The Troubadours

“Hand me the baby,” the father said, moments left to spare.

“I won’t,” the mother forced between sobs.

“Now! This is not a debate —  there isn’t any time left!”

She clutched the child closer and took in the lingering smell of baby shampoo and sweat. Tears fell from her cheeks and onto the top of her baby’s head.

“Constance, please.”

She loosened her grip, allowing her partner to take their daughter. From the windswept rooftop, she could hear only her newborn’s cries. The powerful, ritual drumming from below seemed as faint noise.

The father cooed lovingly at the child and set her down into a small pod lined with soft linen. He closed the hatch and stepped back.

The percussionists’ poundings reached a crescendo, causing the parent’s auditory canals to bleed with protective waxes. Then the beat stopped.

Out of the silence, a meek, singular note played from somewhere deep within the planet. It stirred something inside of the craft, which, in turn, soothed the tiny passenger to sleep. The sound waned, and the chrome egg pod blasted into the darkening purple sky in a slight arc.

“We may be over, but the chosen continue,” they sang lowly and in unison. The couple found each other in an embrace, as they had for centuries. They watched the silver dot disappear behind black clouds snaked with electric-green lightning, free of the gory scenes below.

The pod escaped the final thick layer of atmosphere with a few bumps, momentarily stirring the baby. Only femtoseconds behind her vessel, hundreds of other tiny pods sped to join her. Some disintegrated in friction, others pulled through unscathed, winning the possibility of new horizons.

The baby was not alone in her craft. Joining her were several thousand frozen zygotes. They silently awaited instructions to develop, triggered by a landing sequence that would deploy somewhere far away in time and space. Together, these creatures comprised a tailored ecosystem necessary for her survival — so relentlessly designed to perfection that their genomes included safeguards to prevent evolution from disrupting their future.

The pod pulsed. Vibrations pushed air off of the walls in exacted order, causing oscillations in unseen mathematical curvatures. Energy from the atoms penetrated her cells in bounding criss-cross patterns. Inside of the baby’s tissues, microscopic mechano-receptors resonated with the audible frequencies. Once activated, the sensors turned latent genetic cascades on, coaxing her developmental program to grant her the body and mind required of a planetary pioneer.

To humans, this process would have sounded very much like a lullaby.

Part 2

Fashioned from the hollowed femur of a space whale — and what a rare sight those had been — the grey ship slowly rotated. Its asymmetric, wild exterior of plant growth flicked and pinged as it harvested strikes of stray energies, some massive, some subtle. Through small port windows of uneven crystal, obscured by webbed mycorrhizae, amber lighting glowed with variable intensity, betraying the movement of its crew through shadow.

Inside of the craft, two beings worked. Thousands of gifts, accrued over several millennia, took up the majority of the interior space, forcing them to work in close quarters. The mementos included, but were not limited to: children’s idols, preserved skeletal charms, novelty self-replicators, enclosed chalices of ether, and an array of instruments that had long outlived the cultures that created them. Each artifact gently swayed free of gravity but restricted by husk twine. This prevented their interference with the affairs of the space masters.

An ethereal chime graced the assembly square, interrupting (but harmonized with) their intense flute and horn jam session. The flutist released its instrument to suspension, and then glided over to a dusty and dim screen.

“Hmm. A lone traveler…”

“What class?” The second being spoke, keeping divine rhythm.

“Allow me a breath.” With a gentle hum from the first being, the baby’s pod was engulfed by the action of several million scanning lasers. “Just a babe. She’s got a zoo on board. Must be a survivor. And she’s mechano-”

The second being ceased blowing and flashed something like a smile. “Excellent. Let’s have a listen, then.”

The first being yanked a rusty lever, filling the ship with the pod’s hymn through crackling speakers.

“Peaceful. But no, this won’t do. As it stands, she’ll end up recapitulating every crisis that unfolded on her home world. It would be cruelty, insanity, or ineptitude to desire this album to play out again.”

“Is there time?”

“Plenty. We must intervene.”

“I will add bass, yes?”

“Do it. I’ll need some specialty melodies to reach her inheritance programs — they’re buried deep.” The second being positioned a windpipe in one of its mouths, and used three appendages to wail a boxy device that resembled an accordion.

Throughout the endless night, they transmitted their music back to the pod. The baby scrunched her brow. “How could they know about my purpose?” she briefly wondered, in a kind of upset, underdeveloped cognition. But she was already smart enough to realize she wasn’t yet smart enough to know and gave in to restful slumber, instead.

The two ships sailed together for ages — though it would be a mistake to consider this a long journey for either party. They encountered no other visitors and were, at last, only several light years away from the pod’s destined planet.

Suddenly, a detector-harp in the pair’s craft played an overwhelming, discordant tune for a moment.

“What’s the problem, now?”

“A rogue solar flare is approaching us and fast — a sterilizer, for sure, I’m afraid.”

The troubadours quickly grabbed a few violins and a single, extended harmonica, and played a short piece. Soon their ship’s protective shield was reassigned to shelter the pod.

“Would you kindly remove the evolution-inhibitors from her menagerie with some vocals? Falsetto will do it, I’m sure. She’ll need the freedom after she lands, for that planet is not as safe as it was upon her departure.”

“And ourselves? We’re, to put it softly, vulnerable.”

“Should we worry about the end after teasing oblivion for as long as we have? Just make it to the last note. Nobody likes an unfinished song.”