The Black Queen by Olga Werby
I'm a seed. Plant me.
All night it called. A rat came by to investigate. It sniffed the small smooth sphere, but the object didn't smell like a seed or food of any kind. The rat scurried away.
I'm a seed. Plant me.
The cat passed by without even a glance.
A family of raccoons stopped by. Poked. Left.
The sun came up.
A fractional mind crawled over. It tasted and touched, walked about and left a pheromone trail for others to follow. Soon dozens of fractional minds surrounded the sphere. By this time, the object grew to the size of a very large marble.
I'm a seed. Plant me. It kept repeating to them, flaunting itself for them. And they gathered in greater and greater numbers to roll the sphere underground.
Just about the time small sinuous lines started to appear of its surface, a big black bird flapped over.
I'm a seed. Plant me. The sphere called to the raven.
The bird prodded the object, which was now the size of a tennis ball, with its beak. It wasn't food, like it claimed. And it wasn't one of those shiny, sparkly objects that the bird liked so much. It was dull. The bird gave it another peck and left the sphere for the ants— it wasn't worth the trouble.
The ants worked hard, but the sphere kept growing, making transport to the colony's underground nest difficult. The creatures possessed intelligence, but they were not the ones. Their selfishness was too distributed. The sphere swelled farther. But the ants didn't care—once they made the decision to acquire the object, they simply increased the labor resource to accomplish the task, accommodating the extra bulk.
I'm a seed. Plant me. The sphere sung.
Other minds came. The sphere inflated to the size of softball, covering its surface with intricate patterns, vaunting complexity.
"What's that?" Missy said pointing to a beautiful black ball under a bush. Her babysitter always told her not to pick up strange objects on the playground. Sometimes, bad people left needles and broken bottles under the benches or hid pipes for smoking drugs in the roots of the plants growing around the fence. Missy was very aware of those bad things, there were always a few in the dark corners of the playground, especially after the weekend. But this thing didn't look bad. It looked beautiful.
"What?" Daisy asked, running over to her friend. The girls crouched at the back side of the sand box and looked. The pretty ball was swarming with ants.
"I think they are trying to take it," Missy said.
"The ants? Why would they want it?"
"I think it is a seed and they are trying to plant it," Missy said. She was very sure that this is what it was.
As the girls looked, the sphere grew larger and new, deeper lines appeared on its surface right in front of their eyes.
"It is so beautiful," Daisy said. "How do we get the ants off?" The girls made the decision to keep the ball as soon as they saw it. It wanted them to keep it, it called to them.
"We can pour water on it," Missy suggested.
They took one of their sand buckets and filled it up at the water fountain. Together, they carried it over to the bushes and spilled it all over the ants.
"There are still ants on it," Daisy said. She didn't really like things that crawled.
"We can use more water," Missy said and ran to refill their bucket. The girls worked hard to wash away all of the ants from the sphere. When they deemed it clear of insects, they brought the sphere over to the sand castle they were building earlier and played with it. It was the queen of their magical kingdom. They built it a big tower in which it wanted to live. It liked it deep in the sand.
By the time Missy's babysitter called for her to go home, the sphere grew to be the size of a basketball. It was still black with thousands of intersecting lines making the most lovely patterns, but it weighed the same as when the girls first found it. Missy dug it out and put it her Little Princess backpack to take home. She promised Daisy that they would play with the Black Queen tomorrow and went home.
All over the Solar System, the spheres settled onto the surface of solid bodies orbiting an average sized star. They called over and over again to the minds of the receptive natives:
I'm a seed. Plant me.
"What do you have there?" Missy's dad, Terry, saw her daughter playing with a large black ball. The girl was unusually quiet, sitting, mattering to herself in the corner of the kitchen.
"The Black Queen," the girl said, rolling the sphere on her lap. "It thinks it's just a seed, but it is the Queen of All Seeds. And it is black and beautiful," Missy explained.
Terry came over. The object on his daughter's lap was impressive. It was covered with designs— some looked like convoluted decorations engraved on its surface, some appeared more like hieroglyphic writing. The material was black and highly polished, but not shiny— jet black.
"Can I see?" he asked his daughter and took the sphere from her.
"Dear? Did you see this sphere Missy is playing with?" he called to his wife. But she was busy somewhere and didn't hear him. "Where did you get this thing, Missy?"
"Daisy and I found on it on the playground," the girl said.
Terry took the sphere closer to a light. It was an amazing thing, exquisite it its detail, a work of a master artist, a technical wonder.
"Someone must have lost it," Terry said. "No one would throw a thing like this away. We have to find who this object belongs to and give it back," he told Missy.
"It's mine!" The girl cried and jumped up to try and grab it out of her dad's hands. "It said it was mine. It told me to plant it."
"Missy, this is a very valuable object."
"I know. That's why it is the Black Queen," the girl said.
"We have to give it back, honey. We can't keep it. The person who lost it must be looking for it right now. If you lost your Sleepy Bear," Terri tried to reason with his daughter, "wouldn't you want a person who found it to give it back?"
Sleepy Bear lived on Missy's bed. He never left home, even to go to grandma's. There was no way for him to get lost, but Missy still didn't like the idea. She ran to her bedroom to check that Sleepy Bear was still where he was supposed to be.
Terry took the sphere to his desk and shone the table lamp on it. It looked like it was absorbing the light. It was hard and yet velvety to the touch. He tried to smell it, it had no scent. Terry wasn't sure if it was art or some historical artifact from a museum. Or perhaps it was stolen form some science fiction movie set? He considered calling the police, but it was late and Terry didn't want to have to deal with all of the questions and paperwork that would be involved this evening. He'd do it tomorrow. Now he just wanted to take his time and examine the artifact, photograph it with his cell phone, share the images with a few of his buddies online. It was such an extraordinary object.
He ran his fingers along one of the prominent lines on its surface. It felt like the sphere was vibrating lightly under his touch. And Terry could swear that there was a sparkle or internal glow that flashed along some of the designs once in a while, always when he was looking away.
For the next hour or so, until he had to put Missy to bed, Terry played with the Black Queen. Missy sat by him and quietly observed his experiments. Terry measured the sphere's diameter with tape several times, each time getting a different result. Then he weighed it on a kitchen scale. At least that measurement remained constant. He took lots of pictures. Each time he thought he completed documenting the surface area design, he noticed another feature that he missed and had to start over.
"So it was just lying in the bushes?" he asked his daughter. He would have to give details of the find to the police tomorrow, but it seemed unreasonable to give the artifact to the police. Terry was perfectly capable of holding on to the sphere until...if the proper ownership was established...without a doubt. He decided to take a few hours from work and go first thing to the local station.
"It was covered by ants, but Daisy and I washed it," Missy said.
"You got this thing wet?" Terry was horrified. "What else did you do with it?"
"We buried it in the sand and played with it. Don't worry, Daddy," Missy said when she saw the expression on her dad's face. "It wants to be buried deep in the ground. It told us so."
"I see." Terry rotated the sphere to see if there was any damage from the rough play that he might have missed in his examination. The sphere seemed to be in perfect condition, no scratches, no dings. The girls didn't hurt it. That was a relief. He didn't want to be responsible for any damage. This thing must be priceless. Surely there would be a reward for recovering it. He promised himself to do a bit of online research before going to bed. They could put the money into Missy's college fund...if they ever found the true owner. The sphere felt so good, so natural in his hands.
"Can I kiss the Black Queen goodnight before bed?" Missy asked.
"Kiss it goodnight," Missy said again. Her dad seemed distracted. "It wants to sleep in the ground."
"What? No, no. We will keep it right here on the desk. It is safe here until tomorrow morning." Terry stood up and secured the sphere on the table, placing books and a stapler around its sides to keep it from rolling off. Just in case. "Come, honey. It's time to get you ready for bed."
He picked up his daughter and took her to get a bath and then changed for bed. Sleepy Bear was happily dangling from his daughter's hand.
In the dark, another mind approached. It liked playing with balls. It was curious and friendly. It belonged to the pack of other minds that lived in this dwelling.
I'm a seed. Plant me. The sphere demanded.
It sniffed and licked it. The sphere grew in size and complexity again. It was ready to be planted. It called to the mind again.
Spike, the family dog, didn't like the ball resting on his master's desk. It didn't smell and it didn't taste of anything. Anything at all. It was blank. But it wanted something. It wanted to be put away outside. Spike didn't like it in the house.
The dog nudged the sphere from the table and it rolled down onto the carpet below. It was a size of a beach ball. It didn't bounce, but did land lightly, making hardly a sound.
Spike rolled the ball towards its doggie door to the garden. But try as he might, the thing didn't fit.
Missy woke up.
I'm a seed. Plant me. The sphere ordered the girl.
She tiptoed downstairs. Spike licked her when she came into the kitchen. Missy didn't like when he didn't that.
"Bad dog, Spike. Bad dog," she chided him in a whisper. Spike nuzzled her again in an apology. "Okay, okay. I forgive you." Missy wiped the doggy spit off her face. Yak.
She went to investigate the Black Queen. She had grown to be big and even more beautiful.
I'm a seed. Plant me.
"You got too fat to fit through Spike's door," complained Missy.
I'm a seed. Plant me. The Black Queen was so bossy.
"Okay. I will open the people's door. But only for a second," Missy said. She pulled a stepping stool over to the kitchen door and climbed up. The lock was easy to open, Missy did it before. Just turn and click. She moved the stool back and cracked open the door to the garden. Spike ran outside.
"Come back and help me get the Black Queen out," Missy called after him.
Together, they rolled the ball towards the back of the garden, where Missy's mom planted tomatoes, and where the ground was soft and easy to dig.
"I'm going back to bed now," Missy told the Black Queen and Spike. "You have to do the rest yourselves." She turned and went back to the house and her bed. Sleepy Bear somehow managed to get left behind in the garden.
I'm a seed. Plant me.
Spike started to dig. He worked hard. The sphere was very big now and the hole needed to be large.
When he was done, Spike went back into the house. He felt he needed to guard the house extra hard this night, but he didn’t want to look back at that thing. Now that it was done, there was no need to turn around…ever.
In the ground, the sphere rotated. Faster and faster. Soon it was deep enough to sprout. The payload worked swiftly, killing off all the minds that found the sphere too strong to resist and yet too curious to leave alone.
By morning, its mission was complete. The planet was disinfected, making way for the next intelligence to awake and hear its call. Perhaps the next one…
I'm a seed. Plant me.
I'm a seed. Plant me.
Spheres called and called, their distant masters waiting and hoping.
And on one of the Jupiter's moon, a mind answered. It felt for the sphere through a thick blanket of ice. The sphere waited, calling to the mind occasionally, keeping it interested and curious, reminding it of its existence. Soon, oh so soon, the mind will find it and this sphere will be able to complete its mission…one way or another.