Vincent Van Gogh was one of those rare (one could hardly say fortunate) individuals who are natural receivers of cosmic messages. Like those people living so close to radio towers that their fillings can pick up rap stations, he was constantly bombarded by alien transmissions—messages that made little sense to him, and none at all to those he tried explaining them to.
On a starry night, he could hear the ships sifting from star to star, and their aeons-old navigators singing to each other across the spaces between galaxies.
It left its mark on his art. Don't think it didn't! Those twisty country roads, like wormholes twisting through space and time as seen from within … do the tiny figures down toward their ends look human to you? Those loud, crystalline stars caught up in turbulence born of supernovae and black holes … coincidence? Not bloody likely.
Most of all, there are those sunflowers: like cadmium-yellow suns! That same flaring yellow glory that a navigator sees on finally bringing a ship home at last to a G-type star. All the warmth and beauty of a safe homecoming after a million-year trading voyage is contained in them. Van Gogh thought he was painting flowers. But the wondrous image he struggled to capture in paint time after time was actually the perfect expression of the high-point in a navigator's life, when the struggle is over and it's possible to return home at last, to sporulate and die.
Because natural receivers of cosmic messages resonate to them, they are routinely monitored for their minuscule effect on locator beacons. As a result, Van Gogh is known far beyond the backwater reaches of the obscure galactic arm in which he was born. His sunflowers are famous throughout the universe.
There are, in fact, somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand navigators who have detoured from their scheduled courses and are rushing Earthwards in hope of acquiring one of those paintings.
When they arrive, there's going to be one hell of an auction.
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.