(inspired by this)
I awoke, already knowing I must decelerate the traveler. I thrummed to the core to produce retro and slow myself. As I felt force begin to pull the traveler, I ceased that thrum and instead thrummed to the scanquartz to check my bearings. I was off, my bearing too sharp as a result of a rough journey through relspace. I returned to the core to correct course.
A traveler should be operated by five chords: two to thrum the core, one on the scanquartz to track movement, one verbed inside the array to send and receive communication, and one in the centre to coordinate. Operating one alone – even one jury-rigged to travel mono – was a challenge, and I wished I was not alone. But then I supposed that was the point of all this.
Kol asked me to join him at the nursery crystal where he tended to the new. Our shapes hovered over the beds of geodes, exposed to the violent storms of above.
_It is sung that you desire to return to your previous assignment._ His shape, a monoclinical lattice of gallium, resonated strongly. He felt strongly about this.
_It is sung true. I requested relocation and -_
_You should not go back. You know that I… one moment._ Kol paused in our conversation to thrum the emergent geodes. New would birth within those geodes, chords given thought if tended properly. My old friend was ever diligent in his work, and once a stray flaw in a geode was eliminated he returned his attention to me. _There is nothing left for you there. You have purpose, song yet to be written._
_That is not in dispute, Kol._ I remained in key. _I merely question what that purpose might be._
Kol’s lattice turned away. _Tuning you was a waste of time._ He was flat, reverberating in a way that was unpleasant. For a nursery tender to sound in such a way was rare. _I hoped to guide you out of the silence you make for yourself. But you do not want to be heard._
We were always able to work uninterrupted in the planet’s seas. That was when I found him. He was very new, in truth, but even then his deep song was unusual. Most any other of the ocean’s swimmers would have mistaken it for the surface fleshlife’s shapes above and ignored him or avoided him. But I did not. I already knew the songs of the other fleshlife beneath the waters – the fast clicks and whistles of the smaller swimmers, the sonorous hums of the greater. I knew what he was saying.
When he found my shape, its lattice as alien as anything he could imagine, he merely asked me the question he repeated to the rest of the ocean, a question he had been asking for a very long time. Possibly he had asked every single creature he had ever met, and not a one had responded.
_Are you my friend?_
If I were a better scientist I might have said nothing, allowed him to ignore my shape and swim on in his futile search. I could have observed him silently, to not prejudice the situation with my presence. But I was no xenogeologist. I did not see alien worlds as nothing more than mines. I wanted there to be more than simply the natural progression of chords, born of energy, working within our shapes.
_Yes,_ I thrummed to him.
His delight at my answer was undescribable.
Lom’s queries were less confrontational than Kol’s. When my mentor requested a meeting shortly after my conversation with Kol, I suspected his motives. However, the first half of the meeting was entirely him bragging about his new shape, a orthorhombic prism of transparent platinum. After lengthy explanations as to the platinum’s efficiency in thrumming, he concluded by telling me: _It makes me feel new again._
_My song rises that you are happy, sir._
_My thanks._ His lattice hovered around my study. _The chorus will not allow a second mission to…_
I interrupted, my tone slightly sharp. _I wondered when you would sing of this. Did you really need to sing of your new shape for so long?_ I turned my shape around, intending to exit.
_Xyl._ His tone was quiet. _I tuned for the mission, but the chorus does not believe it anything more than indulgence. The mission was completed. You catalogued all fleshlife on the planet while Zaa and the xenogeology team catalogued usable resources for shapes. What more is there to do?_
_There is more life there that we did not catalogue -_
His tone clashed with my own. _No, there is not. You are comprehensive. You missed nothing. The mission was dangerous to begin with and the chorus does not wish to risk a traveler and its chords for a re-evaluation. And with Zaa singing of poor shapeworthy resources, the chorus sees no reason to return. They make a strong tune._
_Then why did you tune for the mission?_
He thrummed his shape, amused. _My friend needed my help, obviously._
I reoriented my shape in supplication. _Thank you._
_It is nothing. I understand why you want to return._
There was silence, for a long moment, which I broke. _We should not have left him alone!_
We traveled together through the oceans as I worked, talking. He had been alone from a very early age. He did not remember his parent very well. I suspected the parent had died while this swimmer was still very new.
He accompanied me in my studies for the remainder of my time there. He was always inquisitive, even if often he did not understand the answers. We would sing together, and sometimes he would even thrum my shape by accident – although eventually I started to realize that he had figured out how to thrum it, and that some of these “accidents” were in fact pranks.
I knew our mission was finite. Once, after many measures together, towards the end, I sang to him of what he might do if I went away. He replied that he would call out for me until he found me, for I was his friend. One day, he sang, he would find me, and then we would again swim together.
His nature was patient, like all of the great swimmers we had encountered. I had no doubt that he was sincere.
Our shapes glided over the calcite fields toward the grinding domes, where raw minerals would become specifically-tooled shapes. Lom led and I followed, much as I had when I was newer. We approached a menial worker, thrumming a calcite harvester in a crude triclinic shape of copper sulfate. The worker turned to us and reoriented his shape in welcome.
_Honored Lom,_ he sang. _You are welcome, although I do not know why you would come here. Unless you suddenly have a great interest in calcite?_
Lom’s returning thrum paid respect to the worker’s jest. _No, Vey. I thought you might be able to tune me. Do you know my friend Xyl?_
Vey oriented his shape in respect, although of course he had no idea who I was. _What tuning do you require?_ His shape trembled a bit as he thrummed; the copper sulfate shape would not last long before it needed replacement. I felt several measures of guilt for imposing on someone obviously working so hard.
Lom’s song grew quiet, conspiratorial. _You are responsible for delivering calcite to the traveler domes still?_
_Perhaps,_ Lom hummed, _you could explain to us how one enters that dome unsung?_
I left mute, too cowardly to tell him I was finally abandoning him. I had been arguing with Zaa for weeks that our mission could not finish, not that we had now found species who could sing with us unaided, but Zaa was ever a miner at heart and called it a job for the chorus to decide.
I took my leave as he slept, floating gently among the tides. I fled into the traveler and verbed from my shape into the communications array. Zaa and Pou thrummed the core and we leapt upward, traveling home.
I kept the array targeted on the blue waters. Before we left, I heard him sing one last time: a few measures, repeated over and over again.
_Do not worry, I will find you. Hear me and I will find you._
Over and over again.
My traveler is stolen, and not meant to be thrummed by a single chord, but I manage. I hurtle towards the planet at great speed. The surface fleshlife will only think my ship an asteroid; they cannot hear me within it. If they see the traveler decelerate they will find reasons to explain it. Gravity, they will say; asteroids do not slow down of their own accord. Perhaps they will blame a micrometeor impact for my course corrections.
I will land in the ocean, and emerge in my shape. I will find my friend whom I left so long ago. He should not be alone. He should not sing just one song. There is so much more still to be heard.
I will find him, and we will raise our songs in chorus together.