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The Thinking Molecules of Titan: Ending by David Menzies

Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi. This is one of four endings we're posting this week. Vote on this week's endings here.

David Menzies writes:

"A failed Mozart?" Alex said. "That sounds like an empiricist's nightmare. Throw him and his star-speckled wig on your science-fiction cover, Mason."

Mason smiled a little. "Why not? Maybe all the space girl needs is an intermediator, someone who speaks the molecules' language."

As the waitress brought Regan the last piece of apple crumb cake, Regan tapped the bridge of her nose. "Thank you! I mean, mostly the waitress and Claire, of course. No offense to you space boys."

"None taken," Elliot said.

Regan noted this with a giggle. "So, the pattern could be another step toward Titan's 'Mozart' having something to build from, or, you know, we just haven't tuned in enough yet to warm to the music ourselves."

Claire took Mason's iPhone from her ear and played the pattern low on speaker phone. "That much could take a while," she said.

Alex took a sip of beer and sat there quietly. Mason noticed that the pupils of his friend's eyes darted around with the peaks of the sound pattern. He figured his own probably did the same thing the first few dozen times he tried to decipher one.

"I was on the right page all along," Elliot said. "It's got a sea shanty quality. Those are how pirates expressed warmth."

Regan pursed her lips and pushed the apple crumb cake toward him.

"I only deserve half," Elliot said.

Alex shook his head. "You know, it could actually be a sea shanty for all we know. Or the equivalent of crickets chirping. Music is just so awfully broad." He grabbed Mason's phone and headed toward the bar. "I'll be right back."

Mason tapped the table. "Nice story, Regan. I doubt it will make any waves, but…"

"But what?" Regan said through a mouthful of cake.

"Well, I wish it would."

The Titan sound pattern chimed in over the bar's speaker system. It wasn't nails screeching on a chalkboard, Mason thought, but it was far from the predictable bagpipe harmonies that McHugh occasionally played. Or, less imaginably, any kind of music Mason played for himself.

"There you go," Regan said. "Sound waves totally count."

Alex bounced from table to table on his way back to their booth.

"Let us know what you think," he said, pointing up in the air and then to their small collective.

"Is this from that Icelandic band?" a man at a nearby table said.

"Close," said Claire, "and yet so far."

As Alex took a seat, Mason patted him on the shoulder. "Keep tabs on my iPhone, will you? I'm heading back to the lab."

"Not to get that computer's take, I hope," Alex said. "That thing never played in one of the best marching bands in the country. Plus, I'm sure there are other people here who've made less stimulating forms of music. Further insight on this pattern can—nay, should—come from right here."

"I need to be there periodically," Mason said, "plus I already had cake." He motioned for Regan and Elliot to stay and finish theirs. Claire and Alex both said, "Later," then got back to talking over their shoeboxes.

This could be it, Mason thought. The closest he would ever get to hearing something else come together meaningfully in such a vast and disparate universe. As much as he loved Urbana, it was still too easy for Mason's mind to be out there in space, lost between all the distance he was aware of. Back in the lab, Mason couldn't quite keep himself tuned into what made this celestial noise distinct. Instead, he imagined himself on an interstellar vessel breaking through Titan's atmosphere and landing on the ice near the magma ocean. Each of the other four crew members had joined him outside—Alex, Claire and Elliot in addition to Regan, whom had been the only one who went exploring with him in the older variation of this daydream. Two space explorers or five, there were still a hundred noise patterns humming around their glass helmets.

With her combination of glasses and fishbowl, Regan led the way—a trailblazing near-sighted astronaut. Of all the Urbana crew, Mason headed to the source of the musical pattern most guardedly. Even on Titan, he felt he should keep his hopes grounded. They passed the upright form of the Huygens lander.

"Glad to see it's not lying down on the job," Elliot said.

Soon they were all dwarfed by what was at the horizon: dozens of giant globes, molecules dashing around in each of them. None of the globes' contents sent them hurdling after Mason and his fellow space travelers. The globes simply floated, and the Urbana crew watched and listened as the molecules spiked and flowed like sound waves. The longer Mason gave one his attention, the more he could feel the distinctness of its sound. Only one seemed musical by any standard Mason could think of, and that was simple repetition—like crickets chirping indeed, Alex, only more drawn out. Still, he liked how big something so simple could be, and that something else comprised of so many little pieces was holding itself together in this very solar system.

Mason leaned back in his chair in the lab and pondered the distance between chirping and Mozart and jokes. Then he thought about his friends. There was still enough time to hear their thoughts or someone else's on the matter, and they were all so close.

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