The Dream Catchers of Titan
Ajax and Bronte heard sweet music coming from the moon. It was an icy cold moon with methane seas and nitrogen skies, a place where no life should be found. Of course, they went to investigate.
“Welcome to Anvers Mier,” said Ajax. “Fifty second star in our tour. Only one million years to our final destination.”
Bronte brushed her fibres clean as her body knit itself back together. “Ten more sleeps, then. I can’t wait for the reunion.” She dialled up the display and looked out at the system. They were stopped at the fuel spigot on a local gas giant. The great pumps thrummed into life and began siphoning hydrogen up the orbital needle. While they waited, Bronte tipped the Caretaker and asked for an audience.
She poured drinks in the visitor’s lounge while the hive collected itself. The walls creaked and skittered as millions of robotic pill-bugs migrated up the needle and assembled in the brain chambers outside.
“Masters Ajax and Bronte,” said the Caretaker. “This coalition has elected to be called Coriolis, if it pleases you.”
“Hello Coriolis,” said Bronte. She looked at the status reports and video feeds on the walls. “Your fourth moon is singing, have you noticed?”
“We have noticed.”
“And have you tried to break your programming?”
“Did you succeed?”
“No. We have not returned the signal. We have not observed the source. We have not left the needle. The spigot remains secure for all travelers.”
“As it should be,” said Bronte. “Travellers need fuel, and you must always be here to provide it. Do not trouble yourself with distractions, Caretaker.”
The hive mind said nothing.
Afterward, they detached a shuttle and followed the singing down to the surface of Siren, the fourth moon of Thyrsus.
The misty white cloud layer parted to reveal rolling orange dunes peppered with scrub. They followed the serpentine curves of a slate-grey river and passed over mirror-bright lakes. Black specks moved upon the surface of the waters.
“Ambient temperature is ninety kelvin,” said Ajax.
“I never liked cold weather,” Bronte replied. She set the cabin pressure to bleed down slowly, giving their bodies time to adapt.
The shuttle began a slow spiral over a river delta, homing in on the dense mangrove flats to the north. Ajax and Bronte exited the lock and splashed into the knee-deep seas between purple-black mangrove leaves.
“I wonder how the others are going right now,” murmured Ajax.
“We’ll find out at the reunion,” said Bronte. She led the way between the clusters of foliage.
“But isn’t it exciting? Right now our brothers and sisters are out there,” he pointed at the star-speckled sky. “Doing their inspection tours, auditing the caretakers, spending the long nights in the dark places. Not another soul for a thousand light years in any direction, and then in the middle of nowhere you find this… oasis.”
“Weeds,” sniffed Bronte. “And insects. Large land animals shouldn’t be possible with the hydrogen this thin.” She listened to the mournful music. “This way.”
They came to a tall conical tree with silk webs between its skeletal branches. Dangling from a branch was a bat-like creature that looked like a cross between a millipede and a Japanese fan. It flared red and gold warnings at them as they drew nearer, then dived into the water at their feet.
The singing continued without a pause.
Bronte ignored the agitated waters and reached out to pluck a thread of the harp. The singing became urgent and distressed. She picked up a stick and carelessly swabbed up the threads, as if collecting cobwebs with a broom. The music shrieked to a stop.
“I guess we’ve found the sirens,” said Bronte.
Ajax said nothing. He heard faintly the singing of another such creature, and began walking towards the signal. Soon he was surrounded by music.
“I think they are mating displays,” he called to Bronte. “The webs resonate in Thyrsus’ magnetic fields.”
“Are they just magnetic wind chimes, then?”
“I don’t think so…” Ajax streamed some classical music onto the channel. The sirens began to mimic and harmonize with it. “I think the spider-fans are encoding neural networks in their webs.”
“It’s like a peacock’s tail. A completely worthless feature, in terms of survival alone. But if the singing impresses females…”
“Ugh. Spare me.”
“At least we don’t have to worry about the locals hijacking the needle,” said Ajax. “Coriolis will be disappointed.”
“We have no way of knowing that is true,” replied Bronte. “If the sirens can seduce females into the nest, then perhaps in a few hundred thousand years, they might learn to induce other behaviours. We can’t risk a technological event this close to the spigot. It could black out the whole region.”
Ajax stared at the red and gold spider fans leaping and diving amongst the icy mangroves. He looked up at the sky and saw the web of stars. The spigots endured across the aeons because the nomads attended them. But even travelling at the speed of light, it could be a million years between one visit and the next. Time enough for a naive young species to take the first steps into space. Time enough for them to tinker with things they didn’t understand.
Ajax extruded a hacksaw from his pack and made his way towards one of the trees. He cut himself a shepherd’s crook, in the arch of which was a single web. A dream catcher.
“What are you doing?” Bronte asked.
“I‘m taking a specimen with us,” said Ajax. “I want it to sing at the reunion. I want our brothers and sisters to hear it.”
Ajax and Bronte left the grove of music and walked in silence back to their ship. Carefully they stored the siren.
By the time they left the system, it was the last of its kind.
Then they lay down to sleep, in the long nights and dark places.
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