The hive lazily groaned awake. And at the same time, It lay down to rest. In truth, It never truly slept; some beings were active during the day while others favoured the night. Fewer were crepuscular, bridging the gap between life in the light and in the dark. Sunrise and sunset were troubling times, with microbes either powering down or coming to. But it was a predictable sort or confusion. Most things were. And it was always day and night, sunrise and sunset, somewhere on the Surface. Nothing like local disturbances, setting regions awake and abuzz, small and unpredictable. Oh, well. No fun to be had in a perfectly orderly world.
In the polar south, the day-world drew its first breath for this Cycle. Its long, long day. Millions of beings of different sizes, all blinking, all returning. Some were born, some had died. They would become food for the rest of the organisms. Had they been aware of being alive? Had they known of their role in the breath of the One? They must have, to an extent, in their simple microbial ways. The same way a fish is aware of the school (not that the One would know what fish are. Or schools). But the One could feel their life fluttering within it, so they must have been aware they were part of something, too. The process of metabolization of the dead had begun, the microbes organising in units to digest what organic components remained there now that life had fled. Did it make sense to conceive it in terms of life having fled? Simply because something was once part of a living being, and it no longer is, is it enough to count it as loss of life? Did individual microbes exist, outside the One, the hive?
A disturbance in the North, towards the Pole. Such things happen, sometimes. It is night in the North now. The long, long night. Flames in the dark sky. A foreign smell in the air. Curiosity, sharp from that unlit corner. All of the nocturnal beings in the hive, to the north, hold their breath in wonder, and the Southern diurnals’ attention is averted, too. The One waits, perplexed, as the blaze tumbles from frigid stars.
Agony, suddenly. Pain rips from a tiny corner of the One, pulsating, spreading like sickness. Billions of minuscule voices scream at once and fall silent. And the One knows it is that much diminished. The point of impact is small, from what It can tell, but the effect spreads wider and wider, lessening in intensity so that the greater the distance, the fewer beings are annihilated. Still many, though. Too many. The northern night is shaken after the event, its peaceful rhythm upset. The One is still roiling with pain by the time darkness steals westwards, and some Northern diurnals near the Pole awake to a bleaker world. Many – many more than the Cycle dictated – do not wake at all. They are not as stupefied as might be expected. Information, like pain, is also transmitted through the One. The closer the event, the greater and clearer the information. The pain and confusion are still searing, and the One knows there is something else, something foreign, radiating through the network of small lives, something burning and ominous, but It does know what it is. And if It does not, no-one does.
No matter. What is important, now, is assessing the damage. How much life has been lost? How much of the One’s capacity has been diminished? Has Its ability to transmit and process information been compromised? Is it possible to restore the deadened part? If so, how long will it take?
Despite the initial shock, the local unit has set to work almost immediately after impact. Metabolize, observe, preserve, propagate. That is what they do, after all. Therefore, when the One turns its attention to the site, there is already some information available. The sense of seared life is pungent in the air. Sub-units have crept closer, but a thick smoke fills the air, and the closer it gets, the more surviving microbes are distressed and upset, sending pained, useless messages. It is therefore up to the not-too-close ones to relay this vital information. The detachable units and microorganisms will float right to the site, in time. For now, all that can be said is that the object that made contact is cooling, as it is no longer searing its way towards the bedrock. A stratum of dead and decaying organisms, now, cushions the ones underneath it. It was, most likely, nothing too big. Had it been, the One would have suffered far greater damage; possibly even extinction. The threat of extinction sends a shiver of unease rippling through the hive. It is an echo of something distant, a rustle of a threat. Something that had happened, or rather nearly happened, in a very faraway past. Possibly. A time when all the microbes making up the present hive had not been born yet, and neither had their immediate predecessors. A sense of foreboding, passed down from one microbe to the next, from one facet of the One through the next, whispering through time. Not so different, all in all, from the way information travelled through the one from one end of the bedrock to the other, around the sphere. It was only more frayed.
Succour, organise. Cull the microbes that are too damaged, too panicked, too irretrievable. There is more information to be had now. The object was a disk, it seems; the microbes floating and swarming to it perceive a wide flat area. There are dents in it. Channels, valleys. Mostly straight, and thousands of microbes tall. But nothing to the scale of the One. It is, indeed, a very peculiar object. The material is nothing from this world. Too hard. Too smooth.
Something about it sets the One on edge. It is too perfect, too precise. Like millions and millions of microbes had arranged their dead, or parts of bedrock, in a particular shape. Like it has intention.
The One knows intention. The intention to propagate, to repair, to survive. But this intention is foreign. Because, as far as It can tell, it’s useless. Nothing lives, or propagates, through the making of this disk.
More microbes alight on the object. Underneath, the dead have been digested so that the living can reach the now-cool surface. More dread than ever courses through the hive. Because it is clear now that the dents and valleys (many, many microbes tall) have intention, too. An intention too small for the hive, and too big for the microbes, to decipher.
Awareness creeps through the One. Intention means Life. There is Life somewhere in the stars. Life that hurt the hive. Life that is hostile.
The One is neverending. Infinite. It perpetuates itself on and on through time, and there is not an end to it in space, for it is all the life there is and encloses all the bedrock. It will repair itself, and breathe. And this ordeal will be passed on, murmured through the generations, even after the present One has been digested over and over. And when the Ones of the Stars come, It will remember.