An essay by Beepboop, as provided by Catherine L. Brooke
Art by Luke Spooner
There is a legend upon some tiny species of bipedal earth dwellers that states that every word spoken by their Creator became something new. “In the beginning was the word,” and so on, if you get my meaning.
But if that is true of all things, living or otherwise, then this place must have surely started as a sneeze.
It had all the hallmarks of such: it was an unwanted surprise, irritating to the mucous membranes, the sight of many explosive and messy impacts, and was filled with the remnants of once living cells that had perished in a terrible struggle against hostile invaders.
For the place I speak of was known as the Lurid Fields–a glowing green liminal space between two cold barren galaxies, and a place few would come by choice. Only the most foolhardy of spacers would try to plunder their toxic treasures.
The reason I had stirred my own eight rudders through the tides of the galaxies to visit the Fields was not for personal glory or treasure, but for the one good thing a scientist of any species cannot resist: a good old fashioned mystery.
As I swam towards the ouroboros of safety beacons that marked the boundaries of the Lurid Fields, I tried to observe their green glow with the objective detachment a good research Argonaut should, but it was impossible to do so when you knew what the pretty green sparkles actually were.
For the Lurid Fields were the site of some horrendous cataclysm, ancient beyond imagining, even for a kind as long lived as my own. The ruins at the heart of the Fields predated all known civilisations, but it was impossible to get close enough to study them, trapped as they were in the deathless grip of their own effluence.
My earlier comment about cells was not merely an awful poetical image, though I am considered a somewhat whimsical and weirdly humoured member of my kind. What little research that has been done on the green glowing matter confirms that it was once organic cells of living beings. But whatever force created the Lurid Fields destroyed their inhabitants so thoroughly that they were torn apart at the cellular level and rendered deathly poisonous. It is odd that the cells themselves are intact rather than being atomised, but that is one of the mysteries I hope to unravel.
When I was but a tiny slip of a larva, still learning my first fifty languages, I happened to witness a presentation by a great scientist on the amazing properties of the cells discovered at the Lurid Fields. It was then the duality of their nature seized my imagination, and I decided to make it my own life’s work. For the cells are entirely dead, toxic to all known forms of life, and yet completely indestructible by currently technology. They have been there for at least eight hundred billion years, and still no one knows why.
Whatever life forms the cells came from (and because the poison so completely usurped the original cells so long, it’s impossible to tell what kind of life forms they were, other than that they were organic) they must have been truly colossal, or uncounted numbers of them had perished, for the Lurid Fields are the size of a galaxy and, as far as we have been able to tell, entirely covered with these tiny green bits of dead matter.
I have my own personal theory on what might have caused the event that brought the Lurid Fields into being, but I will not mention it until I have some evidence of whether I am right or wrong. And to try and find that evidence is why I’m here, risking life and arms for knowledge, just as our kind is supposed to.
Only I could not get funding for this project from my elders. They told me that the Fields are avoided for a reason, and that some things are just not meant to be known. This goes against everything they have ever taught me, adult and larva, everything our kind are supposed to represent. I do regret what I said to them when they rejected my proposal. It was rude of me to imply that their brains had rotten from misuse, that they were scared cowards who scuttled away from the truth like puny hermit crabs, but I do not regret leaving in a cloud of my own angry ink.
And so I came alone to this forsaken place.
I had been floating, staring at the beacons for some time, but I had already severed all ties with my people, and I was too proud to return with nothing. Across that forbidding barrier, I extended one of the longest of my eight arms, coated as it was with the graphite-steel plating we wore into space, and an extra thick layer of my own protective mucus.
My arm made contact with the green floating cells and almost instantly I felt the prickling sting of their poison even through my protective layers. But I had been expecting this, and I used the secondary property of that arm, which was normally only used during our mating rituals, (or so I had learned in my biology lessons, I had not yet had that pleasure myself).
I severed my left hectocotylus with a suppressed flare of pain and watched as the arm, which incidentally contained one of my two sets of male genitalia, drifted even farther into the Lurid Fields. I had wanted to see what happened when the green cells made contact with living matter, and since I could slowly regenerate my arms, it didn’t seem like too much of a personal sacrifice. But it hurt far more than I had expected, and for a moment, I curled up upon myself within my transparent shell, keening slightly into the darkness.
But what happened next distracted me from the pain, for not only was my severed arm was being surrounded by more and more of the glowing green cells, but the cells themselves were moving. I knew they were dead, we all knew they were dead, and yet they moved as if they were not only alive, but individual organisms.
As I watched them converge upon my hectocotylus and devour it, without mouths or limbs or anything that could tear it apart, I realised my theory was correct. I still have no idea what the Lurid Fields were before the cataclysm came, but I knew now for certain the green cells were not the remains of their victims.
They were the cataclysm themselves, some kind of strange virus that mimicked ordinary dead cells, capable of staying dormant but still oddly alive for untold aeons. They were not really consuming my abandoned arm but infecting it, causing my own cells to create more of their own kind.
I jabbered a little as I realised I had made a classic bumbling error. I had intended to observe the interaction of the cells with living matter, but instead I had changed the cells’ own nature by my foolish interference. Now the cells would mutate into something else through their hijacked reproduction of my own hectocotylus.
Despair overwhelmed me as I watched the Lurid Fields begin to grow outside of their boundaries. I knew all too well that they were indestructible, for what was needed to destroy them was an antibody, and my arm was the first entity to become infected by the virus in billions of years.
I thought about fleeing, scuttling back to the university just like the hermit crab I had accused my professors of being. But my pride kept me there, as the virus cells continued to swarm past the beacons. This was my discovery; this was what I had wanted, to change the world in some meaningful way.
As the virus came into my arms and ate its way into my shell, I almost welcomed it, and as my conscious faded as the pain grew, I felt, for the first time, a sense of belonging.
I was part of the Lurid Fields now, I had found a home.
Beepboop is a young Argonaut of barely 2 million standard cycles. His passion for learning often overrides his common sense, and he is given to impulsive behaviour and inappropriate jets of ink. Over time, he may become an excellent student and a credit to this college, but only once his rash curiosity is tempered with respect for his elders. Personally, I believe that a millennium or two of internships cataloguing ostraka in the driest of archives might benefit him tremendously. — Boortblat, 300th Chancellor of Zappsploosh University.
Catherine L. Brooke is a thirty-something from Yorkshire in North England. She has been writing fiction since she was eight years old and has always loved stories of the weird and wonderful. She has an academic background in Egyptology and a passionate interest in the oral traditions of story telling. Her other interests include video games, collecting the oddest romance novels she can find, and an obsession with foreign soap operas.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Space Cthulhu and the Cosmic Sneeze” is © 2017 Catherine L. Brooke
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Luke Spooner