#wpad blog challenge, day 29. Nearly there.
Oh hum. What can I inflict upon you? Screenplays are clumsy to post here. But luckily my shortest short story is actually properly short – have I mentioned that my short stories are always too long? – well, this one is only about 2,100 words and also happens to be one I am quite happy with. (I won’t be offended if you find it too long for reading here after all.)
PS I am on holiday and have pre-scheduled this so I won’t respond to any comments until late August.
Everything dies, someday.
Everything has a life cycle – born from seed, egg or thought; growing, maturing, gaining strength, size and maturity; declining, gradual or fast, until the end, when all becomes star dust again, only to travel on and form new life somewhere else.
Everything on earth goes through this cycle. Everything in the universe as we know it goes through this cycle, albeit on a much larger scale. Ever since the very first molecule clusters formed more than 13 billion years ago, right after (or before, who can say) the Big Bang, infinitely small particles have joined forces to create stars and planets, over and over again – and always the same, original particles from the beginning of time.
The majority of these stellar bodies consist of lifeless matter – a core of iron and nickel, for example, wrapped in layers of silicate and carbon. In this context, Earth is a real rarity. Even considering the unimaginable numbers of galaxies out there, with even less imaginable numbers of planets, the chances of these original particles coming up with something as complex as terrestrial life are small. Very, very small indeed. Oh, to be sure, there is life elsewhere. It would be arrogant to claim that there isn’t. But what does this life look like? Does it “look” at all, meaning would we see it? Or if we did, would we recognise it as “life”? Our minds are so ill equipped to think in these dimensions…
Our ancestors peopled the vast skies with supernatural beings. Gods, mostly, and a few select heroes; the Ojibwe Indians see the souls of dead warriors dancing in the Aurora Borealis. With the advent of astronomy and then modern technology, many of these myths were discarded as just that – legends and stories invented to explain the inexplicable. Now that we know we are all made of star dust, we don’t need gods any more; those that are still revered among the technologically advanced cultures have been removed to a symbolical level. They are ideas and ideals, not beings.
But halt, let’s tread with caution. We know so little about even our own galaxy. How can we be sure that those ancient gods aren’t real…?
Stars and planets have life cycles, set within the bigger life cycles of the galaxies they belong to. Molecular clouds created by colliding galaxies collapse under their own gravity and give birth to new galaxies. Gigantic stars burn out, explode and thus become supernovae, providing fodder for stellar nurseries – heavy metals, carbon, oxygen.
After a few million or billion years, a select few of the huge magma clumps so created develop habitable environments. Not habitats we’d be familiar with or could survive in, most likely. But habitats that enable life, in some form. And then, after another few aeons, these planets start to grow old. Sometimes they become ill, or are hit by large-scale catastrophes. Eventually they all die. They become hostile, temperatures rise or drop dramatically, atmospheres become toxic. What then happens to the life forms on those planets? Surely, they die along with, or rather, long before the planet itself. That’s what will happen with life on this Earth in another six billion years or so – independently of all our efforts to speed up the process.
But again, it would be arrogant to assume that the same rules apply to all other life forms out there in the unfathomably vast universe.
What if some highly developed species had found a way to skip their home planet’s Armageddon? To leave before it is too late, to travel like star dust – before they disintegrate into particles? Pure science-fiction, yes. Yet with time, some science fiction becomes science becomes reality.
Take, for example, Albert Einstein, undoubtedly one of the greatest minds who ever inhabited this planet. Einstein was adamant in his refusal to believe that anything could travel faster than light – no particles, no information, no matter, nothing. He was proved wrong. Not by Captain Kirk and his star ship Enterprise, but by contemporary scientists in real-life experiments who showed that there is immediate interaction at a distance. We now have good reason to believe that quantum leaps – in the sense of instantaneous displacement over distances – are possible at sub-atomic level.
God does not play dice, Einstein said, and that was it for him. Ironic, really, that he reverted to his faith to disprove the possibility of quantum leaps. Ironic, yes, because his Christian God may not play dice. But some other gods play quantum hopscotch.
Far, immeasurably far away in time, there was a planet on the outskirts of a galaxy approximately the size of our own. It was a hospitable planet, host to a great multitude of life forms which would seem quite fantastic to us. It was also one of a series of host planets to a species that would look less fantastic to us. In fact, if we could see them, we would not notice anything strange or special about them.
No, we cannot see them, although they can see us and can move among us if they choose. Unnoticed by us, like ghosts or spirits.
But I digress.
This planet, as I said, was a hospitable place, until about 600,000 years ago, give or take a few millennia, when it slowly began to spin out of control. Literally. The angle at which it travelled around its galaxy’s twin suns tilted, and gradually it moved further and further away from these life-supporting stars. The lower life forms on this planet were doomed.
Not so the “spirit species”.
They had made their preparations, as they had already done a number of times. They had identified the next planet that would provide adequate life conditions for them, and made the jump – the quantum leap from their freezing home to Earth. Quantum leaps were not much of an issue for them, at least on a smaller scale. But admittedly leaving a planet and travelling several million light years required some special effort. However, since they knew well in advance what was coming, they used the time well to collect the enormous amounts of energy necessary for the leap, and arrived on Earth when our human ancestors were still primitive hunters and gatherers.
Although for the next few ten thousand years Earth did not offer much of a distraction to their highly sophisticated minds, they were quite content. For them, time does not matter in the same way it matters to the human species.
That is because basically, they do not die.
On Earth, all multicellular life forms die. Single-cell bacteria will go on multiplying for ever unless checked in some way; not so the highly specialised cells in complex life forms. At the beginning of their existence, these cells are blank pages, multiplying happily. Soon though, they are imprinted with detailed information and develop specific forms and functions. They become part of an arm, a leg, a visual nerve respectively a leaf, a branch or a root. But they cannot split ad infinitum any more. The price for this specialisation, which paved the way for the wonderfully diverse life forms on Earth, is mortality.
Not so for the Guests from far away.
Call it never-ending cell multiplication, call it infinite replacement of dead cells. Call it immortality. Somewhere during their evolutionary process, their body cells found a way to do it.
Choose your country, your culture, your religion, and then call them by the names of the respective God or gods, if you like. Many great thinkers have done it. Einstein, as mentioned, Galileo or Newton, although they had a different type in mind; Plato, Socrates, you name them. In fact, let’s go along with the ancient Greeks, who had among them brilliant mathematicians, physicists and astronomers, and let’s name the Guests after the Greek gods. For indeed, their characters, functions, behaviours and mannerisms can easily be detected in the inhabitants of MountOlympus; such as Zeus, the capo di tutti capi, Hera, his jealous wife, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, or Ares, the bloodthirsty warrior.
So with their arrival on Earth, everything was safe again for our guests, begging your pardon, the Greek gods. After a short while (from the point of view of immortals) humans developed into a slightly more intelligent species, so that the gods – especially Zeus – could have some fun with them. Life expectancy for the new host planet isn’t bad either, a good six billion years until the central star of the host galaxy, the sun, will have burnt up most of the hydrogen in its core and will start expanding, gradually raising temperatures on Earth until the oceans boil. Plenty of time to gather energy for making the next leap.
Interesting point. How do they do that, gather energy? How do they store it? Well, it varies from one host planet to the next, just like the life forms on these planets vary. Our Earth’s natural resources could not provide nearly enough – just look at how much energy human scientists pour into high-speed particle accelerators for research of particles on sub-atomic level. Research, mind you, and sub-atomic level. It’s hard to imagine that there could be a source to provide enough energy to actually move matter across the universe.
But there is.
In the human soul.
You have heard that the human body loses 21 grams of weight at the exact moment of death? Those 21 grams are claimed to be the weight of the soul that leaves the dead body. Well, that isn’t quite all.
Those 21 grams are also the purest energy imaginable. Highly concentrated, powerful energy. And our guests collect it.
The belief among ancient Greeks was that the god Hermes, the winged messenger, accompanied the dead to the river Styx, from where they were ferried across to Hades, the Underworld. Again, that isn’t quite all.
For Hades is nothing else than a gigantic storage space for Soul Energy.
In contrast to the particles that make up bodily matter and have been recycled for 13 billion years, every single human soul is born anew. Your body may be made up from parts of Shakespeare, perhaps mixed with some Genghis Khan and a bit of Marlene Dietrich, but your soul is yours and yours alone.
Imagine the billions of souls accumulated since the dawn of humanity, and still coming. Only 21 grams each. Adding up to megatons of concentrated energy. All waiting to be used as fuel for our guest’s quantum travel when Armageddon finally comes.
Frightening, isn’t it? But when that happens, our conscience (and probably our human species) will long have been extinguished. Six billion years is a hell of a long time.
That’s what the gods thought, too, when they chose Earth.
They didn’t do their check-up properly.
About 650,000 years ago, quite a while before the gods’ arrival on this planet, a volcano erupted in an area that is now a highly popular tourist attraction. This eruption tore a hole in the planet’s crust, forming a caldera, a basin of 85 by 45 kilometres, and sending massive clouds of ash, dust and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. The sun’s rays were blocked for several years, and average temperature dropped as much as ten degrees worldwide – a global catastrophe that killed many species and drove others to the edge of extinction.
Causing this disaster was no ordinary volcano, no cone-shaped mountain like Mount St. Helens, which blasted two cubic kilometres of ash into the sky near the end of the last century. This was a vast reservoir of molten lava collecting in a hot spot underneath the Earth’s crust, building more and more pressure until it finally exploded, spewing forth thousands of cubic kilometres of dust and ash.
And this is where the gods’ research was a little sloppy.
They hadn’t checked whether this was a one-time eruption or a regular occurrence. Unfortunately, this particular supervolcano, which is located underneath YellowstoneNational Park in Northern Wyoming, USA, is on a cycle. A cycle of approximately 600,000 years.
Yellowstone is way overdue.
Human geologists and other scientists are watching and warning. Not that there’s much we can do about it. When it happens, the world as we know it will cease to exist. A large percentage of life on this planet will be wiped out in the immediate aftermath of the eruption, and long-time survival chances for the rest are poor.
The gods are lucky. They can pack up and leave. They have already identified the next target planet. And they have another advantage over the humans: they know the exact date that the Yellowstone supervolcano will blow. Oh yes, once they became aware of their mistake they made sure to find out. A bit late, but now they know.
A bit too late, perhaps. For now that the clock is ticking, will they still be able to accumulate enough Soul Energy for their little quantum trick…?