Life in the Void
Summary: An astronomer uses an occult ritual to search for extraterrestrial life.
[Note: The following document was recovered from the computer of a missing astronomy graduate student.]
I have beheld life in the farthest corners of the solar system, unseen by humanity's arsenal of telescopes, probes, and sensors. Things exist beyond the reckoning of humankind, both in this universe and outside it. Our precarious existence is like a candle blowing in the wind, and nonetheless draws forth those that would extinguish us for their own unknowable ends.
Cognition draws them forth like the invocations of archaic diabolists. Specifically, advanced mathematics and magic are but one in the same. The things that respond to those incantations do so with the promise of information to absorb. Being forcibly uploaded into one of them and dying at their hands are but one in the same. An abominable immortality lies deep within their maul, a fate which I took precautions to avoid. I nonetheless decided to tempt fate, to see if the occult could grant me visions of extraterrestrial intelligent life in the void.
From within an electronic pentacle made of LEDs directed by a hobbyist's microcontroller, I performed a ritual from a tome of unspeakable cults. I do not recall the events with the clarity necessary to elucidate on such sights, but the utter terror I beheld from a more profound source than my own eyes. Through a meditative ritual in the accounts of Klarkash Tun, I was granted visions of all I desired to behold, and much I did not.
I had cast my consciousness upon the astral domain, using the wisdom of the Silver Key. I beheld my sleeping body as I stepped forward into a celestial realm, where beyond the protections of my pentacle. I cast myself upwards, as though a human rocket bound for distant stars. Much to my astonishment, I found myself rising rapidly above the surface of the earth.
I was unsure if I could describe it as astral projection or cosmic projection. I behind visions of familiar stars and planets as my spirit rose above the surface of the Earth. Scintillating colors filled my peripheral vision like a radiant assault from distant stars. I would have breathed deeply, had I still possessed direct control of my lungs. Instead, I saw myself flying through the void of space itself like some titanic hand had hurled me deep into the void.
I beheld things shifting against the black tapestry. The cold light of dead stars warmed my nonexistent body as though I was some stellar Grim Reaper. The lectures I received by day on the utter distances between worlds moved to the forefront of my mind as I beheld the maddening expanse for myself. The tranquil oblivion of space gnawed and my mind and sanity. I was alone as earth shrunk behind me, as though some unseen entity was giving me a direct lesson in human insignificance.
I recalled that the flow of time was mutable in such visions, so I tried to distract myself as best I could. Despite the mind-numbing monotony, I beheld visas I distinctly remember. I gazed upon the Great Red Spot of Jupiter as I passed over ice-shrouded Europa like a strafing jet. I sunk into a methane lake on Titan, the hydrocarbon-rich moon of Saturn. I danced among a rocky outer moon of Uranus before blowing past Neptune.
What united these worlds was on each, I saw a small knot-like object, a black and evil thing with the roughness of a gnarled root. In some cases, this gourd-like object was swollen and bloated like a blister. On others, it was extending fibrous filaments deep into the ground. I know not what commonalities I saw, but I beheld their purpose.
It was on Pluto, that world no longer a planet, on which I plunged into a cavern beneath the surface. To call it a cavern is a misnomer, as the walls, ceiling, and floor were clearly artificial. They all had the same stringy, twisting geometry and rugose texture as the objects I beheld on other worlds. Within the tunnels were warbling sounds and skittering motion I can scarcely describe with human language. Despite this, I noticed the peculiar organic growths of the subterrene complex radiated outwards from a central hub.
The unseen navigator of my astral voyage headed along the spine of the structure. I beheld a bundle of organic conduits like the xylem of some great tree, save they carried a thick and viscous ichor through the unknown darkness. I could see shapes beside those great and thrumming veins, insectile creatures of incandescent heads, clasping pincers, and fluttering chitinous wings. They emerged from cysts and polyps within the necrotic walls itself, fully formed like a monstrous Athena springing from the forehead of Zeus.
Beyond the hatchery, strange cylinders containing masses of disconcertingly familiar neuronal tissue were stacked before a knotty bundle of hyphae. From within, I saw the hub in which this subterranean biome had sprouted from. While it had grown outwards by an order of magnitude, I nevertheless recognized the distinctive geometry of the object my guide had seen fit to show me. They had been had been seeded across the solar system in some perverse panspermia, infecting all they touched with malign intelligence.
The dreadful creatures continued their aspersive agenda without my unnoticed presence. Mercifully, my voyage took me further into the incomprehensible expanse of the Oort Cloud. Should I have looked back, I had little doubt that more disconcerting revelations awaited me on that frozen rock beyond Neptune. As I drifted among particles of frozen gases, I could see the sun was almost a distant star in the sky that diminished in brightness with every passing moment.
As Sol faded beyond me, so too did my last frame of reference of time and space. For a blessed moment, I was one with the universe. An eldritch blackness surrounded me and filled me. The void touched me as I touched the void, and together we achieved a singular nirvana of tranquil oblivion. But alas, it was but a transient moment in my expedition. I beheld something shift in the outer reaches of the system, and I immediately knew we were approaching our destination.
I slowed as though braking for an intersection, let onwards by whatever force of the ritual lead me onwards. The object was a spherical mass of frozen gas, one of the innumerable Trans-Neptunian Objects that laid between science and speculation. Its specific taxonomy was a Sednoid, a category named for the Inuit goddess of the deep sea. Upon the surface, I could see a distinctive black splotch where one of the Yuggoth spores had landed and germinated, but I knew beholding a nascent colony or infestation was not my purpose for visiting.
As the object reached aphelion, the surface of the Sednoid thawed. Steam hissed from fissures on the surface like the exhaust of a chthonic engine. For the first time in innumerable eons, the sanguine surface shifted and resettled. My guide, however, was not content to give me a view of the Sednoid mimicking a seismically active world. I plunged directly towards the core of the forsaken world.
Beneath onion-like layers of frozen gasses and the detritus of stillborn worlds, I saw the glow of radioactive materials. I momentarily wondered if some particularly hardy microbes colonized this environment. I hypothesized they might have some lifecycle of deep hibernation and frenetic activity while their world approached the sun, but I was partly incorrect.
The world was alive with such creatures, but they were not of the nature I first assumed. In the unnatural illumination of those murky tunnels, I saw a right angle. I would have blinked had I still had eyes. As whatever granted me vision acclimated to the utter darkness, I saw the right angle was accompanied by three more. Whatever had dwelt beneath the surface had constructed something distinctively artificial. The spore-makers and their technology bore smooth, organic lines, so I easily surmised this originated from a second civilization. I wondered if either party was aware of the immaterial intruder gazing upon their lives like an ethereal voyeur.
A trunk-like form shifted in the shadows. A portion of the wall, which I had thought was ancient ice, lashed out with a pseudopod. A shrill chittering echoed in those timeworn corridors, an awakening to the things that lived beneath the ice. I wondered if some ancient civilization had once lived upon a complete planet, only to have it blasted into fragments floating in interstellar space in the distant prehistory of the galaxy. They might have been snagged within Sol's gravity and adopted such a cycle to survive.
The gel-like organic servitor cast bright illumination upon the frigid warrens, and I could see other forms of life awaken. Appendages of all sort shifted from the ground after the passage of the creature, as though a necromancer strolled through a graveyard of restless dead. Piping sounds joined the maddening cacophony of nonsensical words. Tentacles and fins liberated themselves from the icy floor as a set of wings unfurled. Immediately, I began to retreat from the now raucous cavern, as though my spectral guide was frightened by what was stirring.
I was yanked away from the Sednoid as the basilisk gaze of a compound eye fell upon my direction. That was the last I saw of that fateful cavern, and I am in content in my ignorance of what I beheld. I fear as though my spectral guide took flight like a minnow recognized a stirring shark. The voyage towards Earth occurred with a disconcerting rapidity, as if to show me a final answer to my query.
I beheld a single object in Earth orbit, which gravity yanked into a graveyard orbit. As it began its final descent through the atmosphere, it turned white hot during its reentry. Instead of slowing, the object seemed to adjust its inertia without need for rockets or thrusters of any kind. A portion of the outer shell began to buckle and crack, but ultimately, the object impacted a virgin hillside somewhere in New England.
It was immediately buried by a landslide, and I could see time passing as though in a time-lapse film. Trees grew upon it, as it spread outwards with the fecundity of the Black Goat. The object grew deeper into the Earth, contaminating it with the taint of an alien world. Time passed further, and smoke rose above the hills. As the advent of humankind made itself known in the vision, I saw the spore had grown faster than I had feared.
With that, I awoke in a cold sweat within the circle. Compelled by some unknown compulsion, I quickly turned off the microcontroller and disabled the electric pentacle. I collapsed to my back, momentarily forgetting how I had moved my limbs. I wondered if my human reflexes had atrophied in the time that had elapsed. I saw only a minute had passed since I last remembered the clock, which was far more disconcerting than reassuring. I began to wonder if maybe I had dreamt the entire thing. So, I'm typing it before I forget the cursed thoroughness in which the ritual answered my question.
As I finish typing, I cannot help but recall the slithering shapes in that otherworldly cavern. I feel as though something witnessed me then, and tasted something of my essence. I can feel the walls closing in as otherworldly eyes descend upon me. I feel compelled to type more, but it is in a language I can scarcely understand. I have stared into the universe, and it has stared into me. Whatever has seen me is approaching, coming across the vast distances of the cosmos as I sit here lethargically. I sit here in a catatonic reverie, consigned to my fate.