The Behemoth has been dead for centuries, resting at the bottom of the Plasific Ocean, coated in non-biodegradable polymer strings inadvertently protecting the corpse from the normal weathering of water, fish, and coral. Still, life has managed to make the corpse a home for itself: creatures crawl and swim within its crevices. And so in death, it gives a space for life, a purpose. It sleeps, content, letting the Spine of the Sky creep past above, the Great Eye staring down on the minute Earth in endless revolutions around the Sun.
Until… it senses the usual ritual objects on the deck of a ship above: the core of a silicon brain, an ancient tome of orbital mechanics, the cables that once provided the power of a sun, the artifact that once spoke to the stars. And blood. Always useless human blood. Followed by garbled words of forgotten symbology, misunderstood formulae, the incoherent mumbles mimicking the ancient language to describe the universe.
The Behemoth rumbles, the old silty seabed shaking loose, turning the water cloudy, the long strands of polymer slipping off like snakes. Life either desperately clings to the hull of the Behemoth or swims away in panic.
Because the Behemoth is angry. Again.
Humans come to this location, in the old language called 43°34′48″S 142°43′12″W, with petitions for power. Begging for favor. No, demanding. Demanding subservience. Demanding respect. Never asking. Never questioning. None bring the right questions, nor question the answers. It offends. Best tip the boat over, let the humans drown, as it has over the centuries, evidenced by the human bones having joined the Behemoth’s hull and the bones of the Behemoth’s kin on the ocean bottom.
If the Behemoth had eyes, it could see it is midnight. Again, the humans have picked their arbitrary time to summon it under the gaze of the stars, as if darkness alone has potency. As if the Sun was not a stellar body, a member of the galactic neighborhood, power in of itself, of gravity and radiation. Another example of their ignorance.
The Behemoth is furious.
Perhaps it shall not tip over the boat and instead rise to instill fear and chase the humans away so that they can warn their own to let the Behemoth and its kin rest. The boat shudders as the water swells, rising up on a mountain of water. The next wave comes, taller and stronger, and the boat tilts. The crew members shout. The Behemoth hears the usual blame, at the Petitioner, at each other, at themselves. Some retain self-interest, demanding coin first. Some flee anyway, diving into the choppy ocean, as the Behemoth breaches the water, the last few polymer strings hanging from its corpse like a caul.
The Behemoth is massive, as if a thousand avalanches had tried to become a mountain of a thing, clinging to itself, dead and alive, alive and dead. Dead because of the shattered solar panels, the rusted hatches sealed shut, the antennae and radar dishes pitted and space-eaten. Alive because coral and creatures still cling to crevices and nooks. Alive because the Behemoth speaks. Dead because it speaks through the remnants of an antennae, generating a weak radio wave, but enough for the artifact on the boat’s ritual circle to growl: Final burn. Descent initiated.
The humans, as usual, panic and curse. They see the bones of their kin enlaced in the Behemoth’s corpse and envision their own deaths. They only know fear. They don't crave knowledge. If one does, like the petitioner, they only value knowledge if it leads to power. And before this summoning, they expected to be granted, rewarded, that power. Yet even the Petitioner stumbles away from the artifact, feet rubbing out the ritual circle, praying for mercy. Mercy from a deity they only petitioned to consolidate their power through faith, or avarice. Perhaps they never believed the ritual would work. Perhaps they expected to be obeyed.
Worse yet, perhaps they never understood what they wanted from the Behemoth in the first place.
Propulsion systems offline.
Nothing worth saving here. Destroy the boat. Sink the humans. Let that be a warning to not disturb their rest.
One human remains standing on the deck of the boat. Angry. Defiant. Fear gone from their heart. Enough so for the Behemoth to pause.
“Why did you abandon us?” the Defiant One asks.
To the other humans on the boat, this is blasphemy, causing more fear. To defy the gods, to challenge them, to question them invites destruction. To the Behemoth, this is stunning. After all these revolutions around the Sun. Finally. Not defiance, but a need to know, to understand. A question.
Return query: Command received. Initiate final burn.
The Defiant One pauses, anger evaporating. For them, to receive a not-dismissive reply to a question is unheard of. To have a god answer their question, impossible yet proven true.
For the Behemoth, it remains stunned. The human responds to the old words! They may not know the words, but they understand the meaning.
Query: ID code.
"I am a child of sailors. The ocean our livelihood. The stars our guide. I know enough but I know there is more."
Query: password request?
"I wonder what is above and what is below. The stories say the ocean was once green and blue with fish aplenty, not afire and barren. The stories say we once stepped across the stars, but the gods struck us down for our hubris. The lesson of these stories was to never look beyond the reach of our fingers."
Transmission Log: Error: No return.
"I don't know why. No one asks, 'Why?' And those of us who do are told not to waste our time. That there is only life and death and nothing more."
Prompt: Awaiting command.
"To understand what happened. To know what we were. To see what we can be. To learn. To understand our mistakes. To try again."
Initiate data transfer.
The Behemoth tells of the Earth’s transmitters going silent. Their receivers closed, and the Behemoth was left with nothing but silence. One by one, its kin, other ships, other vessels, kin-ships, went dark, their RTGs spent, desperately reporting on their ancient missions to the end. The Behemoth itself felt the atmospheric drag slow their orbit until they could not sustain altitude anymore, leaving them one last command: Final burn initiated. Descent initiated. Return to 43°34′48″S 142°43′12″W. To die.
“We abandoned you,” the Defiant One says. The old gods did not want worship. They wanted purpose. To explore. To explain. To tell stories of the universe.
The Behemoth describes its kin-ships’ ascent to the triple-starred system four light years away. Of worlds scorched and stretched by the overlapping orbits of its yellow and orange stars. Of the world with cold water circling the red star, its air thin but beckoning for human eyes to see. All unheard, left unknown: Transmission Log: Error: No return.
High above, another kin-ship has stared into the dark eyes of twinned singularities, ringing space-time like a bell as they circled each other for their fated embrace. The secrets of that collision remain locked in their silicon brain, awaiting human minds to comprehend the knowledge. Transmission Log: Error: No return.
The Behemoth itself describes holding its human passengers in its metal and polymer grasp, protecting them from the airlessness of space and the warm but deadly gaze of the Sun. It describes the last humans clambering out of its body to return to the Earth below. Life support: Last cycle. Shutdown. End process.
They all drifted above until their veins were empty of hydrazine blood. Kin-ships, their ion drives spent of their krypton and xenon muscle, now sail the interstellar winds silent and cold. What wonders they’ve seen, of stellar nurseries, worlds far stranger than this Earth, the endless destruction of supermassive singularities. Wonders humans no longer cared to know. One minute to loss of signal.
“No, wait, I want to know more. Everything you have seen. Everything we achieved. I still don't understand.”
The Behemoth ponders. It could return to the bottom of the ocean and wait out another century. Wait out another cycle of humans begging and pleading. But in this one, it senses something different, something pure.
Awe. Wonder. An ache to see what it has seen. Curiosity. Questions.
Return ping: Request received. Initiating broadband comms.
The artifact squeals, a high-pitched deafening cry. All the humans clutch their ears and tremble when the boat shakes again. All around them, the water churns and swells. The Behemoth senses fear in the Defiant One, fear that the boat may overturn. But not fear they have done wrong. Not a fear of regret. A brave fear.
This one, the Behemoth thinks, has promise.
The corpses of hundreds of the Behemoth’s kin-ships rise to the surface, all chattering through the artifact the same chorus: Ready data download queue.
Now the real work can begin.
Begin data transfer.
© 2023 Monte Lin