The Death Dirge of the Hurang
by James J. Kinley
A giant glowing skull blazed across a night sky. The weird object roared through the upper atmosphere of a strange and distant planet, friction heat crackling on its skin. A sudden change in vector proved that this was no natural phenomena but rather some strange craft piloted by an unseen hand.
The huge skull blasted on a collision course with the planet’s surface, plummeting downward. The atmosphere thickened and the wind grew from a low whistle to a high scream. The heat from the object’s passage lit up the ground below. Mere meters from the ground the ship came to a sudden stop as if the forces of inertia and momentum were mere words and nothing more.
The skull shaped vessel hovered above the ground for a moment and then, light as a kitten, settled to the planet’s surface. It hummed quietly, spirals spinning slowly on its skin. Then, the grill at the object’s base ramped open and a tall figure emerged. A human man, so far from where any human had ever been, stood in the soft glow of the strange ship that he called the Device. He was the weird traveler known as Mr. Now come to this planet in fire and screaming for a rendezvous with a desperate alien race.
He was pale and lean with thick, silky hair the dark gray of some cats’. His boots touched the dusty soil of the planet and he glanced back at the skull ship that seemed to pulse with energy behind him. In response the ship shot into the sky so quickly that Mr. Now could hear the rush of air that filled the space the ship had occupied.
Mr. Now turned his gaze forward and walked through the soft night to a rocky shore of the lambent and restless sea. Ahead of him the rocks were crusted with a hard mesh of varied colors covering every centimeter of the rocky ground and spread away into the water.
He could see slight movement on the ground and he realized that the growth on the rocks was alive, each an individual inside a shell connecting to each other like a chain. It was a living colony of small creatures, growing one upon the other, a vast aggregate of billions of beings. Mr. Now stood at the shore, the light of a moon illuminating his pale skin and reflected from his glittering eyes. The dark water lapped and hissed through the rock. The shorefront was layered with the creatures’ chitonous material. Golden sparks burst from its surface. The creatures seemed to originate under the water and spread up onto the shore.
Now’s boots crunched slightly on the shells of the creatures, which had spread before him like a beckoning path. The golden flashes became even brighter and Mr. Now could feel a slight trembling under his feet, as of one gigantic beast rising from sleep. Ahead of him the path arced up to a ramp and the water spilled away as a domed shape rose up from the sea. The dome grew and flexed, and Now could hear the shells of the creatures sliding across each other as they built the structure from their own bodies. A yawning entrance opened in the dome, just tall enough for Now to step into, leading his way under the sea.
“I’ll take that as an invitation”, he murmured and stepped forward.
Now’s boots rasped slightly as he strode the corridor’s floor, his way lit by the flashing sparks that seemed to flare briefly on the hard, smooth material. Now brushed a hand over the corridor’s wall, it felt cool and polished, like the skin of a tooth.
A tunnel was created before him, rising from the floor and opening his way, leading him into a corridor deeper under the sea. Despite the absence of breeze or obvious ventilation Now could smell the air actually getting clearer as he proceeded. He guessed that the creatures were creating oxygen for him to breathe.
Now judged that he had walked at least 100 meters under the water of the bay, when he stepped into a vaulted expanse. A high cathedral arced above him, composed of the same crisp, smooth material. He stood in the center of the floor, gazing at the high ceiling and ornate walls, lit by the same golden flashes.
Curving shapes adorned the interior of the edifice, flowing curves and spiraling lines that Now recognized as an expression of the golden mean and other natural geometries. Now had seen many majestic structures in his wide travels but few could equal the grandeur of this cathedral made of the bodies of living beings at the bottom of an alien ocean.
Above him pendulant stalactites dropped from the ceiling with a crisp crackle, the walls began to reshape and Now felt something touch his mind.
It was a feeling, a presence of meaning and strange communication. While not telepathic himself Now had some slight experience with telepathy, but this was something new.
The meanings that flowed into his brain were elemental and empathic. Rather than words he felt emotions and images being conveyed to his mind. It was vaguely unpleasant, this communion with an alien mind, but Mr. Now had experienced much, much worse and he suspected it was merely the colony’s way of saying ‘hello’.
“I appreciate the trouble you went to so you could convey your greeting,” Now said, “I felt your beckoning while I was far away, but now I am here. What do you want from me?”
Mr. Now basked in the flickering light of their bioluminescence and felt that strange empathic touch on his psyche. A story come to life in his mind as a rebus of images and feelings.
The beings referred to themselves as the Hurang. They began as simple creatures similar to Earth coral that grew in the seas of this planet. Living in colonies in a hostile environment they developed an amazing connection; a resonance, an emotive communication that could function despite any distance or obstacle. Their lives were lived together under the seas and on the ocean shores. For millennia they lived and died in their communal way spreading all over the planet.
Until, centuries ago, their empathic connection was discovered by the predatory intelligences of the more mobile creatures on this planet. These beings were the Worn, evolved from insect life, clever and opportunistic; they saw how they could use the Hurang’s abilities for their own purposes.
The Hurang do not mark time or reckon eras but they do refer to an incident of terrible change. Some of the Hurang were taken from their seabed homes and placed in underground tanks, cold and sterile, away from the lapping tides. The worn did strange things to their captives, things that the Hurang could not comprehend but the empathic images allowed Mr. Now to guess.
Decades of genetic experimentation and manipulation, until the Worn were able to harness the Hurang’s empathic connection as part of their growing technology. Now guessed at what it could mean for a culture to have a method to broadcast information instantly across any distance no matter the obstacle. Untold fortunes could be built and whole civilizations altered. But the cost for the Hurang was tragic.
At one time the Hurang had been able to feel the simple and immediate connection to their colonies all over the planet, the emotional messages of life and death and oneness; of the patterns, dangers, and beauties of their natural world. But now their colonies were blasted every moment by the cacophonous noise of an interstellar system. Alien thoughts, base and perverted emotions, meaningless tallies of trade and government, constant inane chatter reverberates through their empathic network, sickening every single moment of the lives of the Hurang, slaved and wild alike. Every Hurang now experienced the bewildering onslaught of information and feeling that roared through their senses every moment. This alien static tore at them and confused and battered them without cease.
Swimming in their misery and despair, suffering in the constant demented noise, the wild Hurang had broadcast their feelings of despair, thoughts of liberation, and subconscious yearning for help out into the cosmos. And alone in the vastness of space it was Mr. Now who heard them. So he had come across the distance for this rendezvous. He stood thinking under the great dome of this amazing cathedral, feeling their story, and understanding their desperate, black need to make an end of their pain.
“Well,” He said finally, the sound of his voice echoing in the grand space and knowing that the Hurang would read his meaning from his mind, “Perhaps I can do something for you”.
Mr. Now nestled into the control chair and tapped out a sequence on the console. The weird, skull-shaped Device began to pulse with a soft light and lifted off gently, but, after rising a few meters in the air, shot upward with such a rush of speed that it was out of the atmosphere before friction could even warm the hull. Within the vessel’s compartments the sudden acceleration seemed to have no effect. Such was the nature of Mr. Now’s unique craft that it could wave at the laws of physics as it blew by.
Much later, outside of the planet’s galactic plane, the Device spun down to a slow drift. A hatch slid open and Mr. Now slipped out of the vessel. Clad in a pressure suit of his own design he floated free into the void.
“Sound,” Mr. Now said into his helmet mike, “Play the compression wave of that red dwarf collapse, converted to audio, reversed, modified, and synced to dub”. Immediately his suit was filled with an eerie, soul bending melody, rising and throbbing with an inhuman beat. He allowed himself to drift into space, surrounding by nothing and everything. Here, in the bed of eternity and listening to the music of the stars, Mr. Now had come to think.
The Hurang presented an intriguing problem. Even though they were of a nature alien to him, their empathic broadcasts had tinged their communication with potent feeling. With almost eidetic clarity Now played back the interaction in his mind. The high vaulted, sparkling dome made of the bodies of a living creatures, the susurrus of the sea just outside, the heady perfume of the manufactured air and the taste of the Hurang’s longing in his mind. Did the Hurang even know what they wanted from him? Did they even suspect the tone of despair and cold finality that informed their message? The light of untold ancient stars played over Now’s lean, pale face as he reclined in the unknowable depths of the universe, considering the question.
Death Dirge of the Hurang copyright James J. Kinley 2013