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Genius Loci
by J. Michael Straczynski
page 8
     "What is it?" the elder asked.
     "A question.  Since the dawn of recorded time, my race and every other has turned its attention to understanding the universe, to discovering the ultimate meaning of our lives.  You have an advantage-you can bring the unified collective consciousness of an entire planet to the process. So I ask: Have you solved that question?  Have you touched the unknowable?"
     "I…" The elder paused, seemed momentarily to lose focus.  The he shook off the distraction.  "Yes, we have.  When we became conscious, it was our first thought: Who are we?  And where did we come from?  We needed to define ourselves against the universe.  So yes, we did ask that question, and after years spent dwelling on this one question, we finally received an answer.  We know the meaning of all this, the importance of…"
     The elder paused again.  Looked at G'Kar.  His eyes widened.  "The other…"
     He nodded.  "She… is not like the others.  Stronger.  We had thought she was the same."
     "You were wrong."

The image came into her thoughts: Buried deep in the planet's upper crust, a kind of bacteria, a microscopic lifeform that had all the classic traits of individual neurons… it evolved with the other native lifeforms, infected them over the course of millions of years, created a symbiotic life cycle… took root in their own neural relays until they reached a kind of critical mass, until they were answerable to and controlled by the greater neural biomass.
     There were miles and miles of the bacterial matter coiled far beneath the surface, where it was warm, and moist, and safe.
     Correction: where it believed itself to be safe.
     She struck with a massive telepathic attack.  She felt the hive mind reel under the assault, feel it struggle to meet her attempts to disorient it and shred its neural patterns.  It was unprepared-it had never thought it could be attacked in this way.
     Eyes shut, she heard the creatures stampeding toward her, propelled by fear. Kill her, kill her, do it now.
     She knelt, dug her fingers into the dirt, and pierced the hard ground with her thoughts.  She was sweating, shaking, but refused to pass out.  Break the neural link, overload the faux-synaptic pathways, neutralize the electro-

chemical transmissions, break, overload, neutralize, break, overload, neutralize…
     Far below, something massive and moist began to tear.
     Blackness surged upward, rising behind her eyes.
     In her mind, a planet screamed.

When she opened her eyes again, G'Kar was standing over her.  They were back in the Na'Toth, and she was covered with biosensors.  She tried to sit up, but the world kicked slantwise beneath her.
     "Don't move," he said.  "I found you on the ground and carried you back.  Your heart stopped for a moment, and I thought you weren't going to come back."
"… the animals…"  Her voice was thin, a whisper.  Her head was pounding, and there was the coppery taste of blood in her mouth.  Must've popped a vein,  she thought casually.
     "They were wandering around aimlessly when I found you.  Whatever joined them together, it is now gone.  Can you tell me what happened?"
     Between careful sips of water, she did.
     G'Kar digested the information for a moment before saying, "You killed an entire planet?"
     "It pissed me off," she said, and shrugged.  "I killed the main body of the telesymbiotic biomass, but I don't have any illusions that I got all of it.  It'll build back up to critical mass eventually, but it'll take centuries before it can exert enough influence to pull together a new planetary hive mind on the scale of what we saw here."
     She focused on him.  It hurt. "I could feel you talking to the entity toward the end," she said.  "You helped me get in by distracting it.  I don't know what you asked, but it must have been one hell of a question, because nearly all of the entity was focused on it. What was it?"
     "Oh… nothing important," he said, fighting what she suspected was an ironic smile.  "Nothing important at all."
     With that, he turned, headed back into the cockpit, and fired up the engines.
     For the next several minutes, the only sounds in the ship were the roar of the engines, and G'Kar in the forward compartment… laughing.

Author :  J. Michael Straczynski
Amazing Stories / Winter 2000

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