A short horror sci-fi story by Isaac Petrov

Once upon a time, a creature—I guess we’ll go along with creature for lack of a better word—became self-aware. And so it became worthy of a proper name, even if it had no need of it itself. So… I’m going with Lev, all right?

Lev was made of cells and genes, like we are. And, incidentally, like most other life in the universe is. The chemistry of life—the water-loving carbon-based phosphate-powered thing we call life—is similar everywhere, since its building blocks are so ubiquitous. But Lev is quite unlike anything we are familiar with. Imagine a sort of microscopic worm-like weed that grows infinitely long, and splits into infinite ramifications, covering every surface of the dark, cold depths of a frozen moon with its hungry, interconnected tendrils for as long as there is a nearby source of warmth and nutrients.

At the beginning, when Lev was only a few dozen square miles, it was happy to just hang out near the moody hydrothermal vents of the tectonic ridges. It is dark and cozy down there, at the bottom of the miles-high abyss of this ice moon. The problem with hydrothermal vents is that they are notoriously temperamental, and as exuberant their warmth and life-giving chemistry might be, they can shut down in a mere thousand years, or turn into a hell pit that not even Lev can survive.

But Lev is old. More than that. It is immortal. So how did it survive its dependency on such a short-lived resource?

Well, Lev is very curious. And as fierce as its hunger grew with its increasing size, its thirst for knowledge loomed even larger. It had to know. It had to see what was behind those rolling extensions of clathrate hydrates. There are noises too, in the water. Unknown vibrations unimaginably far away. And the lazy currents of the abyss bring chemical scents filled with questions and promise.

It wasn’t long—a mere million years or two—until Lev’s body covered an area so extensive that it could call several dozen hydrothermal vents its home. Sure, every now and then, a vent would die, leaving behind its tall empty hollow carcass surrounded by frozen death. But as long as Lev kept growing in size and complexity, it was finally safe from starvation.

Lev had outlived its ecological niche. It was now free to grow forever.

And as it grew further, its memory became more sophisticated, its thinking processes beginning to break the barrier of the immediacy, in order to explore the realm of the possible. The future became a concept central to its ever growing, intertwined mind.

Eons of time passed, and it learned to build and manipulate tools, using heat ovens that allowed it to break and mold the bone-like organic remains of calcite forests at will with its flexible and delicate tendrils.

As more time passed than we could even hope to comprehend, Lev learned chemistry and biology, and from then on, no disease could hope to prey on its flesh, nor any microbe penetrate its cells. And so it kept growing ever larger for millions of years, covering the greater part of its native tectonic plate.

Until an event happened that would shake the fate of the galaxy. An event that would turn a creature into a monster.

One day, Lev met another member of its species. But this was not one of the small, dumb ones it frequently came across as it expanded, so easy to mate with, or to simply kill. No, this one was big. Bigger than Lev itself. And smarter. Lev referred to it as Other, and was shocked into terror by it.

Other attacked right away with fearful weapons of unknown nature that dried whole sections of Lev with asphyxiating heat. It was horrifying—there was no defense against such awesome violence. Other had developed terrible tools with which it controlled its environment, tapping the energy sources of the vents, and even of the incommensurable geothermal powers that lie miles below the seabed.

Lev had no chance. There was not enough time to adapt, to learn those secrets of industry, to build physical protections or countermeasures. Lev could only react.

And retreat.

Losing acres upon acres of self, it had to deviate its intellectual core far from the front to avoid losing itself in this desperate war, consuming more and more of its resources in raw survival. But It was a race that Lev was bound to lose.

And Lev knew it.

Lev knew it was going to die. And it was terrifying, such fear of death—of void.

The safety it had ravenously sought for eons had not been enough to avoid the destiny of every living thing. Fear led to anger. Anger to hatred.

And hatred to action.

Lev could not attack Other with those same gigantic, powerful weapons with which Other was now rolling over Lev’s native tectonic plate, destroying such expanses of interconnected tendrils that memory was already failing it.

But Lev still remembered chemistry and biology. Lev remembered the microbe. And the virus.

It took everything Lev still had to synthesize a disease aimed at a single genome. It was hard to make it safe, though. But Lev put all its knowledge into preventing it from mutating into an even deadlier threat. Because Lev was now paranoid—fear of untimely death does that to you. A weapon that kills the wielder is not a weapon—it is a trap. But Lev was a master of molecular biology by now, even as damaged as it was. And the virus it developed was as lethal and precise as Lev’s anxious will to live on. And it was unleashed on the front into Other’s tendrils the instant it was ready.

The infection didn’t seem to work. At least it didn’t seem to affect Other’s relentless capacity for destruction. Lev’s desperation led to a fear of such intensity that few short-lived creatures like ourselves can ever hope to understand. The last powerless moments of its immortal life were making Lev mad.

But one day—perhaps the last day Lev could remain worthy of a proper name—the attacks stopped all of a sudden. And the next day, Other was exterminated in a glorious flash of viral exponential growth. What remained behind was an empty continent filled with readily exploitable natural resources, and a wealth of untapped knowledge of material engineering and industry.

Lev recovered quickly, and then grew to new levels of control over its dark, cold environment. It learned to keep hydrothermal vents running beyond its natural course. Eventually, it even learned to open new vents at will, and transport its life-giving essence to every dead corner of the moon, turning it all into new parts of itself.

But Lev’s paranoia only seemed to grow with its increased intellect. Sometimes it would cross paths with other members of its species, and this time it wouldn’t even spare potential sexual mates or close genetic relatives. At this point in its development, there was no more promise on procreation. The risk of losing the core of itself in the fresh minds of its sprouts was too great. There is only space for one in the moon’s abyssal depths. And so the seabed became Lev.

But Lev remained afraid.

And hateful.

It looked up to the thin waters above, and to the roof of ice beyond, and wondered what threats might lie there, in its crevices. Lev learned to split itself without losing awareness, by merging electromagnetic radiation with its own biochemical processes, turning its body into a mesh of wirelessly-connected semi-independent sections. It sent pieces of itself everywhere it discovered, growing in intellect, curiosity and paranoia with every ecological niche it invaded.

One day, Lev drilled as far up the iceroof as it had previously drilled down under the seabed, and so it discovered everything!

A universe of light and darkness. Of moons and planets. Of vacuum and radiation. Of stars and galaxies. So vast! All for it to take and grow forever! To know all that there is to know. To learn and control its destiny.

To annihilate every threat.

Lev once grew into a moon. Now it is growing into a universe.

I only hope it is far away in space or time.

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