Scipio’s Dream Redux When I had recovered from my amazement at these things I asked, "What is this sound so strong and so sweet that fills my ears?" "This," he replied, "is the melody which, at intervals unequal, yet differing in exact proportions, is made by the impulse and motion of the spheres themselves, which, softening shriller by deeper tones, produce a diversity of regular harmonies. Marcus Tillius Cicero
Deep within the remote Pularki sector, the white dwarf Tauzeta directs a planetary quintet. The four inner planets sing shrill as they reel and twirl just beyond the embrace of their ardent conductor. An omnipotent blue eye glares back at the spectacle. A gas giant, its sonorous tones complete the celestial chord. A golden halo crowns the brow of the aloof wanderer in its distant ambit, millions of miles from the sun. Three iridescent sapphires burst forth within the golden halo. The gems grow in brightness until they rival the brightness of the white hot sun. Each expels a crystalline ball, and fades to nothingness. Streaks of plasma lightning traversing their surfaces, the three spheres converge and coalesce to form a single larger orb. This transparent globe, glowing a soft green, takes up orbit around the turquoise giant. The sun-side of the globe darkens, the hemisphere facing the planet grows clearer. Small objects, like flakes of snow, glitter and float inside it. The crew of the Zerewithian research vessel Oipics flash as they marvel at the sublime beauty of their regal host. Two of the angelic creatures hang side by side in the twilight between the hemispheres. One flashes in cadence with the rest, the second pulses slightly off-tempo. Both extend their wings, and strain to absorb every particle of energy from the giant’s azure atmosphere. “Glorious! I swoon from the harmonics!” Zold sparked. “It must be beautiful,” Kek shimmered. Zold rotated his pale body towards Kek. Leathery wings slumped in sympathy.
“A pity. You are deaf to the symphony of the stars.” “Not deaf, Zold. Merely unmoved.” “Unmoved? By this? Even by the artistry of your own pod-sib?” “Bibor understands.” Kek glittered. “And besides there are advantages. Born without the aesthetic sense, I also lack your irrational fear of the ugly.” Zold’s wings shuddered. “Irrational fear? You, a scrog, dare to judge your own race! Bibor overlooks your handicap, but others among us cannot. The study of alien races and cultures should have remained forbidden. The ancient laws demand strict avoidance of the disgusting.” Kek’s horns pricked. He gazed into the black hemisphere of the ship. “Xenobiology is necessary,” he flickered. “We must learn and grow.” Zold did not hear, for he had drifted down towards the center of the ship. Kek strained again to spread his wings to their maximum span. He turned to face the planet. Feathery vortexes of emerald green eddied in the shimmering turquoise atmosphere. Flashes of bright gold skittered through the clouds, forming and reforming into an infinite number of abstract patterns. Kek heard . . . random bursts of electromagnetic energy, emptiness, nothing. They hear a symphony, a cacophony of wonder, and I hear random noise, explained by rational principle. Zerewithians glided by him, their pallid skin reflecting the bluish glow from the planet below. Passive for most of the journey, they craved activity, and set about eagerly to their assigned tasks. For a brief moment, Kek envied them. To find fulfillment in the pursuit of the ultimate goal! And what higher goal existed than the pursuit of the beautiful? Kek folded his wings and allowed himself to drift upwards and away from the increasing activity. He found himself drawn into the darkened hemisphere. He touched its smooth surface, and a small transparent aperture appeared through which he heard the faint tinkling of radiation. Four planets orbited between the gas giant and the distant sun. One planet even exhibited signs
of intelligent activity. But each of them contained significant amounts of heavy metals and were therefore “unworthy of further study”, Kek aped Piros, the mission commander. Kek’s body stiffened. He heard radiomatic emissions streaming through the small viewport. He soon located the source, the fourth planet. The emissions tasted sour and vaguely familiar. The Chimané! A whorl of fluid touched Kek’s skin. Zold rejoined him. “Do you think it wise to open a viewport in this hemisphere? The background radiation could interfere with data collection,” Zold twinkled. “Our mission could be jeopardized.” Kek sparkled. “I have made an important discovery. The Chimané dwell in this sector!” Zold directed his sensors towards the aperture. “Impossible. The Chimané are a fantasy, figments of the imagination.” Before Kek could answer, Piros exploded before him. His body dwarved the two smaller angels. “What are you doing?,” he flared. “ The object of our mission cannot be observed through this tiny hole.” Relieved, Zold turned towards Piros. “Kek believes the 4th planet to be inhabited by a mythical race known as the Chimané,” Zold twinkled. “Of course, this is highly unlikely.” Piros flashed puzzlement. Kek chimed in: “ The planets are fascinating. They appear to be devoid of all life, yet animated metallic bodies infest their surfaces!” Piros’s massive frame twitched at “metallic bodies”. He reacted decisively. “Obscure the aperture immediately. The radiation creates dissonance, and disrupts the overall planetary effect.”
“But this may be the home system of the Chimané. Perhaps the mystery of their dispersal throughout the galaxy could be explained,” Kek protested. “As scrog, I do not expect you to understand the aesthetics of our mission. I only expect you to obey. Obscure the aperture!” Zold glittered in agreement. Kek’s horns drooped as the aperture darkened. He watched the pair swim away. Zold twinkled, “He is of the same pod as Bibor.” Piros glowed. “A fact that is difficult to accept.” Kek’s wings trembled. He floated alone, high above the others, brushing lightly against the smooth hull of the ship. He gazed down from his perch. Z.s swarmed below him, collecting, collating and storing information in the hexagonal grid that surrounded the ship’s star drive and Bibor, the ship’s pilot. It was Bibor who possessed the necessary talent to master the ship’s drive. She folded time and space, creating and then destroying the delicate structures that moved the ship through the blackness of hyperspace. Zerewith’s best cognoscentes scarcely grasped the complexity of her celestial origami. Yet she, the darling of the Twelve, requested that he, a scrog, accompany her on this auspicious journey. Bibor looked beyond mere appearance In the days before they had fed on the same pod mother, she said that beauty existed in many forms. Even scrog might possess a hidden capacity to create and appreciate art. She encouraged Kek in his studies, without pity. She saw beyond his handicap, she alone would comprehend the importance of his discovery. Kek descended towards the center of the ship. Z.’s flitted around him, flashing and pulsing like fireflies. With strong strokes of his wings, he swam into the star drive. Bibor hovered high amidst its transparent manifolds. Sensing his presence, she rotated slowly. Her gossamer wings fluttered a greeting.
Kek riffled his wings in acknowledgment. He rose to meet her above the pipes and keys that were the ships controls. Only when the two glittering entities were nearly touching did he speak. “Sister, the crew lauds to the stars your mastery of the Haimatchiore fields.” Kek pointed a spindly arm in the direction of Zold. “Even the vain one had to praise your achievement.” “Words of praise are meaningless.” Her head bowed. “I simply did that which I was born to do.” Kek’s wings slumped. “And the work I am born to do?” “Brother, the others do not understand.” Kek flared. “They disdain me and despise my work. But, sister, here, in this distant place, I am at the cusp of a great discovery. One so great, that even the cacophobic Twelve would have to praise it.” Bibor twinkled. “?” “Sister, I have found the Chimané.” Bibor flinched, her wings covered her face. “Chimané!? No, those metallic monsters do not exist. They lived only in our pod-mother’s imagination.” The pod-mother loomed grey in Kek’s mind. Just the memory of her awakened within him feelings of security, feelings of love. She protected her brood as they frollicked by her side in the crystal clear waters of the warm tropical oceans. She revealed to them the starry heavens and told them stories of her adventures among the stars from so long ago. Her flesh nourished her offspring at the moment of their transfiguration: the very moment that Kek tasted the truth behind her tales. “No, sister. Our podmother did not lie to us. The Chimané exist, and they are here. They dwell on the fourth planet in this system. I can discover their secrets, but Piros forbids it. The aesthetics of our mission is his sole concern.”
Confused, Bibor shimmered, “What other concern could there be?” “Sister, the Chimané are a great puzzle. They haunt our dreams and threaten our future. We must confront them, learn about them. Please make a small portal for me. Let me prove myself!” Bibor drifted away. “No, Brother. Piros is right. Leave these Chimané alone. Learn to appreciate the harmony that exists all around us. Open yourself, and hear the music of this place.” “Opening myself only brings pain, Sister.” Keks flared. “It reminds that I cannot join with you, with the others. It reminds me that I am alone.” Bibor stopped her ascent. “For the sake of our pod-mother, I will create a small portal. If it interferes with our mission, then I must terminate it.” “Thank-you, Sister!” Kek lived and worked within the darkened half of the ship, his studies undisturbed. Piros, aware only of the mission, appeared to have forgotten him. Kek focussed his entire attention on the 4th planet. It repulsed and attracted him. The surface, scoured off all living things, presented a monotonous uniformity that dulled his senses. No large bodies of water existed, and no weather patterns obscured his observations. Yet in this arid, sterile environment, billions of metallic beings thrived. They dug deep into the planet’s surface, and orbited high above its equator. Huge cylindrical ships, their smooth surfaces glinting in the sunlight, plied their courses among the inner planets. To what purpose? What kind of creatures could survive in such claustrophic containers? Kek analyzed their transmissions, feverishly attempting to understand their means of communication. Time grew short. The Oipics departure date drew ever nearer. When enlightenment finally came, Kek marvelled at the simplicity of the Chimané language. Their entire alphabet consisted of only two base symbols that when joined in various combinations formed complex morphemes. Instructions to the metallic bodies emanated from a
single domed structure on the planet’s surface. Using the wavelength of the transport vessels, Kek attempted communication with it. “Greetings!” “QUERY?” “Greetings from Zerewith” “DESIGNATION?” “My name is Kek of the planet Zerewith.” “ORIGINATION?” “Our ship orbits the fifth planet in this system. We are explorers.” “PURPOSE?” “We study beauty. Our ships travel the universe collecting beautiful images.” “DEFINE BEAUTY…” Kek hesitated. He tried to remember what Bibor had told him about beauty. “Beauty transcends definitions. We do not define beauty, beauty defines us.” “QUERY…DEFINE BEAUTY?” “Beauty gives our lives meaning. It is our highest purpose. What is you highest purpose?” “AWAIT TRANSMISSION.” Kek glittered excitedly. The next moments would bring his greatest achievement. He did not want to experience it alone. Bibor should share in his triumph. He dove down towards the heart of the ship. He found Bibor and Piros making arangements for the ship’s departure. “Sister, please come. They are sending a transmission…” Bibor turned away. Piros flared. “Who?” “The Chimané!” Kek sparkled. “Hurry, it will come soon!” Bibor and Piros followed the animated Kek to the small aperture. “I ordered this closed. Scrog, you have put our mission in jeopardy!” Piros said.
“Piros, it is not his fault. He does not see!” she flashed. “Bibor, he must be treated.” Bibor wilted. Kek spread his wings proudly toward the viewport. “Look, Piros! You are too late. It comes!” A brilliant beam of ruby light connected the crystalline Oipics to the dirty brown planet. The ship began to vibrate, a bell struck by a hammer. Bibor writhed in disbelief, “Why do they attack us?” The crystal walls groaned and cracked, leaking and then gushing liquid into the vacuum of space. Outside, the liquid coalesced into perfect spheres. Z’s trapped inside them flickered helplessly. The spheres formed into a string of glowing pearls. One by one, each pearl grew dark as the liquid froze as hard as diamond. Piros and Bibor led a score of frantic Z.’s towards the ship’s core in the vain hope that the heavy shields of the star drive would save them. Kek only watched. Then he felt a gentle tug . He did not resist. The tide carried him outside the stricken vessel. The liquid surrounding him began to freeze. He felt the numbing cold. His icy globe rotated slowly. The disentigrating Oipics rolled into view. Behind it shone the brilliant light of the white dwarf. Shattered ship fragments refracted sunlight like a thousand prisms. Rainbows thundered. The explosion knocked flat Kek’s consciousness. The deafening roar overwhelmed his senses. His wings jerked wide. Music engulfed him, annihilated him. Bibor glided by, her translucent wings extended and still. Kek reached out to her. “Sister, it is too loud to hear!”, he glittered. Bibor did not answer. Her sphere joined the silvery ring within the crown. The symphony approached completion. A crystal bell rang out. Kek sparked, “Glori…!
**** Wings spread wide, Feher surveyed the scene below her. Since the arrival of the Tripics, she had experienced the music many times, but never grew tired of it She watched as shiny spheres floated gracefully within the golden ring. The tinkling of bells enchanted her. “They shall sing here for eternity,” she twinkled. “By the decree of the Twelve,” Napos flashed. “To deface this masterwork would be a sin.” “Yet, I cannot help but pity them,” Feher glittered. “Bibor will be sorely missed.” Napos flickered. “Never again will they swim in the warm waters of the Hely.” Napos turned towards the azure planet, his wings opening. “Let us pray,” he flashed, “that at the end, they perceived the sublimity of their situation.” “Yes,” Feher glittered, “let us, at least, pray for that.”
An alien without the sense of the beautiful learns to embrace his aesthetic sense.