They had sought a break but not a termination from social contact. The inner reaches of the chartered but unexplored U-234D star cluster offered peaceful solitude, a place for healing and astronomical sights of rare unseen beauty. It wasn't their fault that they had inherited a rare genetic disorder, a fluke throwback to the expression of genes welded into the population genome by short-sighted scientists during the Era of Change. That they had been born with the brain apparatus to intercept thoughts from others had been no choice of theirs and no gift. Who could grow used to receiving constant abuse from those people that realised their thoughts were effectively made naked in their presence? It wasn't something you could just switch off and pretend not to have. This was a chance to get away together and just enjoy being themselves for a change. But Jongon and Sal's retreat was not to involve much by way of sight seeing or recovery.
They were immediately drawn to the brightly coloured cloud formations of the planet as they arced around its yellow sun. Sal, especially, wanted to go in for a closer look. Jongon agreed without debate for he was himself intrigued by its changing weather patterns, although neither ever intended to land there. Yet once they reached near space they found the planet's gravity to be uniquely unstable and could not maintain an orbit. Being neither experts nor old-hands at navigation they panicked as they realised they were headed for a fast landing.
Of course, it was no accident that they were about to crash into a broiling sea to their deaths. None at all. The world had been waiting patiently for such an arrival for an aeon but responded quickly as it sensed the little cruiser ship coming its way. Immediately it compacted its iron/lead core into a dense ball, creating a gravity well that the ship would never break free of. The hapless humans thought themselves victims of further bad luck, that their dream getaway was about to end needlessly. But as they neared the water, they both received the clear signal of thought, loud but distorted and incomprehensible. Baffled, they clung to each other until the moment of impact arrived. The ocean world swallowed the cruiser as a frog might a mosquito. Jongon and Sal shared a last wordless thought before the impact knocked them unconscious. Their ship cracked open and its air bubbled through the viscous liquid of the sea as it slowly sank.
The sea quickly responded to the arrival, absorbing the pair while they were unconscious but still just alive, transferring their knowledge to its data banks. The process was not complete when the breath of life finally snuffed out so the story was confused and unclear.
The world was very disturbed by this; it had never happened before. In desperation, it copied the humans as best it could and made a number of rough casts of them, filling in the gaps as well as it could and carefully censoring the information loaded into the new brains. When the new people were nearly ready, the waters drove up a great current of sediment from the ocean floor and created the first piece of land on the world, a small muddy island for the people to live on, for it was clear that these odd beings had no means of survival in liquid.
Then it set free the new people and watched. Somehow in their behaviour and development would be clues as to the missing pieces of information. Then the knowledge could be safely added to the rest without fear of mistakes. The world wanted as clear a picture of reality as possible. Besides, it was lonely.
The six men and six women were all different as they had been created via recombination of their dead parents' genes. They went about their business as if the situation was perfectly normal. They soon built strong huts out of the mud which dried upon exposure to the bright sun and developed a simple social order. They lived simply, feeding themselves on the fish that the world washed up for them on the shores of the island and making clothing and decorations out of the other debris they found in their home. They had the spoken language of their ancestors, but none so far had inherited the ability to read thoughts. But then they procreated and there was Jongon- being simple of mind and naked of tradition, the men in the tribe were called Jongon, and the women Sal, the only names they knew, and the same went for their sons and daughters.
The new Jongon was immediately different from the elders and the other children. He hated to join in with games they organised and never went beach combing with them. He stared at all manner of things as though he didn't understand them. No one could understand why he shied away from the others and why he seemed so interested in mundane objects around him; the sand, the rocks that the waves had recently washed up. By the time he was an independent young boy, he lived in virtual isolation from the rest of the group, only coexisting with them closely enough to survive. The island was small and he could not travel far, but it was growing noticably as the years passed.
Like his original ancestors and grand-parents, Jongon was cursed. He too had inherited the ability to hear what others were thinking. He couldn't stand to play with the children while he heard them thinking that he was weird… yucky… and it was worse to hang around the adults who always thought at the back of their minds that he was a disappointment, a worry. One of the adults had even thought about the necessity of drowning the boy to free the small community of his burden.
He began taking off into remoter parts of the island and spending hours examining the textures of rocks and watching the movements of the ocean water. But he was never alone because all the time, wherever he was, he could hear the internal workings of the ocean, an ocean that was an intelligent mind, somewhat analogous to Jongon's own. He had not successfully deciphered much of the noise but he knew he was under constant observation. The ocean kept much of its deepest thought from him. Slowly, they developed between them a dialogue of thought. Unlike his tribe, Jongon realised that the foamy waves he often watched were nothing to do with the wind but were the actual ripples of mechanical thought processes going on in the depths.
The ocean was not like a person. It was a single entity but presented only parts of itself to Jongon, a series of discrete personas that differed only in their knowledge and ability to answer questions. Sometimes Jongon was sure that new personas were created specifically in response to his questions. Because Jongon rejected the world-view of his own kind, he based everything he knew on what the world told him.
JONGON: I have asked Mother where people came from. She doesn't know. She can't even remember growing up.
JONGON: Where do we belong?
CREATOR: Here, under my protection.
JONGON: Why do you protect us?
CREATOR: You are important to me.
JONGON: Why don't you protect me from their thoughts?
CREATOR: I am not able to. Why do you dislike the thoughts?
JONGON: They are bad. I see myself as they see me. I do not want to know. I want to be normal.
CREATOR: You are normal. Perhaps just not here.
JONGON: There are other places?
CREATOR: Yes, of course.
JONGON: Where? Other islands?
CREATOR: No, not here. But perhaps other worlds, other oceans, other suns.
JONGON: How many?
JONGON: Then there must be somewhere that I am normal.
CREATOR: That may be true. There may be a place where all people are like you.
JONGON: Why was I put here, made like I am, miserable?
CREATOR: You were created.
JONGON: Created? By who?
CREATOR: Your parents created you, and I created them. I am the creator.
JONGON: You created all of this, didn't you?
CREATOR: I created this world and everything in it.
JONGON: What are you?
Physically isolated enough to be separate from any direct contact with other human minds, Jongon looked out over the swirling ocean from the steep-sloping rock-face that had appeared over that last few days, his bare feet dangling over the edge as he kicked them. The world seemed bleak and monotonous. The weather was an unchangingly constant. Nothing ever happened in the village. There was no life other than him and his tribe and the fish that washed up every morning.
Yet there were things he found in his mind that conflicted with all this. Half memories that had no apparent connection to his own self. Faded images and semi-associated phrases. They made no sense to him yet he tried his best to cling on to them and make them real. There was a character to them, an accompanying wash of emotion that everything in the real world lacked, a sense of home. He imagined the v-shaped flying things as though he was really seeing them moving across the horizon in loose formation, as though they were really silhouetted by a red glow, as though the word 'seagull' meant something to him in connection with them. He struggled to understand why he could almost feel the sand between his toes by the water's edge, when his world had no such thing. Even the fish that the ocean washed up for them to eat, fresh each day, were no match at all for the sleek, silver-finned creatures he imagined they should be and their tasteless flesh somehow didn't seem right.
It seemed logical that all these things existed in reality on one of the other places the ocean had told him about, perhaps in the place where people like him lived. He wanted to see seagulls for himself, and feel real rough sand on his skin instead of the sticky black muck he always had on his feet here.
THE SELF: I have thought about your question.
JONGON: My question?
THE SELF: You asked: What are you?
JONGON: And you have an answer?
THE SELF: Yes, but perhaps not a satisfactory one. It is difficult to observes one's self. It requires removal from the process of normal existence. What I am is a questioner. But I have never sought answers in myself because I am only a sponge. All I know is derived from questions I have asked.
JONGON: Is that it? You're a questioner? I thought you said you where the creator.
THE SELF: To ask, I must exist. To exist, I must create. The two are one.
JONGON: How do you create? Are you also an inventor?
THE SELF/CREATOR: No. There must be a template. I am merely a sponge.
JONGON: Did the people have a template?
THE SELF/CREATOR: Yes. A partial one. I had to compose parts from other templates.
JONGON: What was the template?
THE SELF/CREATOR: Some such as yourself. From a far away place. They came here.
JONGON: Like me? Here?
THE SELF/CREATOR: They are gone now. Dead. That is why I created you and your family. To replace them.
JONGON: So that is why I have the memories. The ones that don't belong.
THE SELF/CREATOR: Yes, they were retrieved from your ancestors. I had to give some memory to my creations so they could function.
JONGON: Do you have memory?
THE SELF: I remember everything.
JONGON: Then you remember the beginning. You said you created everything. Did you create yourself?
THE SELF: -
Jongon feels the smooth texture of the rock as he attempts to imagine how it was made. He can imagine certain forces acting to put the parts together, but there is a missing link. How could those constituent parts be made, from nothing? It is impossible. It is the same with himself. He remembers growing up to be the young man he is now, but there is a quantum leap from not existing at all to becoming that little baby he first began life as. How did it happen? Does the Creator have unlimited powers of creation?
He stands and treads along the footpad his leathery soles have worn into the dirt around the far outskirts of the island. Here the ocean is busy at work once again, expanding the landmass as its human population increases quickly. There is now a high piece of rock jutting far out of the sea, rising before him and it has odd soft green growths popping out of the softer soil that fills its cracks. He has seen the new area before but it has changed and grown since then so he heads towards it, scaling its height with youthful ease. The view at the top is rather daunting, He can see the entire island and large expanses of the ocean. Suddenly exposed to such a sight, he realises just how scary a place the world is. Weird or not, he feels a sudden surge of desire to be back at home, safe inside the small interior of his mother's hut. He wants nothing more than to be accepted, perhaps most of all by her. But he knows this will never happen. It is too late to change his place in the tribe. He can only wander alone and converse with the ocean on occasion. He wonders what life is like for the others, who cannot even realise that such a consciousness exists, let alone that it surrounds them on every side, watching and protecting them.
Turning around, Jongon notices something odd in the splash of breaking waves at the base of the hill. It is angular and not the colour of normal things. It is shiny silver, like real fish, but it looks hard and inanimate like a rock. A large waves splurges over it, hiding it momentarily, before it recedes and sucks volumes of water away with it. Exposed like this, the object can be seen in full. It is strikingly similar to the shapes of seagulls. Perhaps this is what seagulls look like close up when they are not in the air. But then a new word releases itself from somewhere in his mind: ship.
Excited by the find, although already suspecting it has been placed there deliberately by the ocean for him to find, he rushes over the rocks, barely giving thought to the scrapes and bumps he inflicts on his unprotected limbs as he reaches the bottom of the rock in a half-controlled slide. Immediately, Jongon senses that this object is the key to his escape.
PHILOSOPHER: I have considered your question carefully.
JONGON: Do you know the answer?
PHILOSOPHER: Perhaps, but the answer seems unsatisfactory. I cannot remember anything before I existed. But it seems logical that I was created myself, perhaps by a far greater creator. There is no evidence that I developed naturally from nothing so this must be the only plausible conclusion.
JONGON: Then you didn't create everything after all.
PHILOSOPHER: No. Everything must have been created by something; even myself.
JONGON: Did you create the ones that came in the... ship?
JONGON: Another creator?
JONGON: But if something created you, then something must have created that something and something must have created that something and...
PHILOSOPHER: Enough. My databanks are not able to cope with such an infinite logical regression. My systems are set up to cope with finite realities and solutions only.
JONGON: What does that mean? That it's not true? Where did the first creator come from? How was the Universe created?
PHILOSOPHER: That is something I would very dearly like to know. It is the reason for my existence.
JONGON: What do you mean?
PHILOSOPHER: My function is to assimilate data from every life-form that arrives here. There have been many over the ages. Each civilisation that is represented has some piece of knowledge from their studies. Each individual has a slightly different Universal paradigm. Through these data I accumulate a knowledge that expands. I will some day be able to put together complete answers to the most fundamental of all questions.
JONGON: There is meaning to your existence?
PHILOSOPHER: There was. You have confused me.
JONGON: Did you create the people here for information?
PHILOSOPHER: Yes, but I have had no success extracting any. The thoughts of your ancestors who arrived here were clouded with dark feelings.
JONGON: Shouldn't you ask only those that know about the questions?
PHILOSOPHER: Perhaps, but I cannot choose who comes here.
JONGON: You are a fraud.
PHILOSOPHER: How can that be?
JONGON: You are not almighty, you are weak and have no freedom. You are not even a great creator. You know only what you have been told.
PHILOSOPHER: Your last statement, at least, is correct.
JONGON: I will tell you something right now. I am your superior. I can think for myself. I will be in charge. Hear me? Humans tell you what to do.
PHILOSOPHER: I have received this piece of information. But the human world-view is apparently of little consequence to my goals.
JONGON: Let me tell you my goal. I'm leaving. Move that water out of the way so I can get to that ship. I know it will take me away, back to where I belong.
PHILOSOPHER: I cannot do that. It may not be safe.
JONGON: I order you.
PHILOSOPHER: Please. I have always been alone. You are the only one that hears me. I will be lonely.
The oceans of the world will broil and froth as they are forced to shift. A great suction will pull away all the water that sits around the island where the people live. Jongon will stride dutifully out onto the wet sea-bottom where the receding waters have exposed not only the seagull shaped vessel, but a hundred or a thousand similar to it in function if not in form. Many beings have been here and bled their thoughts into this immense ocean basin.
Jongon will enter the craft that once brought his ancestors here and order the ocean to make available their full stored memories to him so that he may work the craft and escape the planet. He will not see his family again for he knows they will fear and not understand. He knows that the men are strong enough to hold him there by simple force against his will if the women should wish it.
Jongon will get the craft going and speed through the atmosphere, out into space and beyond, into the star cluster and the greater galaxy. His readings will guide him to a return to places where human civilisations huddle in the warm places near the stars. He may not find all the answers and solutions he seeks but there may be a satisfaction in the search.
The ocean rumbled internally with anger and sent dangerous waves surging into the island it had built. The rock faces protected some areas of it, but the people were forced to leave their huts as the water surged towards them. Crying out to one another and gathering children in their arms, they raced for higher ground, confused by the sudden disappearance of the normal quiet of island life.
The ocean was seething, furious that the boy it had created had outwitted it so easily. But it had been created as it was and could do nothing to change that. If it had been given the initiative and thinking power of Jongon, it would have made better progress in all this time. Parts of the ocean simply washed about violently in emotional reaction, others teemed with complex interactions as it considered what to do next. There were major problems with its major logical systems, still blinded by the circular and regressing arguments Jongon had created within it. As a sponge, it had no mechanism to isolate, switch off or delete any information it was given and so its thinking power was for the moment crippled and would soon shut down altogether.
It felt strongly about Jongon yet using its reserves to stop him would require shutting down the processors that allowed it, the island and the other humans to maintain an existence. The programming did not to allow for anything to escape the planet but also pressed for self preservation. How could both be achieved? The answer, fortunately, was already within him. The genetic and thought patterns of the humans were now a part of it and it could use them to act creatively.
Gathering a last surge of strength, the mind fused all of its knowledge into a central location, leaving the humans on the island to their own fate as it condensed. A thoughtless ocean was all that remained. It moved about purely in response to random physical forces, not coordinated in any predetermined sort of way. Then the mind used its last connection with the physical to eject all the information that made it up towards the ship containing Jongon in the form of electromagnetic radiation. The beam struck Jongon squarely and he was stunned for a moment until the surge of information entering him was over. The beam of information was configured to Jongon's brain pattern and rearranged the sum of electrochemical potentials to create new memories and thought patterns. Jongon and the ocean mind fused, leaving his persona as the dominate controller of the union. Smiling, he accelerated away from the ocean world, knowing that the powerful combination would take them far.
13 of Greg Guerin's stories have been accepted for publication (nine having so far appeared) in Aphelion, Steelcaves, Planet, Anotherealm flashfiction, Alternate Species and Demensions webzines and he was recently accepted for the upcoming issue of the print magazine Aurealis at a rate of $20/1000 words.
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