“Let’s catch one.” A smile crept onto Dave Shackleton’s face.
Ravi Kapoor nodded in agreement. “We have the equipment. They seem to be drawn to the microwave transmitter.”
Dave and Ravi positioned the collector and waited. The particles of energy they were hunting veered past the lunar laboratory, as if for a closer look, before continuing on their journeys through space. It took less than a day before their trap caught one.
Dave and Ravi wheeled the containment device into the lab and deposited it in the center.
Dave bent down to look inside. “It looks like there is a spark in there.”
“That’s what we’ll call it,” Ravi said. “A spark.”
“What is it?” Dave asked.
“Well, my friend, that’s what we’re going to find out,” Ravi said.
After two weeks, it was apparent that Dave and Ravi weren’t as good at analyzing the sparks as they were at capturing them. Hundreds of containment devices cluttered the lab. Answers weren’t as plentiful.
“I think the sparks on this side of the lab are brighter,” Ravi said.
“It just looks like that because they’re closer to us.”
“Follow me,” Ravi and Dave walked to the other side of the lab while watching the sparks.
“I think you’re right. They get brighter as we pass,” Dave said.
“Watch this.” Ravi turned off the lights to the lab and they watched as groups of sparks brightened and dimmed together.
“Hey, can we get the lights back on,” Anatoly called from across the lab. “We’re working here.”
“Yeah, sorry.” Ravi turned the lights back on.
“Look at those sparks next to Anatoly,” Dave said. “They’re the brightest of the lot.”
Dave and Ravi walked over to observe the sparks next to Anatoly, who was working with several other scientists on a large interactive screen.
“It appears that the asteroid broke apart on impact,” Anatoly said. “We found one piece right below our feet.” He drew a rough circle on the screen, representing a crater. “We are right here.” He placed an ‘X’ near the top of the circle. “The main strike was here.” He placed another ‘X’ in the middle of the circle and then indicated a series of calculations on the screen. “Based on where we found this piece of the asteroid, its size, the angle of impact, and the distance below the surface, I was able to calculate the impact velocity. We can estimate where to find the other pieces based on that.”
“I think your coefficient of friction is incorrect,” Marta said. She reached toward the board, but the equation fixed itself right before their eyes. She pulled her hand back as if she’d been bitten.
The soft hum of the containment devices filled the chilling silence.
“The sparks?” Dave whispered.
Anatoly wrote another equation on the screen, with a glaring error. The sparks nearest them became brighter and corrected the equation.
CHAPTER 1 - GOODBYE
Earth was in its waning phase. Low on the horizon, its blue and white swirls graced the lunar sky. At this time of the month, the sun crouched behind the crater wall, casting a ragged shadow that fell meters short of the community buildings. The darkness allowed the brightest stars to be seen against the black sky. As the shock of what Keith just said began to sink in, tears filled Allyson’s eyes, causing the stars and Earth to ripple out of focus.
“You’re going back to Earth?” She stared at Earth through the clear dome of Keith’s room in the community buildings, avoiding his eyes.
Keith rubbed her shoulder as they sat on the tiny sofa bed. “I’m sorry. I can’t stand living on the moon any longer. I want to be able to step outside and feel grass between my toes and wind in my hair. Hell, I miss having hair.” He frowned as he ran his fingers across his crew cut.
When Allyson first met Keith in college, he had long hair. It made sense he resented the Lunex policy requiring lunar employees to keep their hair no more than two inches long.
“How much water can possibly be saved by not having to wash long hair?”
Allyson didn’t want to discuss water. They both knew the only water on the moon came from ice found in the mine. It was a rare commodity.
“When do you leave?” Allyson asked.
“On the next shuttle, Friday,” he said. After a short pause, he added, “Come with me.”
She noticed his hesitation and hit him on the shoulder. “How long have you been thinking about this?”
“Let’s see, I’ve been here for a year, so I’ve been thinking about leaving for about eleven months.”
She punched him lightly again. “You could only give me a few days’ notice?” She looked around the small, tidy apartment. Most of his personal items were already in the Plastipak. Payload restrictions prevented anyone from bringing many personal items. One Plastipak up, one Plastipak back. “You really don’t want me to come back with you, do you?”
“Of course I do.” He kissed her on the neck. “I love you, Allyson. Please come with me.”
“You know I can’t leave now.” Allyson wiped the tears from her face.
Keith pulled a small packet of waterless wipes from the pack and handed it to her. She waved it away, embarrassed that he noticed her tears.
Keith tossed the wipes toward the pack. “I only really made up my mind yesterday. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Morale is low right now. It’s time.”
“I’ve seen a drop in morale at the labs too,” Allyson agreed. “The Russians used to walk around like they owned the place. Now they do own the place.”
“Exactly,” Keith said. “They’re forcing everybody else out. I figure it’s just a matter of time until they replace me. This way, I’m leaving on my own terms. They might replace you too.”
She realized that was a distinct possibility. Before the Russians took over Lunex, the Chinese ran the mines and the Russians ran the labs. The Indians and the Americans were small investors. After the takeover, the Chinese, Indians, and Americans were slowly being replaced with Russian workers. Allyson was the only American still working in the labs, where she was bombarded by the Russian language, a language she didn’t speak. A handful of Indians still worked in the labs. They stuck to themselves and spoke a language she didn’t know. It was a lonely place to work, and it was about to get lonelier once Keith moved back to Earth.
“Please come with me,” Keith said. “If not on this shuttle, come on the next.”
“I have to go back to the mine complex in the morning. I won’t see you again before you leave.”
Keith pulled her close. “This isn’t goodbye. I’ll wait for you to come home.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be going back to Earth. I like my work here.”
“I know you like your fancy scientist job, but I don’t like mine.” Keith stood up and began to pace across the small room. “I’m just a glorified handy man. If something breaks, I get the call. If it’s for something outside, I have to do the work in a space suit. That’s some dangerous shit.”
Allyson scooted back on the sofa bed, shocked by the anger in his voice. “I’m sorry you hate it here,” she said.
“I hate not being on good old terra firma. The moon was your dream. I just went along with it.”
“My dream? That’s not fair. I didn’t drag you here. You’re an adult. You made your own decision.” It was her dream. She was surprised and, yes, a little hurt, to find out it wasn’t a shared dream. She felt for Keith. If not for her work, she didn’t know if she could have managed to maintain her sanity here.
It was a crazy place to live, but it did have some benefits. There were no allergens. There were no spiders lurking in the corners. The pay was awesome, and there was no need to spend any of it. Even though more and more people were venturing into space, the fact that you had been there elevated one to nearly rock star status back home.
“True.” Keith stopped pacing and sat on the sofa bed next to her. “It was my decision, but I just can’t stay here anymore.” He took her hands in his. “Remember when we used to lie in the fields at OU and stare up at the stars?”
“Who could forget those smelly old blankets?”
“That’s what you remember, the blankets? I remember that I could point at anything in the sky and you could do a dissertation on it.”
He pulled her closer and his warm lips met hers. A tingle replaced the tension in her spine as she melted into him.
His lips brushed her ear as he whispered, “I would have followed you anywhere.”
“Even to the moon?”
“Even to the moon.”
Memories of college flooded over her as they cuddled on the bed.
“Come back to Earth when you’re ready,” Keith said. “I’ll wait.”
Her fleeting hope that he was going to change his mind was snuffed out, and the tension returned. “How is this relationship supposed to work when you are a quarter-of-a-million miles away?”
“We can still talk every day. We’ve only been able to see each other when we managed to scam a seat on a transport. It won’t be that different.”
“And now you’re leaving, so that didn’t work out. Can’t you stay a little longer?”
“I already turned in my notice,” Keith said. “Can you stay with me until Friday?”
“I can’t. There’s a new discovery I’m working on.”
“Oh, more jewelry?” Keith rolled his eyes. The thought of all of this space exploration for nothing more than jewelry stones struck him as ludicrous.
“No.” Allyson broke from his grasp and sat up straight, fondling the small luminarium pendant she wore. She watched the light swirl, seemingly trapped within the gemstone. She dropped the pendant and turned to face him. “It’s something different.”
“What is it?”
“You know I can’t discuss my work.” She sat primly on the edge of the sofa bed.
“Right, your top secret work.” Keith raised his hands in exasperation. They’d been through this before. All Lunex employees had to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevented them from revealing anything about their work with anyone outside of their division. They also prevented them from saying anything derogatory about the company. They were very comprehensive and oddly restrictive as far as NDAs went.
“It is top secret. I don’t want to jeopardize my job by discussing it.”
“That’s a convenient way to avoid discussing anything you do. I never know what you’re working on over there.” Keith waved his arms in the direction of the mine complex.
Allyson didn’t bother looking in the direction Keith indicated. Even though the community buildings and the mine complex were both located in Amundsen, a crater on the southern pole of the moon, they were a hundred kilometers apart.
“Sorry, but we don’t even know what it is yet.”
“Sounds intriguing.” He leaned forward, expectantly.
“It’s not from the moon. I really can’t tell you more, but I need to get back tomorrow. They don’t even know I came here for the day.”
“You had to sneak away? Your bosses suck,” Keith said.
“Everyone I work with sucks.”
“I don’t understand why you put yourself through this.”
“It’s so important you can’t tell me.” Keith sat upright. “Let’s not talk shop on our last night on the moon together.”
He pulled her close and kissed her hard. She was putty in his hands. Her worries faded away as she allowed herself to become lost in the moment. They rolled off the sofa bed onto the floor. At one-sixth the gravity of earth, little attention was given to falls.
CHAPTER 2 - ASSIGNMENT
As Allyson waited her turn to board, she looked warily at the mine transport vehicle. These things always gave her the creeps. The design had to be a joke. It looked like a nightmarish spider. A hard, clear plastic bubble enclosed the passenger compartment. The driver’s cabin was enclosed by a separate, smaller bubble that contained the driver’s seat and controls. To complete the image, the vehicle rested on eight legs and moved like a spider. Legs were slower than tires would have been, but they allowed the transport to climb over rocks and other obstacles where tires would fail. Legs also kicked up less of the talc-like moon dust that seemed to get into everything.
Passengers queued up. As usual, the transport would be cramped at full capacity. Allyson’s turn arrived and she climbed up the short ladder to the passenger compartment. She entered the hatch and sucked in a lungful of fetid air. Maintenance obviously hadn’t refreshed the oxygen tanks. The air reeked with remnants of body odor and chemicals that were never completely removed during the recycling process. If it smelled this bad now, she could just imagine how bad it would be in six hours, when they reached the mine complex.
She studied her fellow passengers as she made her way to an aisle seat in the front row. She didn’t recognize any of them. They appeared to be mostly Russian and Indian. A lone Chinese man sat near the back. She appeared to be the only passenger from the United States. She hadn’t paid as much attention to ethnicity until it started to become so one sided. The driver climbed into the front. It was hard to tell, but Allyson suspected she was Russian. She carried herself in the ultra-confident manner in which most of the Russians strutted around.
The man at the end of the line entered, wrinkled his nose at the smell, and took the last seat as the door closed. Allyson had never before sat in the front row with a clear view into the driver’s compartment. Symbols on the dashboard indicated the purpose of each control without complex instructions in every language. The driver locked the doors to the vehicle and opened the inner door to the airlock, revealing the room within. A prominent red light glowed above the outer door. With a gentle push forward on the control stick, the transport lurched forward into the airlock, legs working in tandem. The inner doors closed and the atmosphere was siphoned out of the airlock, creating a vacuum. The light turned from red to green and the outer doors opened. The transport moved slowly down the ramp and onto the surface of the moon.
Allyson was sure from watching the driver for only a few minutes that she could drive the transport herself. She smiled. Now she had something to fall back on. There weren’t complicated traffic signs or any other traffic. Just follow the tracks. Cush job.
Tracks in the dust led down the terraced slope toward the shadows on the crater floor. The shuttles always followed the safe path that clung to the edge of the crater. It was longer than going straight across, but it skirted navigational hazards in the middle of the crater. As they crossed from sunlight into darkness, she heard the heater increase in intensity.
The clear bubble over the passenger compartment provided an excellent view. The prominent peaks in the center of the crater were almost as tall as the crater walls. They, like the community buildings, were lit by sunlight for most of each lunar cycle. The peaks were impressive, but they were grey, like everything else on the moon. Allyson was sick and tired of grey. The view of the sky was dominated by Earth. Earth was always interesting to look at, but its brightness illuminated the moonscape, obscuring most of the stars from view.
In a few more weeks, the entire crater would be enveloped in darkness and Earth would drop below the horizon. The stars would come out in force. Allyson looked forward to the dark days when neither the sun nor Earth were visible. It was her favorite time, but she couldn’t really savor it. There was only one viewing port at the mine complex. It was nice to be able to look outside, but there were always several people waiting in line, and the feeling of taking in the vastness of the universe was lost while looking through a small window and jostling for position. The viewing room didn’t have large domes like the community buildings. Those reinforced clear domes worked well against potential small meteoroid strikes at the community buildings. In the permanently shadowed region of the mine, where the temperature was one hundred degrees Kelvin lower than at the community buildings, the dome material would become brittle and offer scant protection.
Allyson looked back at the community buildings that were lit by sunlight. They huddled together as if to keep warm. Grey on the outside and shiny on the inside. The metallic carpeting and shimmering paint gave the inside a vintage late 2020’s vibe, even though they were built only a few years ago, in 2045. Perhaps Lunex got a great deal on some old building materials. The buildings were stark by Earth standards, but they were a far step above the sterile and non-descript buildings that housed the mine and the labs. She spotted the launch pad. In a few more days, a shuttle would arrive to take Keith back to Earth.
Allyson knew that she couldn’t spend her entire life on the moon. If she ever wanted to have a normal life with a husband and children, she would have to go back to Earth. There were no children on the moon. At some point, there might be, but now the moon was not family friendly. At twenty-two years old, she still had time for a family in her future. Right now, she was determined to finish her work here. She wasn’t going to go chasing Keith back to Earth. Surely, there would be other men in her future. If not, that was okay. She would do just fine on her own. She pushed away the thoughts of Keith, and her mind drifted to the work awaiting her back at the mine complex.
Once it was clear that the sparks were intelligent, the scientists attempted to communicate with them. The group of sparks didn’t respond to language. When simple puzzles and math problems were presented to the sparks, the scientists were amazed that the energy level of different groups of sparks increased and diminished in unison, as if the sparks were working in teams to come up with solutions. As more sparks were added, more and more complex problems could be solved.
When presented with a design, the sparks would find and fix the faults and inefficiencies, resulting in a far better design. The sparks came up with a design for solar cells that were far more efficient and batteries that were impervious to the cold of space.
Plans to begin production of these solar cells and batteries were put on hold when the sparks presented a design for a power source fueled by the velocity of objects travelling through space. Velopower was the name Lunex coined for it. The theories behind Velopower baffled all of the scientists.
Allyson’s assignment was to study one of the sparks. Spark 211 did not communicate with the others. The changes in the brightness of Spark 211 did not correspond to changes in the brightness of any of the other sparks. Spark 211 remained isolated. It seemed to be a prime candidate for study.
Spark 211 was a mystery. Allyson gave it puzzles. Some came back solved, whereas most were ignored. Spark 211 seemed to be disinterested in most of the puzzles. It didn’t solve any of the easy or moderate math problems, but sometimes a difficult one would be solved. Unlike the group of sparks, Spark 211 solved word problems. The group never responded to word problems. Allyson wanted to find out what made Spark 211 different.
Allyson’s thoughts became hazy as the slow rocking of the transport lulled her to sleep. She was jolted awake when the transport came to an abrupt stop outside the garage at the mine complex. Now she was sure the driver was Russian, always so efficient. Why waste time slowing down when you could wait to slam on the brakes at the last second?
She was mad at herself for falling asleep and missing her chance to study the sky from the darkness. The only illumination near the mine complex, other than the lights of the transport, was the reflected sunlight from the central peaks. She watched the stars fade from view as the outer airlock door opened, spilling light across the crater floor. The transport crawled up the ramp and into the building. This airlock was identical to the one they left hours before.
After clearing the airlock, the transport entered the garage and came to rest in the middle of the room, between two other transports. Other than the transport vehicles, the room was practically barren except for some workbenches with tools and replacement parts along one wall.
Glaring lights from above reflected off the shiny white floor. The tracks of moon dust left by their entrance was the only thing out of place in this pristine room. No sooner had Allyson noticed this than custodians appeared with brooms. The passengers stretched their legs and waited for their turn to exit.
The passengers left the garage and entered a windowless white hallway where their footsteps echoed eerily. Due to the extreme cold, there were very few buildings on the surface of the mine complex, and for those on the surface, insulation was deemed more important than windows. Lunex had installed some fake windows that displayed outdoor scenes. These were rarely used. The workers preferred to stare at austere blank walls than to see manufactured vistas that might remind them of their lives on Earth. There was a black stripe painted on the wall at the height where a handrail would have been. There was no apparent reason for the stripe. It only seemed to accentuate the length and starkness of the hallway. Every time she walked down a hallway, the existence of the stripe bothered her. Every hallway was painted the same. The least they could have done was vary the color of the stripe so that not every hallway looked the same.
Eventually they arrived at the elevator lobby. Allyson pressed button four. The floor numbers were reversed; zero was the surface and four was four floors below. The labs and the barracks were built on the upper floors as the miners finished excavating them and continued deeper into the moon. The other passengers selected floors far below hers. The Chinese man must have been a miner. He selected a floor over twenty floors below the surface.
At her floor, she stepped out into the bright gleam of the laboratories. She felt like she had just walked into a museum that was missing all of its artifacts. The empty counters were like empty display cases. The uncluttered desks were like pedestals missing the statues that should have been on display. The empty walls were all missing their framed works of art. Sometimes she imagined what would have been on display. However, she wasn’t up to the effort tonight.
She walked past the labs to the barracks behind them. Her room was near the back of a maze of rooms. The hallways back here weren’t straight, but were built haphazardly as the miners found underground pockets of ice and converted them to water. The barracks were on multiple levels, and each level differed in size and configuration. Rooms were stuffed in where they would fit. The rooms weren’t very big, so they could fit in anywhere.
She unlocked her door, wondering why she bothered with locks other than the company rules that all spaces had to be secured. She entered and tossed her bag on the bed.
A glance at the clock revealed the time to be 8:00 pm UTC. Back on Earth, she would have opened a bottle of wine. There was no wine on the moon. However, she did have some marijuana extract. She placed a drop on her tongue. Her parents would have been mortified. She smiled at the thought. Her parents had no problem drinking some wine or beer, but marijuana? That would have been unacceptable.
She took another drop. Usually one drop was enough, but this had been a long hard day. She replaced the vile in the back of a drawer, behind the puzzles intended for the sparks.
She took out a puzzle on spatial recognition and toyed with it for a few minutes. This one was tough. She had to take an aptitude test during her interview process with Lunex. That test contained several of these spatial recognition problems. She hated them. Why was she wasting her time with it? She looked at her workstation and wondered if Spark 211 could solve it.
She grabbed some cheese and sat down at the workstation she kept in her room. The cafeteria wasn’t stocking as much food ever since the workers were instructed to start taking NuBean pills instead of eating real food. She couldn’t believe they weren’t supposed to eat food anymore. No wonder the morale was at an all-time low. At least she had a stash of cheese and protein bars, but they wouldn’t last long.
Their workstations were based on a government design, so they were at least thirty years behind the times. Their ‘portable’ computers were better, but they were still like carrying around a briefcase. Back in the day, they used to call them ‘laptops’ because you had to actually sit down and place them on your lap to use them.
While they were nothing like the coin-sized caboos that were the current rage, the inside of their computers contained the latest in encryption and security technology. Lunex was very concerned about its privacy.
Caboos were one more luxury Keith would have back on Earth. Allyson secretly wanted a caboo. She was a sucker for the latest gadgets. Caboos did everything from keeping your life organized to personal security. The name came from the term ‘kit and caboodle’. They were literally the whole kit and caboodle, wrapped into a coin-size package with a holographic display.
She couldn’t very well order one and have it shipped to the moon. Lunex wasn’t going to buy her one, even though it could be used to translate what the other workers in the lab were saying. It was one more thing she would have to live without.
Her mind circled back to the puzzle in her hand. She logged into her workstation and sent the spatial recognition problem to Spark 211. She wasn’t worried about waking Spark 211. Sparks never slept. Allyson couldn’t get her mind off Keith’s impending departure. The answer to the puzzle appeared. She sent the next puzzle to Spark 211. The answer appeared. In less than a week, Keith would be gone. She should have demanded that he stay. That’s a joke. She’d never demanded anything of anybody. She hated herself for lacking a spine.
Keith would be back on Earth, surrounded by women who had no urge to live on the moon. He wasn’t much to look at, tall and gangly with pockmarks from adolescent acne. His sense of humor was what had endeared him to her. She was fully aware that she was no prize either, with her mousy brown hair and bad posture from sitting in front of a computer her whole life. Why would he be interested in staying with her? Earthbound women would be falling all over him. Who could resist the intrigue of somebody who had lived on the moon?
She prepared a simple child’s ‘which one does not belong’ puzzle and sent it to Spark 211. The puzzle consisted of cartoon drawings of a soccer ball, a football, a dog, and a baseball. An image of trees with fall leaves swirling in the wind appeared on her screen. A rake lay next to a boy who relaxed against a tree as a dog frolicked in a pile of leaves. Allyson looked at the puzzle. The one that didn’t belong was the dog. What was with the trees, the leaves, and everything else in this extremely detailed image?
She sent another puzzle. This one consisted of an airplane, a boat, a helicopter, and a hot air balloon. Her screen erupted with an image of dark blue waves crashing upon a lighthouse in a froth of white while the captain of a boat struggled to avoid the rocks. The answer to this puzzle was the boat. There was a boat in the picture, but the rest of the imagery was excessive. To answer these puzzles, Spark 211 would have to have been intimately familiar with Earth and the relationships between objects that existed on Earth. The detailed images were further proof that Spark 211 was knowledgeable about Earth.
She tossed the last of the cheese into her mouth and typed, “Okay, wise guy, let’s see if you can solve a real problem. My boyfriend is moving back to Earth and I’m staying here on the moon. How is that relationship supposed to work?”
There was no answer.
She typed, “Just as I thought. You’re not as smart as you think.”
These words appeared on her screen. “I’ve never been very good at relationships.”
Allyson leaned back in her chair and laughed at the shock of the response. She turned off the workstation and said to herself, “I must be really stoned. Time for bed.”
After a restless night, Allyson climbed out of bed and headed for the shower. The shower was an ultra water conservation unit. Jets sent pulses of water instead of steady streams. After toweling herself dry, she placed the towel into the reclamation unit where the moisture in the towel would be removed and recycled.
She dressed and pulled on a lab coat before heading to her small desk in the lab. As she entered, she glanced over at the containment unit holding Spark 211. There was a slight glow coming from it.
“I see you’re awake,” she said sarcastically. Sparks didn’t experience the downsides of a late night. The glow became a little brighter. It was kind of like having a dog that was happy to see her when she came home. That improved her spirits, marginally.
If she were on Earth, a cup of coffee would have been nice on a morning like this. However, on the moon, water wasn’t wasted on things like coffee. She took a bite from a protein bar and logged into her office workstation. She had a long list of puzzles she had to run by Spark 211 today. Each one required her to fill out a form detailing the results. It was mind-numbing work.
Her mind wandered back to last night. It was just a weird dream, right? She actually communicated with Spark 211. She went back to her room to retrieve the puzzles. She found them next to the workstation and took them back to the lab.
In her dream, she had these same puzzles. She presented each one to Spark 211. There was no response to any of them. What had she expected? It was just a dream after all, a drug-induced dream.
She left these results off her log sheet to avoid evidence that she hadn’t followed protocol. Everyone was scared that any black mark on their record would result in them being sent back to Earth and being replaced by a Russian. She returned to her official list of mathematical puzzles and sent the next one on the list to Spark 211. The results were much the same as on previous days. Sometimes a puzzle would be solved, but there was no response to the vast majority of them.
CHAPTER 3 - DISCOVERY
It was overwhelming. He was acutely aware of his surroundings. Not just his immediate surroundings but of his place in the universe. The sun was the largest nearby body. He was aware of the planets orbiting the sun, of their paths through the solar system, and of nearby galaxies performing their complex dances through space. How ironic that being so in tune with his surroundings was so disorienting.
Multitudes of places within the universe seemed to be beckoning to him. Each one broadcast an alluring name, such as Wharfan, Snoofer, and Scoutrek. He felt as if he needed to visit them. However, he was unable to move.
There was no physical activity. He had no sense of his physical self at all. There was no sense of hot, cold, or any sense of his body. He seemed to be able to see in 360 degrees. He heard voices and realized that he was hearing thoughts. The thoughts of the scientists in the lab were unfocused and hard to follow, but he was able to determine that he was one of many that were trapped here. The scientists called all of them sparks.
The thoughts of the sparks were focused and clear. He knew exactly what they were thinking and he received mental images of how they viewed themselves. Even though he didn’t have eyes, he could picture them standing in front of him.
One scientist, Allyson, sent him puzzles. He didn’t much care for the puzzles, but he enjoyed listening to her thoughts. They wandered and changed direction with no warning. When he delved deeper, he realized that much of the capacity of her mind was busy subconsciously managing her body. That was the number one priority, and it took up resources that could have otherwise been used to focus her thoughts. Sparks didn’t have this distracting overhead.
The thoughts of the sparks were more organized and deliberate. They became even easier to hear once the sparks began to combine into what they called flames. The individual thoughts of the sparks melded until the flame spoke as one and projected an image of itself as an individual being.
A puzzle arrived. Something to work on to keep his mind sharp. Another math puzzle. Math was always too simple and obvious that it did not captivate him. The next puzzle arrived. This one was a spatial recognition puzzle. Shapes were a lot more interesting to him than numbers. However, he had already seen this one. Same with the next three puzzles, he’d already seen these.
The picture puzzles were fun. He’d always enjoyed painting. It allowed him to escape into his own world and create interesting places. Another puzzle arrived. Back to math. Boring. Picture problems were more fun than the endless stream of math problems. They reminded him that he enjoyed painting. The first one was a dog. The second was a boat. How about a plant or a fruit? He chose grapes.
He imagined a vineyard in the early morning sun at harvest time. Steam rose from the grape vines. A farmhouse sat on top of a hill in the distance. The vineyard covered the rolling hills surrounding the farmhouse. Workers, in their soiled straw hats, shuffled up and down the rows of vines, picking the juicy ripe grapes, and placing them in bushels.