This might look awfully fast, but it has been a few months since I wrote the first one. I just didn’t post it for quite some time!
Serene in space, the gossamer relic hangs about the star at its heart, draped like a crystal cobweb. Who built it, what it even really is, no-one knows. Its interior is all but fractal, here graceful and soaring, there blocky and compact. Gravity changes smoothly or sharply, so that people might be seen walking at all angles. And though the relic has never been fully mapped, it is full of people — for explorers come from all over the galaxy to seek out its secrets.
A ship lands and an explorer disembarks, almost tripping over the end of the still-lowering landing ramp and half-skipping a few short steps to a halt. Others disembark behind her as she takes her first breath of the strangely clean air, unconsciously squaring her shoulders as she looks around. Countless signs in almost as many languages have been posted all around the docking area, pointing the way to supply shops, to basic and advanced training, to hotels, to tour routes, to everything under — or around — the sun.
The explorer folds her arms unconsciously, then turns to watch the luggage being unloaded from the shuttle. Her own case, hovering slightly above the floor, disentangles itself from the general pile and follows a step and a half behind her, off to the left. She likes to know what’s there. It’s a big world ahead, and difficult to know where to start. But she sets off, uncertain at first, looking around, finding her way. Training. A sensible place to begin. Accelerated, advanced. She wants to be ready, wants to explore.
* * *
Three strange figurines stand arranged in line on a mildly incongruous plaid rug. The party sit and stand around them, one of them running a scanning beam slowly across the set. Each figurine sparkles like bluish diamond, reflecting and refracting the light. They might be human, frozen in the middle of impossibly graceful action. They might be abstract, or even alien.
“I don’t know what they are,” the one with the scanner eventually admits. “But they’re lovely. Look at them.”
“I don’t know…” another half-murmurs, eyeing the figurines. “They’re kind of unsettling.” He turns to the original finder. “Don’t you think?”
The finder shrugs. “They’re a bit weird, but I like them. And they’re going to make for a good report.”
“Even if we can’t get any real information out of them at all?”
“No information is information. If we’ve found something none of our instruments can entirely analyse — well, then that’s something, isn’t it?”
“Besides,” the fourth explorer adds, “they’ll be packaged up soon enough.”
* * *
Further out, inasmuch as distance means anything in the Relic, where one could sometimes have to walk kilometres just to cross a twenty-metre divide or find a teleporter pad to go a thousand kilometres in a single second, an explorer whistles to herself in a vaguely familiar tune, running her fingers along a pale piece of ductwork like a thin, incredibly strong ceramic. The passages here are alien, graceful, beautiful — and small. Sometimes she clambers over or ducks under the architecture, always recording it as she goes. There are other people in this half-charted spire, of course, and she’s met many, stayed in touch with some, coordinated exploration leading them on to new vistas, new slices of the unknown.
“South side,” she says softly to her recorder, listening to the way her voice echoes slightly before escaping down the hall. “Southern door confirmed… open.” And it’s an odd, remarkable discovery, one that gives her pause, because everywhere she’s ever been in this spire, the southern doors have always been sealed, impenetrable, to the point where she’d begun to wonder if there was really anything on the other side at all. But there, finally, in the long interior wall that she’s climbed level after level alongside, a door stands open. Strange, like many doors in the gossamer relic are: this particular opening is the shape of a square tipped onto one corner, a kind of simple diamond. She takes a deep breath, calls out:
And her voice echoes away, and another responds, calling back from the other side of the door.
For a moment, the explorer hesitates. She knows this side, knows how far she could still climb here, poking her head into lift shafts and ventilation ducts and looking up into dizzyingly distant darkness. A long way to go yet, and in familiar territory. But the unknown beckons, and so too does a stranger’s voice. She considers what would happen if that door closed again.
Decision made before she quite knows it, the explorer moves on, on into the greater unknown.