? How many weeks, or months, or years, has it taken for Morgan to finally become mad with power?
-Doctor Andromeda Victoria
Just as I closed the message and transferred it to my personal data drive, President Morgan strolled in, smelling of cigarette smoke. He smiled at me, although with his amount of wrinkles, it looked like more of a snarl than anything else.
“Located an entire underground city of the dirty ferals. Just ordered the place to be carpet bombed moments ago. Yeah, let’s see their Earth protect them now!” His slurred speech and demeaner both indicated a certain level of intoxication. That goddamned bastard. Orders the deaths of entire cities, with his system pumped with Nicotine and alcohol. The fool would hardly remember what he’d done in the morning. I thought of my serum, my precious bio-weapon, and imagined the President’s brain melting from the high fever accompanying the infection. It was that thought, and that thought alone, that made my lips upturn into a smile.
“That’s the spirit, Heimdall.” Morgan laughed to himself and sat at his desk.
Before you know it, you’ll be nothing but a spirit, I thought to myself. Actually, not even a spirit. I’ll make sure you simply cease existing. And I’ll take your spot as president. Every shit I’ve ever taken would make a better ruler than you.
I waited a couple more hours for the predictable smoke break- turned down another cigarette- and quickly responded to Andromeda’s message:
Andromeda- my name is Joseph Heimdall. I am the President’s assistant. The entirety of Earth’s government is cowering in a bunker deep within the Earth’s crust to ‘protect’ us from the rebellion. President Morgan is committing nothing less than Listener genocide. His goal is to obliterate all of our kind, Andromeda. I have a plan-a serum, if you will, intended only to be used in the case of an absolute emergency. The President knows nothing of the events that have taken place. In fact, he is under the impression that you had a common bout of the flu upon your departure. Which means that he knows nothing of the Murmur. If it is in fact true that Listeners are more likely to be Accepted, then there is a risky, but promising, emergency plan to save our people.
On the topic of your ‘suicide’ mission, I was only ordered not to read, nor respond to, your signals during your journey. According to the files President Morgan was kind enough to give me access to, we don’t know if there is a sentient race on Arjuna. The planet is, however, habitable. That’s all I have for you. I hope that you will be safe on Arjuna.
Morgan has been planning this full-out frontal attack on Listeners since the day you told humans we would have to change. He is a coward, afraid of what he cannot possibly understand, and he will stop at nothing to attain his goal- absolute rule- even at the cost of millions of lives, and the Planet Earth herself.
I pressed send.
My plan to save the Listeners and the planet was risky, to say the least, but these extreme circumstances made it necessary.
Morgan returned, stinking of cigarette smoke, and went back to work. Although his definition of ‘work’ happened to be murdering my people. I had been forced to watch the carnage for years, ever since I had gotten this job at a young age. How had I managed to hide my Listener’s abilities for so long? I didn’t even know myself, but the drive to survive was instinctual, something organisms don’t even have to think about to begin with.
I silently watched the explosions on Morgan’s desk screens. The entire Collective was abuzz-all life was disturbed. All life was livid, and the Silent would know no better. Morgan’s face, lit up by his screens, upturned in an evil grin.
Just wait until you’re in too much pain to ever smile again, I told him silently, just you wait. As the thought came and went, the ‘new message’ alert lit up.
“Are they really still alive?” Morgan asked, apparently having just remembered the Arjuna mission after such a long time.
“Very few of them are.” He approached my desk from behind and eyed the new message icon. I hope to the Collective that he wouldn’t grow a sudden curiosity pertaining to the Arjuna mission. I would be killed if he read that message.
“How about that Andromeda? Is she still alive?”
I glanced at the President and glued my face to my screen. In the world above, I could hear the Collective crying out in pain. The explosions, the fatalities- they were upsetting even the sea creatures. Everything was suffering because of this war. Slowly, I nodded.
“Yes, she’s still alive.”
“What a shame,” The President’s face said he didn’t think it was a shame, whatever he was thinking. He swung my chair around, forcing me to face him. I smelled vodka on his breath. Drunken bastard… “Did you know that I had explosives hidden within the Amadeus’ engines, just on case they actually reached Arjuna?” I shook my head- not because I hadn’t known, but because I suddenly knew what President Morgan was planning.
I had loved Andromeda since I had set eyes on her. But the first time I ever saw Andromeda was when I was only fourteen. I was twenty four now. If Morgan planned to simply blow the frigate into pieces from the start, why had it taken ten years for him to take an interest in the mission?!
My course of action became clear as day to me, suddenly. The serum. A smile about as equally evil spread across my face.
“Tomorrow,” Morgan told me. “We blow them to bits.” He left the office to head off to bed.
“Tomorrow,” I nodded, and watched him leave.
“Lock up the office when you leave.”
I saluted, and opened Andromeda’s response immediately after he was gone.
She didn’t seem thrilled by my plan, but that was out of her control. It was necessary, and she knew it.
I responded. Soon after I locked the office and headed to bed, serum in hand. I had always hated needles- but after injecting myself with less than one cc of the Murmur serum nightly for about ten years, I’d become accustomed to it. Now I kind of enjoyed watching the needle go into my arm. I liked the feel of the extraterrestrial organism and antibodies flood into me.
Tonight, I had filled one extra syringe with the concoction.
It was meant for the veins of my Silent father.
Andromeda- this is Joseph again. The Amadeus is rigged with explosives. I repeat. There are explosives in the Amadeus. I plan to kill my father tomorrow morning. Using the serum I’ve been injecting myself with. Using the Murmur. Hopefully he will experience the whispering before he dies in terrible pain. It’s my goal to save the Earth, and preserve the genetic heritage of our people. The Listeners will not be eradicated on this planet. I promise you that, Doctor Andromeda.
Back to PriceofSentience.