They struggled, but the vines held firm. The alien called out to them, but they still could not understand. The alien bent down to the flowering vines, gathering a handful of golden, dust-like pollen, then turned back toward the three trapped Rangers. In a sudden, lightning-quick motion, she threw the pollen into their faces.
Cat tried to hold her breath, but finally she had to breathe in, taking in some of the pollen with it. Within moments, she began to feel … different. The vines holding her — starting to loosen a little now — were not just plants. They were kin to the alien, and to all the other life on the planet. All of it was conscious, aware.
Please do not be afraid.
All three women’s heads whipped around, looking at the alien. She was speaking, and they could now understand her words. They could hear the alien language with their ears, but in their minds, they heard their own language.
I am sorry, but I had to do something so that we could communicate. Do you understand me now?
The vines continued to loosen and drop away as the alien waited for them to answer.
“Yes we do,” Cat spoke up. “My apologies for being so standoffish; we are trained to be cautious.” There was a knot building up in Cat’s stomach; she was nervous and excited about this new contact. When the vines completely loosened she and the other two women bowed to greet their new acquaintance.
That is all right, it is understandable. You are the first to visit this place in a long time.
“Yeah I can understand why.” Cat rubbed her neck, still a little sore from the electrical shock. “Your security measures work very well.” Brenda looked over at Cat and gave her a little smile.
The Heart of Transcendence builds up a great deal of energy to produce this manifestation, the alien said, gesturing toward herself. It can be dangerous to touch. I am pleased you were not seriously hurt. Who are you, and why have you come to Eulinthis? I perceive you are all of one species.
The three women glanced at each other before Cat stepped forward. “We have come to learn more about your planet. On our last mission to the area we recovered a diary that led us here. We wish no harm on your people or your planet. We only wish to learn. We are Rangers.” Cat stood in silence waiting for the being to answer.
Eulinthis is our home, but it is true that we did not evolve on this world. You found a diary on our birth planet?
Elanor nodded. “Yes. I have an image of some of it here.” She offered the alien her porta-comp. “The planet is now called Rolui. We think this diary is almost a million years old.”
The alien took the porta-comp and looked at the images. Yes. This was our old home, the planet of our birth. We destroyed it, and very nearly ourselves. But we were saved, by people from the stars. They took us to the stars.
You wish to learn. What do you wish to learn? What can I tell you?
Cat got excited and looked up at the being with an apparent yearning to ask questions. “Why did you destroy your home planet? Who saved you? That might be a good place to start.” She stared into the being’s eyes, seeing the mixture of emotional pain yet calmness that came over the alien. “I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t offend.”
No. It was so long ago, but we have never forgotten. We were a young species then, and foolish. Our technology had grown to include what you call nuclear weapons. And we used them on one another in a dispute which is now forgotten. Some of us — including the young one who wrote the book you found — hid in shelters deep underground, but we could not survive there. We were dying.
Then the people from the stars came. They called themselves “Isanale,” and they looked not so different from your kind, or mine. They said that once, in a time long before, they had narrowly avoided our fate, and sought to help others as they traveled through the stars. They said they would take us to another world and let us start again, if only we would promise to never again make such weapons. If we did, they said, there would be no saviors from the stars. We all accepted, survivors from all over our world, our disputes forgotten in the gratitude of being given a second chance.
It took us many decades, but in time we learned to travel among the stars ourselves. We sought for the Isanale, but we never found them. We found only the jumpgates — and to this day, we do not know if it was the Isanale who built them, or someone else.
“May I ask one more question?” Cat asked.
“Why did you stop searching for answers? Didn’t the want of that knowledge make you want to continue searching?”
We searched high and low for many years, but we eventually came to the conclusion that sometimes the answers are lost in the stars, never wanting to be be found.
Cat continued to look at the being with a mixed emotion of sadness yet wonder at this old race. The alien stared back and spoke:
You seem to empathize with our history, are you searching for something in particular?
Cat paused for a moment and thought up the best answer she could. “I am, but I’ve been searching for so long I just have run out of searching options.”
Would that mean you are lost yourself?
Cat chuckled, “I’ve been lost for a long time, but to tell you the truth, I never wish to be found.”
Then maybe the answers you seek are thinking the same as you.
Cat silently nodded in agreement, but made a face of frustration that she tried to hide from the being. It was noticed by Brenda and Elanor.
Brenda spoke up. “The species you call the Isanale were one of many we call the ‘First Ones,’ the oldest races in the galaxy. We’ve been told they all went away, beyond the galactic rim, but still Cat wants to know more about them. It’s what gives her life a purpose, you see?”
“Come to think, you here on Eulinthis would probably qualify as First Ones too,” Elanor said. “Why didn’t you leave?”
We cannot, the alien replied. We are not just on Eulinthis, we are Eulinthis.
“What do you mean?” Brenda asked.
When we returned from our fruitless search of the stars, we recognized something that had escaped us until then — that our adopted homeworld was itself alive. All its plants and animals were part of a single sentience. But it was not complete. We realized that we could transcend our physical bodies, and join our consciousness with Eulinthis. Thus we and the planet became one.
She gestured to the enormous structure all around them. This is how we did it. It is called the Heart of Transcendence. Through this, we joined our minds to the planetary mind. At times of need, we can use it to manifest a physical body again, as I have done to communicate with you.
A few moments ago — the alien paused, correcting herself. A few years ago, by your reckoning, we felt one of your kind, searching along the Path that connects all life, calling for help from the First Ones. We could not answer, for we no longer have ships, or anything beyond our world. Here we will stay until our star burns us out of the sky.
Cat still stood in silence contemplating it all. She had been traveling across the universe before she joined the Rangers feeling lost and forgotten. After her parents died she felt everyone had given up on her. The hope of finding the First Ones had filled a void that had long been empty. She looked up at the being that stood before her. This was a First One. Maybe more had decided to transcend their physical being to become one with the ground that gave their body and souls shelter. It was a worth a thought, since she was not mentally ready to go beyond the rim.
The being glanced at her. Are you all right?
“Yes, I think. I have a lot to think about. Do … Do you think there are others like you out there within the rim?” She was hesitant to ask.
We do not know for sure, but I do have a feeling there might be more who were saved like us.
Cat smiled, feeling all was not lost.