Where ice meets fire
Cyan stopped counting her age at around 270. She’s ready to die.
Having lived through the big migration to New Mars, dozens of binary star sunsets and spacewalks on the Tannhäuser Gate, there’s not one thing she regrets. She put on her favorite dress and hitchhiked all the way to Gliese 436b to spend her last moments walking on the beautifully scorching ice. It felt like a poetic way to go.
Unfortunately, the immense pressures and destructive temperatures felt like nothing but pleasant tingles. Extremophiles don’t die easily.
Right as she was zoning out with the nice little fiery sparkles tingling her toes, the ship fired up in the distance. “Wait up!” Cyan yelled out as she ran towards it. “Where to?”
They took off to Io, where she hoped that a swim in the most aggressive lava in the Solar System would finally set her free.
Cyan muttered a quick goodbye, grabbed a kayak and went into the lava river. Alone with just the sound of lava popping and bubbling, she stood tall on the kayak and took a deep breath. “Here goes nothing”.
Leap, splash, plunge.
Time passed, and again nothing happened. No burns, no pain. Just the feeling of a mild sunburn. Still way too alive and well, she silently went back to the ship asking to hitch yet another ride.
Mars was abandoned after the lakes turned deadly, so it’s now a home to thieves. They all know better than to touch the lakes — nobody has ever survived a dive. Yet, the lakes remain a prime location to prey on wanderers and tourists. The pilot stayed safe in the neutral zone, going about his resource collection there, while Cyan went straight for the lakes.
“Stop right there or I’ll blaze you” the silhouettes in the distance warned.
“You’d do me a favor” Cyan shouted and kept on walking right through the fiery wall they surrounded her with. She walked past them and went straight for the lakes. They were taken aback and let her be, observing intently at a distance.
She dived straight in. Silence. Minutes passed. The silhouettes started mumbling that she must be dead by now and slowly made their way towards the lake. Cyan re-emerged unscathed and muttered “Bummer”. They ran the hell out of there.
“If Mars’ lakes won’t kill me then Triton’s will”, Cyan was telling herself before taking one last exotc swim in the nitrogen lake. As she gradually submerged, her skin started losing sensation, pins and needles washed over her in waves, breathing became harder and everything went dark.
Why did it go dark? Isn’t it supposed to get bright? Cyan wondered. She then noticed her own thoughts. They’re still here. That ain’t good.
Neptune unleashed a loud cyan-colored glow, as if calling her name. “Cyan…” She opened her eyes and got mildly angry at it upon realizing she’s still alive. She then chuckled about getting angry at a planet.
Her sensation was coming back and her body adapted to the nitrogen. Her mind was already racing with ways to ask for another ride without overstaying her welcome.
“I’ve never met an Extremophile before” the pilot admitted, “What’s it like?”
“Follow me.” Cyan took off her protective suit, put on her skis and whooshed down. “Thoroughly boring.” She rolled around in the lethal snow, playing with it as if it was sand on a beach.
They spent hours on the -370 °F snow on top of the frozen spaceship ruins, making up stories about them. She showed no signs of hypothermia.
Sunset rays blanketed the slope. “I’ve got just the place for you. If you need another ride, that is.”
Glass everywhere. In the air too.
Cyan found it hilarious that even the most aggressive molten glass rain felt like jelly beans softly bouncing off of her skin. She tried eating one. Nope, it was glass. This time the pilot stayed in. Speeding shards didn’t sound exciting enough for a mere mortal.
A small group of robot settlers used the planet’s inhospitality as a guarantee for perpetual freedom. They tried to help her end her life to no avail and then mentioned another renegade tribe forgotten by humanity, hiding on the darkest of planets. They might know something nobody else does.
Cyan went back to the ship.
The pilot noticed her discomfort. “Hey, as long as there’s resources I can sample, I’m down to go anywhere.”, he added.
Tres2b truly lived up to its reputation. The vantablack terrain looked like a shadow, with an impossible-to-understand topography. Walking was slow and stumbly. A walking stick would’ve been nice.
Cyan found the tribe of cyborgs, worshipping an ancient human religion. With a twist. Their God was called… Chaos. “Find Chaos near the origin point. Seek incomprehensible colors. Only Chaos can kill the unkillable.” they told her. The cryptic answers left much to be desired, but Cyan was already a bit weirded out.
The pilot had to do a brief stop to the home lab for resource analysis, so they returned to New Mars. He was torn between helping Cyan die and hoping she won’t. He hadn’t had this much fun in years.
“Let’s continue next week, hm?,” he suggested.
In the meantime, Cyan couldn’t stop thinking about Chaos. It all seemed ridiculous, such nonsense… With a hint of curiosity and hope. Could any of it be real? Someone told her to look for a relic on the Diamond planet and she felt a tinge of excitement. Odd.
55 Cancri E boasted rich diamond refractions sparkling up the quadrillion dollar hills. Cyan was hiking up and down the hills for days, until she spotted a large, unnaturally perfect sphere. Closer inspection revealed a small script near its base which pointed to Earth as the origin point.
“Find Chaos near the origin point,” she recalled the words by the cyborg tribe, and it all clicked. There was no other option. It had to be the place closest to Earth, in the unremarkably bare lands where nobody would look. Must be the Moon.
Cyan felt a wave of emotion. This was the last clue to her freedom.
There it was! A tall, imposing monolith, disappearing in the clouds.
Cyan knew she had to take the rest of the path alone. Parting ways with a friend never got easier.
She walked right up to its colossal, motionless surface. One step closer and the surface lit up, glowing with swathes of inexplicable colors, behaving like a solid and a liquid at the same time. Her mind got pierced by immense curiosity, opening up a highway for memories. The sudden influx of information caused deafening agony, but she decided to push on with it and embrace the experience.
One after another, she lived through the memories of the mind of a collective. All individual minds were intact but they took a novel form to create something that’s more than just the sum of their parts. Cyan concluded that this is how Chaos communicates, most likely not understanding the pain it’s causing.
The agony would kill anyone short of an extremophile, which illuminated Chaos’ status as a fearful God. Cyan continued pushing on. She finally started to understand its motivations and dreams — It aims to shape the universe and has the immense power to do so. It is strikingly pure and peaceful.
At that moment, she felt like she had no choice. She wanted to be a part of it, never wanting anything more than this. Her life felt full of meaning again and suddenly, 270 years felt like barely a speck in the timeline.
Cyan confidently stepped into the monolith, her body got engulfed by it and its glow grew a little stronger.