It’s dark outside, they’ve turned off the artificial lights to keep everyone’s body clocks healthily ticking. You’ve had to sneak away out of your shared dormitory quarters and borrow one of the patrolman’s ID cards to get in here. And here you are. The massive greenhouse, under a high domed ceiling supported by great curving beams encrusted with bright white lights to simulate a natural environment for plants in the most hostile of environments. The lights are on a timer too, and the control room will be alerted if they are on for more than five unauthorised minutes. You must be quick, but you know just where you’re going.
For now the limited species of plants that have been selected for continued survival are to be stored away safely until you arrive on Enceladus, Saturn’s most habitable moon, where the first fleet of humans - including you - is making its way towards. The trip is eight years, and the six that have elapsed have grown steadily more tiresome. The only things to pass the time are going to the gym, reading - you’ve completed nearly the whole library by now - and listening to the same gossip that has cycled around the ship since day one, now sour and stale in an echo chamber of repetition. Now the whole ship feels grey.
But two weeks ago, during one of the routine stops for repair and restock of the ship’s supplies at one of the many bases that exist through the solar system, you overheard something that has had your ears burning since you heard it.
“A revolution of science…”
“Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…”
“It could change the world…”
Unable to shake off the thought of such mystery, and bored out of your mind with nothing else to occupy it, you finally succumbed to investigating the supposed ‘revolution of science’.
The structure you’re looking for is a small dome, with restricted access to the rest of the ship, in a separate, highly secure area of the already locked-down greenhouse. Only crew members are allowed to handle or even hear of its contents - but with a stolen keycard you have the authority to do almost anything.
You cringe as the door opens with a loud beep, but no one comes running, so you figure you’re in the clear. A soft mist escapes the dome’s opening door. Your hands tremble and a sharp breath sucks into your lungs as you feel yourself getting closer to something - you don’t know why but you can sense yourself being tugged towards whatever is behind the mist. Your stomach churns.
As the mist clears you exhale, and know that the next breath you take will be one from a different lifetime, a different view on existence entirely.
In the centre of the domed room is a stand, on top of which rests an unopened… something. Papery petals fold inwards to create a shell through which the finest black strands poke, light as feathers. The unbloomed vessel doesn’t seem to weigh anything, but the energy it sends rippling through your hands as you tentatively pick it up after removing its lid is enough to make your arms ache. It occurs to you that it is a plant, though resembles none you can remember ever having seen. Your eyes lower to the inscription of the stand - SPEC0-UM.
SPEC0-UM. In the fog of your mind you begin to decode the letters and single number.
SPEC0-UM. Species Zero, Unclassed Meteor. This thing was found floating about in space, existing without an ozone or water or heat or oxygen. Nothing but the vacuum of space and a cold rock to keep it company.
Mesmerised, you lower your head to have your lips meet the dusty pink flesh, not realising you were meaning to whisper to it until you did so.
You tell it all the earthly things you know.
And it blooms.
You gasp as a bright blue light gleams from within the gaping lips, the reflected light turning your irises white. Its energy is stronger than ever, your whole body vibrates with the waves of electricity it sends through you and the air around it. Wispy tendrils of illumination, similar to the black strands of feathery material, burst and coil from the blue brilliance’s belly. Like dew, beads of light slide along the ropes and drift off, quivering into the air and forming a radiant corona around your head.
You don’t know how long you’re there for, but after what feels like a lifetime the petals close. The light begins to dim, and sucks back into the blossom. When the seams of the petals have disappeared into one another and no more light blooms from within, the artificial greenhouse’s lights seem dull.
You place it gently back on its stand under the lid, exit the domed greenhouse, the door swiping shut instantly. You sneak out of the greenhouse, arriving at the entrance noiselessly. The sensor lights darken as you slip out of the door, and you realise that during the infinity that passed while you held the forbidden flower, only two minutes had elapsed.
Leaving behind dark greenhouse, whose giant glass panels swell and press against the black starry sky, you steal back to your dormitory. The ship is quiet and all there is to hear is the silence of ten thousand people sleeping through the artificial night. But as you lay your head on your pillow and stare out at the trillions of bright dots that sprinkle the black velvet vacuum, you know you won’t sleep.
Its light is in your heart and blood and bones and mind, and the breaths you take now are of a different world than the one you knew five minutes ago. Who knew something in the cold heart of space could bloom so beautifully.
You don’t sleep, and you don’t again for days. It fills your mind, the memory of it.
The first unearthly lifeform known to humanity.
Best read while listening to something from Thom Yorke's Anima album, or perhaps some Brian Eno.