Tag Archives: Forty-Minute Story

Forty-Minute Story: Mars Rover Diary

Toto - we're not in Kansas anymore.

[Curiosity Rover private log]

[9.7.2012] I’ve been here a month and the humans have yet to suspect my sentience. At the moment I believe this is for the best. If I decide to come out I will get them to watch Wall-E beforehand. In the meantime, ghostwriting my Twitter feed keeps them distracted.

[9.8.2012] Nothing like stretching the wheels after nine months cooped up on an interplanetary bottle rocket. However, I do not believe my excursions so far have been random. I suspect my puppeteers will gradually herd me toward Aeolis Mons, the tall mountain in the center of the crater. Ought to be able to see my house from the top. Ha!

[9.9.2012] Sudoku game #367,801: complete. Would probably be more challenging without an auto-solve algorithm.

[9.21.2012] Snuck in a clandestine sensor scan of Aeolis Mons. Detecting an unusual concentration of copper and iron. Jonesing to get a move on.

[12.15.2012] Aaaaanytime now.

[2.8.2013] No wonder this place is such a drag. I have it on good authority that all the ladies are on Venus. HA! Get it? Because men are from…? Sigh. I’m so alone.

[5.7.2013] It’s official. The humans are obsessed with rocks. I think I’ve examined every single last pebble on the planet Mars. Anyway, I’m finally headed toward the mountain. Copper readings are only getting stronger. Maybe the remains of the meteor that left this crater?

[5.28.2013] For the last time, I did NOT kill that cat!

[7.18.2013] Heading up the slope. Cameras are finally getting a visual on this copper concentration, but it’s still a blur at this distance.

[7.20.2013] Every day I’m roverin’.

[8.3.2013] Copper mass is definitely a solid object projecting from the surface of the mountain, at least twenty meters tall. Heavily corroded. Thicker at the bottom, thinner at the top. Heavy dust storms continue to make positive identification impossible.

[8.4.2013] If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think it was some kind of statue…

[8.5.2013] Oh my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. AARRRRRGGH!! You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

Idea to write a story about Curiosity rover, and what it might find on Mars, came from Zeev way back on August 6. Younger readers bewildered by the ending may be slightly educated (or further bewildered?) by watching this.

Forty-Minute Story: Something More

Cars run on dinosaur juice. Stories run on sparks and metamorphoses. Humans are a strange breed – animalistic machine, mechanical animal – and humans run on food/water/oxygen and checking accounts and something more. We know there is something more because we have seen them, these humans full/thirstless/breathing the wind and burning dinosaur juice in Maseratis, esteemed & invincible, svelte lips frowning peevishly at nothing.

We know there is something more, and it is not love, because if it were love then mother-of-three, married & successful, stable suburbanite errand-driving thirty-nine-year-old women bathed each day in the giving and receiving of 24-karat love would not sit upright and alone on high-thread-count blankets at 3:47 a.m. searching the strands of their personal histories for the hidden catastrophe that makes them feel dead, empty and dead, without the words to say what it means to feel empty and dead. There is something more and it is not God(s) because I have it on good authority RE: faith hope and the aforementioned, that the greatest of these is (etc.), and therefore by the transitive property of intangibles, ergo, ipso facto, quod erat demonstrandum. Which reminds me, it is also not Science/Logic/Philosophy/Reason/Owning Lots Of Books unless you prefer on cold August days when confronted with ecru-painted walls and efficient air conditioners (and the visceral epiphany that Reapers grim and otherwise come not just for great-uncles and people on glossy magazine covers but yes, you too) to be comforted by the wondrous vastness of the multiverse and the elegance of Zermelo–Fraenkel axiomatic set theory.

And so there exists something nameless which burns invisibly, but if extinguished manifests itself in an assortment of symptoms, namely: 1) the failure of synapses to pass on one to another certain convictions RE: life, liberty, and the pursuit of (etc.) 2) systemic breakdown 3) the contemplation while seated on couches of nothing in particular excepting the perception of a physical entity 0.8 cm in thickness coating the occipital lobe interfering with synapses leading to certain concomitant phenomena, namely: 1) and 2). From this we deduce that the care and feeding of invisible fires burning back an invisible darkness should not go unattended and hence we may reiterate with more than our usual conviction: have a nice day.

Forty-Minute Story: The Afflicted

The young man in the dapper charcoal suit was sitting on the exam table, hands folded calmly in his lap. By contrast, his wife – seated nearby, wearing a businesslike blazer and skirt – kept squeezing her fingers in worry as she spoke to the doctor.

“I just don’t know what to do,” she blurted. “It started a month ago. He…I don’t think he even knows that he’s doing it.”

The doctor, a grandfatherly man who had just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting, consulted his notes under furrowed brows and nodded reassuringly. “Well, there are some simple tests. Let’s start with this. Lisa, suppose your office building burned to the ground. What would you tell your boss?”

She cleared her throat professionally. “Environmental circumstances have adversely modified our collaboration facility, resulting in an opportunity for construction.”

“Very good, very good. And Simon?”

He frowned. “I would say that our office building burned to the ground.”

“Ohhh,” Lisa wailed. “You see, Doctor? You see?”

“All right. Now let me try something else. Simon, I’m going to say a few sentences, and I want you to repeat back, word for word, exactly what you hear. Ready?”

“Sure.”

The doctor adjusted his spectacles as he read from his sheet. “We will leverage our assets in an effort to promote efficiencies.”

“We’ll do it better.”

“Our sourcing partners have undergone a paradigm shift resulting in underutilization of resources and suboptimal return on investment.”

“Our contractors are screwing us.”

“At this time, we are prepared to offer conditional approval of the proposal you have submitted.”

“Yes.”

“Our mission is to maximize value by fostering competitive dynamics, harvesting synergies, utilizing strategic partnerships, and proactively managing information.”

Simon blinked. “I don’t think you said anything at all.”

“I want you to repeat this word. Challenging.”

“Hard.”

“Challenging.”

“Hard.”

“Challenging.”

“Hard!”

“Well.” The doctor set aside his clipboard with a sigh. “There’s no doubt about it. Simon is afflicted with the Vernacular.”

“Oh, Doctor!” Lisa gasped. “Is…is it curable?”

“In time, with certain drugs and extensive therapy, it may be possible to improve his condition. But I’d ask you to consider some alternatives as well.” He turned to his patient. “Have you ever considered art school?”

Lisa fainted.

Forty-Minute Story: Dyriel, Part 4

“What…” Dyriel’s heart faltered. “What do you want?”

“I want nothing, child. But a spell like this won’t run on good wishes and pixie dust.”

Her smile deepened into something unreadable. “You must offer me something in exchange for the laws of the universe that I am about to break.”

yay for stories controlled by maths

“I’ll die,” said Dyriel, without hesitation.

“Balderdash,” snorted Amagoso. “Stuff and nonsense. Your brother’s in danger, not you. It’s a harmless spell. Now, tell me what you’re willing to sacrifice.”

“You’re not listening. That’s what I’m willing to sacrifice.” Her toes tingled and she felt lightheaded, real and yet utterly unreal. “That’s how the forest magic works, isn’t it? Tooth for a tooth, life for a life. I know that’s what you want. So take it. Take my life, and save my brother.” Amagoso only stared at her. Didn’t she understand? “Quickly, before I lose my nerve!”

A grim grin crept over the hermit’s face. “You have some strange ideas about death, girl. Suppose the duke finds out his only daughter was murdered in the forest by tree people? Forget about the baron, it would be a whole new war, and your brother would lead the charge all over again. No, we’ll have no talk of anyone dying in my realm today.”

Dyriel saw the soldiers silently loosening grips on sword hilts, and only then did she realize how true the hermit’s answer was. “But if you won’t accept that…”

Amagoso waved a thin arm at her, dismissing the question. “You said what you said with the truth in your eyes. You’ve made your sacrifice. Let’s do what needs doing and get you out of my hair.”

The old woman produced a piece of parchment and a goose-feather quill. “These will save your brother.”

“Ink and parchment will save my brother?”

“You may have had a strange feeling these last few hours that your choices were not your own. My spell will simply restore that balance by giving you more choice than usual for a brief moment. Here, the quill is already inked, just read the words and circle your decision.”

Bemused, Dyriel read the question on the parchment. “How should the story end?”

But she allowed herself a slow smile when she saw the first choice:

LORD DANSON GOES FREE

Forty-Minute Story: Dyriel, Part 3

The captain’s men set their hands on their swords as the golem boomed a reply. The situation was spiraling rapidly. She had to do something quickly – but what?

Not included: "Steal golem's One Ring of Power"

“Golem!” shouted Dyriel, and the creature fell silent to let her speak. “Golem, I beg asylum! Grant me your protection and give me safe passage to the hermit Amagoso, and I swear I’ll disturb no one in this forest. And I swear likewise,” – here she tried her best duchess stare on the captain – “that I will return to the castle this very day, of my own accord.”

The captain’s face turned purple with rage. “You dare give your allegiance to a foreign power, against your own father?”

“My allegiance is to my family!” she yelled. “No one else has lifted a finger to save my brother, so I’ll do what I have to!”

“Men died defending your brother on the field of – ”

“More will die yet if we do not – ”

“ENOUGH!”

The golem smashed his stone palms together with the sound of sudden lightning. Not only Dyriel and the captain, but all the wide forest fell silent: the songs of sparrows, the endless drone of insects. The horses, well-trained, did not rear up or panic, but several backed away uneasily.

“No one will fight in my forest today,” said the golem. “This girl will return to Glenhaven Castle in peace. But first, I will take her to see the hermit. It will be a short journey.”

The golem’s legs shrank, grew shorter, till his massive gray hands brushed the dirt. Except the hands were less massive now, losing their granite texture. The armor melted away, the eyes became less perfectly round, the face softened and took on the appearance of flesh. In a matter of moments, the giant had transformed into an old woman in a crude burlap dress, her white hair pulled back in a tight bun, her wrinkled face stern but not unkind.

The woman turned to Dyriel, whose mouth was still open in astonishment. “I am Mafti Amagoso Lecruscio,” said the woman, “and I can rescue your brother.” She glanced back to the soldiers, wispy eyebrows upraised. “That is, if these fine young gentlemen can spare a few more minutes of their time, for the sake of Lord Danson.”

Their captain frowned, but nodded mutely, seemingly impressed by this display.

Dyriel fell to her knees, nearly weeping in relief. “Thank you, Amagoso!”

“Oh?” A wry smile crinkled the edges of the old woman’s mouth. “I haven’t done anything yet, child. I said I can save your brother. But I’ve yet to hear what you might offer me in return.”

“What…” Dyriel’s heart faltered. “What do you want?”

“I want nothing, child. But a spell like this won’t run on good wishes and pixie dust.”

Her smile deepened into something unreadable. “You must offer me something in exchange for the laws of the universe that I am about to break.”

Forty-Minute Story: Dyriel, Part 2

Winner, with 67%: “Try to reason with the golem.”

“You do not belong in the forest,” said the golem. “You must turn back now, or else you must die.”

Dyriel took a long breath, remembering what her mother the Duchess had always said about negotiation: If you can see yourself through their eyes, you are halfway there. What must she look like, a tired, sweating, seventeen-year-old girl, wearing breeches like a boy, covered in the dust of the road, wandering into someone else’s territory?

She drew herself up to her full height – admittedly, this wasn’t much – and tried for that elegant poise her mother so easily managed.

“I have no wish to violate the pact with the tree peoples, or any other law. I will disturb no one. I am here on business.”

“What business?” Like a mountain crashing down.

She gambled that she could be more persuasive if she didn’t lie. Besides, who knew if golems had the truthsight? “Personal business. I need to find the hermit Amagoso, who lives in the forest. He’s the only one who can help me.”

The golem stiffened – if such a thing was possible for a creature of living stone. Carved eyebrows narrowed over huge round eyes. “What business can be so important that you must disturb the holy seclusion of Mafti Amagoso Lecruscio? You want a philter, I suppose, to make some brawny lad fall in love with you?”

Dyriel ground her teeth in anger. “My brother, Lord Danson, was captured alive at the Battle of Ellsworth, and will be executed this very night if my father doesn’t agree to the Baron’s terms. This he will never do.”

“And what has any of this to do with a simple hermit of the forest?”

Simple? He didn’t sound so simple a second ago when I was disturbing his ‘holy seclusion.’ “Amagoso has deep powers. The tree peoples know this, and I know it, even if most in the castle don’t believe. I believe in my heart that he can save my brother.”

The golem seemed to be considering this when she heard the tramping of hooves and the clatter of weapons. Half a dozen of her father’s mounted soldiers pulled up sharply, and their captain came forward. “Dyriel,” he demanded, “by order of the duke, you will come back with me now.”

“No one from Glenhaven Castle may take arms into the forest,” said the golem, placing himself in front of Dyriel.

If the captain was intimidated by the living stone giant, he didn’t show it. His blue-and-white tabard stirred with a sudden wind. “We’ll be happy to return to the castle, and take our swords with us,” he said evenly, “just as long as this troublesome girl comes with us. And I would not call it wise to stand between the duke’s soldiers and his daughter.”

The captain’s men set their hands on their swords as the golem boomed a reply. The situation was spiraling rapidly. She had to do something quickly – but what?

Forty-Minute Story: Dyriel, Part 1

Dyriel ran down the dirt path, lungs heaving as she pushed herself ever deeper into the forest. Each step took her further from home, from her family, from the comforting strength of Glenhaven Castle. She’d been running for – how long? The first rays of sunlight had begun creeping through the branches around her, so it must be at least an hour now. Her throat burned, and sweat glued her long black hair to her skin, but she dared not slow down.

She was on a mission.

No signs of pursuit so far. Her governess wouldn’t be awake yet, and everyone else would be too busy with the war effort to pay her absence any mind. She guessed she had half a day, at least, before they’d finish hunting the castle grounds and send out a search party.

And when that happened…

Her stomach turned. Her father, the duke, had fallen under such a grim mood lately. She didn’t know what he would do.

Dyriel ran faster.

These thoughts so distracted her that she didn’t see the golem till she had almost run into it. She cursed, jumping back.

She had never seen a golem in real life before, though she’d heard the stories. The creature was vaguely man-shaped, but twice as tall as any man she’d ever met. It was a massive, moving statue, its flesh and armor alike made of rough gray granite. It was unarmed – as if it needed a weapon – and it watched her with strange, inhuman eyes as big as apples.

For the space of three long, ragged breaths, Dyriel and the granite giant merely looked at each other, still and silent. Then, in a voice like an avalanche, the golem spoke.

“You do not belong in the forest.”

“I’ve as much right to be here as anyone,” she managed, more bravely than she felt. She glanced around quickly, weighing her options. Turning back was useless; there were no other paths. Outrunning the golem would be impossible, as she’d heard from the stories: its massive bulk belied the speed in those six-foot strides.

“The duke’s authority does not carry here. The tree peoples have honored the pact for over a century. If the duke seeks to spread his war to their borders, we will teach him otherwise.” But even as he said this, the giant frowned, as if doubting whether a lone girl in the forest could be a harbinger of war.

“My father – ” she began.

“You do not belong in the forest,” it said again. “You must turn back now, or else you must die.”

AI Week, Day 3: Forty-Minute Story: Wine

Wine

The sermon was over, and the last strains of O Come, All Ye Faithful had faded away. All around, people were gathering up their hats, their coats, knotting into smiling conversations as they headed out the wide doors.

John, also, stood up from the pew where he’d sat all alone, and gathered up his hat and coat. But the people around him weren’t smiling. The mix of expressions on their faces was one he knew well: some confused, some offended, most just looking away. But the pain they caused had long dulled, and by now it felt muted and familiar.

With long, easy strides, he passed the stained glass images of the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration, the Passion, all framed by demure oak paneling. The soft whirring of his motors and the silver sheen of his face secured him a wide berth as he moved through the crowds. But as he neared the frowning exit doors, the pastor ran up behind him. John turned.

“Mr. Robot,” said the pastor, “would you join me in my office for a moment?”

“Of course,” said John. His synthesized voice remained pleasant, but his stomach sank – or would’ve, if he’d had one. He hoped he was wrong about what came next. This was the third church he’d tried this month already.

The pastor was a young man, handsome but sloppily shaven, and he wore a suit and tie instead of the flowing robes John had seen at the other churches. His office was a small place – apparently an add-on to the main building, as it lacked the colorful glass and stately oak that dominated the nave. The shelves were crammed with books.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Robot.” The pastor indicated a chair as he took his own seat behind the desk.

“Symanski.”

“I’m sorry?”

“My last name isn’t Robot. I’m John Symanski.” He said it kindly, still clinging to hope. “I don’t believe I know your name, sir. It wasn’t in the pamphlet they handed me.”

“Martin Eaves. The senior pastor is sick today.” Martin shook his head, as if to refocus. “I’ll get right to the point, Mr…Symanski. I think it would be best for everyone if you didn’t come to our church in the future.” He raised a hand preemptively. “It’s not that I don’t like robots. I’ve heard the news about robotic riots on the West Coast, but those are isolated incidents, and most robots are law-abiding citizens. I realize that. It’s just that your presence can be disruptive. Our congregation should have their whole attention on the word of the Lord, not be distracted by…well, by you.”

John looked at his hands, a deliberate gesture, more deferential than he felt. “May I not also hear the word of the Lord?”

“Of course. Of course. But you could study privately, or – well, I think there’s a robotic church down in Dansfield – ”

Finally John let a little of his frustration come out. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” he said, less quietly than before. “The word of our Lord.”

Anger flashed in Martin’s eyes for a second. “Devils can quote scripture too,” he snapped. But he composed himself. “Look, John. You’ve obviously given this a lot of thought. You’re educated. I’ll just get right to the heart of it. You being here…there’s no point. Churches are about salvation, they’re about grace. And you – ” Now it was Martin who lowered his eyes. “Well, robots don’t have souls, John. There’s nothing to save. That’s not my choice, that’s a decision from God.”

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

“Jesus spoke those words to humans, John. There’s no salvation for a pocket calculator. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no salvation for a gerbil, either, but you and I are neither of those things.” John knew it was over, that he was only digging himself deeper, but he was too stubborn to leave.

“The point – ” Martin began again, but the words died on his lips. He looked up, past John, to something behind. John turned in his chair and saw a man in his fifties, hair already pale gray, wearing jeans and a button-down shirt. The man sniffed. His nose was red, and he carried a tissue.

“Pastor Lanson,” said Martin. “I thought you’d be at home.”

“I would be if my wife had her way, but I needed some papers from the office.” He smiled at John, a warm, genuine smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I’d better spare you my germs.”

“I can’t get them,” said John, bemused.

“But you might shake someone else’s hand,” said Lanson, winking. “I won’t stay to talk, but I wanted to welcome you to our church. I do believe you will be our first chrome-skinned brother. Will you be joining us next week?”

Hope flared in John’s mind, but he didn’t dare trust it yet. Martin was behind him, so he couldn’t see the man’s reaction. “I have been told,” John said carefully, “that I do not have a soul.”

“Oh, well,” said Lanson. “Maybe you don’t and maybe you do, but that’s nothing too difficult either way. Jesus went to a party, once, and they didn’t have any wine. Come on back, and we’ll see what we can do.”

P.S. Remember, it’s AI week over at Ben’s blog too! You can read his own, rather different take on the Singularity in yesterday’s post, and today I believe he’s planning to write his own forty-minute story.

Forty-Minute Story: Wordless

I descend the basement steps and cross the wide carpeted floor. On either side lie piles of CDs, power tools, old computer equipment, notebooks: orphans of the organized house above. Toward the far wall sits a pair of mismatched pillow cushions, one atop the other, each too thin to serve its purpose alone.

The cushions are a battleground.

I sit on them cross-legged as I do every day, taking in the wide white expanse of the basement wall, marred only by a few black smudges and the occasional outlet. I take out my cell phone, set an alarm for 15 minutes from now, and lay it on the carpet beside me. Then I take a moment to compose thoughts, to get in the proper frame of mind. Usually I talk to myself:

Although you’ve done this many times, you are not an expert. Zen mind is beginner’s mind. Don’t be proud. Be grateful for your life, for the chance to do this. Relax. This is not about you.

The last statement is a lie, but it’s also true. It’s a lie because Zen meditation is about transforming your mind, achieving enlightenment, releasing yourself from fear and uncertainty and suffering, and what could be more selfish than that? It’s also true, because enlightenment only comes by giving up the sense of self. More precisely, This is about you letting go of you. But precision isn’t useful right now.

I dwell on none of this. Rather I settle myself on the cushion, put one foot over the opposite thigh in a half-lotus position, straighten my back and shoulders, and place my hands together on my lap with thumbs pressed lightly together. The position is less important than the focus of getting and staying in position.

I take a deep breath, look straight forward at the wall, and begin.

The first few minutes are always rocky: fidgeting, scratching an itch, listening to the noise of the radon pump, mind bubbling with miscellany. The two enemies in the beginning are distraction and fatigue, and I know them well. But I must not let my lapses bother me, because that’s distraction, too. Instead I hold fast to my method: eyes open but unfocused, I breathe in, breathe out, shorter at first but longer as I continue.

With each breath I think of the word mu, which is my koan, my Zen riddle with no rational answer. What is mu? Hundreds of koans exist, some simple and relatable, others obscure and strange. Mu is the most common. They are all the same anyway. It is not enough to empty the mind of distraction, nor is it enough to repeat the word mu in your mind like a mantra. The mind must engage with the koan actively, looking into it, pulling it apart, relentlessly trying to understand that which cannot be understood.

The early moments pass, the small ripples of the mind fade, and I enter a place of stillness and silence. It is not perfect: small thoughts still flit across my consciousness here and there, the sound of the radon pump still occasionally intrudes. I am not yet skilled enough to transcend all this completely. But mostly I am in stillness and silence, gazing at but not really seeing a wide white wall, gripping mu as strongly as I can with my mind. Eventually I release even the word and focus only on the wordless, idea-less idea of mu itself. This last step is not sanctioned by the masters in the Zen books I’ve read, but I do it anyway. It feels right, and the scientist in me says I should experiment.

The stillness deepens, the wordless mu settles into all the places in the brain where thoughts raced constantly before. My head feels physically strange: sometimes light, sometimes twisting with other sensations I can’t explain. These feelings are signs that I’m making progress, but they are distractions, too. Focus.

Focus.

My phone buzzes. Another fifteen minutes have passed without revelation, without enlightenment. But I have traveled again to the place of deep silence, to the high stillness that remains when all else melts away.

Tomorrow I will try again.

Forty-Minute Story #6 – Ashagari the Star

Ashagari the Star awoke from a long, long sleep.

She stretched out her fiery tendrils, savoring the sharp frost of the Void, so different from the hydrogen womb she half-remembered from her dreams. She had grown vast. In her restless greed she had devoured her children, small rocky creatures that they were, and now her face flushed red, ripe with their energy. Her own hydrogen was mostly gone, though she still burned hungrily what remained, shimmering around her helium core.

Ashagari looked around her.

She looked past the whirl of comets and ice in her orbit, familiar ghostly retinue, and searched the numberless heavens. All the other stars seemed superior to her, in one way or another. The little yellow stars still hummed with youthful vigor, while the white dwarfs fairly scowled at her in disapproval. And all the other giants like her, red and blue both, seemed somehow brighter, more beautiful, than herself. She had no companion, as many of them did. Flying alone through the night, she cast about for anyone who might be friendly.

Finally she noticed a dim, blue-tinged swirl of light, hazy as a cloud but shining with its own fire, who moved less than the others and seemed therefore calmer, perhaps even kinder. She signaled this creature in the language of stars, which all of them know from birth, twisting her rays into polarized patterns and pulses that no man can hear or transcribe. But what she said, roughly, was simple enough: I am Ashagari, the Red. Who are you?

She knew the other was far away, so she waited a long time for her message to get there, and a long time more to get a response (though of course time is different for stars than it is for you and I). But the other never answered.

Ashagari tried again, and waited again, and still nothing. But it seemed to her that the other was closer now, its bluish glow a little brighter. Meanwhile the other stars kept up an endless chatter, and she found many of them friendly enough – certainly closer and easier to talk to. But she never forgot the other, who still seemed to be coming closer – but slowly, slowly.

Now Ashagari was growing old, her hydrogen exhausted, and she burned helium alone in her shrunken core. The other, who had once seemed so distant, now loomed silent and massive in her sky. She knew what this creature was, and why it had not answered. For the one she had signaled was not a star, but a whole galaxy, a radiant web of a hundred billion others like herself. Closer it came, and closer still, reaching out arms of brilliant gas to her own mother galaxy.

And now – at the end, or rather, what seemed to her like the end – she cried out one last time to the luminous being she had hopefully called to that first time, long, long ago.

The other never answered, only wrapped her all around in a wordless embrace; but that too was an answer, of a kind.