Chapter One - d'Jang
THE MEASURE OF HEAVEN
No one, not even his mother, had responded to his calls in many tides.
d'Jang couldn’t fault them now that all tides were being consumed into one. Time itself was being swallowed by that horrible hole in the sky, so maybe there was no longer any point in repeating tearful farewells.
All of this was his fault; there was no getting around it. It would be conceit to take full credit, but there had been a moment when he had at least a chance to say something. He had not. So few had even tried, and now it was too late.
Here he sat, in relative if temporary safety, on a remote satellite while the planet of the Mother Ocean was being swallowed. Indulging in self-pity by hailing someone only to relieve his loneliness felt unthinkably selfish.
It would all be over soon enough anyway.
Feeling hungry d’Jang reached out with his lower left arm and wrapped his tendrils around some feed swimming past. His catch, dangling over the mouth of his fifth head, was rescued by a thought. This one, so common in the Mother Ocean, would soon be among the last of his species. d’Jang looked at it kindly and decided to spare it. The hole should swallow his ship, and both of them, before he died of hunger. The feed wriggled free and slipped behind the pilot’s console. d’Jang waited, disappointed when the creature did not re-emerge. This was what had come of him, having his heart broken by feed.
d’Jang thought of his lovely d’Song. As the future died the past was becoming everything. She was becoming everything.
His thoughts once again scanned the logs for the last transmissions that he had received from his Home Reef, including mnemes, encoded packets of feelings and memories, sent from the children of his Pod, although the youngest would not understand their significance. Right now much effort would be expended to shelter them from what was going on. If adults with full melding could not comprehend the sudden finality that had interrupted the busy constancy of their lives, how could they explain it to children? d'Jang savored these last echoes of pleasure as their mnemes stirred in his heart, the excited potential and clever associations from the new minds, even in these final moments.
d'Song, his daughter, again appeared before him, or at least an echo of her. What he saw was a mental image, but enough had flowed between them over the tides that she was able to manifest in his mind as an independent presence. She was growing up so beautifully. Her faces had all emerged from their buds, each revealing different facets of her loveliness. He longed to enfold her in his tendrils, but in trying to, her image drew away.
“Don’t worry Melded One.” She said that as if there were anything else left to do.
“What? You have a new boyfriend?”
She poked her tongues back at him as usual. d'Jang grinned despite himself. One of her brothers struggled against her attentive grip and d'Song released him with a sigh. There was too much resignation there for eyes so young.
She had already grown stronger than her father. d'Song was one who had spoken out after d'Jang had told her about the instabilities in the Channel Between Planets when they had first been observed in his telescope - the ones that everyone else had busied themselves in explaining away. But she was a kid, and so had been ignored. Perhaps together, a kid and a low rank male like himself, they could have prevailed with someone of significance - someone like her mother, queen of a high caste pod. But that was fantasy. Important people rarely listened, and especially not queens to their daughters. And as for him, d'Song’s mother had enjoyed her concubine and then forgotten him. He was no Alpha. So he had stayed silent; even then d'Song had not given up on him.
“I miss you d'Jang.”
“My lovely d'Song, beyond my depth.”
His concentration was middling, and her image began to fade as his words completed. He struggled to keep her fresh in his mind but her dissolution into sadness and memory could not be stopped. Then there was nothing to do but wait. And watch.
d'Jang caught himself feeling bored with the slow progress of the terrible thing growing outside his portal, wishing it would just finish what it was destined to do and end his misery. Objectively it appeared completely benign, a nothing edged with a blur and growing at an imperceptible rate. Yet this nothing would soon erase all beauty from the universe.
d'Jang’s body blackened with shame. Was he not a villain to wish away any of the few precious hours remaining for his people and their world? Was the pain of knowing so great that it called for shortening, by even an instant, the billions of years of evolution and tens of thousands of culture and knowledge, or accelerating away even one hopeful laugh of the children who in their youth could not comprehend the small number of their remaining days?
A sharp flash of light from the blurred edge told him that some celestial fragment, an asteroid or comet, had vanished beyond the event horizon of the black hole.
d'Jang tightened the tendrils on his lower third left hand to access the recording of the event by the space telescope array of which he was now the lone operator. Always the scientist. Who was going to be around to analyse the results? Still it gave him some small peace to have a job to do. He ordered a different spectral image for ten of his eleven faces; the eyes of his main face too smeared with tear mucus to focus on anything useful.
Scientist. The word had lost all nobility. Endless procedural meetings and meaningless debate and pride masquerading as humility. Too proud to break things down for the masses. Dithering in the name of truth while the other side felt no such qualms. “All Oceans Will Become One.” Such an inane inversion of the simple spiritual truth, that they were all connected by the ocean they shared. Those idiot prophets, growing fat dishing out self-serving delusion to the Alphas. Like c'Virm, the worst of that despicable lot. How did he feel now, d'Jang wondered, facing compaction into his Great Ocean, completing his fantasy of everyone becoming One?
Then again, who was he, d'Jang, to fault anyone else for cowardice? He might be able to convince himself otherwise if he alone had not stayed behind while his colleagues had shifted out. Still hiding behind his investigations as a distraction from the approaching cataclysm. Scientist.
d'Jang’s main face looked past their dying planet into the infinite night and the lights that would outlive them. Which one of those was home to the demon responsible for inviting his world into oblivion? He wanted to focus all his helpless anger on that single light - to focus it on the owner of that horrendous face, imprinted upon all podlings in history lessons, with that strange thatch of threads sprouting from its crown and obscuring its singular face. The one who had introduced the instructions for building this, this thing? There were no words to describe the horror that his other faces were intently dissecting with the telescope. There was no way to get to the bottom of it or of his grief, or of his shame at the depths of his complicity. Wasn’t the telescope that he had been so proudly manning the very one which had received the instructions for building the damn thing in the first place?
His anger was misplaced. What possible benefit could those strange beings derive from destroying the Mother Ocean? They were much too far away. So they likely did not know. They probably thought they were doing everyone a favor by sharing their wonderful technology. Maybe they had been swallowed up by it too. The scientist in d'Jang would not let him diffuse responsibility across the waves of stars so easily.
No, his people had done this to themselves. d'Jang could remember the excitement the Channel Between The Planets had engendered, as short ago as 20 moons, before it had decayed into a channel to their doom. The hopeful Surge out into the waiting Oceans of the cosmos. How were they to know that it would suddenly produce the end of everything? The sister planet, m’Hoomuun, now within reach of his people eager to escape the fouling waters of their Mother Ocean, had already been eaten. With blinding flashes even the pieces that had ripped away early had disappeared into emptiness.
Nothing remained of a billion people and all the creatures of that world.
And today would be the final moment of the Mother Ocean, of everything that had ever been or could ever be. And he, d'Jang, would watch it all. The simple geometry of his cowardice dictated that this would be so.
There were no words for the sadness that seeped away his being. It was a blackness of greater depth than the hole in the heavens. Nothing would remain.
Precious time ran past.
As the monstrosity bore down on the Mother Ocean, d'Jang launched a probe back to his Home Reef. By what insanity had he done that? There had been some sense that he would be there with the city and inhabitants he loved during their final Singing. Perhaps he would even see d'Song. For a moment it felt as if he was sneaking back on a surprise furlough. The probe had fallen away, beneath the shaking waters of their world, and his mind’s eye had travelled with it.
Oh! What he had witnessed was terror beyond imagining and it had left him ruined. The last screaming songs merged with the water’s roar as the last tide ran out. The Ocean had drained. Even the echoes of his loved ones were silent. She was gone.
d'Jang’s heart cherished suicide in the tideless time that followed, as visions from the probe invaded his dreams and when he replayed the footage for no reason other than to torture himself with loss. But who was he to put an end to the last remnant of being remaining from their world?
“d'Jang. What about the others?”
At that moment, the pardoned feed ventured out from behind the console and hung in the water before d’Jang, fearless. It was beautiful.
This last thought d’Song had given him, and which the feed had seconded, slowly built in d’Jang’s mind and would not leave. Was it possible that in the short time left he might redeem a small fragment of who they had been and could have become?
“What about the others?”
The others out there in the endless thin waters, others like their kind. Even the ones who sent the message. Perhaps there was still time to warn them. The conviction grew. No one else should EVER experience this tragedy, this bottomless pain.
He would send them a final mneme from his people to theirs, a warning, and more, an embrace.
It was almost too late.
Great urgency flowed into him. His computer contained a reflection of most of the knowledge from the Surge. d'Jang searched frantically as the void pulled him into it. The transmission would need to occur before the insatiable appetite of the black hole captured even his radio waves.
There was too much to send in the short time left. So many hours wasted. So much that would be lost.
d'Jang happened upon the original transmission from the aliens to his people containing the instructions for building the Channel Between Worlds. What better way to explain to other aliens the intricate technology he was warning them about? It had already been packaged for that purpose. What else? The probe footage. The last moments of his Reef. Only that would show the true horror of the thing. No one could watch that and contemplate ever creating a Star Channel. He added it.
The Tide was running out. It was almost too late. One final thing left to do. d'Jang faced the recorder and flowed his whole being out to the people of the other worlds. They would need to absorb the fullness of the tragedy and, although this was a selfish motive, perhaps something of his kids might yet survive. Of d'Song, his beautiful girl. All his faces cried out as he transmitted the last record of his people out into the fabric of the Universe.
An uneasy sense of fulfilment grew in d'Jang - a feeling that in acting on his responsibility to the cosmos he had connected himself to everything - a bittersweet compassion for all who had come before them and all who remained.
His beloved feed swam up beside d’Jang and waited with him.
All channels joined in the one Ocean. d’Jang glowed. And then his light was swallowed and he became no more.