“A Language of Worlds” by Preston Grassmann

“A Language of Worlds” by Preston Grassmann

As Koji entered the room, the weavers turned in their glass tanks. He watched the light pulsing in their bodies, flickering down through the filaments that flanked their translucent forms, and he could see the ideograms of their plan.

They were calling the sea.

“What do you see?” the researcher asked, impatiently. It was the third time they had brought him here, but there was nothing else he could say now. He had already told them.

“They’re calling the moon,” Koji said, staring out of the window of the tower, beyond the shore, where the grammar of the light flowered in his mind. Koji watched how the patterns opened through the ocean, the light-configuration of each body a single element in a vast ideogram. In the low gravity of the alien world, the waves fell slowly across the beach, leaving luminous trails across the sand and stone: a Rorschach made of phosphor and moonlight. In their patterns, he saw the spiral arms of galaxies, the hearth-fires of stars, the birth and death of worlds. The turquoise moon began to fracture, jagged lines forming like a shell about to crack.

Those who had first arrived on the world had theorized that the moon was a matrioshka machine: a system of layered, rotating shells, fueled by a heart of neutron stars. Some believed that it was designed to catalog worlds, making a small-scale replica of each world it visited, which were concealed within each layer of its shell. After years of examining the moon, scientists had only caught a glimpse of what might be inside, since the force-barrier between layers kept probes out of its interior. Through a gap in the ocean floor, they believe they had glimpsed a different atmosphere, but the signal died when they tried to move closer. What they knew for sure was that the outside was a smaller-scale version of the world it was orbiting now.

The researchers had taken weavers out of the sea, and brought them here to learn more about their language and the nature of the moon. The best of their linguists and biologists had failed. And then they heard about the boy who had recovered from his incurable condition, the autistic child who had found a way of deciphering the patterns of an alien language.

“The ocean will come,” Koji said. He could feel the moon breathing in his mind, the grammar of the sea and the sky opening. “And if you don’t release the weavers, the ocean will take them back.”

“The ocean?” one of the men asked, turning to look back at the others in the room. He watched the lights on the moon appear again, the pulsations growing, carrying their intent. Koji knew what the tides would bring, the gravitational forces in its heart.

“I’m tired of these games. We’re getting nowhere with you…” another man said, but then he turned to face the sea as he watched the waves rise up into vast pillars and walls of water, larger than the span of the towers. Koji heard the men running behind him, their screams and alarms fading beneath the vision of the sea; ocean fragments, darting shoals of sea-creatures, the weavers rising into the sky as if to meet the moon. The heart of the moon breathed in again, and its gravity carried the ocean up, where it surged around the towers of their city, rising along the walls like great serpents and the tendrils of octopi and where it flowed, the walls remained untouched, as if the tower was held in a shield, a shell. The men stood and watched the water surge around the platforms, the structures of their building surrounded by a thin pocket of air. The water had gathered above their tower, the moon a vague blue circle in the depths of the sea above them. Through each gathering layer of ocean, he watched the lights flicker between the weavers in their tanks and those beyond the glass. Some of the men stood at the edge of the window, knowing there was nothing they could do, so small they were in comparison to the power around them. Others continued to flee, frantic in their effort to find a place to escape.

A column of water shattered the window inward, and entered the room. It surrounded the tank and broke it into fragments of glass and as it took the occupants away, it left the men who remained in the room untouched.

Koji watched the weavers return to the sea, the ocean walls and columns retreating, but soon, he was inside another mind, seeing the tower and shore in the distance. He was part of the re-union, joining them in their movement, in their communion with the moon. Through their eyes, he could see the moon sending signals down in a familiar pattern of bright, jagged lines. It wasn’t an ideogram this time, but the pictogram of a memory. A shell, Koji thought; the one he had found once on the beach, with the Weaver still inside, alive as he took it back to the shore and released it. In those broken fragments, he could see the pattern of his own birth: the spiral arms of galaxies, the hearth-fires of stars, and worlds in waiting.

Preston Grassmann became a freelance writer after working as a regular reviewer for Locus Magazine. He was born in California and educated at U.C. Berkeley, where he lived on the same block as Philip K. Dick. His first published science fiction story, “Cael’s Continuum” appeared in Bull Spec in 2011. His recent stories and poems have been published in Nature Magazine (multiple contributor), Daily Science Fiction, Mythic Delirium, Caledonia Dreamin’, and Apex.