Boredom was killing Prism. Not literally though. To die, one must be alive. So when he captured the thought inviting him to attend the School, he became exited.
Other young ethereals captured the same thought, and most of them transmitted their responses in the same resonance as that of the caller. Like Prism did.
“When did you capture the thought?” Prism thought in the same resonance as Maze and Infinitesium, his two acquaintances who had also accepted the invitation.
“Just a few teirons ago,” Maze thought.
“Same here!” Infinitesium added. “What’s this about?”
“I don’t know,” Prism thought. “But I’m capturing the thought of a rossguver, are you capturing it too? Perhaps he’ll explain.”
The Head Rossguver gathered everybody’s thoughts in the same resonance. “Welcome to your school, students,” he thought. “She has commissioned a quest for us: to find beauty.”
“Beauty? What’s that?” Maze thought.
“I don’t know,” Prism answered. “Let’s just capture his thoughts. I’m sure he’ll explain.”
“She, who created us all, yearns for beauty,” the rossguver thought. “We cannot think of beauty, however, because She herself does not comprehend the concept. Nevertheless, She wants us to find it. To that end, She has created this school. And all one thousand of you must think yourselves fortunate to think in this same resonance. In her infinite wisdom and grace, She has decided that the student who creates beauty will become a rossguver.”
Prism was capturing the rossguver’s thoughts with the outmost attention, until he was distracted by something. Which was very strange, because the concept of something did not exist in the ethereal’s realm. But something was there, in that place that was not a place.
Infinitesium did not stop capturing the rossguver’s thoughts for a single teiron. The part about becoming a rossguver had caught his attention.
“What’s that?” Maze thought, as astonished as Prism.
“Students,” the rossguver thought, “what you perceive is the canvas. She has conceived it for you. You shall use it to create beauty.”
“Amazing,” Prism thought. He was the first one to go near it. The concept of place and distance had just been revealed to him.
“Let’s explore it together!” thought Maze, following his classmate.
“Why all the excitement?” Infinitesium thought. “Let’s just capture his thoughts; he’ll surely teach us how to create beauty. I want to become a rossguver, not waste my time exploring that…thing.”
Prism embraced the opportunity. It was his ticket out of his existential boredom. This was his opportunity to discover something; to find purpose. Whether his creation would become beautiful or not, it was of no relevance to him.
He would have jumped in head first if had had one. But he did not have a head or a body – none of the ethereals did. The only physical object in their realm was the canvas. And the canvas was growing.
From an infinitesimally tiny point, to something that was filling the realm. And as the canvas grew, the realm expanded with it.
“You shall be able to bring your creations into existence inside the canvas,” the rossguvers thought, “in the same way that She conceived it. You command the same energy. And energy is all there is inside the canvas. Guide it with your thoughts, and craft the beauty that She craves.”
“Are there any rules we should follow?” Prism thought.
“We do not know,” the rossguvers thought. “She did not think about any. If there are rules, you must discover them yourselves.”
“But if She created the canvas, She must surely know the rules!” Prism thought.
“We do not question Her!” thought the Head Rossguver, in Prism’s resonance only.
Irctons went by. The canvas kept expanding. It was full of energy; no student dared interact with it.
Prism could not wait any longer. He left his realm, which was not a place, and immersed himself in the canvas – which was a place.
In the beginning, there was chaos. It took him irctons before he gained the skill to turn the abundant energy that permeated the canvas into something the rossguvers named mass.
Other students joined in. Maze guided his thoughts in resonance with Prism and both of them created more mass.
Infinitesium observed, and then tried to copy Prism’s technique. He was not very successful at creating mass. “I resent you,” he thought only to himself.
The students, led by Prism and Maze, created so much mass that suddenly, something unexpected happened; the matter – the rossguvers where calling it gas now – accumulated in lumps. That alone was the most curious thing they had witnessed so far.
Until the next event happened.
The lumps ignited. Self-sustaining reactions kept the blobs of gas incandescent. Some remained that way for a few hundred irctons then suddenly exploded, scattering heavier elements throughout the canvas. Others were more stable, lasting into the frectus.
Those stars – as the rossguvers named them – became Prism’s obsession. He was now the authority on star creation. As the frectus went by, Prism’s reputation as an innovator grew.
And so did Infinitesium’s envy.
Prism got carried away by his creative frenzy. He forgot about the original assignment entrusted to him by Her, through the thoughts of the rossguvers. He favored his mid-size stars, which were born out of the remnants of the short lived, first generation blue super giants. Every other student was now creating stars. The canvas reached a critical moment when stars began to form spontaneously.
Without ethereal guidance.
The rossguvers were so impressed that they named this era “The Age of the Stars“.
But Prism was getting bored again, and wanted to create something else. The gas and dust discs around the newborn stars intrigued him. Submersing himself in the canvas – as he constantly did now – he began accreting small lumps of gas and dust. Slowly at first, until the gravity of the original lumps was enough to attract more material.
“Objects which are not stars?” the rossguvers questioned Prism.
“Correct. They’re closely related to their parent stars, however. They’ll orbit them forever. Think of them as their children; just as we think ourselves as her children.”
Planets. A seemingly endless variety of them; gaseous giants with multicolored layers and atmospheric storms bubbling up from the solid depths of their quasi-star like bodies, surrounded by rings of dust and ice; smaller ice balls surrounded by thick atmospheres; tiny planetoids that expelled long tails.
Infinitesium had just about had it with this wonder student who was the thought of the School, threatening his chances to become a rossguver.
He would have to do something about it.
Infinitesium followed Prism into the canvas. He watched him go about his ever more refined planet creation activities, and complimented him for it. Prism absent mindedly thanked him and went on with his world building.
Infinitesium manipulated the central star of the trinary system. He made it denser. He packed so much matter in it that its behavior changed.
“What are you doing?” Prism thought. “It’s becoming unstable!”
“No it isn’t, it’s becoming beautiful. I’m just trying to help you with this system, Prism.”
The star collapsed onto itself. And in a few brief irctons, it swallowed its two companions – and all of the young worlds Prism had so painstakingly crafted. The gamma ray blasts of the first quasar rippled across the canvas.
The students were horrified. The rossguvers were upset at such blatant negligence from their students.
“It was Prism!” Infinitesium thought in everybody’s resonance. “He went too far with his experiments!”
“I didn’t do it!” Prism thought angrily. “Infinitesium caused this!”
The rossguvers thoughts were sharp and accusing. “Prism, it is disturbing enough that you have destroyed countless creations. Moreover, you are now trying to blame this accident on another student. This goes against our thoughts. You are therefore suspended for one frectus. You may not enter the canvas during that time. When She makes her thoughts available again, we shall inform her of your actions.”
Whatever Prism was experiencing, he did not like. It was worse than the boredom to which he had been subjected since he was able to capture his first thought. The only other ethereal who thought with him during that long frectus was Maze. His friendship helped him pull through that difficult time. But his angry thoughts still haunted him when his punishment came to an end.
He would show Infinitesium what creation meant. He would show the rossguvers what he was capable of. His time in exile had provided him ample time to think about his next creation.
Things had not moved along much during Prism’s absence. The students just kept copying his designs. Most planets were gas giants, and the canvas had become a boring place.
At this rate, beauty was not going to be found any time soon.
The rossguvers had decreed that three thoughts would have to agree that a work of art was beautiful. Three entities, no less, were required to declare the search for beauty over.
When Prism immersed himself in the canvas, he was assaulted by a storm of accusing thoughts. The students blamed him for the lack of progress. Infinitesium’s thoughts were most disturbing; he seemed to enjoy what was happening.
Prism ignored them and made himself busy. With Maze’s help, he set about finding the right star system to house his masterpiece.
It took a few irctons to find it. A young, mid-size yellow star, three-quarters out along one of the arms of a giant galaxy. There was still a dense molecular cloud left over around the newborn star.
Prism began accreting mass for two big planets. The gas giants quickly swallowed enough dust and gas, cleaning vast swaths around the star’s disc. Farther out, two more gas giants formed on their own. He placed a large moon in a retrograde orbit around the outermost one. This moon he brought from another star system. It just seemed right.
Worried, Infinitesium followed his progress; he was ready to act.
Focusing on the biggest planet, Prism carefully designed its path so it would swallow most of the dust, leaving just the right amount for his masterpiece.
He made his way inwards and created five planets which were different than any other in the canvas. They were not made of hydrogen, or ammonia, or ice. Prism was under another creative spell.
Infinitesium entered the nascent system. “Prism, I forgive you for your past mistakes. I’ve decided to help you with your latest creation.”
“No,” Prism said. “I don’t want you here. Go!”
“Well, you can’t make me leave. Besides, you need my experience. Remember, I’ve been here much longer than you now, and also-”
His thought was interrupted by Maze’s. “He thought he didn’t want you here. Leave right this teiron or I’ll shut out your thoughts for an aphris. Then you’ll know what it feels like to be really alone.”
Infinitesium was scared at the strength of Maze’s thought. He meant it. He left the system and directed his thoughts to the rossguvers.
“Prism worries me, rossguver. He’s going to cause another accident. He’ll destroy the entire canvas this time!”
Prism placed the fourth planet in a less-than-stable orbit between the still molten orbs of the third and fifth planets. Then he rested.
The rossguvers entered the system. “Prism, why are you creating these small planets? And why are you placing them in these chaotic orbits? You are breaking the harmony in the canvas. There is no other system like this. Do you think this is beautiful?”
“Not yet, rossguver. But in time, it might be.”
The rossguvers were at a loss for thoughts. “You have the audacity to think that beauty can create itself? Beauty must be designed by us ethereals! You have already been suspended for your negligence, Prism, and it appears to us that you are about to cause another accident. You must desist from this course of action!”
“No I won’t! I feel that this will be my best creation. I can’t stop now!”
The rossguvers were taken aback by his insolence. “Prism, you are becoming an embarrassment to the School. Our first thought is to expel you. But, we agree that you have created something… different. Something that has not been tried before. Something that is evolving on its own, without thoughts. Therefore we have decided to give you one last chance, until She thinks in our resonance again. She will make the final decision.”
Prism took it as a good sign. He prepared the final touches for his masterpiece, which had to do with cleaning up left over objects from the disc and collecting them into an orbit between the sixth planet – the gas giant – and the fifth planet – a small rocky world.
Infinitesium kept trying to sabotage the work of art, but the combined thinking power of Prism and his friend Maze made it impossible for him to enter the system.
The fourth planet’s unstable orbit finally sent it careening towards the third planet. Rather than hitting it head on, it delivered a glancing blow. The fourth planet was completely destroyed. Chunks of the third planet settled in a ring around itself.
Irctons went by. The ring coalesced into a big satellite. The third planet became the only rocky world with a large moon. Hundreds of irctons later, after the third planet’s surface cooled and solidified, it was bombarded by comets and asteroids. The constant pummeling delivered large amounts of water, creating oceans and an atmosphere.
Prism thought himself proud of his creation. The rossguvers did not know what to think. They kept making notes in their catalogs, trying to classify this unclassifiable work of art.
Only the final touch was left. Immersing himself on the large moon, Prism carved out a diamond out of material from its mantle. He filled the diamond with his own energy, which was the energy of the canvas.
He signed his masterpiece.
Then She returned – not that She had ever left. Again, her thoughts became available to the other ethereals.
“She will find it beautiful,” Maze thought. “I’ve already thought in everybody’s resonance that your masterpiece is beautiful. If she thinks the same, you’ll be just one thought short of becoming a rossguver!”
“We’ll just see,” Prism thought. “I thank you for your thoughts of beauty towards my creation, and for all your help. I couldn’t have done it without you, friend.”
She admired the art; she savored every piece. The rossguvers followed her, recording her every comment.
When she found Prism’s masterpiece, she beheld it for one locter. Nobody thought a thing. Nobody was about to demand Her to hurry.
Prism captured her thoughts.
“The rossguvers thought that you were the author of this work of art. What do you think about it?” She thought.
Prism felt overwhelmed. She was addressing him directly! He had never captured her thoughts before–only the rossguvers were privy of such honor.
“I think it’s its own master,” Prism thought.
“Yes, it is evolving in unpredictable ways…” She thought. “I think it is beautiful.”
Then she thought in everybody’s resonance – rossguvers’ and students’. “I think that Prism’s creation is beautiful! Does anybody else possess the same thought?”
Silence. Not a single thought reverberated in the realm. She did not remember ever feeling such nothingness.
She turned to Prism. “Two independent thoughts consider it beautiful, Prism. It all rests on you now. Do you think that you have found beauty?”
Prism captured Maze’s thought. It was an anxious thought; an urging thought. Pressing him to think yes. Encouraging him to become a rossguver. And a special rossguver; the one who discovered beauty, no less.
“I don’t know,” Prism thought in everybody’s resonance. “I truly don’t know what beauty is. I don’t think anybody knows. I don’t think we’re capable of judging such a thing. No, I can’t think that it’s beautiful. I think that we should wait. Perhaps in the future, something, or someone, will be able to tell what beauty is.”
“Someone? Are you implying that there can be someone else in the realm? Someone other than us ethereals?” She thought.
“Not in the realm,” Prism thought. “In the canvas.”
She was saddened. But Prism was right. Who was she to dictate what was beautiful and what was not? She was just as ignorant as the rest of them. She still did not know how she came to be or what the realm itself represented.
“Our search is not over then,” she thought. “I hereby declare that some other entity, unknown to us, will decide what beauty is. Come to me now, children. It is time for another iteration.”
And the canvas was left behind, because a place can be left behind.
“Boy you’re dumb!” Peter yelled at Michael. “When I said ‘lock the source with the detector,’ I meant just that! Not lock the goddamn detector in its case! Now we flew over the crater and we can’t go back!”
Cursing, he floated over to the cockpit. “Ann, go deal with this idiot,” he said as he took over the controls of the lunar lander. “Man, are we screwed if we depend on these door knobs to colonize the Moon!”
“Peter,” Ann said, “cut him some slack. He’s barely out of training. You know how unorganized NASA’s been lately, with this mission and all. The academy is just an extension of that mess.”
Grunting, Peter tapped some coordinates. The computer plotted the final approach on the navigation screen.
“Don’t worry Michael,” Ann said. “He’s just grumpy, that’s all. He expected an experienced crewman to replace his friend, but he got you instead.” She winked.
Peter landed expertly; he got on the radio and contacted NASA. In the meantime, a large inflatable module popped out the back of the lander. It was to be their living quarters for the next thirty days.
“Alright people,” Peter said. “I just got instructions. Our first order of business is to explore the crater to determine the source of that radiation we detected. Michael, I want you to stay here and keep an eye on things while I go down there with Ann. And don’t touch anything! If there’s a problem you get on the radio and call us; is that understood?”
“Yes, boss,” Michael said sheepishly.
“Peter,” Ann said, “don’t you think this is a great opportunity for him? I mean, he’ll get some experience with the jeptac and he’ll be able to brag that he flew all the way down to the bottom of Newton crater.”
Michael got all excited.
“You’re kidding me, aren’t you?” Peter said glancing at Michael, then looking back at Ann. “I sure hope you’re kidding me!”
Michael’s excitement was short lived.
“Peter, it’ll be alright! I’ll keep an eye on him. How dangerous can it be? We’ll go down, take a look, and come right back. And you won’t have to see his face for a few hours. How about that?”
Peter considered it for a moment. There were lots of post landing checks to do, and he did not want that punk asking him about every single one of them.
“Fine! You take him! But I warn you, if something happens to him…”
“I know, I know, it’s my ass on the line.”
Michael could not believe it; he was flying his jetpac above the Moon’s surface! Hovering at ten meters, he followed Ann. His next generation spacesuit was so thin that he hoped he could feel the surface when they landed.
“So why the poles?” he said over the radio.
“They didn’t teach you much in the academy, did they?” she said. She imagined how Peter would react at such silly question, and laughed.
“‘Peaks of Eternal Light?’ Ring a bell?” she said.
“Not really, no… sorry…” Michael said.
“Ok, it’s like this. Mountains and other high places near the lunar poles are constantly exposed to sunlight. All year round. We can harvest that energy with solar farms.”
“But why?” he said as he accelerated to keep up with Ann.
“Because the Moon’s axis is nearly perpendicular to the plane. So the sun’s always hitting the high areas near the poles. Other than the occasional Earth eclipse, the light is eternal.”
“So, why are we checking out the bottom of the crater then? We aren’t going to put any solar farms down there, are we?” Michael said.
“Duh, of course not, dummy! But they might decide to build them on the rim of Newton crater. It’s very high so it enjoys constant sunlight. However, until we investigate that strange source of radiation coming from its bottom, I doubt anybody is going to take any chances building anything around here…Any more questions?”
Michael decided it was better to shut up. He followed Ann over the rim and could not help but being terrified at the sight. An eighty kilometer diameter pitch black void threatened to swallow them.
“Don’t be afraid,” Ann said, as if reading his mind. “I’ve gone down craters like this many times before. Just stay close behind me. I’ll lead the way.”
That she did. Keeping some ten meters from the wall, they descended to the floor. Ann planted illumination devices on the soft regolith, and their intense light blinded them for a moment.
“OK,” she said, “we’ll see this marker from very far away. Now let’s go straight ahead. The source is at the center of the crater.”
“Why hasn’t anybody detected it before?” Michael asked.
“It’s very faint. We only picked it up during our final descent, as we flew right above it. Even then, it was barely noticeable over the cosmic background radiation. It’s the exact same frequency, if you can believe it.”
Ann wondered if Michael had ever heard about the cosmic background radiation and thought about explaining it in greater detail, when her detector started beeping.
“It must be just a few hundred yards ahead. Let’s land and lose our jetpacs. We’ll set up more markers and continue on foot.”
Michael was right; he felt the soft lunar regolith under his boots. Just like a walk on the beach, he said to himself.
As soon as their helmet lights illuminated it, the thing began to glow. It was as if it had detected their presence. Alternating all the colors of the rainbow, it seemed to always go back to amber and stay in that color longer than any other.
“Isn’t it dangerous to be so close?” Michael said. “What about the radiation?”
“I told you, it’s very faint. It won’t harm us,” Ann said. She was as mesmerized as Michael.
They stood one meter away from it. Through its transparent walls, they saw something at the bottom.
“My God!” Ann exclaimed. “Is that…Is that some sort of writing? It looks like a hieroglyphic! Who…what put this thing here?”
She got on the radio.
“Peter! Peter, can you hear me?”
“Just barely,” Peter replied through heavy static. “Everything alright?”
“Peter! Get NASA! We’ve found an alien artifact!”
“What?! What the hell are you saying?” Peter said. “Are you pulling my leg?”
“I swear to you Peter, I’m not kidding! It’s a two-meter tall pyramid and it’s got some sort of writing on it! The thing looks like a giant diamond! And it’s glowing! Get NASA now!”
Ann was not the type to joke about something like this, and Peter had always trusted her in any case.
“Ok, ok, ok! Don’t touch the damn thing! Get back here on the double! Do you copy?”
“Yes Peter, we’ll pick up our stuff and get back.”
But when she turned around to face the artifact again, she could not help but scream.
“No, Michael! No!”
He touched it.
The warmth penetrated his thin gloves and travelled through his arms, to the rest of his body. He thought of the universe and everything it contained. He thought about all the stars and planets. As if he was somehow outside of the universe; as if he was contemplating a masterpiece in an art gallery. He marveled at the Milky Way; the Solar System; the Earth; the Moon. He saw Ann and himself…and the artifact.
Swiftly, Ann pushed him away from the artifact.
“Michael! Are you alright?” Ann said, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him.
Michael looked at her with warm, glowing eyes; eyes that had seen everything. He had no more questions to ask.
He smiled and said, “It’s beautiful!”
by Nestor Delfino