Spiderwebs

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Suspended in superposition, I dream. It shouldn’t be possible as my molecular imprint relocates from one star system to the next. But it happens, and I dream of Earth.

When my consciousness crystallizes in the vacuum of space I am horrified by this constantly impermanent alien form. I fight to escape it until I remember what I am, and how I got here.

Each time, the disorientation period shortens. The memory of the dream fades more quickly. That worries me. Will I forget that I was once human?

* * *

Baja California, Mexico, 2029

Lucas Roberts smiled, pointing at the air in front of him. “It’s marvellous. Empty space – then a beautiful web appears from nowhere.” Beyond his trembling hand, a spider worked tirelessly in the coral vine shading his wife’s headstone in the Panteón Jardín. “It’s masterful planar geometry,” he continued. “The low-stiffness threads line up perfectly to capture incoming prey. And wham!” He punched one hand into the other. “Kinetic energy transforms into strain energy in the spider-silk. The web survives.”

Amélie stepped forward and squatted down in front of the headstone. In an old, private ritual, she traced her fingers over the letters and numbers spelling out her mother’s name and dates. Then she straightened up, turned to Lucas and smiled. “Let’s get you home.”

He looked at her, his face clouded with suspicion. “Who are you?”

“I’m Amélie, your daughter. Remember?”

“Yes. Yes, I remember.”

She knew that he didn’t. With his dementia, all he remembered now was his lifelong obsession, spiders and their webs. He talked about them to the robotic nurse-assistants at the aged care home as they bathed him and put him to bed. “Pre-stressing of the web allows for vibrations to be transferred. All we see is an insect struggling, but to a spider, it’s a wealth of information. What kind of insect? How big? Is it healthy, or wounded?”

By dinnertime, he was exhausted. He ate less and less each day; Amélie knew he wouldn’t be with her much longer. When he was asleep, Amélie picked up the book on his bedside cabinet. A family heirloom, the yellowed, fragile pages were marked by the fingers of many generations. Detailed, delicate pictures told the Cree tale of Ehep, the giant spider who lowered the first man and woman to Earth on his spider-silk. She leafed through the pages, then rested the book in her lap and closed her eyes.

“Amélie.”

The voice penetrated her sleep. She struggled awake, groggy and disoriented.

“Amélie. Wake up.”

The book slid from her lap as she rose, mouth open in astonishment. “Dad?”

He smiled at her, his eyes perfectly clear. “Hello, Amélie.”

“Dad!” Tears welling in her eyes, she embraced him.

He lifted a hand to her face. “I love you,” he said. “That’s why you must listen very carefully.”

* * *

Many of us have been called to this dying star: united, we weave a symphony of entanglement in its hydrogen-depleted heart. Donor particles are drawn from throughout the universe, tunneled and stabilized: beryllium-infused neutron moderators hold catastrophic fission reactions in check as we manipulate wave function probabilities and destabilize the excess helium. Together we restore the star to a younger form, giving the nascent life on its circling planet time to develop and escape, as we once did, long ago.

* * *

Monument Valley, Arizona, 2037

“What is the purpose of your visit?” the Visitor Center’s holographic Ranger asked.

Amélie’s mouth opened, shut, and opened again. How could she explain that her father, in a lucid moment before he died, told her to bring an object hidden in the attic of his former home to somewhere he called ‘the center of the web’? And that although she was convinced it was a waste of time, she travelled to Muskingum, Ohio, where an ancient Hispanic gentleman let her look in his attic – after the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Drone came by, did a couple of hundred security checks and gave her a grilling before following her upstairs.

But there was something hidden under the floorboards of the attic, an object unlike anything she had ever seen. A perfect sphere, dull silver, completely inert until she looked away. Then, in her peripheral vision, patterns shivered across its surface, patterns which froze the instant she glanced at it.

A few weeks ago her brother gave her a couple of old USBs he found in his study. On it were scans of old family photos, including one of her dad standing under a rock formation, tagged as Spider Web Arch. Immediately she knew: the center of the web.

“What is the purpose of your visit?” repeated the Ranger.

“I’m going hiking,” Amélie said.

She arrived at the Arch the next evening by personal airlift. Leaving her backpack, she walked to the deepest point, and sat with the sphere in her lap.

“Okay, Dad,” she said out loud. “I’ve done what you asked.” Tears of love and sadness rolled down her cheeks.

As the night deepened, the sky was heavy with stars.

Suddenly the sphere pulsed with intense, silver-blue light. As the after-image faded, she looked up. Something beautiful yet terrifying descended towards her: huge, glowing, translucent, many-armed. She crawled backwards but it caught her, immobilized her. She couldn’t even blink. As she stared helplessly, she saw a humanoid shape forming inside it.

Before her brain could register that it was her own image, her consciousness winked out.

* * *

Our work complete, we scatter again. In the space between stars, I reach out and brush over the complex webs of entanglement which infuse our universe. Eventually I find what I seek: molecules bound to those in a long-lived yellow star in a barely inclined galactic orbit. That star has always called to me. One day it too will start to die. When that happens, I will gather my kind and give it life again.

About the Author: 
Jayanthi Roads is a medical administrator by day and wannabe Renaissance Woman by night. She fits law studies, flamenco dance and guitar, fitness activities and cat-slavery around her writing, supported by her very patient Better Half.