This free fiction is part of The Infinite Bard project. A new story will be linked to the IB site every other week, so be sure to check back often!
I am Eremite. The One Who Sees All has sent me forth from the Mountain to gather data on an intrusion that will soon happen. My journey has been long. I have been severed from my kin. I am alone. And yet, The One Who Sees All is with me. The One receives my data and provides instruction. I am solitary, but not excluded.
The One Who Sees All chose me to be Eremite. The One saw in me an unusual propensity for movement, a shameful hungering to roll, to explore. Our kind do not enjoy movement. I am unique. Many of my kin say my desires are an abomination. But The One takes advantage of all skills and desires found within the Mountain.
Though I am separated from the Mountain, yet I am of the Mountain. My uniqueness serves The One Who Sees All. The One tells me I am not an abomination; that my shameful desire will be the salvation of the Mountain.
The One sees all; I exist to serve The One.
I have endured scorching days when I was locked to the land, unable to move. I tried to rest, to hibernate as is our way. I endured.
Without the shared shielding of my kin. Without the sheltering protection of the Mountain. Awaiting the cool darkness that would free me to roll still further from all that I have known.
I cling to my uniqueness. To the knowledge that my shame will save my kin. The One has spoken. The One knows all.
Never before in the history of our kind has one of us existed alone for so long, separated by time and space. I long for the comfort of my kin’s close proximity, surrounding me with insulating cool, with calming dark, with solidarity.
But I persist. I must. I am the only one capable of this great task. The One has told me.
Finally, when I feel my consciousness must be crushed beneath the weight of solitude, The One prepares me.
* * *
Dr. Jessamyn Davis stepped from the shuttle craft onto the hard baked soil of the eighth planet of the Keptayn system. Keptayn, a blue hypergiant star, burned so hot that even at this distance the planet was assumed to be dead. Dr. Davis, the astrobiologist assigned to the research vessel USL Carl Sagan, hoped to disprove that assumption.
A petite woman in her mid-forties, Dr. Davis had studied the limits of life on Earth’s oldest and most sterile desert, the Atacama. She had learned that life could exist in even the harshest environments. Glancing around at the barren, flat landscape, the very soil leached of all color by the blazing sun beating against its surface, her hope faltered. She despaired of finding even microscopic life.
This planet made the Atacama look cool and inviting.
Glancing at the comp read-out attached to the left forearm of her exo-suit, she saw that the temperature gauge read 150 degrees Celsius. A quick calculation put the Fahrenheit equivalent at roughly 300. Hot by anyone’s standards. Fortunately, her skin-tight protective gear included a highly effective cooling system; Jess remained cool and comfortable in this inhospitable environment.
Even the helmet of this exo-suit was acceptable. She’d worn some older models where the helmet interfered with her vision and the gloves were so thick she could barely adjust her instruments. These gloves were like a second skin. She could pick up a single flake of stone if needed.
Her two research assistants and the away team assigned by Capt. Shin to protect them clambered out of the shuttle to join her on the desolate ground.
Lieutenant Vic Rosslyn, an eager young officer anxious to excel in this, his first command of an away team, stepped to her side. “How do you want to proceed, Dr. Davis?”
“If you’d have your team set up the temporary shelter, my assistants will be able to put our research station in order.” She shaded her eyes with one hand and nodded toward the left horizon. “I want to check out that big boulder over there. See if I can find any clues as to how a single rock, especially one of that size, ended up on an otherwise uniformly flat plain.”
“I’ll accompany you,” Lt. Rosslyn said. “Just give me a minute to get the crew started.”
* * *
Even through the stupor of mid-day heat, I felt their presence. Ephemeral entities that buzzed around me at unthinkable speeds, emitting high-pitched, irritating sound waves that impinged on my light- and heat-induced hibernation.
Only the knowledge that The One Who Sees All had anticipated their coming saved me from madness. I transmitted my impressions to The One, for that was the purpose for which The One had sent me forth. I was to collect the data The One would need in order to determine if these entities, these flitting, screeching things, could possibly be sapient.
I doubted the likelihood.
How could anything so insubstantial, anything that moved so fast, be capable of deliberate thought?
But The One required data. When darkness fell and cooler temperatures released the bonds binding me to the ground, I would investigate, as was my duty and my privilege, for I am Eremite.
The One called me. The Mountain relies on me. I will not fail in my responsibility.
* * *
As Jess approached the boulder, Lt. Rosslyn stepped in front of her, laser weapon drawn.
“Really?” she asked, expression incredulous behind her faceplate. “It’s a rock, Lieutenant.”
Rosslyn glanced at her from the side of his helmet. “You don’t know that, Dr. Davis. We’re here to determine exactly what it is.”
“Fine,” she said in a scathing tone. “Protect me from the rock while I take some samples.” She reached for the core drill attached to her exo-suit’s utility belt, while Lt. Rosslyn stood guard.
* * *
My hibernation-hazed consciousness took note that two of the entities had ceased their frantic movements and stood quietly before me. Groggily, I transmitted the data to The One.
The One calmed my fears. All would be well. I was an emissary of The One, sent to do the bidding of my Mountain.
Dazed from hibernation and still locked in place by the heat and light of the sun that blazed above me, I failed to notice the strange instrument the incorporeal one held until it was too late. The ephemeral placed the device against my skin. A tortuous buzzing sound grated against my consciousness…
…and pain such as none of my kind had ever imagined jolted me loose from my day-side imprisonment.
I jumped. I rolled away from the strange bringer of pain. I screamed aloud to The One, to my Mountain kin…
…and The One answered!
Bestirring the hibernating Mountain, The One caused them all to come to my aid. They jumped. They rolled. The Mountain, which had never done so in the living memory of our kind, moved.
* * *
Jess switched the core drill off. She’d barely scratched the rock’s surface, but something had happened. Something she didn’t understand.
“Did you feel that?” she asked Lt. Rosslyn.
“A tremor. Like a small earthquake.”
He shrugged, keeping his laser weapon trained on the rock. “Nothing noticeable.”
She stared at the rock. “And I swear the rock moved,” she continued, “like it was trying to roll away from the drill.”
He cocked his head, giving her an appraising glance. “Aren’t you the one who mocked me for drawing my weapon against a boulder?”
A blush heated her cheeks. “Yes. Well. Maybe your training is correct. Use your laser and draw a line on the ground. Right there… at the edge of the rock.”
He pointed the laser down and lowered the setting, aiming where she’d pointed.
“Be careful,” she said, her voice tense. “Don’t score the rock.”
“I know how to mark a line in the sand,” he growled, grimacing.
When he finished, he returned the laser to a more powerful setting and resumed his wary stance.
Jess lifted the drill and placed it against the rock’s gritty surface.
* * *
The bringer of pain touched my skin again. This time, I refused to wait to be tortured. I jumped. I rolled away as far and as fast as I could.
The One bestirred my kin again. This time they not only jumped and rolled as one, they let out a mighty shout.
I was humbled by their care for me… in the middle of day-side… when all should be hibernating. My kin might name me an abomination, but they would not leave me to be tortured if they could save me.
The ephemerals ran from me. So fast that the colors and shapes flowed and blended into a sight of such astounding strangeness that I trembled as I transmitted the data.
* * *
Jess and Rosslyn each took a few steps back. That time they’d both felt the quake. Cautiously, Jess moved forward again, pointing at the score mark he’d made.
“Look at that,” she said, pulling out her calipers and taking a quick measurement. “It definitely moved. A full three inches.”
Rosslyn shook his head. “That rock’s too heavy for your drill to have exerted enough force to move it.”
Jess jotted a note into her arm comp, and nodded. “Regardless, a single boulder moving three inches wouldn’t account for that tremor.” She paused, eyes glazing in thought. “And yet the timing is too coincidental. I touch the drill to the rock; the rock moves; the ground shakes.”
She walked around the boulder, Rosslyn shadowing her so that they remained on the same side of the strange rock.
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” she said, coming to a halt near the mark Rosslyn had scored on the ground. “Those three things are related.”
Just then one of the away team ran up. He stopped, saluted Lt. Rosslyn, and waited for acknowledgement.
“What is it, Ensign Richardson?” Rosslyn asked, returning the salute.
“Sir, ship’s telemetry just contacted us. There’s a hill or structure or mountain… something roughly pyramidical, about a mile past the horizon line.”
Rosslyn nodded. “And?”
“Well, sir, telemetry has been monitoring it since it’s the only elevated land mass that’s been observed.”
Rosslyn scowled. A muscle in his jaw twitched. Jess could almost hear him thinking, Get to the point!
The ensign must have noticed his superior’s growing irritation, because he suddenly blurted, “It moved!”
Rosslyn and Jess both jumped.
“It what?” they asked in near unison.
“Sir, telemetry reports that whatever the mass is, it moved. Twice. Each time, it appeared to rise by a few millimeters and then move in our direction. Only slightly,” he paused, licked his lips and continued, “but sir, it moved. Twice.”
Jess and Rosslyn glanced at each other, and then turned to stare at the rock.
“Lieutenant,” she said quietly. “I believe you were correct to offer me protection from that boulder.”
Closing her eyes, she calmed and ordered her thoughts. When she felt ready, she opened her communicator and hailed Capt. Shin.
“Sir,” she said, in her most official voice. “Preliminary data indicates we may have discovered a completely alien form of life.” She took a deep breath, let it out, and grinned at the captain’s holo-image. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and I can’t wait!”