The Church and its apologists protested vehemently, debating the ifs and buts in public forums, seeking the truth of the matter. But science, the search for the facts of life, is irrepressible. It tries to answer the fundamental questions at the heart of the human condition: What is the nature of reality? Why does it behave the way it does? And how? Who and what am I and where did I come from? What is life? And how can I use these discoveries to improve on day-to-day existence? Questions from the collective consciousness emerge, giving us direction. Eventually, with time and a more comprehensive grasp of the facts, science overthrew religious and mythological dogmas along with their human-centered depictions of the nature of reality. Humans were relegated to the class of animals, no longer the special creatures made in the image of God, having domain over the lesser beings devoid of souls.
Periodically, simultaneous breakthroughs occur around the world by individuals who had no prior communication with one another: Darwin and Wallace; Newton and Leibniz simultaneously inventing (discovering?) calculus; Wheatstone (England) and Morse (United States) simultaneously inventing the electric telegraph. There is a very long list of multiple discoveries.
Doctor Jonathan Hickman, professor of Collective Consciousness at Brigadoon University, intuited a coincidence between the two occurrences: the description of the process by which species mutate to form new ones and the discovery of a whole new species of human--Neanderthals. This was not a situation where two or more people came up with the same set of ideas, the same invention or innovation; they were in completely different domains. Was the discovery of another species of human a pre-existing fact? Something inevitable? Why hadn't it happened a hundred years ealier or later? Why then? Darwin and Wallace had been thinking about species transforming into others and searched for the mechanism to account for it. In other words, they already must have assumed evolution.
Working backwards by Laplacian logic, a confluence of thought energy had to come together to lead to the accidental discovery of Neanderthal by limestone diggers in the Neander Valley of Germany: all the related, directly or indirectly, streams of thinking and activity, meetings and discussions, including those apparently ad hoc; all the decisions based on purely parochial interests or concerns, only superificially appearing to be rational conclusions scientifically and empirically arrived at; all the many miniscule details running into the countless infinite, from the depths of the unconscious, fueled by common ground interests informing the whole, emerging into the collective consciousness as a directional force, funneling energy.
And the diggers didn't just find the bones and, thinking it was the remains of a bear, discard them. They turned them over to Johann Carl Fuhlrott who was astute enough to recognize them as definitely not bear but different from human. He presented them to the professor of Anatomy at the University of Bonn, Hermann Schaafhausen, who identified them. Together they announced the discovery publicly in 1857. Two years later, Darwin published his epic book on species evolution, implying the possibility, considering humans as animals, that such a process could also happen to humans, the apple of God's eye. And the rest is evolutionary history.
Hickman was consumed by such historical juxtapositions but was unsatisfied with considering only the relevant parameters of visible events, especially as they were restricted to the social interpretation of the collective consciousness. He wanted to explore the deeper strata, the mind's underlying realm of natural forces, physical and psychic. But he had only ideas, intuitions as to how to pursue his investigation. One day while scanning the science building bulletin board, he saw a seminar being offered on biochemical brain waves--engram waves--by Professor Hoaratio Ingersol, head of the physics department. Thinking this might be his man, he went to his office and explained his research project. Ingersol was enthralled, what Hickman had to say dovetailed nicely with what he himself had secretly believed about the physical nature of thought and its role in orchestrating collective activity, how it plays out in the material world.
They worked together with equipment designed by Ingersol to detect brain waves--thoughts--in free space, but altered to look for patterns of archetypal energy in slices of time. They began in earnest that summer, the year was 2363. Gravity waves had already been discovered in the early part of the 21st century, but only in special cases when they were exceptionally strong, as with the collision of black holes. Around the middle of that century, however, new detectors were built using exotic, unfamiliar materials with peculiar properties not found on Earth--mined from asteroids. They honed the process by eliminating unnecessary parameters that had restricted the search to the largest scale. The entire methodology shifted focus. Soon after, waves were found to be emanating from all material objects regardless of size, from the macro to the micro--mass bent spacetime creating waves of gravity.
Their discovery was purely accidental--as is often the case in science--due to an improperly aligned detector array in the Supersymmetric Collider on the one hand, and, using certain minerals not found on Earth, a misaligned laser configuration in an experiment at the Bodenstein Institute on the other. No one was hurt in the latter, fortunately; however, they discovered that at a particular, combined angle of incidence, gravity waves vibrated from all materials tested, with a unique signature for each. The source of these gravity waves, however, proved to be other than what had been previously understood. Instead, they were seen to be created in a region underlying that fusion of space and time, causing it to twist and bend and curve as a resonating reflection only. As a result, a whole new dimension opened up, generating new avenues of inquiry, and although not perceivable, as with previously misunderstood dark matter, its effects certainly were.
Sometime before the turn of the 22nd century--the exact date is lost in argument--the fractal nature of time had been quantized. The oriented time elementals that compose each slice of time were distinguishable by derivation comparison, a kind of inheritance that can be traced back to their beginnings. It's a code embedded by the entangled period when they existed as the present.
Hickman's interest was in the origin of archetypal thought energy--raw material emerging from the unconscious, not yet formed into influential patterns and blank, contextual images--which, he believed, as did Ingersol, emanated from the same or similar invisible dimension as gravity. However, since thought energy had no reflection or extension in space and was not similarly universal, its telltale fluctuations revealed themselves only on specific layers of time. This allowed for an astrotemporal location to be found. What underlied this was what they sought.
Once the two explorers were able to lock onto the waves of archetypal energy enveloping Earth--separating it from the thought energy that permeated the region--they followed its trajectory to the time sheet when they were first projected. It wasn't the same as pinpointing the source of a supernova or other celestial event in ordinary spacetime, they were looking for something that didn't exist in ordinary spacetime. So, to zero in on where in space the source might be necessitated knowing when it originated.
The cone-shaped field narrowed, indicating a singular source. But it wasn't what they had expected; it wasn't coming from the supermassive black hole at the epicenter of the Milky Way. Peeling back layers of time, their satellite-borne instrumentation was aiming at one particular star system on the other side of the galaxy, in the outer reaches of the Norma Arm, barely within the habitable zone.
The star system included ten planets and an untold number of moons and asteroids. Using 23rd-century deep space telescopes, they were able to zero in on the fourth planet from its star. Why that should be the origin of what ultimately fuels the human collective consciousness defied reason. Was this the effect of a natural, yet other-dimensional, phenomenon, a focal point for the psychic dimension to project outward towards us, or an intentional act by superbeings capable of manipulating thought itself? If the latter, to what purpose? To supply raw material for the collective mind, shaped by mankind as it evolves and develops, constrained within the compelling conditions of planet Earth? How can this be? They needed to go there, they decided; they had to find out.
Callasium, discovered during the wild, frenzied days of asteroid mining, displayed unusual properties of what was dubbed transitional conductance. An understated reference term, to be sure. The mineral, even in small amounts, draws spatio-temporal energy directly from the quantum elementals at the surface of ordinary material space--the topmost layer of time--through a vortex of intermingled dark and ordinary matter into a purely dark matter domain.
Early in the 23rd century, after some unfortunate accidents, it was found that only thought-energy emitted by DNA, or a variant thereof, could penetrate and pass through the universe of dark mattter, devoid, as it is, of the cohesive force of electromagnetism. In order to traverse the dark matter universe, the outer hull of starships was fitted with an alloy of callasium infused with an engineered bacterium. The bacterium's genetic helical arrangement enwrapped the mineral's crystal geometry and thereby altered its signature to mimic thought energy, and its organic nature enabled the callasium to adapt to changing environments when need be. Without this sheath, the ship was essentially a large electromagnetic wave, its velocity limited by its own inherent characteristics. As a result: the speed of light was no longer a restricting factor.
The grand period of galactic exploration and colonization would not have been possible were it not for the invention of the quark drive. It allowed vessels to enter quantum space, discovered in the late 21st century, by creating a cloak, or bubble, around the ship of elementary particles and spacio-temporal elementals.
This combination of enveloping quark bubble and organic-callasium shell enabled transit through the unrestrained realm of dark matter. Topological in nature, distance had little meaning. Gravity was all they had to deal with and once its effect was neutralized by phase-shifting to the proper time sheaf, star travel was almost as fast as thought itself.
They remained in position and let Alpha rotate at its own pace, covering both northern and southern hemispheres. The computer governing the sensor array had been programmed to search for the generally accepted consensus of what constitutes a living organism--life. The criterion had been continually updated and modified after microbial and single-cell animal life that possessed a different genomic structure had first been discovered on some of the moons and larger asteroids and later on planets of other star systems. Earth-like DNA was, apparently, only one of a possibly countless number of alternate molecular arrangments and protein producing chemical compounds. Almost any symmetrically positioned pairs of geometric shapes are allowed, the helix but one. So the catalogue of common denominators and similarities--homologous characteristics--was expanded, and irrelevant, strictly earth-centric concepts dropped. Topology trumped geometry.
Nonetheless, their search turned up empty. From the outer limit of the exosphere to several kilometers below the surface, the planet was completely dead. The five scientists discussed the problem. How could a planet within the desired habitable zone for the system with two moons in the precisely optimal position to maintain planetary stability be devoid of even microbial life? The first thing on the table to examine was the criterion of life embedded in the search algorithm. It wasn't preposterous to consider that life based on features other than those listed could exist; the history of such discovery proved that. However, even newly found life shared some requirements with Earth and other planetary life forms. So, put the other way, the question remained: how could not a single, known, necessary ingredient for the existence of organic life be present?
When surveying an unknown planet, it was standard operating procedure to first search for evidence of life. Well, there wasn't any as far as they knew; at least, not any that fit the bill they were used to. A thriving technological civilization would be obvious proof, but most planets discovered so far were only in the early stages of evolution, if, indeed, the arrow towards increasing complexity was a common feature of universal life.
So, the instrumentation used to detect thought energy was called into play. This was a more complicated procedure due to the fluid nature of thought fields. Separating them from the material realm demanded the utmost skill, but they had the best in that department onboard. The sensor array was based on an algorithm that ignored physical forces. A modified version of what had been used to backtrack the archetypal energy to this specific planet, it was more refined and sensitive but at the same time more general. Unfortunately, it seemed to be blocked by a shield of some kind, a barrier. The only other explanation was that there was nothing to detect, an entire planet devoid of psychic energy. Unheard of.
On a screen embedded in a side wall of the conference room off-bridge, a three-dimensional hologram of the planet was displayed. Of considerable size and detail, the planet was a thousand miles greater in diameter than Earth but yet had approximately the same mass. Also, its topography was similar to Earth's: oceans, mountains, and flat plains of rock, broken gravel, and sand. They found a few elements that don't appear in earth's periodic table as well; studies of their properties was put on the back burner. A deep scan of the oceans revealed smokers--hydrothermal vents--lying in the trenches, but, unlike Earth, they too spawned no life forms. The atmosphere was slightly higher than Earth's in the oxygen to nitrogen ratio with just a trace of carbon and water vapor, but otherwise, it was breathable. Another reason to wonder why no familiar life had taken root. From one perspective, it was a clean world, brilliant to behold. The oppressive pollution of old Earth, a period before the end of fossil fuel use and a general revitalizing effort by the world governing body, would not happen here.
Perseus remained in orbit above what they dubbed the north pole, a magnetic map outlined the planet on the screen, teardropping away from the stellar wind as does Earth's. Once stationary, they were able to follow the contours of magnetic structure--that which gives form to spacetime--as an aid in channeling their search into the less rigid regions of space, thereby maintaining the coherency of the thought waves, and in the process, perhaps finding holes in the barrier that might otherwise be overlooked.
"What's so special about this planet?" asked Hickman, throwing the question out there as though to a classroom of students. "There doesn't seem to be anything that would produce the archetypal energy we detect, yet, to reach us clear across the galaxy, practically, its strength is blatantly evident."
"Well," began Ingersol, "its star is almost, on average, the same number of light years from the center as our sun. We've come 52 thousand light years to find the source of the thought waves that, essentially, underlie the unconscious mind of mankind, to put it in a nutshell. Immune to gravity, they travel on a direct line across the hub as though in a different dimension altogether. The psychic universe, predating, perhaps, that of dark matter, finds its manifestation in the corporeal and, as an extension, in living things as well."
"Yes, yes, professor," Doctor Jameson, the quantum geneticist interjected, fatigued. "We know all that. Psychic reality 101. So before you go off on a tangent, let's go back to what you first said. Could there be any significance to the approximate equidistance from Sagittarius A?"
"There may be," replied Hickman. "But we're a long way in our investigation from its consideration. Who knows, however, that may turn out to be a key bit of information."
"What do we have?" asked Hui Neng, exobiologist and paleophysicist. "The thought energy of Alpha manifests in our universe, but its origin lies hidden in the invisible dimension, nonlocalized. The source is not the planet or anything in it or on it. No anomalous thought-wave readings stand out as an organizational hub, no causal influence. No inner atmospheric or planetary electrochemical network. No magical singularity at its core. We can detect the waves emanating from the planet but not any discernable source. How can that be? It may owe to the limitations of our sensors; perhaps, now that we're in the vicinity, the wavelength of archetypal energy is too long to be condensed to a single point."
"Or," interjected Chekov, professor of evolutionary cosmology, "this planet may be a transitional portal, bridging dimensions of pre-spatiotemporal reality with the expanded four we're aware of. A period before the existence of the universe as we currently understand and perceive it."
Unnoticed by them, their immediate proximity to the outpouring of archetypal energy was having an effect on their minds. The vividness of ideas and images emerging into consciousness was almost overpowering. Notions from separate fields of study merged and synthesized, generating new ideas and points of view. It seemed natural, the process of brainstorming and analysis. As scientists, it's what they did. However, they were reaching beyond even their brilliant capacity, but were so immersed in finding solutions that they weren't aware of it.
The techie overseeing the surface scan informed them that a huge cave of quartz-like substance had been found. It was approximately a hundred meters in diameter and opened out onto a dry, sandy plain. They'd already found numerous limestone and natural rock caves, but there was something about this one that sparked interest: It didn't seem to have been made by natural forces.
They were at an impasse. The thought-energy scanner had been unable thusfar to pinpoint a generative source, like feeling heat from a stove that was invisible or nonexistent in our world. Curious and unwilling to capitulate, they decided to take the shuttle to the cave and investigate. With two crewmen to run the small ship, they landed at its circular opening. The immediate atmosphere and temperature were within operational parameters; in fact, the air was a warm seventy-two degrees fahrenheit and smelled sweet, the higher content of oxygen, invigorating. They stood spread in a line facing the cave entrance, a good twenty meters across. The blue-green sky was clear, the bright G5-type main sequence star was directly overhead. They glanced at one another in silence, then Hickman strode forth, the rest followed.
The ground was reasonably flat, but otherwise the surface of the sphere consisted of tapered, opaque crystals of varying size; they looked like icicles. Ingersol carried a handheld device that sensed energy types across the spectrum, from magnetic to thought. Stopping about ten meters in, they couldn't help but notice that the configuration of crystals pointed to the geometric center of the cave, fifty meters above the ground. But nothing discernable was there, not to their eyes or by Ingersol's device.
The question on everybody's mind was: Is this a natural formation? Symmetry in nature is a common occurrence; the conservation laws of physics are based on it. However, stalactites on Earth hang down in the direction of gravity; these protruded from the inner wall aiming towards the center, apparently immune to gravity. If, indeed, they were natural, an unknown force had superceded their direction of growth. As the explorers approached the convergence point, magnetic influence subsided while the intensity of thought energy increased exponentially. When they neared the spot on the ground directly beneath the center, their concentration wavered, distinct thoughts melted away, their will power weakened. As though caught in a whirlpool, they were drawn by an irresistible need to know.
On reaching it, a jumble of incoherent thoughts and images raced through their minds. They were transfixed, mesmerized; they couldn't pull away. Images of alien life performing ordinary mundane tasks appeared, to be quickly replaced by other scenes even stranger: improbable, bizarre creatures and breathtaking vistas of places they'd never been. Each of them had memories from his past flash through his mind as well. They mingled with those of alien beings until they could not be told apart. Instinctively, they stood close together in a circle.
At once, the interior of the cave shifted to the utter blackness of empty space, surrounding them, filling their minds, now vastly increased in capacity and scope. They saw the universe as it was before time and space and matter were created. A void of infinite formlessness from which the idea of form emerged. A template, an individuation demarcating the within from the without. Space and time infinitesimals came into being to house form and render it mutable.
Ingersol dropped his energy sensor. Unseen by anyone, it vanished when it hit the ground. All bodily sensations, sound, their breathing, the sweat beading on their forehead, were lost. Their scope refined another scale. As though adrift in the vacuum of space, they watched nebulae expand before them. Stars appeared, sprinkling the molecular clouds with twinkling lights. Overwhelmed and overloaded, they passed out one by one, collapsing to the ground and disappearing. The two crewmen standing by the cave mouth watched in horror and fear but could do nothing. Going there to investigate was out of the question.
When the scientists came to, they found themselves lying on the soft, warm sand of a beach, the languid crashing of waves could be heard nearby. They sat up and stared around, then at one another; nobody could speak. The sky was a pale blue and the calm, blue-grey sea stretched before them forever. The sun was hot on their skin and their lungs filled with salt air. Ingersol's energy device lay close by. He worked it for a few moments but it registered nothing. According to it, they were nowhere. The five stood and brushed sand off their clothing as they scanned the beach. It was about thirty meters wide and ended up a slope at a line of palm trees. Under one nearby they saw what looked like a man wearing a straw hat and red shorts reclining in a lounge chair facing the sea. He waved to them, beckoning. They looked at one another questioningly; shrugging, they approached.
He wore a blue neckerchief, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and, despite the shade, sunglasses. Standing ten feet away, feeling a cool breeze from inland, they waited for some kind of explanation. Slowly, he smiled. "Please," he gestured, his voice warm and pleasant, "have a seat." At once, five beach chairs appeared. Disoriented by the bizarreness of it all, no one was unduly taken aback. They had no control over the situation, so they offered no resistance; common sense was abandoned. They sat and leaned forward, anxious but strangely unafraid, anticipating as though to a mentor.
"Your voyage here was expected," he began. "We placed the seeds of inquiry and the means to pursue it in your minds long ago."
This wasn't helping anyone. In spite of the feeling of being in the presence of a superior entity, Hickman couldn't hold back. "Who are you, sir, and where is this place?"
"I don't believe you would understand, so let me just say, I am the voice and the spirit of Katrium, the name of our planet." He held out a hand, a drink with a straw appeared in it. He sipped noisily, he was obviously enjoying himself. "As far as where goes, we dwell within the solidity of your minds. It is not a place in the traditional sense of the term, it does not lie in space or time, it precedes their existence as it also underlies them, giving them reason and purpose and reality." Sounding wistful, he said, "Reality, now there's the rub."
Ingersol asked, "Why is this planet, Katrium, completely devoid of life? We can detect nothing, no organisms of any kind anywhere."
The man, who had not yet introduced himself, sat up, placing his legs on either side of the chase. He held the drink to one side and a low, circular table materialized under it. In a deeper, more serious tone, he said, "I understand your impatience, so let me give you the short version. Once we were like you, corporeal. But we evolved, gradually, step by step, to new states of existence. First, we passed the age of technology and the need for it. Our consciousness expanded and along with it came a capacity to manipulate material forces. It seemed like magic, at first. It happened sporadically, to certain individuals, so it was suspect. But eventually, as though an irresistible destiny, with each generation, more and more of us could see the dimension of the psyche, of thought, penetrating, permeating the material world and giving it form."
He looked off into the distance towards the horizon. Then said abstractedly, "The phenomena of thought are bound up with material structure, generating patterns at the mind level of nature. The properties of space are dependent upon the properties of consciousness, transforming our psychic apparatus changes the world around us. They are one and the same."
Returning his shaded gaze to the five, he continued, "With time, matter gave way to its pure thoughtness. It drew us inexorably, we surrendered to it. We formed one mind with all other living things and shifted to that dimension. Nothing but the thinnest gossamer of perception separated the two at that point anyway; it was but an act of looking in the proper direction. That was five billion years ago. The planet still thrives with life, from the depths of the sea to the clouds on high, only it can't be seen in ordinary spacetime."
Hickman suspected the stranger could read their minds, why else use language and terms they were familiar with? He assumed as much and asked, "We detected archetypal energy emanating from here, your planet, which is why we're here, to investigate. Why is that and how did it come to be?"
"What you call archetypal energy is to us the preformed elementals of the psychic universe, what gives direction to all other realms, other dimensions. As it passes through the prism of spatial elementals, materiality arises as a projected field, its physical representation.
"I have to confess," he said, a look of annoyed distress coloring his all-too-human face, "I'm having trouble finding the right words. Countless detailed increments of subdivisions and shades of meaning exist between crucial ideas you think are closely connected. Trying to close the span makes expression... clumsy."
He looked at each of them in turn, sitting on the edge of their seats, then said, "We searched the galaxy and found many worlds where life was beginning to take root and infused them with the context and content of our fundamental mind. Thought seeks out vessels to grow and develop. Complexity increases with each scale of awareness, however subtle that may be. Your planet, Earth, in particular, seemed ripe. On the plane of seeming, your planet and ours reside on the same circle of energy flow. These circles are like rings of a tree, becoming increasingly closer together as the galactic hub is approached."
The implication was not wasted on the five explorers. They were being told that the genesis of the collective consciousness of humanity was the result of the seeds planted by the thought beings of Katrium halfway across the galaxy billions of years ago. And how many other worlds? Those images of alien beings they saw in the crystal cave, were they all separate and unique variants, or do they possess the same common denominators of archetypes? Could it be that the course of human civilization, haphazard as it's been, is the same or at least parallels that of the Katriums?
Believing this avatar could see their thoughts, Hickman did his best to suppress his, but not his uniquely human gut instincts. Something about this whole deal didn't jibe. He wanted us to believe that billions of years ago, at the dawn of life on Earth, the direction life was to take was orchestrated by them. Somehow, they radiated their basic thought matrix thousands of light years away to infuse and instill their psychic nature into the unconscious mind of Earth. Hickman had always assumed that the raw material of consciousness emerged from the universe at large and was channeled by Earth. But with the discovery of archetypal energy coming from this star system, he questioned that assumption, but still believed the source to be natural. Now he was being told that the Katriums were it.
He wanted us to accept them as benefactors and perhaps creators, and we humans as progeny or worse--extensions of their own minds. To believe that they are the primal cause of the nature of our minds, what we think about, what preoccupies our intelligent inquiry, and how we implement our findings through application. And how this psychic content had directed our evolution. But there was a definite fish smell in the air and it wasn't coming from the ocean. Hickman had trouble suppressing his next thought: if what he's saying isn't true, then what's the purpose of all this?
He was getting annoyed, the card house was tumbling. He'd had enough, he simply couldn't absorb anything more outlandish than what they'd already heard. He suspected his colleagues felt the same. Speaking for the others, he said, "I think we've had all we can take for now. We'd like to return to our ship, to discuss this... unexpected turn of events. Levels of existence. You're presenting us with a whole new view of reality." He tried to smile, but faltered midway. Not wishing to appear that he might harbor reservations about what they were being told, he said, in as friendly a tone as he could muster, "We could meet again, if you wish. But if you don't mind, how do we get back?"
The avatar stared hard at Hickman, a look of stern curiosity on his face. Then abruptly relaxed and smiled broadly. Reclining back in his lounge chair, he lifted his drink and with a wave of his hand said, "So be it."
At once, they found themselves sprawled on the ground at the center of the crystal cave. Dumbfounded by the unsettling experience and revelation, they stood uncertainly, absently brushing the dirt off their clothes. Hickman noticed that no one had any sand on him despite rolling around in it at first. Meaning what? Slowly they made their way towards the cave mouth, the two crewmen waved. On being asked what had happened, Ingersol told them they wouldn't believe it, but, drained, declined to elaborate. He said only that it was a matter for group discussion on their return. Right now, they needed to get back to the security, if so there be, of the ship. One crewman wondered out loud that it couldn't have been much as they were only gone a few seconds. Hickman added that to the growing list of oddities.
He briefed the crew, with help from the others, on what they experienced in as much detail as non-scientists could comprehend. He wanted everybody thinking about how this entity was able to do what he did, and not so much on what they were told, its implications, if true. He didn't want to alarm anyone, although his colleagues probably already understood the negative implications, but once they'd been transfered to this other dimension or plane of existence, they were powerless to do anything about it. They couldn't return on their own or expect help from the outside.
"How was he able to do that? What did he do? Outside the laws of 24th century physics, as I understand them." He looked at Ingersol for corroboration, he nodded back. He went on, "The shock effect of the story he told us was a distraction from the fact of us being there, wherever there is or was."
"And what about the story?" Ingersol asked. He looked at the other three scientists, then at Hickman sitting on his left. Finally, he said flatly, "I'm not buying it." The others nodded in agreement. Hickman was pleased they'd seen something too, but instead of attacking the story directly, he took the opposite tack.
"But," he said, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the table, one hand firmly around his glass of bourbon, "if the story isn't true, what could be the purpose of it? What reason could there be for telling it?"
"There are too many unknown variables," said Hui Neng, the exobiologist, shaking his head. "He may have an ulterior motive, but in order to see what that is, we need to come up with at least a clue as to how he transported us to that realm. The two are related. Is that a feat that an evolved race of beings are capable of? If so, does it prove his story? And what is that realm? Is it, in fact, real or was it soley in our minds and we never actually left the cavern?"
One of the crewmen who saw them vanish spoke up as witness to that event. However, he said it was only for a few seconds, their time.
"So," Ingersol said, "he's doing something with the time elementals. We disappered into a time dimension. Space is derived from time, so, perhaps our experience of that space, that beach and all the sensations that went with it, was fabricated in our minds when we stepped into the thought stream."
The chief engineer said, "That cave, I'd like to see it. It sounds like... they found callasium caves like that on several moons and asteroids in the local Sagittarius Arm. The protrusions--stalactites--self-organize, pointing towards the center, symmetrically. But I've never heard of anyone vanishing standing under it. Still, it sounds like the properties known of that mineral. Its dark matter aspect supercedes that of visible matter, giving shape and direction to its crystal growth. Prior to the phase transition from quantum space into the dark matter realm, for instance, we have to pass through the dimension of timelessness. It's the same deal when we choose a time sheet in ordinary spacetime. You may have entered that zone of timelessness as a prelude or plane of existence. Why it seemed like you were gone for mere moments to outsiders."
"But what about that story?" asked Hickman, wanting to readdress the issue. "Logically, regardless of whether or not he was speaking for all his people as one mind, if not true, what hidden reason could he have for telling us? Does he have an agenda? If we can't find out what that is, then we must accept it as true."
A blanket of doubt descended. But even so, at this point, no one was willing to believe the avatar's story, if only because they refused to concede that they were anything other than humans from Earth and not a race of projected Katriums. It was an affront on every level and struck a chord at the base of their identity as a species.
"Okay," he began, "let's sum up, shall we?" Hickman could see that the disussion was threatening to branch off into different directions. As the main instigator of this foray into the great unknown, he felt personally and scientifically responsible for getting a lid on their current situation. Organization was his forte.
"We detected archetypal energy emanating from this star, this planet, which is why we're here in the first place. Now, how could they know, the Katriums, that we were at the stage in our development as a civilization where we were interested in and had the means to investigate such phenomena? Or, did they not know but were fishing in all directions, sending the same archetypal energy signals to other alien sentients on distant star systems? Hoping to find someone able to respond? And it just so happened that we were ready? Could their civilization have passed through that phase as well and so the Katriums suspected and hoped that other civilizations had arrived there also?"
Chekov, the evolutionary cosmologist, recalled him saying that all life as it was still exists on the planet, only in thought energy form, undetectable otherwise. "I noticed he didn't elaborate on that. Are these other lifeforms--animals, plants, microbes--still living out their lives as before? Our instruments, even those that can detect thought energy, can find nothing alive anywhere on the planet, including inside that cave."
Hickman wondered out loud if their minds were being probed even now. The chief engineer suggested that the organic-callasium shell would probably block such energy from entering. Probably. Not being an engineer, this news didn't exactly put Hickman's mind at ease, but, nonetheless, he thought, so what?
The skipper asked, "How could they know that we would find that cavern and that you and your colleagues would go there and be drawn into its center? Suppose that hadn't happened?"
"Well, let's say the avatar knew why we were orbiting their planet by the simple fact that we're here and continued fishing with the cave," said Ingersol. "If I recall correctly, it wasn't discovered on the first go 'round of the planet. Maybe our presence became known then and hence, the trap. One hook and then another. But for what? The meeting on the beach to tell us a cock and bull story about the origins of the human mind? How they have implicitly, causally, directed the course of human history to mimic their own, more or less?"
"And if we were to accept all that as true," interjected Hickman, "hypothetically, what then? They drew us here halfway across the galaxy to tell us that? To demonstrate their thought-being nature and what it's capable of? What we may some day aspire to? To fulfill some myth in their culture and nothing more? Is that it? A fatherly gesture designed to inform us of our origins? Of our true identity? Out of their magnanimous goodness? Or to put us in their debt? Either way, what for? What do they have to gain?"
After a pause, Chekov said, "Whether he or they are what they say they are, they may have already accomplished it, whatever it is."
After a long, still moment while that possibility set in, "But we're in space, far above the planet and that cave," commented the skipper, attempting to put everybody at ease. "If we choose to accept his story, all we have to do is go home, leave the area. Mission completed. But if untrue, what is he really up to? Does it involve Earth? Do we stay to find out?
"We really don't know who or what he is. Or what he's capable of. He obviously has influence over forces from other dimensions we're not familiar with. You stepped into the center of that cave and were overwhlemed by thought energy streaming through your minds. The next thing you know, you're on a beach and everything felt real, including him. What exactly happened there? Were your minds transported to some real place on the planet? Or were all of you together in the same dream? Beings of pure thought; that much may be true. But if we decide to leave, when we decide to leave, I don't see how they can stop us once we drop into dark matter."
"Why would he want to?" asked Neng. "When we left, we didn't exactly agree to meet again. He acted like he didn't care. So we don't know what he wants, what his purpose is, if anything. He read our minds and created an illusion based on memories and images. Perhaps he's nothing more than an illusionist."
"Yes," said Ingersol, "the material world of the beach and even his appearance as an ordinary-looking human sitting in a lounge chair, complete with palm trees, the smell of the sea, and warm, salty air, must be an illusion conjured in our minds. A virtual reality with no more substance than that."
"That's another thing," said Jameson. "He could've plucked us down in an office setting or a library or living room, instead he chose a beach scene with him lounging and sipping a drink. And the magic tricks, physical things popping out of thin air. What arrogance, treating us like children. He wanted to show that he was in control, but not in a respectful way. It was like he was holding court. That goes to character, and his, I must say, gave me the creeps. Smarmy came to mind. Arrogant and smarmy."
"Are you suggesting we can't trust our instruments?" asked the chief engineer, a little put out but open to the possibility. "That somehow they're being fed false information? Masked somehow?" He paused, thoughtfully, then continued in a more serious tone, "The sensors could be tricked by a holographically generated profile, it's been done before. And I can see the computer being tampered with; it is basically thought energy itself. If we need to, I could reconfigure the sensors to read for dark matter, that'd give us the negative picture. You were on the planet, Doc, you flew over it at low altitude, what do you think?"
"Walking on it felt real enough," he replied, the others nodding in agreement. "The air, the gravity, all very real. But then, I remember the avatar saying, 'Reality, now there's the rub.'"
"That's a human expression," remarked Jameson. "Passed down through the ages with the works of Shakespeare. He must've plucked it from our minds. Maybe he accidentally gave his hand away."
"Perhaps," suggested Neng, "that's their problem."
"Problem?" Hickman queried.
"Yes. Consider this. The only reality they know is of thought energy, ostensibly, the psychic universe. They live, so to speak, on that parallel plane of existence. No longer able to experience physical reality the way they used to, if indeed, we accept his story for the sake of argument. The physical world below is there but not the living things as physical. Why not? On the other hand, if his story is a lie, if you're going to create a facsimile, an illusion of a diversified planet with oceans and mountains and plains, why not also create the creatures who dwell there?
"They can't do it," said Neng, certainty in his voice. "They can manipulate ordinary spacetime forces but can't themselves exist on that plane, nor can they create out of thought other living things. Flora and fauna are simply too complex. If they are Katriums, I don't believe now that they evolved to this point, this stage of being. It may be that they have always been beings of thought, and all other lifeforms ceased to exit a long time ago, for reasons unknown. Perhaps they had something to do with that. They're aware of the physical universe, of course, but unable to experience it directly." After a pause, he said, "And they want to."
Apprehension filled the quiet room. For a long moment, the feeling of being at the mercy of a superior entity who may not have their best interests at heart circulated through the group. It was on everyone's mind, they all could tell and acknowledged it. There was just too much they didn't know. They'd been drawn into a trap by beings of an unknown type, never before experienced in all mankind's explorations. Beings capable of manipulating their minds, projecting fabricated realities, and moving between the separate layers of the universe and planes of existence at will. You could almost hear gears shifting.
Finally, "I have an idea," began the chief engineer. "We reentered ordinary spacetime--visible matter--when we arrived on the outskirts of the system, before we scanned the fourth planet. Let's drop into quantum space as though we were about to transit dark matter home; see what happens and what our dark matter array tells us."
For reasons none of the scientists could put his finger on, acting to test the limts of their freedom in what had become an unknown and potentially hostile situation was met with anxiety and trepidation. The others seemed undisturbed, but then, they hadn't experienced the power of the man on the beach or the feeling of helplessness. The chief was brash and tough, old school, that was his personality and why he was on this ship. They were going to a part of the galaxy completely uncharted and unknown, they needed people who weren't afraid to challenge whatever might pose a threat to the crew and the mission, if need be, no matter what. And his first responsibility was to make sure they had control of the ship.
The skipper said, "Let's do it." Knowing it was the right thing to do, the scientists all nodded in agreement. The meeting broke up. The chief and his crew to the engine room to crank up the quark drive and prep the sensors. The skipper and the bridge crew to their stations. The navigator set a course to their first waypoint home. The reason: if they, whoever they are, could send thought waves clear across the galaxy, they could most certainly pass through the callasium shell and read the main computer--a multitiered synaptic network running artificial intelligence embedded in a DNA-gel matrix--that's what they wanted them to think.
Because the images of macro-sized objects appeared as a jumble of particle interactions and multiple occurrences of the same object superposed and entangled in quantum space, it was customary to leave the main viewer off until entering dark matter. Once there, the computer would translate dark images into contours of gravitational density. Nonetheless, the skipper ordered it on, and indeed, the planet had vanished, the stars behind it could be seen in all their hyperactive, plasmic glory.
They had not yet entered the universe of dark matter where there are no quantum effects, where only space and time elementals co-existed. The only conclusion: It was a dark matter planet.
As the realization struck everyone, a shimmer of iridescent light appeared several feet in front of the skipper. Abruptly, it coalesced into the man from the beach; only this time, atired more formally in a white tunic and sandles. He smiled that broad smile Hickman recalled at the end of their meeting. Only this time, it didn't seem quite so cordial.
Without waiting for introductions or for calm to descend, he started right in. "We cannot allow you to invade our space any longer," he began, ominously enough. His voice boomed through the shipwide communications system. Apparently, all pretensions and charades were over; they were about to get the lowdown. "The people of Katrium did not heed our warning; they traveled through dark matter as does your race. They were on the verge of being able to force worm holes through it for even more destructive traffic. That was the last straw, as you say."
So that was it, the truth, thought Hickman. Not Katriums evolved to the stage of pure thought. Not our creators infusing humans with the archetypal content of their mind. A lie, a story, a concoction. But why bother? Why not tell them the truth in the first place? He had a reason, and it wasn't just the telling of a children's bedtime story for the fun of it. If he had told us then what he just did, would our minds have been so openly disposed? He caused us to wonder about the roots of our species. To reveal our humanness. To learn our ways, how we think. Was that necessary?
Not knowing what to do, the bridge crew stood still at their stations, waiting for direction from the captain. Hickman and Ingersol, the leaders of the expedition, stepped forward. "Who are you and what happened to the Katriums?" insisted Hickman. He wondered at their visitor's appearance in this human form. It was for their benefit, of course, but he wished to know what he really looked like. Was he really standing there, materialized out of thin air, or was it all happening in their heads?
The avatar replied, "We are beings of thought energy who... occupy the dark matter universe. After it became critical to our survival, we found it necessary to put a stop to the Katrium's intrusion, finally. Surface dwellers transiting our universe create an instability, an inconsistencey, a loss of cohesion that threatens to generate seams and fisures. Islands of dark matter disconnected from one another, separated by emptiness."
"But what of the Katriums and all the other living things on the planet?" Hickman asked, a hint of outrage in his voice, anticipating the worst.
The stranger did not hesitate. "We found the collective root of their thought energy and entered the mind of the planet. When we had become one with their identities, we were able to shift their existence to the non-visible universe by absorbing their corporeality as the extension of dark matter that it is. The surface universe. That is why we are able to... manipulate those forces, why you see me now as you do. We then infused the planet with dark matter to make it our own, and in the process, obliterating all signs of their civilization."
"But where are they?" repeated Hickman, his temper rising.
"They are no more. They are diffused among the elementals. Their surface individuality is no longer... realizable." The cold, matter-of-fact way he delivered that news belied the affable persona he displayed on the beach.
Hickman and the others were stunned. Another lie they were told on the beach. An entire race of intelligent lifeforms, their highly advanced civilization, and all other living things great and small, gone, killed essentially. A planet-wide genocide. "Couldn't you have shifted them to the dark matter realm?" protested Hickman, his anger moving him closer to the avatar.
"They have no existence there, they are of the material world," he responded.
"But you exist as an individual, a being of dark matter. How can that be?"
"The core of my self is interlaced with its fabric and draws strength from its cause. I am of it. I emerge from its amorphous nature as will and consciousness and mind."
A pause filled the bridge with silence; what they were hearing overwhelmed them. The avatar took the opportunity to continue. "We sent out archetypal energy in all directions, searching for other civilizations aware of and able to detect such energy. We were reaching out to other planets whose sentients used dark matter to cross the surface universe. Knowledge of our realm cannot be applied in that way without also being aware of the thought energy that underlies it. Both are essential for understanding each other. Not all of those we've found have responded, you are the first." He said that as though they'd won a prize.
Nobody knew quite what to say. Was he openly threatening not only human existence but all life on Earth? Could there be no compromise, no negotiating? What could they possibly do to stop a similar genocide happening on their home world?
Hickman had to say something in their defense. "But, we had no idea that the archetypal energy supplying the raw material of our collective unconscious came from the same source as that which underlies dark matter. It never occurred to us; we had no knowledge of it. A universe of beings existing contemporaneously with our own? How could we know of that and what harm we were doing? Discovering this planet as its origin, believing it to be so, intrigued us, understandably, so we came here to investigate and study. It's purely a scientific mission." He felt lame saying that last part, it was too late to put matters on that level. What difference could it make to the avatar and his people? They were way beyond that.
Ingersol had heard enough. "Don't you understand what you're doing?" He asked, outraged. "There's a billion life-giving planets and moons in the galaxy, what percentage would have to be absorbed before it becomes unstable? Ten, fifteen? A critical value will be reached, a tipping point. Synergy would be lost. The syntropic function of life would lose its efficacy, and with it, the nonlinear integrative field regulating the galaxy would lose its cohesion. Its inherent, morphogentic network would disconnect in unpredictable ways. The spatial elementals would reform as islands, randomly separated by voids of time only. Its self-organizing nature would phase shift to different fractal scales out of touch with one another. The galaxy would be thrust into chaos. The stars would eventually disintegrate with no new ones formed. It would become a dark matter galaxy."
The stranger's expression didn't change; Ingersol could see he was wasting his breath. And in that instant, it dawned on him: he'd succinctly laid out what they hoped to achieve. It wasn't only a matter of retaliation for using dark matter as a cosmic highway--what real harm could that do--targeting only those civilizations, they had a plan and a strategy in play with the end goal of taking over the entire galaxy and rendering all life null and void in the process, or actually, to begin the process. Retaliation was just a ruse, an excuse. But why bother to justify their actions? To put us on the defensive morally? What could thought beings care about morals?
We're going to kill everyone and everything on your planet and here's why?
They were caught flatfooted. Boldness didn't begin to describe the avatar's lack of compunction at telling them they were going to be exterminated along with the rest of life on Earth. Appeasement didn't seem to be on the table. Assuming it was, the only way to implement it that Hickman could see was to convince the entire Earth and all the planets and moons so far colonized to no longer travel through dark matter. An absurd notion. Even if that were possible, it would forever isolate all star systems outside of Earth's. Not only from Earth, but also from one another as well. It would take generations traveling through ordinary spacetime to traverse such great distances. Colonization--transporting necessary personnel, supplies, and equipment--would be out of the question, including the mining of asteroid fields. The supply and discovery of new elements would end, civilization would not only come to a standstill but would regress.
His intentions were clear. The skipper, Captain Benjamin Rogers, once a line officer with the elite Space Rangers, an independent security force mandated by the collective of planets to police frontier colonies and traffic lanes, stepped down from his command chair to confront the intruder. He'd dealt with his share of outlaws and pirates, cheap thugs and psychopaths, brigands of all sorts in settled space as well as in the uncharted territories where only the roughest of mining camps were. No law existed out there except for that imposed by the Rangers. He'd also dealt with psychopathic killers.
He said flatly, "We're leaving this space, returning to Earth, unless, of course, you plan on stopping us."
Even though this was a scientific expedition, they were heading into unknown territory, farther from homebase than any manned ship's been before. So, they were outfitted with sufficient weaponry: gamma-ray cannons, space-elemental torpedoes that could realign any material's molecular configuration, and plenty of particle-pulse rifles to go around. If they wanted to, Perseus could slice and vaporize away chunk by chunk of the dark planet, turn it to dust and gas. There would be, in fact, little resistance, except what the thought beings could manufacture. The skipper presumed they had no problem accessing their computer, so their guest must know this.
The avatar smiled none too friendly, then said, "By all means, captain. Do as you wish when you wish." Then as abruptly as he came, he was gone.
"All they know about us is what they can read from our minds. They can read the main computer, no doubt; it resonates molecular thought energy on the genetic level. It contains the archives of all human history, chronicling the inventions--like quark drive--and discoveries of quantum space and how we use it to transit dark matter. How we're able to manipulate space and time elementals. All of it plucked from our minds and the computer. Because we aren't extensions of the Katriums, what they, whoever they are, know of us is not the result of any logical inferences of development based on Katrium archetypes. They know of us from what they can see in the here and now only." He paused for a moment, then said, "He or they intend to go to Earth."
"So, how do we defeat them," asked the chief as simply as that. He'd gone passed discussion.
"As an avatar," began Neng, known in the scientific community for his uncanny intuition, "he embodies all those thought beings involved in this invasion, to state the fact of it. As you say Hickman, he knows our world through our thoughts, but even so, he can only act when in the fabricated, virtual reality of quantum space, when he appears human. Otherwise, they live as beings unaware of what they call the surface dwellers."
The skipper asked, "How were they able to be in, to enter quantum space in the first place in order to be aware of the Katriums and what they were doing?"
"Interaction made them aware," put in Neng. "Traveling through dark matter leaves quite a footprint."
"That could be," began Jameson, "but not necessarily. Mutation and natural selection. A virtual particle with enough energy to become real; the derivation of visible matter and the forces that come with it from dark matter, inheriting gravity from its progenitor; nucleosynthesis, evolution. We have other examples of the sudden spontaneous spark of consciousness creating a new level of existence, and for intelligence, a new level of awareness."
"Dark matter is most of the galaxy's mass," stated Ingersol. "That's a lot of territory. I can't believe that our friend speaks for all thought beings, and there must be many more, possibly equaling or exceeding the number of visible matter sentient lifeforms."
"I agree," said Hickman. "We're dealing with a faction of radicals bent on dominance, more than likely."
"Physically," repeated Neng, stating his idea somewhat differently, believing he was on to something significant, "they can only act while in a state of coherence in quantum space. It's the only space where all the thought beings can exist simultaneously. A superposition of identities, if you will, the we he mentioned. On the beach, a wave function of all beach scenes was pulled from our minds. He or they must see everything that way and fabricate accordingly. We need to disrupt that, cause a decoherence and collapse."
"They can shift us into that timeless dimension," said the chief, ignoring Neng for the moment and putting forth his concerns, "and then manipulate minds to experience whatever they wish."
"At the cave," said Hickman, wishing to get a handle on any paranoid speculations, "we were still there, only we couldn't be seen, we were thought energy only, immersed in the timeless. But that happened when we stood at the center, at the focal point, not elsewhere. It may be that they need the callasium and probably in that configuration. They know how to concentrate its dark matter properties. Perhaps they can't perform that trick without it."
"A cave of callasium," the chief said, staring at the table, thinking. "Need I remind you that our outer hull is part callasium. Fused with an organic, that's how we're able to transit dark matter. Possibly, they could use that against us. Change us and the entire ship into thought energy. Create an hallucination for us all to live in."
"Well then," responded Hickman, annoyed at the chief's comments. It wasn't like him to be so negative, he thought. Perhaps he was just offering worst case scenarios for the purpose of discussion. What to do to block it? Nonetheless, it made him feel vulnerable, which was not conducive to rational thinking. "If that's the case, why haven't they done so?"
A long pause ensued, then the skipper said, "They need us for something."
"That may be," said Ingersol. "I mean, why tell us their plans? And what they did to the Katriums? And why tell such an outrageous story on the beach? It's as though they're feeling us out, trying to see what makes us tick, how we react."
"Their dependence on that cave casts doubt on their stated method of invasion," Hickman said, "using the root unconscious of the planet to work their way into the Katriums' minds and overtake their thought energy, becoming one with it. They did something else. It may be that their powers are far more limited than we give them credit for."
"I don't know about that, Hickman," said the chief. "What about when we arrived in orbit, the planet's magnetic field keeping the stellar wind at bay? It all had to have been real--the planet, the shield--otherwise, we couldn't have landed on it and survived. If it was just an illusion from the get-go for our sensors and eyes, then how were we able to walk about on the surface unharmed? We'd o' been fried. The air, the temperature, the gravity, all perfect. They must've known we were here as soon as we appeared on the outskirts of the system, then created earth-like conditions in actuality, not just in our heads. The sensors read it as real and they have no imagination. I suppose they could've been tricked, the computer interprets what they see, and if it's tampered with, it can be wrong. But it takes a lot of power to simulate a magnetic field large enough to encompass the entire planet out to where the exopshere used to be, dark or not. So that's a real danger I see, one of them, if they get to Earth, they can tamper with the Van Allen belts."
"Maybe not," said Ingersol. "Katrium's shield is of it. Absorbing, assimilating, taking possession of, whatever, the physical nature of Katrium allowed them to manipulate its material forces as an extension. Its protective shield is a unique expression of that. The fact of the planet's present state as dark matter may also have helped them considerably, giving them a source of power. On the plane of ordinary spacetime, they can only know what they experience. They mimic, not deduce principles. And at any rate, how long would they have to maintain it?"
"Just long enough to convince us," the chief replied.
"They don't have the power to simulate lifeforms, however," reminded Hickman, reiterating what Neng said earlier. "Maybe they can't. The planet, as we've seen, yes, but not the actuality of living things. There's something else going on there that's beyond their abilities. A dimension they wish to know, and if they can't know it in reality--there's the rub--then they choose to end it, absorbing the spacetime forces that support it in the process, but not the thing in itself.
"They plucked from our minds, or, more likely, the computer archives, a suitable conqueror from the past. Arrogant, confident, ruthless, genocidal. Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, a long list of invaders to assimilate. To communicate they must adopt a human persona, with all its inherent characteristics, including, in this last portrayal, egomania."
"Like on the beach," said Neng. "Acting out a part in a play. And what is our role? What are we supposed to do? How are we to react?"
"I don't believe they conquered Katrium from within," Hickman said with finality. "If, on the other hand, we are willing to accept as true this latest story, we can react by choosing to feel guilty or helpless and resigned to certain death for our entire planet."
"It may be that he's still lying," said the skipper. "It does seem strange that he would make up such a complicated story in the beginning, and then demonstrate his powers by coming here and telling us we're all going to die, all life on Earth. I just can't get over why he would tell us that. What's the point? Why not just do it and be done with it?"
"But isn't that what your usual human conqueror might do?" replied Hickman. "Boast beforehand? Every video I've ever seen has the evil guy explaining himself to the hero while he has the drop on him. Which always gives the hero a chance to save himself and defeat the bad guy." He paused, feeling a little silly talking about movies. But then his eyes opened wide and he said, "He may be inadvertently doing just that. If he's adopting a character from our minds, like on the beach, he could be acting out a part unknowingly. Perhaps, and this is a leap, he's constrained by the very same models he employs to communicate. His personas are scripted."
The chief engineer had been writing calculations on a tablet. Staring at them, he said, "I have an idea. The device we used to track thought energy. We used in when in normal space. But now, in quantum space, if we could charge it through the outer callasium hull, aim a wide spread at the entire planet, at that cave, in fact, for starters, it might just do what Doctor Neng suggested--cause a decoherence on all frequencies."
Abruptly, Hickman stood and walked to the doorway facing the bridge. He stared at where the avatar had stood. Then turned and said, "'The core of my self is interlaced with its fabric.' That's what he said. What we know as a basic principle in the field of collective consciousness is that the self belongs to the personal and collective unconscious. And the collective unconscious is the deeper mind carrying the totality of human experience, how we do things. It represents the integrated whole and its parts are the archetypes, the pre-existent prototypes of the things of the material world. If he is constrained in his physical and psychological projections of humans, then he would construct his self accordingly. Perhaps we know more about him than he thinks."
His enthusiasm was contagious. Ingersol joined in, "If each thought being can be considered as an archetype, in order for them to function in the material world, they need to integrate to form a collective unconscious of their own in order to provide structure, to define how each relates to the whole. That's their context. And they're borrowing our world as their conscious reality--the content. So his self that's interlaced with the fabric of dark matter can't exist to manipulate the forces of ordinary spacetime unless they can achieve that coherent state."
"That must be how they were able to infect the Katriums and all life on this planet," Hickman countered. "He said that the Katriums didn't heed their warning. So they must've been in contact. Maybe more than once. Maybe they were negotiating over time. And, it would seem, negotiations broke down. And now, they no longer care about negotiating; their goals have changed. Unless, of course, that was their plan all along, and discussions over dark matter traffic with the Katriums just a ruse while they learned what they needed to know. Assimilating their minds and identities.
"That's when they probed their unconscious stores as they've done to us. While he was telling us that long-winded story about Katrium evolution, he was probing our minds and watching how we reacted. If that's the case, and I believe it is, after apprehending the archetypes of our personal unconscious, that knowledge could be used to hijack our identities. When we stepped into the timeless stream of pure thought in that cave, he or they were able to enter our minds, to create the beach scene. Our bodies were absorbed into it, or rather, the electromagnetic fields covering them ceased to exist. That must be how they gained entrance to Katrium, through that cave."
"I'm not sure I completely follow all that," admitted the skipper. "But they've probably assimilated enough of our minds, with the help of the archives, to do to us what they did to the Katriums. So, the fact that hasn't happened yet tells me they need us for some purpose."
The chief engineer finished his calculations and left to run simulations on the computer. It could not only run parallel possibilities for the optimal scheme, but its artificial intelligence and the processing power of its neural net gave it the capacity to synthesize ideas that ordinarily would not occur to your average genius.
"Why would they need us?" Chekov asked. "Well, we haven't bothered to ask where they came from and how they transited from wherever that is to here. If they were in discussions with the Katriums--and it sounds plausible--then they must've arrived here somehow."
Following Chekov's train of thought, Ingersol said, "Could be on a ship of aliens after they'd taken over their minds. A ship traveling through dark matter, hijacked in mid-stream by this gang of radicals. Waiting in the timeless dimension for them to pass. They didn't need to spend time assimilating, they just hitched a ride as pure thought energy. Is that too simple or too outlandish?
"They need some mode of transportation, it seems to me, even dwellers of dark matter. If we suppose they're able to emerge from that dimension anywhere under a specific location in ordinary spacetime by sheer will, then why send out waves of archetypal energy as calling cards? Why not just appear at Earth?"
"That could be it," said the captain. "Why they need us, or rather, why they need our ship. Earth is fifty-two thousand light years away. That's a long way to travel without a means to get there."
"If that's the case," began Hickman. "If we'd entered dark matter for the flight home, they would've hijacked our minds and the ship as well."
"But they can't run a ship unless they're in a coherent state," Neng reiterated. "Even if an individual thought being is mapped to an individual sentient mind, they must remain as a complete ensemble, if you will, in order to maintain control over the material forces they have to deal with. Which means they have to be in a quantum state of superposition."
"And let's not forget the significance of the callasium-crystal cave," interjected Jameson. "That overwhelming time stream, images of alien life mingled with our own thoughts and memories, shapes morphing into other shapes like paint running down a wall. Then, we awoke on a beach of what felt to me like real sand, the sounds and smells of the ocean were real. I'm saying that, regardless of whether they traveled here from somewhere in another part of the galaxy by ship or emerged directly from dark matter, I concur with Hickman, I'm convinced that cave is where and how they entered the unconscious mind of Katrium. As the avatar said, its root."
"That place is the portal," Hickman reaffirmed, "a geyser of timeless thought energy welling up from the universe of dark matter."
"And that could be a crucial element of their plan and another reason why they need us," leaned in Neng, a glimmer in his eyes, "there is no native callasium on Earth."
"So what's stopping them from taking over?" asked the skipper.
"We're not in their universe," replied Ingersol. "As long as we remain in quantum space, they can do no more than read our minds."
"But that's what they did to the Katriums," said Jameson. "And they were absorbed into dark matter."
"With the help of the planet itself and the conduit of the cave," Ingersol stated. "We are not Katriums."
The chief called up to the conference room. He informed them that with a few tweaks here and there the instrument was ready. He'd reversed the quark cell--realigned its crystal lattice--so that it now acted like a transmitter rather than a detector. It would send out a powerful wave of thought energy, generated by the quark drive. He had but to diffuse it through the callasium hull, tap into its dark matter side, and send a tight beam directly to the cave of timelessness. The stalactites would then magnify the effect exponentially, directing it towards the center. From there, it would radiate out like a shock wave to envelop the entire planet. The beam should counter the upwelling of thought energy, sealing it off.
"But for how long?" the skipper asked.
"I don't know," replied the chief, sounding unusually vague. "Enough time for us to get away, hopefully."
"But that still doesn't solve the problem," said Hickman. "They'll find some other way to get to Earth or trap another race of beings on the same quest as we and begin their promise of total annihilation of life in the galaxy there."
"We have to probe more deeply," said Neng. "Target them specifically so as to cause a decoherence, sending them back into dark matter as separate archetypes."
"But where are they, specifically?" asked Hickman. "How do we find them?"
"They must leave a signature of some kind," said Ingersol. "Dark matter in quantum space has to stand out."
"Chief," commed the skipper, "look for zones of convergence between the dimensions on the planet. A place where they overlap."
"They could be anywhere, it's a very large and dark planet," stated Jameson. "If they're preparing themselves, say, or just waiting for us to enter dark matter, they'd be together in some enclosed space, probably made of callasium from what we've been able to gather. Or it could be something they created out of dark matter."
The chief handed the surveillance job over to the computer while he and his crew concentrated on the thought energy device, now hooked up to the callasium hull. It only took moments for the bacteria to reconfigure the lattice for maximum effect. Time, however, wasn't on their side. Quantum space was meant to be a transitional zone separating the visible matter universe from the dark realm. If too much time was spent in it, the quark drive and all other instrumentation, including, most importantly, the computer, would begin to destabilize, shifting randomly from one state to another. It also had a definite effect on people, thinking would gradually deteriorate into incoherency. Once within the dark matter universe, the quark bubble would generate ordinary spacetime inside the ship. They could return to that now, but then they'd be out of touch with the dark universe and the means to get home. It was a backward step nobody was interested in taking. Besides, it didn't save the Katriums.
Captain Rogers returned to his command chair, the bridge crew busied themselves checking instruments and monitoring conditions on the planet, looking for anything untoward. Katrium was a lifeless orb of dark matter. Rogers stared at it on the view screen. The computer translated its dark energy topography into shades of grey. It didn't appear solid, the contours mere density waves, yet its gravity was equivalent to its former spacetime mass. That's how Earth might end up looking, he thought.
Faces of family and friends, colleagues, men he served with when in the Rangers flashed through his mind. What started out as an exciting, risky adventure to an unknown part of the galaxy to explore the origin of mankind's archetypal roots--a scientific expedition--had turned into a life or death confrontation with invaders from dark matter intent on eliminating all life in the galaxy, and as a result, transforming it into one of dark matter. And he was in charge.
The scientists stayed in the conference room, waiting for any word from the chief. "Why not destroy the entire planet," said Neng. Ordinarily, not a violent person, he was human and was willing to fight for that, whatever it took. "We have the means to do that, I believe. Instead of beaming thought energy at that cave, why not send torpedoes at the planet. The spatial elementals will reconfigure its internal structure, it'll crumble into an amorphous cloud of dust."
"But will that end the threat?" asked Hickman. "They could slip into the vast sea of dark matter, beyond our reach, to return at a later date somewhere else. Katrium is a foothold, a base of operations from which they can enter quantum space. They don't want to lose it, to be sure, but would destroying it destroy them as well?"
Anxiety crept into everyone's mind. What they were about to attempt was extremely hit or miss. If all it does is give them the opportunity to escape to Earth, to warn their people of the threat in the hope that together they can figure out a way to stop extinction from happening, should they take it? It was a dilemma Rogers considered. But he'd never run away from a fight and wasn't going to start now. Somehow, they had to finish it.
The chief commed that the hull was prepared, adding that the only zone of convergence they found between dark matter and thought energy was the callasium cave. The skipper paused, staring at the general location of the cave on the viewscreen. Finally, he ordered, "Fire away, chief." He held his breath and watched.
The ship shuddered slightly as the quark drive kicked in. The beam of thought energy raced to the cave. The callasium stalactites, focused on the center of the space they enclosed, magnified the energy exponentially and issued forth an enormous burst of pure thought. A tiny, black orb appeared where the beams from every stalactite converged. It lasted several seconds until suddenly the entire cave imploded and was drawn into it, inverting, swirling, and shrinking to nothing. Rogers and the scientists watched the contours of the cave vanish into a singularity, then it too was gone.
They were stunned; no one expected that to happen, not even the computer. At most, the chief engineer thought the cave would remain and only the flow from the dark matter realm would cease, temporarily. Unknown factors were involved; possibly, the spirit of the Katriums had reaped their revenge. It was an accident, but one which was fortuitous, if indications proved correct. A crew was quickly assembled to shuttle down to investigate. The five scientists went along, they had to see this for themselves.
But personal inspection was impossible, of course. When they first landed, the planet was a quantum-space illusion fabricated by the thought beings. But now, it was nothing but dark matter--the oceans, mountains, rivers, and plains, all gone--so there was no ground to land on. And with the magnetic field gone as well, highly-charged ionized particles bathed the planet with lethal force, streaming right through it.
They hovered over the site taking instrument readings. From their perspective, the sun had only just begun to peek over a curved silhouette where Katrium's horizon used to be; otherwise, photons poured through the transparent dark matter orb. Where the cave had stood, a flat disc of burnt grey lay before them--the residue of callasium. A halo of bright light surrounded it, but the star's intensity was dulled as its light passed through the interior smear of nothingness, giving it a waxy appearance. At its center, a whirled hole of super-compacted space elementals seemed to go straight to the heart of Katrium, its root.
The chief engineer stood next to the captain on the bridge. They stared at the desolate remains of the once vast callasium cavern, now, nothing but a mysterious hole in the dark matter planet, leading to, quite possibly, another, lower dimension of cosmic reality.
"If they wanted to see how we'd react to threats," the chief couldn't help but say, "I guess they found out."
Had they permanently closed the door to quantum space from the intruders? Had they somehow been destroyed? And what of the Katriums and all other life on their planet? Apparently, unless actually phase-shifted to another life dimension, a parallel universe perhaps, they were truly gone. The conservation of energy dictated that they must be somewhere, in some form, but as to where or on what plane of reality that might be, no one had a clue. It was a lesson as to the cruely and mercilessness of the dark matter thought beings, not wasted on the scientists and crew of Perseus. But maybe, not all such beings, they concurred. It was a vast domain of dark matter; surely, they can't all harbor the desire to transform the galaxy, to end all life. It might be that life is necessary for their existence, in which case, it wouldn't be in their best interest.
The shuttle returned, the data fed into the computer for it to digest and organize, to be added to everything else learned on this mission.
Confidant they were out of danger, Rogers gave the order to drop into the dark matter universe and head home. The journey would take several days. During which, the scientists studied the information recorded on this ill-fated mission, including all discussions since initial contact with the thought beings and the stream of timelessness. The computer processed, analyzed, and offered observations and inferences; it too would work out any and all implications for Earth.
Their report to the world government leaders and the people of Earth would be nothing less than astounding, shattering previous notions of how the universe worked and the role each part played. Beings who no one ever suspected of existing and from a layer of the cosmos that was believed not able to support intelligent life, or any life, threatened their lives and that of the entire planet. It was a wake-up call. Focus on the nature of the collective unconscious and archetypal energy would no doubt become a top priority. Instruments, devices, inventions and innovations able to detect every nuance of the world of thought energy would spring up globally. Exotic weaponry not yet imagined would be devised, any incursions from the world of dark matter into earth space would be nullified. Humanity would survive on its home planet.
Earth would be warned, and she would be ready.