Across the galaxies the Astropods flew, searching for life, searching for wonder, searching for something so good it would set their fifteen chambered hearts beating to a new rhythm. They were desperate for music. The melodies of the Ancient Ones were running down, fragmenting. The music which had held their galaxy together for ten thousand generations was tired.
They had thought they had aeons of time, until suddenly time was running out, stolen by thieves unseen. The sound that hid inside each living cell neared its end.
So they journeyed in their massive, gleaming ships, and had done so for two generations, ever seeking, and finding naught.
Cheelie-Ben wrapped one long arm around the post, suction cups stabilizing their body as they reached another lazy appendage toward the small control panel. Nodes in their prodigious brain controlled most parts of the interstellar ship, held inside a gelatinous, bulbous head. Cheelie enjoyed topping theirs with sturdy, brightly colored encasements that followed the curve of their dome in quite a fetching way.
The encasements were practical headgear, of course, which was of primary importance, but there was no reason Cheelie couldn’t look attractive as well.
“Have you found any signals yet?” Cheelie asked Navori, the ship’s primary sound engineer. Navori had a particularly shapely head dome, and their flesh was a deep, iridescent hue that reminded Cheelie of a scattering of distant stars. Navori needed no fetching headgear to set Cheelie’s flesh a tingle.
Navori flushed with mild annoyance. “You asked me that two cycles ago.”
They huffed, “No. I have not yet detected any signals that indicate a song generating life force, nor has Quintagula reported heat or cold masses that show any biomass at all.”
Cheelie sighed. Joining the Chart Winder had seemed a grand adventure, once upon a time, but as the old music wore itself down, and with no new music found, they grew bored as a petulant child.
And Navori showed no interest in tangling arms, either, not since the one drunken crooning session thirty cycles ago. Cheelie-Ben still hoped, though Navori mostly avoided them these days.
So Cheelie’s boredom grew. There was only so much chess an entity could play, and only so much fermented algae one could consume until their limbs would no longer hold them steady.
On the riverbanks, the capybara sang their gentle song. It was a song of sun and mud, a song of grasses and sky. A song of friendship and grooming, soft fur and nose touches.
Deep in the forest, a small group of the Dedicated Ones sang a song to the whole watershed. This song was more complex than the simple riverbank songs. The Dedicated Ones communed. They sang to a sky beyond what deep brown rodent eyes could see, to earth so deep no paw could trod upon it, and to water so vast, no capybara could swim it. Their song reminded the others that the simple things in life were the key to eternity.
The capybara named Gentle basked in the sun, curled up with a tortoise so old it barely spoke anymore. The tortoise––Ballezek was its name––lay with head nestled between large claws designed for digging in the river mud. Gentle knew Ballezek enjoyed the sun on its neck as much as Gentle did.
A pinging noise rang through the air, causing the low, murmuring happy songs of the sunning capybara to falter, off key and out of rhythm. Before Gentle could take another breath, the singing commenced.
“Did you hear that?” Gentle asked his friend.
“Heeeaaaarrr whaaaatttt?” Ballezek murmured into the mud.
“That pinging sound?”
Ballezek’s only reply was a snore. Gentle raised his head and looked about. Capybara, tortoises, turtles, ducks, and two spider monkeys all reclined happily in the sun. Several large capybara bathed in the river, with bright golden finches perched on their heads.
The happy singing continued, unabated. No one else seemed to have heard the sound.
Gentle wondered if he should worry.
Quintagula propelled themself into the control room on skinny limbs, suctioning their way toward the one empty receptacle and plopping into it with a distinct lack of grace. Their bulbous dome pulsed orange, and they bounced excitedly.
“I found something! There is a signal.”
Cheelie-Ben felt a frisson of heat rush across their flesh. Excitement at last.
Navori reached an arm out to still Quintagula’s bouncing. “Explain, please.”
Quintagula waved one tremulous appendage toward Navori’s control panel and popped a sucker on a switch.
A strange, glorious, noise filled the control room, made of rhythmic squeaks and chirps of a quite a high frequency.
It was the most beautiful music Cheelie-Ben had heard in years, their eyes grew wide with wonder.
“Near enough to get to,” Quintagula replied, waving an arm tip toward the navigational controls. “That quadrant there.”
A small blip. Insignificant. It held the key to their people’s redemption.
Navori’s head dome darkened toward indigo as they scanned the array. “From all measurements, that planet is dying.”
The days grew warmer. More and more animals had joined them on the shore. The waters receded and the air hurt Gentle’s nose. But there was still friendship, and grasses to eat, though their tribe would need to travel soon, before the water reeds and shoreline grasses were all gone.
This area could not hold the numbers that had joined them.
They needed to move before the moon waxed full again in the night sky.
He wandered toward the Dedicated Ones, needing to consult with the elders. They would know which direction the tribe should run.
He moved from the sandy mud toward denser green, following the song that filled the small valley. The earth was fragrant with the promise of pleasant days and safety, and it squished satisfyingly between his toes.
A shimmering beam of light illuminated the pathway just ahead. It buzzed and hummed in a way Gentle had never heard before. He slowed. Tentatively, he sniffed the air, then stuck the tip of his snout into the glow. It felt pleasant, tingling on his fur. Gentle moved forward until his front paws and shoulders joined his head inside the light.
The beam contracted. With a whoomf, Gentle’s soft brown body jerked upward, toward the sky.
Everything went white.
“What is it?” asked Cheelie-Ben.
Quintagula had laid the small, sturdy creature on a table in the science arena. It was rectangle bodied, and covered with brown fur, with a soft snout forming another, smaller rectangle, mirroring its larger form. “Is it the last of its kind? Is anything else alive down there?”
Temoract, one of the science drones, adjusted a set of nodules on the creature’s head.
“Scans show images of other creatures, living in peace.” Its voice box spoke, a low purr beneath the metallic whirring of its spiky arms and wings. “They seem unaware that their home nears cataclysm.”
“How soon?” Navori asked, iridescent skin shining beneath the white lights. “Do we have time to save the songs?”
The songs. The glorious, harmonious chirping and rhythmic, syncopated squeaks. The sounds that conveyed warmth and joy, and a deep, abiding sense of goodwill. Cheelie-Ben felt it deep in their gelatinous being and felt comforted.
The songs must be saved.
The drone’s spiked appendages flew through the atmosphere, clicking and whirring, doing who knows what. Cheelie-Ben barely comprehended the existence of drones, let alone their strange sciences, though they knew that drones were one reason Cheelie’s race remained alive.
“Perhaps thirty thousand cycles until the singing dies.”
“So, enough time?” Cheelie asked, feeling anxious shimmers in their digestive tract.
“Enough time to collect the songs. Not enough time to save the planet. The poor thing is too far gone, at least in current form.” Temoract paused for a moment as its sensors whirred and scanned. “There seem to be other creatures on the planet… they sing songs, as well. Songs of anger, longing, and despair. They eat too much of the planet’s surface and disgorge much waste into the atmosphere. The planet chokes.”
“Are their songs worth saving?”
The soft brown paws of the creature stirred and twitched on the table.
“It is hard to determine. I will upload what I can.” The scanners withdrew, allowing the probes to do their work, uploading information patterns directly from the creature’s brain into the ship’s storage banks. “But it is imperative that we save these creatures. They are the ones you have searched for.”
“The ones who will save us?” Quintagula asked.
“If they cannot, your people are beyond saving. Time is running out.”
“Get ready to load,” Quintagula said.
Cheelie turned to their console and began the sequence.
Gentle dreamed of his early years, bobbing along in the shallows, watching the flash of yellow as small birds landed on his mother’s head. The sun was warm, but not scorching. There was plenty of grass.
The song of the Dedicated Ones filled the air, telegraphing the soundness of being, the oneness of all creatures, no matter how differently they grew. The Dedicated Ones sang praises of mud, water, and sky. They sang of plentiful grasses, and the love of one creature for another.
Gentle hummed and squeaked in his sleep, contented, untroubled.
“The brown creatures are resisting. The harmony is disrupted.” Quintagula quivered, skin flushed with indignation and worry. “It sows discordance in the song!”
Cheelie-Ben wrapped one limb around a post, suckers gripping and ungripping with unease. They turned to the brown creature resting on the table, breath huffing softly from black nostrils, flickering brain uploading a wealth of songs.
“This one seems fine,” they said.
“It is the others we transported. They refuse sedation, and bark at Temoract every time it flies near.”
“What seems to be the problem? Did we not transport enough of their environment?”
The great dome in the rear of the ship was designed for just this purpose: to carry enough of what a Singer might need to keep it alive and contented in the journey forward. The bio dome could calibrate to ten million different variations of environment, able to seed almost any vegetation and emit almost any combination of gases and other elements to facilitate breathing, food production, and the reproduction of any number of species, known or unknown. Temoract and the other drones would be hard at work determining the exact nature of the home biome of the sturdy brown rectangles.
“They insist on not leaving a whole variety of other creatures behind, including creatures with no songs at all.”
Gentle awakened to a great roaring in his head. He heard sharp barks of warning instead of the soft clicks and squeaks of comfort and celebration. Something tugged at his head. He pulled back, felt a series of sharp pricks, and then freedom. Shaking his head, he heard a clattering as a tangle of strange fronds fell from his skull.
The air was cold and smelled sharp, like nothing he had ever smelled before. Gentle sneezed and struggled to raise himself upon the slick surface he lay upon. The light was white and hurt his eyes. He barked, seeking his siblings, letting them know that he, too, was caught in this unfamiliar place.
A strange creature loomed over him, with a huge dome of a head topped in a strange, brightly colored carapace, as if a strange, hard creature had landed on its head. It had many long, sinuous limbs that reached and contracted, and large, liquid, black eyes, that blinked down at him.
He barked again, startled. The thing recoiled, then stilled itself, creeping slowly closer.
Gentle squeaked and lowered his head.
The creature brushed one long limb over his snout, then reached another to the place where Gentle’s head met his shoulders. Suckers gently massaged him through his pelt.
Gentle squeaked again, encouraging the touch. He looked at the creature, whose eyes were half lidded in some strange ecstasy. Gentle wanted his siblings, and wondered where Ballezek the tortoise was, but he also knew his place in the order of things. His place in the mud, water, grasses, and sky.
A capybara’s job was to resonate with the harmony everywhere. To comfort the frightened, and to bring an end to conflict as soon as it arose.
A capybara’s place was to make friends.
The ship was full to bursting, with such a variety of creatures, it would take the drones weeks to classify them. Drones busied themselves making certain the correct foods and conditions were rooting in the bio dome, to keep each creature comfortable during the journey and beyond.
The Singers seemed comfortable enough, and once they understood what was needful, had agreed to croon amongst each other, as the computers recorded every squeak.
When the first one––by name of Gentle––had responded to Cheelie-Ben’s longing, all had become clear.
The Astropods required capybara friendship to survive and create order in their cosmos once again. They needed songs. The brown, sturdy, rectangles named Capybara agreed to help them. It seemed that was their species decree: to give comfort and aid to all who sought them out.
After much discussion, the capybara had left enough of their people behind to keep their home planet alive for as long as they could, and sent a troop of singers and healers and growers along with a small variety of creatures they shared symbiosis with.
Whether all would be well, Cheelie-Ben and the others did not yet know, but now at least they had a chance.
A small whuffling sound, followed by the click of nails on the metal floor caused Cheelie-Ben to swivel their giant, brightly capped dome.
It was Gentle and his friend, a squat, hard carapaced creature almost as old as Cheelie-Ben. Where Cheelie’s head cap was not natural to them, the creature known as Ballezek’s hard shell was part of its genetic makeup. Following the other two was Navori, who had grown much softer toward Cheelie since the other creatures came aboard and filled the ship with singing.
Cheelie waved out a limb in greeting. Navori clasped it for one moment before making way for Cheelie to run a limb over Gentle’s head. Ballezek clicked its way to a mud-lined box to the right of Cheelie’s console and settled in. Gentle bumped his snout on one of Cheelie’s lower limbs.
The trio kept Cheelie company each day and traded stories as they flew among the stars. It soothed Cheelie-Ben’s soul, and filled them with the sense that perhaps, after a very long while, the cosmos would be okay.
Their fifteen chambered heart, beat by beat, acclimated to the different rhythm, as Cheelie-Ben’s cells slowly tuned themselves anew.
Gentle missed the mighty riverbank, and the golden glow of the sun, but for now, he was content. Ballezek was with him, and Gentle had made a new friend with the one called Cheelie-Ben.
But best of all, Gentle had a Greater Purpose now. He was training toward his Dedication.
He would fly among the stars, and become a singer of great songs.
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