On this the rarest of eternal nights, the flower opens. The ice plains warm with faint ruddy glow of infrared; long frozen spires shudder and crack as their vacuum-frosted shells sublimate to the sky. Deep beneath, the subsurface ocean churns with faint life. Deeper still, on a seafloor encrusted with the tendrils of a vast edifice, a spasmodic shudder quakes.
Above, the stars gleam with unusual fierceness. Seventy-one degrees north of the equator shines a red dwarf, barely an arcsecond across the black sky, yet already long acquainted by the courtship of gravity. Faint blueshift of hydrogen betrays its relative velocity—too rapid an approach to ever capture this rogue planet. Fainter still its companions, the faithful wanderers that orbit the dwarf in a slow dance across the cosmos, the soil for which yearns tonight’s rarest of seeds.
Across the rocky ocean floor the network of tendrils shudder, eons of stored energy abruptly releasing in planetwide contraction. Again, the fiery mantle quakes. Fissures that had seen lava millenia ago reopen, boiling the surrounding waters into superheated plumes. The surface cracks and faults under the sudden pressure, fine crystals of ice and methane arcing parabolas through the tenuous air. A crisscross of veins darkly inscribed in the crust strain to keep the frozen shell firm. The planet has a radioactive heart of stone, and it is beating.
Far side of sunward comes the first outburst. Across an array of narrow cones piercing the ice cap, the living scaffold makes way for a rush of water and steam. The explosion is visible from afar as a faint glimmer, a vast trail of particles carrying retrograde momentum. The planet’s axis of rotation shifts imperceptibly.
On the sunward pole the spires are falling. They have fulfilled their ancient purpose, collecting signs and spectra of distant stars for the impossible slowness that wills this planetary vessel. Even when it is not yet to port the vessel has steered toward its next destination, for this journey had already been set in motion long, long ago, when another star graced the sky.
In a cosmic instant the rogue planet crosses the termination shock. As the red dwarf dips below the terminator, one of its faint companions begins to rise in the equatorial sky. Here on the rogue planet’s surface are forests of thicker, stranger spires, saved for last to dimly perceive this planetary conjunction. They utter with dying breath a simple signal: go. Reproduce. A less spectacular but more essential plume erupts, containing within its ejecta millions of rocky vessels, seeds of chemistry and pattern sent through orbit in hope of impacting virgin ground.
Soon there will be no more spires. Soon, the surface will melt, geysers will erupt and the planet will shine bright as a comet across the extrasolar system’s six alien horizons. The connective tissue spanning the icy crust will wither under unusual heat; below, a mad rush of life will flourish and die under the beneficience of the dwarf star. Ocean chemistry will destabilize, parasitic entities running rampant that once their cold interstellar metabolisms kept in check. Then the rocky seafloor will lie dormant, spent as its sinews heal and absorb the titanic sum of energy to move again. Eons will pass ere this planet blooms again. But when it does, another star will be shining in the night sky, twinkling alongside its close-captured companions with the promise of rebirth.
2017 September 30