It took the table of elements longer than usual. Longer than a lobster dinner or a ruby, anyway. What finally came out took everyone by surprise, and they all just stared at it for a while.
It was a sphere. Its surface was mottled red and brown. Poikani reached to pick it up, but it was too heavy for him. Flash retrieved it and set it on the floor. It landed with a thump.
What is it? Poikani asked.
It’s metal, Flash answered. Beyond that, no one could say.
It was a beautiful object. Simple yet mysterious. Elegantly minimal. Compelling.
Bucket offered to hold it.
Lem just stared at it from a safe distance.
Poikani stroked it. The surface was slightly textured. It was cool to the touch.
It’s vibrating, he said. Up close to it like that, he could hear a tinkling sound emanating from it.
Hello, he said, still caressing it, and he started to hum. The sphere hummed, too.
He likes me, Poikani said with a smile.
He didn’t look up, but continued petting the sphere and humming.
Flash was fascinated. He hadn’t expected life to inhabit forms that looked like inanimate objects. He looked at Bucket and mused Everything is alive.
Someone suggested that Bucket play some music for the sphere, just to see what would happen. When he did, Flash immediately recognized the tune. It was the music the mother ship had been picking up all this time. The ghost of a whisper that had haunted Flash, and had been woven into the fabric of his life. It had become the soundtrack to his journey through space.
That was you? Flash gasped.
Now he could hear the full range of tones without the static and gaps. It was a lonely nocturne that Flash found both beautiful and devastating. It had a sadness and urgency born of eons of isolation and longing. It reminded him of something he had heard before in the whale song off Olo so long ago. Imagine isolating the cello or bass violin from a symphony. It was like that. Music you could feel even if you weren’t sure you could hear it.
When the sphere joined in, they sang in unison, creating a wall of sound. Then it broke off into an unexpected harmony, and everyone was mesmerized. Even Lem. The music reminded her of Ino. She thought of all the things she had lost. All the friends and planetmates. She thought of Peck, and knew she would see him again soon. Seeing him would represent seeing all of it again, at least enough to say goodbye, maybe. Having that closure, perhaps she could move on with her new friends and family.
The sadness of the song made Flash think of his daughter and her son.
The ship was all that Poikani knew.
The music was all that the sphere knew.
The K. D. head added the song to the library of human knowledge.