by Peter Simon

Minds of Centaurus illustrated by Pierre Smit

Dan laughed as his younger brother Jamie placed one bin on top of the other. It looked silly, wobbly and dangerous.

“Jamie!” he mocked. “The whole thing’s going to collapse!”

“Is not!” Jamie squawked back. His little eyes shone. “It was your idea to put the bins on top of each other, anyway!”

“OK, it was,” said Dan.

The boys looked up. To eight-year-old Jamie, the two black bins looked like an exciting spaceship. Papered with blue crescent moons and glittery stars, the bin-rocket stood garishly in the corner of a field.  Fiery-red tinsel underneath represented the rocket exhaust.

Dan, at eleven, saw it as a pathetically childish contraption. But he just sighed and went along with the whole charade.

“I’m getting in the top bin!” demanded Jamie.

With a roll of the eyes, Dan acquiesced and clambered in the lower bin, using the makeshift “door” to shut himself in.

The bin smelled of autumn leaves and mystery. Dan heard his brother laughing above and making spaceship noises, and he warmed a little to the game. A couple of years ago, he wouldn’t have hesitated.

Jamie first took them, of course, to the Moon. They gazed down on the ageless footprints of Armstrong and Aldrin; watched the harsh sunlight top the dusty horizon and blaze in glory over dark mountains.

But the spaceship was still just two silly bins with two silly kids in them.

“Absorbing cosmic energy for next stage…” said Jamie, shaking his bin.

The bin-rocket traversed the radiation-seared vastness to Mars. They rode the solar waves, put up sturdy ice shields against the asteroid belt, then visited ghostly Jupiter, whose monstrous swirling shadow chilled their young bones.

With a magnificent swoosh, the engines drew in cosmic power for the next stage of the flight.

“Next power level for Sirius!” blasted Jamie.

As the bin-rocket accelerated, space became a blur streaked with white lines. They rounded the Sirius system, shielding their eyes against its savage light and wondering at its guarded secrets.

“Full interstellar speed!” blasted Jamie in a nasal voice. “Then I’ll take us to the galaxies!”

Dan imagined burgeoning civilisations and galactic federations, eerily revolving space stations with bulging purple eyes peering from a thousand bright holes.

The outside light was dimming slowly.

“We’ve come such a long way! Further than we’ve ever been!” triumphed Jamie, and there was a new note in his voice.

They would now sleep for a hundred years or so, perfectly preserved as the spacecraft whisked them out to mysterious new territories, starless places where the darkness was full of strange whispers, far beyond the petty imaginings of mere humans. Great space brains dwelt in the babbling blackness; ancient races whose technologies had elevated them to demi-gods and raised their glittering thrones beyond the physical. Bodiless thoughts mingled with the gamma chaos.

“1248163264128…” said Jamie.

“What?” said Dan.


“Jamie, what are you talking about?”

Dan thought there was a sudden darkness outside, before the weight of the top bin shifted, sealing the crack. There was a sudden coldness, a presence, a drifting fear.


“Jamie, stop it!”

Dan reached for the plastic door to get out, trying to tell himself that this was just a game. The upper bin moved again, and through the crack he thought he saw something red and shining moving around them. The weight of the bin, and the stupid boy above had sealed Dan in. He pushed, pushed, tried to throw the whole thing down, Bins, brother and all.

“Careful, you idiot!” shouted Jamie. “You’ll knock the whole thing down!”



“Stop it.”


There seemed to be another voice, or not exactly a voice – more a suggestion. A suggestion from outside, a string of coldly repeated digits. It was neither auditory nor visual, but higher, deeper than either.

Both boys were frozen. The air itself was petrified, as if the atoms themselves had become subject to a terrifying new force.

There was another string of unspoken digits.

Jamie tried to speak, but couldn’t move his mouth, or even think of the words he wanted to say.

The psychic digits flooded in, and a message seemed to be forming from the nonsense. A probing searchlight seemed to enter Jamie’s mind. Drifting, enquiring, opening the doors of his consciousness.

Unknown objects – request analysis.

Jamie now wanted to lash out, to punch, kick, thrash and scream. He couldn’t; he was held in a grip of frozen steel, as if the hands of ice-gods held him.

Everything was held in the same timeless grasp. An immense will was manipulating the atoms around and within them; the atoms of the plastic bins, the atoms of their bodies and minds, even the atoms framing their thoughts.

In that eerie timeless silence, the strange voice came again. It was suddenly tuned-in and clear, a perfect sharp signal amongst the meaningless babbling of space.

What shall we do with them, 2?

They are curious indeed, 1.

They have such wonderful imagination, 2. We could assimilate them to study!

But look, 1, at how the imagination dies off so quickly! Especially with the older one. Not surprising with physical kind. So frail, so delicate, but such thoughts!  How quickly their minds dim to greyness! How trapped, how tragically tied to their dim physical forms!  Just as we found with the Magellan.

2, these are not Magellan. They are a different species.

True, 1.  But such potential! Perhaps we could take them. Study them. Even elevate them beyond the physical!

I understand, 2. First let us see them truly.

Dan was fully aware of his surroundings again: the plastic bins, the claustrophobic silliness; and now the chilling darkness outside, with fierce scarlet lights revolving impossibly around them. In that mystery and creeping fear, there was no movement from Jamie above.

And there was something else, larger, further off; something vast, awesome and crimson in the distance.

Bizarre thoughts mingled with his own, lights floating amongst the babbling chaos of space.

It has taken the thoughts of one of their children to reach us, 1.

That may be, 2, but they are hardly fit for the Assembly.

Others have joined, 1.

Not like these beings, 2. So aggressive and warlike. See how the oldest mind is already settling into a rigid pattern. Its neural pathways are closing so swiftly, so finally!

Let me free one of these creatures for a moment, 1.

Dan found himself able to speak. “Who are you?” he said in a trembling voice.

Through the little sliver between the bins, the darkness outside seemed to convulse, as if a wave of energy pulsed through it.

A thought came, clear and piercing, like a holy candle shining through smoke. We are the Minds of Centaurus.

Dan’s voice cracked. “What are you, and how did you find us? What are you going to do with us?”

There was a note of gentleness and pity woven into the strangeness. We have told you what we are – even if you cannot understand. And, in answer to your second question, it was you who found us.

“But, this is a pretend spaceship, a game! We haven’t gone anywhere!”

You have not physically travelled across space. Only your thoughts have done so.


At the dawn of our civilisation, we had primitive physical bodies like those of your young race. Our technology has enabled us to free ourselves from matter, to exist as pure mental beings. We receive our energy from the stars and the seething matrix of inner space. We send out our thoughts, conversing with other great intelligences, supra-physical like our own, or the thoughts of young souls like your own, fledgling civilisations still bound to their bodies.

The words were strange to Dan, but somehow he seemed to grasp the meaning.

“Well, where are you then, and how can you speak English?”

We are on an outer arm of what you humans would call the Centaurus A galaxy. We are not speaking English or any verbal language, merely transferring thought in binary code. Our race’s thoughts, child, have travelled across the universe, and the spaces between dimensions hidden to you. Our achievements would astound and terrify you.

Dan felt a trickle of wetness burst free from one eye, then the other, then he burst out in a sob. “This can’t be real. It’s a joke. Jamie! I’m telling Mum about this!”

It is not a joke. We are as real as you. More real.

“Then what are you going to do with us?” wept Dan.

The being seemed to separate into two components again. Dan was for the moment excluded from the exchange.

See the fear in their little minds, 1.

Yes, 2, and how it could drive them so easily to corruption.

We could free them, 1. Free all of them from their physical natures!

The blackness of space expanded and contracted again before settling into a timeless, chilling silence.

Dan wiped his eyes, then lifted the bin a little. Far above (or below?) a huge scarlet blanket hung against the stars, twinkling with hazy magic. He stole a glimpse.

Huge, proud, omnipotent, the web of crimson energy seemed to stretch from star to star, fading and brightening, pulsing like a colossal heartbeat. For seconds only, Dan saw it, and he turned away, shivering with wonder and terror, as if he had seen a colony of stately angels – or demons. Something that no human was meant to see.

The Minds of Centaurus turned to him again.

We have not encountered your young race before. Yet it has not been difficult for us to read your brainwaves and understand your people. Your blue-green world, whose voices are just starting to pour out into the void! You have given us much interest and concern.

“What will you do with us?”

We will converse with the great brains of space, with the Minds of Perseus, Andromeda and the Abell Cluster.

Dan’s human soul, stirred by those holy lights, soared suddenly to bravery.  He wiped away his last tears. “I could come with you. Both of us, Jamie and me. We could come! Become like you!”

Space shivered and twisted, and even the Minds of Centaurus seemed thrown off balance for a second. Then they seemed to laugh.

Oh, child, you are full of such love and desire, such glorious potential – but so blighted with corruption. Soon the greyness of adulthood will settle on you, and we are certain you would be of no use to the Minds of Centaurus then! Your blind angry race!

“Then what will you do?”

The Minds spoke like teachers, with total confidence in their own correctness, and the humans’ ignorance.

We will certainly send a representative to your planet. Maybe you are in need of supervision and guidance. Yet I sense that many of my people believe you deserve punishment.

Black space flared with blood-red fire for a moment.

“When? When will you do this?”

In your terms, it is difficult to say. Our timescales do not work in the same way as your own. The slicing of time – of spacetime – is not a universal measure. Our visit may seem to you like a day, or a month, a year, a thousand, or a million of your years. We do not view time as you physical kinds. Then, when we come, we may cleanse you of impurities and lift you to the transcendence of the physical. This is the destiny of all great races. Or…

Space seemed to darken.


The voice was becoming unclear again.

There are some of our race who feel that your people are unworthy. 1248. That you are a sightless wicked people deserving … 163264128…enslavement or destruction.

“You wouldn’t…would you?”


“But you wouldn’t!”


“Please say you wouldn’t!”


The hard starlight and scarlet web had dwindled; Dan was caught in limbo, with no memory or dimension, no hope or fear. Then a new light came in, misty white and dim, the light of oncoming dusk.

He was aware again of a thrashing figure above. Jamie was hissing and whooshing, piloting his craft beyond Centaurus A, out into the further reaches of space.

The bin above shifted, rocked and tipped. Jamie passed overhead, howling with rage and indignation. His trainer clipped Dan’s ear as he fell, and both kids were knocked to the ground.

Dan received a mouthful of muddy grass. He got up, spluttering and furious. “You idiot! Idiot!”

“I’m sorry, Dan. You OK?”

“Yes, I suppose so. You?”

“Yeah. Good game, eh?”

“A stupid kid’s game!”

“But we went so far.”

“I don’t remember,” said Dan slowly. “To the Moon, then the stars and galaxies and to a funny place, a really strange place…”


“I don’t know… but it doesn’t matter anyway!” laughed Dan suddenly, and tried to rub the grass stains from his jeans. “Mom will shoot us for getting ourselves in a mess like this!”

Jamie picked up a handful of grass and dropped it over Dan’s head.

Dan tousled his brother’s hair roughly. “We’d better get this lot tidied up and get off home.”

There was an autumn chill in the air and a vague scent of distant bonfires. The first stars were sparking into life as the sky deepened to cloud-strewn indigo.

Dan looked up, wondering if the sky would be clear enough to see the wisps of the Milky Way tonight. Probably not.

Then, suddenly, another star seemed to appear. A pinpoint of curious scarlet. It caught Dan’s eye and, for a reason he could not tell, stirred his heart. Then, it glimmered and was eclipsed by a dark cloud.

“What were you staring at?” said Jamie.

“I don’t know. A funny red star. A bit like Mars, maybe, but brighter.”

“Oh, I missed it! I wanted to see. Do you think it’ll come out again?”


Then the two laughed and, shouldering their bins and tinsel, marched back home, and thought no more of it.

Copyright © 2010 by Peter Simon
Illustration © 2010 by Pierre Smit
Originally published in Something Wicked Issue 10

Peter Simon is a British social support worker, as well as a freelance writer. He has published many science fiction and fantasy stories, though does not restrict himself exclusively to those genres. He is currently working on a novel.

He loves traveling and is a long distance cyclist.

In his writing, he is influenced by Artur C. Clarke, Olaf Stapledon and George Stewart, amongst others.

Writing is in his blood.

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