The Anywhere Machine, Appendix II – Telepath Unexplained
On a world called Forest, dread rose from the earth. There was nothing but liquid rock on the planet’s surface. Intelligence grew. Whether this was because of the dread or despite it, does not matter.
The rock cooled down. The planet glowed red for a while and then that too disappeared. There was life already on this boulder. Dread continued to seep up through the cracks in rocks and the space between molecules in the sand and the air. The dread had no audience in space, but one emerged on the planet surface.
A primitive trapcreature evolved: it would wait underneath rocks and dirt to make its move. Fearwarped, it had coated itself with iron, filled its blood. When a fat animal walked over its single sinewy tendril, the trapcreature would turn itself into a spear and spike the beast. It would gain a feast that could last for months. The trapcreature would then be all alone with its thoughts. It thought itself to be alone of its kind, not sure how it had come into being and not that interested. It worked up a coping mechanism for the nightmares: it would talk to the air.
After what felt like eternity in angst, it grew a second spike. With this, the trapcreature entered the category of beings known as receptacles. Because it could communicate with itself – it carried an idea machine – and it could define itself as this communication. Something happened with hir identity. Now hir neurons clustered and televised and spun around themselves, and a forest of spikes emerged from the ground. The trapcreature was still tortured, still alone, but gave hirself the illusion of plentifulness.
The earth still gave hir bad dreams; ze changed the way ze hunted. Its slithery spikes crawled in groups of four, for miles and miles, below the surface, to find vulnerables. Ze would spike them through their limbs, capture them, and eat them alive.
The vulnerables were but little consolation to the terribleness of the dreams. The receptacle trapcreature found that differences in density of air and rock changed the subject matter of the dreams. Ze started creating a map of what dreams were triggered in what places: the first Forest attempt at history.
Ze grew bored of that.
Spikes were alright, but the receptacle didn’t see hir own pain in any other creature, and decided to create it. A group of eight tendrils snaked and wormed away from the mycelium heart of the trap, miles upon miles north until they came upon the vulnerableful pile of rocks. This was how the symbiosis started, with the spiking of the legs of two creatures. Ze made them breed, to keep hir unbored.
They were called the Trusting, and this was when the earthquake happened. Most of the arms were out hunting. The tendril-network was destroyed, and no individual tendrilspike remembered much.
They made themselves thicker and the nightmares faded away. The Trusting still suffered. Tendrils formed forests that were homes for the Trusting, and they were no longer trapcreatures but trees. Their name was the Languagers (those who (de-)program, (de-)structure, (de-)cipher, (un-)translate, (un-)explain). They spoke with the same grammar and words as the Trusting: a biochemical language inside their bodies. Every protein made instinctive sense as an order, a question, or an image. Yet the language was malleable: defined by everything that came before it and always growing. Every wordprotein borrowed meaning from its surroundings.
Enough of the trees’ essence osmosed into the Trusting that the nightmares were just below the surface, dreamt at night but forgotten by day.
Unconnected to the mycelium, the trees withered away and died, but before they did they told the Trusting how to plant new ones.
Nothing happened for a long while. The closest star that wasn’t their sun had time to walk from one edge of the sky to the other.
When change came, the forests were still talking with physical proteins. Though their thoughts were growing faster than their language.
They gave their orders osmopathically. Languagers designed what the Trusting built: machines of metal containing gas and plasma. They computed and computed again. They telescoped; they sent a plasma-brimmed idea machine to the centre of the galaxy to harness infinities and predict the future. The machine did not make it out of the solar system, but they could not know why.
They left hexagonal marks on their earth. The world, they found, looked mostly the same everywhere. They had much space to rule; and if a sized creature could not be made Trusting, they made them extinct and bred new Trusting to fill their niches. Trusting that were lungs breathed the air and deoxygenized it, Trusting that were whitemirrors climbed far up into the tallest trees and spread their wings and parasoled, bounced sunlight away when they needed to cool down the planet.
When their sun started going red and expanding, Trusting that were hammers and factories and webspinners built the sailmachine that moved their planet to a more habitable zone. The sails were all turned into space debris or destroyed in the fires, and all life suffered but the Languagers and their Trusting powered through. Their world was rehexagoned, reoxygenated, and rehydrated. Trusting that were drills and picks and conveyors mined the asteroid clusters for water and iron, and Trusting that were nudgers aimed this ice and rock toward an uninhabited part of Forest.
One malnourished forest with a brilliant mind did not have as thick a hide as the others, as this one was grown phoenixlike from the ashes of the planet repositioning. Surreptitiously ze stole Trusting from others, talking through waves in the air instead of through touch. Ze planned it carefully: when one was alone, ze would bombard the creature with remotespun proteins telling the Trusting where to go.
This Languager was the first in generations to feel the dread seeping into hir dreams through hir roots; hideous hatred and noises that did not make any sense yet. Images of things ze would never have thought of, though they changed hir. Something spoke through this forest’s dreams and insisted that ze listened, but ze could not understand.
The night before change came, the nightmares were different by far. Alien creatures made of pure fear found their way to Telepath’s mind. Over the course of one night, they learnt hir language so they could apologize. They spoke in dream, many of the proteins they uttered were impossible. It was like making sounds with two tongues in the same mouth: their words used space that had not been there before.
In this dream, a Trusting that was claws dismantled a tree of its iron hide. The little it had came off in peeled strips. The creature spoke in waves of fright. “We do not mean to scare you.”
For a moment the old dreams broke through the barrier and showed Telepath a desperate ocean slamming against a cliff with a deafening sound.
“We needed a lighthouse, a beacon. We are a sturnfleen folk; we are good and pure, it’s just that fear is always the strongest of emotions and we are on the run. We will forever be.” The fearling paused, hesitating. “Something awful is coming, Telepath, prepare yourself.”
The fearlings never did return to hir mind. Some Trusting had felt them too, their soft neuromes sharing similarities with the forests’ more rigid idea machine structure. This lead to the nightmare spilling into some of their minds, killing them. Telepath told hir remaining Trusting to bury the dead ones, and ze grieved.
And they dug holes. The irondust around Telepath’s forest thus changed its consistency and the nightmares changed with that, the old dreams replaced by new ones of similar character. The incessant chanting changed tone and noises too; new frightful earthmusic resonated with the iron hide at night. This was how Telepath came to believe the dread rose from the earth and infected idea machines.
“Start digging,” came the order. Trusting lived short lives and mated frequently and the ones now belonging to Telepath were selected for more spadelike appendages. They dug and dug. With this the dread became less filtered, rawer – flashes of the old dreams would visit during waking hours, and many Trusting that were weak would fall in the graves they dug, never to get up. It was in their genes not to question their forest.
Telepath stole more Trusting from other forests. The small beings would go rigid for a few moments and then walk stiffly toward hir whilst the contrasts in their mindtissue evened out. It did not take long for the other forests to notice, for the abductions of Trusting were no longer careful nor planned.
What ze spoke could not always be proteined when it reached the minds of the Trusting. Ze was becoming dreamish, sundered and rippled, fearlinglike.
The dread seeped into all other iron forests’ dreams as well. Moats formed and deepened around Telepath. The madness and dread emanating unwavering from them killed many a Trusting. The dread would get into their heads and stay there. For coping, they would try to lure the fear to one small part of their mind, to shut that small part of and let it weaken and sicken by its lonely. It worked for a short while: there was a sigh of relief in the air. Then it suddenly percolated every fibre of their being and nothing could stop it. A brief experiment with iron helmets seemed to flag the waves of dread, but the helmets could never be mass produced. Ultimately the dread rose from the earth, it infected all minds, and it now reached the Trusting through their feet. The result was not always a clean death when the skulls were confined in helmets. Every Languager could hear the rambling and chanting the dread created. Vibrations in imaginary air between waves of debilitating fright.
But Languagers were Languagers, and they deciphered. They learnt the noises in their dreams and they gave Trusting the roles of speaking – something that would have taken much more time even with their selection and mating habits, had the forests not been cruel about it. The Trusting evolved throats and sounds and tongues and then they were sent down into the moats as ambassadors, talking to the ground until their defences were weakened enough for Telepath to make them dig. They scratched until their claws were gone and their hands or paws bled them out.
The forest called Breedmaker realized they needed Telepath. Ze bred more ambassadors, and one of them – a brave one – got through to hir. Ultimately, Telepath gave them one condition upon which they could get hir to talk to whatever it was inside the planet that caused the dread. They did not understand this condition, but they accepted it nonetheless, as they were desperate. Telepath was to be declared high priest of Forest, a position that according to Telepath, and the clauses of the agreement, did not interfere with any previous high positions in any other factions of the Languager society. So they said yes.
Communication was opened up. Telepath became a beacon, a lighthouse, and they could navigate the dread.
Before talking to it, they had been able to understand and estimate the language that the ground spoke. They could reproduce the things the dread dreamt up in their own idea machines; they could speculate and ponder but it had been like gleaming information from half-forgotten hieroglyphs. Despite the years they had, they had not understood much about the thunder and lightning of which the buried thing spoke. Now, amplified and talking directly to them, having been told there were minds to talk to directly, the thing in the ground identified itself.
The Trusting had dug deep enough to find something with a pulse.
The Languagers’ planet was alive. They told it who they were.
“I am this planet. As you have grown on me, as I have provided for you since I came to be this form, you are to be my Trusting. We are at war, and you are to fight it for me.”
There was resistance, as there is to anything, but the planet zero-ohmed the Languagers soon enough so its mission flowed through them like a nova’s light through a cloud of dust. Too many photons in one place make it difficult for there to be anything non-light left. The planet did not give them choice. Though they, receptacle creatures as they were, attempted to create choice.
“What is your mission?” the Trusting that was an ambassador asked. He was infused temporarily with the personality and wisdom of Breedmaker, and he stood in the forest of the high priest Telepath, stating his question as loudly and clearly as he could and betraying his own personality with his faltering voice.
Technology they had never dreamt of in exchange for total osmopathy between the Languagers and the planet. “I am offering you the stars,” Aiviotche said, addressing every forest on the planet. Trusting that were signal towers boosted the conversation to be heard all over Forest. Aiviotche, the sound, meant ‘variable’ but not in the throatlanguage their planet spoke.
“I cannot accept that, at your price.” When this species of Trusting became conflicted, they would start a dance around the nearest tree, urging other Trusting to join in and help make up their mind. It was an adaptation from the fright Telepath had let loose; the feeling of family would soothe them and let them stay true to their loyalties. Nobody danced with the Trusting who was an ambassador.
A thousand forests took arms, their anger only expressed through their Trusting that were soldiers, their metal hide sharp like weapons against the sky. Thunder struck.
This hill was desolate and stormbroken. The ghosts of a hundred trees that used to make up a forest still haunted the atmosphere. A single tree lived, still pointing, like an accusation. The ground had not finished shaking; all around the hill Trusting that were pumps or hammers or circuitry had built a dehydrator, which lead the water away from the hill and crumbled the earth. The only reason this one tree still had life in it was the light drizzle from indifferent clouds.
A throatsong of grief, a wail. At the trunk of Breedmaker’s laststanding, a Trusting that was an ambassador let out the grief inside him. The last scraps of consciousness left in Breedmaker were telling him to go away, go hide somewhere safe, but he was not listening.
He kept wailing as the questionprotein appeared in his head: “why are you still here?”
“Because,” the Trusting thought, letting the proteins form and find their mirrors inside Breedmaker’s trunk, “we’re going to die together, us two.”
As part of the agreement, the Languager genetics changed and they were forced to be reborn. All except Telepath, who had special duties. They were new forests with the old forests’ memories and personalities, but with the Trusting trait tailored to such beings as the Aiviotche. Their Trusting built machines – like they knew how to from long, long ago – and they launched rock after rock up into space, from which roundforests sprouted.
As high priest and therefore kriegsverantwortlich, Telepath was placed in the front of their ship. A field of energy locked an atmosphere around the earthship; a continuous stream of oxygen-rich air flowed between the Aiviotche and the ship. Not only did Trusting that were lungs and filters clean the air for the Languagers, the trees that made up the Languagers’ bodies burnt oxygen internally now, cooling it down then heating it up, propelling the earthship away. The oxygenstream wispingly died away but they had enough fuel for a long while.
They sailed through space without talking much until they found the metal idea machine they had sent out, a starwalk ago. Its innards had frozen solid and cracked, unplasmaed and unelectrified. Each Languager’s thoughts brewed privately, due to the language barrier impossible to share with any Trusting aboard the ship, until Telepath broadcast a message for all of them. “It’s time for you to know who the enemy is.”
On Forest, the remaining Languagers built a mast to send their planetgod’s thoughts deepspacewards.
They were called the Lightningfeeders, and they lived on thunder and sparks. They must have waited on the brink of the solar system, said Telepath, to thwart the Languager culture and keep it from reaching space travel. In fact, they were probably nearby.
In fact, they vampired electrical creatures like the Trusting or the Languagers, sucked them dry and disappeared into the blackness of space again. Languagers should all be on their guard.
Aiviotche had provided them with space-technology that used only simple, organic matter. As small an amount of electrons as possible was exchanged to make the earthship possible, and for this they were grateful.
The speech about the Lightningfeeders was the first time Telepath acted as priest: emulating the planetgod’s voice to make the others obey. And it worked, the forests were now filled with a fear of these creatures they had never met, and an anger. Immediately, all wanted to destroy them. If one of the Trusting, babellation notwithstanding, had asked one of the forests why they did that, the forest would not have been able to put it in words. That was how the Languagers, explainers and unexplainers, lost the last of those abilities after which they were named.
Telepath was pleased. “Now, we set a trap.”