by Robin Sebolino
Colonel Tan watched Bakunawa open its tubal mouth, spikes bristling under its jaw, and lure Ganymede down its infinite stomach. This would be the third moon that Jupiter had lost, after Thebe and Europa, in the forty-eight hours after Earth’s lone natural satellite had suddenly disappeared. His computers had recorded everything: the sudden emergence of the sky serpent out of the gas planet’s equator and its silent glide towards its next lunch. At the same time, the colonel typed his report—marking the document with Earth’s time and date.
He steered his spacecraft closer to the beast, under its golden scales, over its back covered in crystalline shells. Then someone called from the command center on Mars. He ignored the ringing. No scientist should miss the beauty of the mystical serpent, once believed the enemy of the gods, the spirit that makes nights darker and mornings dim with the shadows of rain.
The phone kept ringing.
“What’s this?” said General Lugo on the line.
“That’s my finding, madam,” replied Col. Tan. “I’ll send you a video—”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“I told you it’s a serpent swallowing the moons.” Col. Tan had made the same report five years ago back on Earth, citing the legendary Bakunawa, the great serpent that dined on heavenly objects. In hindsight, he knew he should not have made any reference to mythical things. “Why don’t you send someone else to verify what I’m seeing, eh?”
“Just send us whatever you have.”
“Give me a minute.”
On Mars, five hours later, Col. Tan stepped aside as a small delegation of scientists, explorers, and bureaucrats watched his final recording played, showing the sky serpent hover around Ganymede, as though to warm its food. The numbers on the side of the screen measured the serpent’s weight. It grew rapidly to match the moon’s density. The scales of the beast faded, blending with the darkness of space. They reemerged with a mix of azure and golden sparkle and a diaphanous tail. The feeding commenced, as the serpent rose and dived into its meal.
“The serpent that swallowed Earth’s moon was obviously smaller than that,” explained Col. Tan. “But my guess is the serpent can often match the size of its prey. By how much it can enlarge itself, we cannot say. Why it eats moons is another big question. My guess is that it might have an appetite for anything.” Col. Tan stepped aside to let another interstellar biologist continue the report. He presented a theory that there might be more than one sky serpents—or Bakunawa, as he insisted on the mythical term—in the solar system.
Outside of the conference hall, at the painting gallery filled with replicas of artworks from Earth, Gen. Lugo offered a cigar to the colonel. She said, “The question is: are we safe?”
“You want to come inside, madam? That’s precisely what the doctor’s discussing.”
“Well, he might answer your question, madam.”
“You think so?”
The biologist compared the universe to the ocean, where millions of microorganisms thrived unaware of the colossal giants above them. “We humans are, as we sometimes get reminded of, mere dust in space—for the lack of more unflattering descriptions of our puny size. For thousands of years, we’ve always been so small that we don’t have the eyes to see the bigger things out there.” He now wrapped up his lecture. “It is only now that we’re getting close to having the vision of titans, so to speak. We’re attracting the attention of bigger fish. And if we’re to take an optimistic perspective, this means we’re becoming more relevant in the pool of cosmic reality.”
Col. Tan looked through the building’s clear skylight. It magnified the stars and planets, casting the beauty of outer space upon the structure’s interior.
“General, we could perhaps see the moons of Jupiter, again,” he said. “Now, if you’re eager, madam.”
“Yes. See, these recent events. They’re moving quite fast, aren’t they? First, our moon. Then Jupiter’s. Something is going on.”
“You don’t just launch a ship and visit another planet.”
“We can, madam. To hell with the paperwork.” Col. Tan could explain the strange sense of urgency brewing in his stomach. “I know this sounds silly. But consider this as though we’re under attack, madam. Like we have an alien invasion going on.”
“You need to take a break, Col. Tan.”
“General, you were asking earlier if there’s any possibility of danger in these monsters.”
“And your point is? Well, we have tools to deal with it.”
“Against that kind of serpent?”
“Just go back to the conference.” Gen. Lugo walked away. “Tell me what you learn. I have some work to do.”
Back in the conference, Col. Tan could only listen anxiously from the next speaker who had processed his reports. He knew he could not blame the general. Only his gutfeel convinced him of the present danger. But the image of that massive beast, fading in and out in milliseconds, made him think of how puny, ignorant, and isolated humanity had thrived from the vast powers of the universe.
Alarms sounded as Col. Tan activated the spacecraft’s engines. Atomic thrusters flared. The sharp disc of metal cut through thin air, out of the Martian atmosphere.
Where he would go, he could not say, although he would have answered, to escape. What he did was fly away from the solar system. An hour later, he made it past Saturn’s orbit, Jupiter’s, hitched on Neptune’s gravity, which flung him farther away until he found himself against an opposing stream of mild energy. He pulled up his spacecraft and faced the world he already missed. But all over him, he could see millions of glistening scales, gold and blue, their diaphanous tails leaving a trail of shadow, which pointed not just at the solar system’s moons. Some of them led him to a planet, while others led him to the sun.
About the Author
Robin Sebolino is an educator with almost a decade of experience teaching world literature, particularly novels from Asia and Europe. He currently works full-time as a lecturer at the University of Asia and the Pacific and as a part-time househusband doing household chores and taking care of his baby. With his passion for storytelling, he aims to write historical novels and more short stories with supernatural elements using the mythologies of Southeast Asia. Robin enjoys reading all sorts of books (science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, history, biographies, etc.), digging up relatively obscure mythological traditions, eating mushrooms, and taking photographs of beetles in the wild.