What are these beautiful structures I see on our screen?
Dendrites, my dear Lieutenant. Dendrites.
Not if they’re made up of galaxies! You act as though you slept all through astrocartography. And you know what, you did because I was always taking notes for you! Which is why I’m a Lieutenant – here she tapped the badge on her chest – and you’re still an Ensign.
That was the year of the coffee shortage, he groaned. Besides, I double majored and you didn’t. I don’t even know why they assigned you to a science ship. He said this last with an affectionate smile.
Science ships need astrotechs too, not just dreamers –
Researchers, he cut in.
Dreamers, she reaffirmed. And about that coffee: the rest of us made do with the synth but you refused to drink it. She smiled as she tapped some figures into the holopanel. But, Ensign, these structures are definitely made up of stars. And they stretch forever.
You missed the staff meeting. The higher-ups talked about potential large-scale sentience. But your… space dendrites… they can’t think. Can they?
Well, dendrites don’t think. At least, not on their own. They’re only extensions, parts of a whole. He shook his head. Really pretty, though. At least these ones. He programmed the sweep as deftly as he could manage and finally lifted his hands from the holopanel. There. Now the scan could resume, in the more efficient pattern they had devised.
She frowned, wrinkling her nose. It’s a funny word. They sound like space creatures. Dendrites.
He laughed at her expression. What he was telling her was tremendously silly. The meeting had been about the scans, not about sentience. These weren’t dendrites, though they looked it. They were the vast sheets of stars and galaxies that swept and rippled through space, somehow forming structures that mirrored what was found down in the microscopic subspaces of minds.
The galaxy cluster breathed in the thoughts of its countless worlds as synapses bound the stars, he intoned solemnly.
Her eyes lit up. You’re teasing me! She exclaimed. The one time I miss a meeting-
Maybe, he answered impishly, trying unsuccessfully to meet her eye. But at least I do it in style.
But what if… what if this galaxy cluster really did think? What if these dendrites of yours really are real? And the galaxies and stars and planets… every thought anyone ever had on any of those billions of planets, it goes into this system? And it’s amplified, and sent along?
Now who’s teasing? He smiled. Maybe. But wouldn’t it be grand?
They watched the ripples of the galaxy cluster on the screen, slowly being reconstructed through their work, for all they could see from their vantage point in real space-time was two nearly empty coffee cups and a cluttered desk; beyond, a mass of shining stars peering in through the plexi window. Bright and beautiful, but in their eyes it was structurally undefined. Until they swept it with their scans, finished their models, and sent these along to the astrocartographers.
Dendrites! The things you come up with! More coffee to stimulate your own dendrites perhaps, Ensign?
They both laughed.
Outside the ship, though they did not know it, the galaxy cluster laughed with them.
Story and photo © 2017 Clio Em.
This story was published on Medium in the publication Misplaced Identity.