Author: Dave Ludford

Had he been walking at a faster pace or with any real sense of purpose Ryan Jennings would have missed it completely. Scuffing the forest floor aimlessly however with first one foot then the other, his meanderings revealed something that he at first thought was some kind of weird seed or pod that had been covered by a small pile of dry autumn leaves. He stooped to pick it up: it was approximately the size of a peach stone, metallic blue-gray in color and felt cold to the touch. His curiosity was further piqued as it seemed to be breathing, pulsing as it was with a tiny amount of energy. He held it between thumb and forefinger and brought it closer to his eye, the better to examine it more closely. It began to pulse more intensely.
It was at that point he felt a sharp pain in his finger, like someone had jabbed his skin with a needle. Uttering a mild expletive he instinctively- and with more than a hint of panic- tried to shake it off but it clung resolutely to his finger. He flicked at it with the fingers of his other hand but it still wouldn’t budge. It was firmly anchored.
“I’ll be damned…first you sting me, now you won’t let go!”
The pain he’d felt soon subsided and Jennings began to feel a peace and calm he’d not felt for a long time flow slowly through his body, overcoming him and diminishing the worries and anxieties that had recently plagued him. Soft static crackled in his head like a mistuned radio and he felt instantly certain the pod was attempting to communicate with him in a language he couldn’t recognize but which, on a far deeper level, he understood perfectly. He intuitively felt the meaning rather than understanding individual words strung into a narrative. There were images, too, flickering like early silent movies; a jumble of images that at first didn’t make sense. It was as if the narrative and images were out of sync and it took several minutes for the two to become reconciled. When they did, and Jennings slowly began to understand what was being communicated to him, he felt deep, overwhelming emotion.
“Oh jeez, this is just mind-blowing,” he whispered.
The pod referred to itself as ‘refugee intelligence’ which had been distilled into small vessels, one of which Jennings had discovered and which he now held. It had been one of a dozen, containing as they did the entirely preserved language, culture, science and philosophy of an advanced race whose planet- many millions of light years from earth- had been almost entirely destroyed by a civil war of attrition that had lasted for several centuries. The pods were the only means to ensure that the intelligence would survive and could be shared with other cultures. The vessels had been launched and flung to various far corners of the universe, trusting to luck they’d find host planets that would be welcoming, would tap into and benefit from a vast, immeasurable source of knowledge.
They hadn’t. They’d been thought of as a plague or pestilence and destroyed; contact with the others had been lost completely. The one Jennings held was the last of its kind and the fate of the intelligence was literally in his hands. The choice was simple: crush it and destroy it forever, or let the pod detach itself and share its erudition.
Jennings showed no hesitation. He raised his hand and opened his palm.