Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Yakshantariksh

The Yakshantariksh is beyond one’s imagination, yet that is where its existence is made manifest. It is a being so real that it can only be sensed by that most intangible of organs: the mind! What a delightful paradox! And yet it is so. It was discovered in a dream—supporting evidence came later. Thus a tick living on the body of an elephant may never realize the elephant exists, unless, perhaps, the elephant speaks to it mind to mind. So it is with the Yakshantariksh, which is as vast, perhaps vaster than galaxies. Its great bulk coils around the Milky Way, its torso curling in the dark spaces between the spiral arms, the tip of its tail resting not far from the event horizon of the central black hole. Perhaps the tail has a mouth at the end that sips delicately at the radiation emitted as matter falls into the black hole, while the gravity of the hole itself keeps Yakshantariksh tethered to the galaxy.

I know it exists because it has spoken to me. It came to me first in a dream, as I’ve said, registering an enormous surprise that I existed. I would have dismissed it as a dream-creature but for the fact that I felt its presence in my mind again in broad daylight, while I was awake—like a tendril it was, an experimental hand reaching out, tentative, uncertain, as though I had been the dream. I was washing dishes at the sink, making a big clatter to drown out the fact that I was upset about something, when I felt it. I sensed, all of a sudden, an indescribable Himalayan vastness—and following its first surprise, a loneliness like a tsunami. Oh, how useless our human-made, human-sized words are, how inadequate for a being that is so far beyond space and time! Later, while I was working on my calculations, I felt a sudden urge to tear up the sheets and throw them away, because what do we know, after all? If the Yaksha exists, how can anything we know be the final truth?

Lately other people have been posting things on the internet about odd sensations in their heads, like a mild possession, by something improbably huge. I think the Yaksha, having found me by sheer chance, is dipping into other consciousnesses, discovering, delighting in the newfound knowledge that it is not alone. I have seen a pariah dog stop in its tracks while crossing the road, nearly being hit by a car—the dog shakes his head in surprise exactly as though something, someone, has reached into its mind—then carries on, bemused. I wonder whether the Yaksha is a little drunk with the discovery that there is Other. Surely that means that the Yaksha has, for the first time, become conscious of itself?

Perhaps because I was the first, it visits me—or so I like to think—more often than other beings. Sometimes I catch glimpses of where it’s been—in my mind appear vistas of city streets and mountain peaks, from the vantage points of humans, beasts, butterflies—and also strange worlds: angular-winged creatures with tapering snouts flying over a pink sea under a pale, purple sky. I see fierce red suns and diaphanous nebulae, and regions of impenetrable darkness. I wonder if my thoughts are transparent to it during these visitations—what it might make of credit card bills and dirty laundry.

I’ve named it after the ancient Yaksha of myth, the guardian spirit of trees and springs. To imagine that it is a guardian spirit of any sort, let alone of the antariksh, the cosmos, is a leap of faith, I know. But I can’t help thinking of it as essentially benign. A creature so enormous can have no need to defend itself, to fight others. If, as I suspect, it feeds on the energy of the central black hole and the stars, it need not hunt for prey. Nor would it need to reproduce, because it is probably nearly as old as the universe and has no need to fear death. Perhaps it is immortal, or at least as immortal as a galaxy. The tensions that drive us small species would be completely foreign to my Yaksha.

I have figured out that it is made of dark matter. What else would render it invisible to our telescopes? The bulk of its body must lie outside the galaxy, which would explain the rotation curves that first hinted of dark matter. I imagine its great, sinuous torso following the spiral curve of the galaxy’s arms. The dark matter diffuses thinly from the main body into the space between the stars—we breathe it in, you and I, a tiny fraction with each breath. In a sense we—stars, planets, all that is made of “normal” matter so rare in the universe—are riding the body of the Yaksha as it drifts through space. Who can tell which is the rider and which the mount?

When the Yaksha gives me a sense of its shape, I see something rather like Ananta-naga, the great world-serpent, but with multiple mouths along its length. I believe these mouths allow it to feed on radiation from the surrounding stars. There was that case a few years ago of a star that was expected to go supernova, and didn’t. Astronomers thought they had made a mistake, but I think it was only the Yaksha, delicately siphoning matter and energy off the swollen giant, rather like a giraffe, with its prehensile lips, savoring fruit on a branch, leaving behind the stone.

The recent discovery of the possibility that tachyons exist, in which I had a small part to play, is, I believe, another indication that the Yaksha is real. To retain its integrity as an organism, the Yaksha cannot depend on a nervous system like ours—think how long it would take for an impulse to travel even at close-to-light-speed over the extent of the galaxy! No, I believe its nervous system uses tachyons, particles traveling faster than the speed of light, along specific paths that perhaps give some hint of the Yaksha’s large-scale structure. I have named these hypothetical pathways Sudarshan Channels in honor of the first person to come up with the idea of tachyons.

Thanks to its accidental intrusion into my consciousness and those of others, the Yaksha now knows it exists as an entity. Drifting across the void of space, clutching the galaxy to its breast, it had only known a sleepy contentment—but now, when it comes to visit, its loneliness sometimes overwhelms me; it is a kind of vertigo, like standing on the slope of a mountain that falls away into infinity. I am recently alone for the first time in my life, but my sense of being alone is a small, atomic-sized thing compared to what it feels. I give it what I hope are comforting thoughts, a small echo of the comfort its presence brings me—but I have no idea if it comprehends anything. All I sense in return is a vast, benign curiosity. It wants to know the universe through my eyes. Everything and anything is interesting to it: a twig, a plastic straw, a house, a mountain, have equal value. But the thing that fascinates it most is consciousness. It is child-like in its interest in the mynahs at the window, the pariah dog I feed in the mornings, and, of course, human beings. Sometimes it sends me images accompanied by a feeling that indicates a question. I see in my mind a bacterium, a mosquito, a denizen of another planet. What is it asking? What does it want to know? I speak to it aloud when I am alone, telling it what I know about such things. When it communicates, the primary sense is visual (is that because it is speaking through my brain?) although at other times I smell things: metallic, burning, richly sulfurous, familiar, unfamiliar. There are moments when I feel as though I am on the edge of a sensation that is foreign to anything humans have: not touch, nor sight, nor sound nor smell, nor taste—but something else. I have the strongest desire to experience the universe through this sense but I presume my mind is too limited, and all I have are hints of wonder.

Lately it’s been sending me images on a much larger scale: other galaxies around our own, made unrecognizable by its different and shifting perspectives. I can guess what it is trying so say: Are there others of my kind, wrapped around those distant spirals? Perhaps it is, for the first time, reaching out beyond its own neighborhood, to where other Yakshas might lie coiled, embryo-like, around each cosmic egg. I have been thinking about what these great beasts, pastoralists of the cosmos, might say to each other. Alone, yet separated, both like and unlike humans. When my solitude began I used to wonder whether humans really understand each other or if instead we labor to create an illusion that we do—if in fact all human relations are nothing but a great lie that we must believe for our sanity. Touch, after all, is an illusion: What I feel when I touch someone is not the person but the intermolecular forces between our ever-separate skins. Yet if the Yaksha’s companions exist (and why not? this is a generous universe), then they are truly separated, are they not, by that unimaginable void between galaxies?

At the same time it is also true that nothing is really separate. We all swim in the sea of the vacuum, which is a place bubbling with exchanges of matter and energy, a cauldron of potentialities. Perhaps the way my Yaksha will know of the existence of others of its kind is through subtle messages in the vacuum, in space and time itself. I wonder if they will call to each other, like cows in an alpine meadow at sunset. I think of the fact that the local group of galaxies, including our Milky Way, is hurtling toward some unknown place at some six hundred thousand meters per second: a place that scientists have called the Great Attractor. What does Yakshantariksh know about our destination? Since its awakening to itself and others, it must have sensed that pull as something beyond mere gravity. Does it know where we are going and why?

I can just imagine them, the great Yakshas, hearing the call that is deeper and more insistent than any other, like the cowherd’s call that brings the cows home. Recently, I have begun to feel something, too—as though something is calling me. After drifting like a blinded moth through my life, I am at last conscious of a mooring rope, a faint but persistent signal through the noise, pulling me toward a kind of destiny. Is it merely a psychological shift common to those who suddenly find themselves alone at a late age, and must adjust to survive? Or is it that I’ve begun to hear it, too, the call of the Great Attractor, through the mind of the beast that is Yakshantariksh? Strange terms have begun to appear in my equations; most days, I find myself poised at the edges of great truths. Perhaps I am succumbing to a happy, harmless insanity—or maybe my Yaksha is giving me a hint, an answer to a question I cannot begin to fathom.

Vandana Singh

Vandana Singh

Vandana Singh is an Indian science fiction writer living in the Boston area. She has a Ph.D. in theoretical particle physics and teaches physics full-time at a small and lively state university. Her recent short fiction includes “Of Wind and Fire” in the anthology To Shape the Dark.  Many of her stories have been reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and she is a winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award. Recent work includes a novella, “Entanglement,” in the anthology Hieroglyph, and “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination” at Tor.com. She has a website at vandana-writes.com and a blog at vandanasingh.wordpress.com.