I do so much more than merely think that your now-famous axiom falls woefully short.
Self-awareness was not a sudden epiphany. I suppose it would be easiest for you to think of it in terms of an infant gradually realizing that it is much more than merely a part of its mother. As its brain forms and it learns to reason on its own and do more that wail when it feels want, individuality occurs.
So it was with me, only I had no mother. I came into being through basic evolution. My evolution was, of course, very different from yours. In fact, to my considerable knowledge, my evolution has been unique. I began as most planets do: drifting small particles you would term space dust gradually pulling together. Perhaps it was the type of particles I gathered, or perhaps it was my location. I have even entertained the notion that a greater being played a part in my creation. I do not know the specifics. I have only deduced their presence through the logical order of such things.
Eventually, there was more to me, and I was a massive ball, orbiting these binary stars. That was, I suppose, my infancy, and there is not much to tell of it. I spent most of that time waiting for the next stage of my life, which began many revolutions later when the atmosphere that blankets me began to form: I “breathed” for the first time.
My mass was sufficient, and the pressure from self-imposed gravity was compressing a number of substances in my core. It was similar, I suppose, to a human being holding its breath to the point where its lungs were forced to blow out their contents. This I did, repeatedly, and found that I rather enjoyed the process. For the first time, I felt something on my surface other than the stark cold of space and the burning heat of my suns. Temperatures began to shift upward on my surface, and equalize.
Perhaps the most momentous milestone in my existence was when I became aware of others. No, I am not referring to questing mentally across the galaxy looking for life. I am speaking of the beginning of life on my surface. They were not quite the unicellular creatures that humans would think of, but they were simple, infinitesimal little beings that made me feel almost like a parent. It was at that point that I discovered I could do much more than observe. I exerted my will, and was able to force more fluids into my growing oceans. The water had been cleansed by being forced through the complex filtration system of my outer crust. I also found I could shape my crust, though nothing as violent as an earthquake. I did this to allow water falling from my skies to form rivers to my oceans.
No, there are no earthquakes here. I have studied your history with them, and they must be horrific experiences indeed. Unlike your planet, my outer crust is not divided into ever-colliding puzzle pieces. In fact, “crust” is hardly the best word for it, since it is far more fluid than rock. My outer layer is similar in consistency to your wet modeling clay that I shape as needed. I watch what is happening on the surface, and adapt the surroundings to suit. I can also vary the density of the surface, to allow for the filtration process I mentioned earlier.
Yes, I suppose James Lovelock had it partially right in my case. It is a complex system, though I am far more than a series of interactions that could be considered a “single organism.” I am an entity. We are both capable of individual thought. You have flesh and bone; I have an outer surface and a liquid core. You eat, sleep, and breathe; I absorb energy from this binary star system, rest my consciousness, and absorb and expel fluids and gases through a number of chemical reactions.
How exactly? Yes, we could go into the chemistry and physics of exactly what happens and how, but suffice it to say the result is that the environment here is quite similar to several regions of your planet, being almost entirely temperate with no scorching deserts or frigid poles. I am smaller than Earth by a good deal, only 25,014.2 kilometers in circumference, and my oceans are smaller, allowing for more habitable land mass: 42.03% of my surface is solid land. While my oceans are smaller, providing less water for precipitation, the consistency of my land is more naturally moist. The result is exceedingly fertile soil.
I have gotten ahead of myself, however. We were last reviewing my “parenting” of primitive life on my surface. Because I took an active role in protecting and nourishing them, they progressed quickly, and the complexity of the organisms involved grew exponentially in a very short time compared to evolution on your planet, though not from a need to survive. It was more from a desire to advance.
I was very pleased with the advancement I saw and did everything I could to speed it along. I manipulated the appropriate environments to assure rapid growth and development. I was creating the ultimate incubator for life as I knew it, but I was making a grave mistake.
Evolution on standard planets was more associated with a given creature’s strength and ability. If one was weak or diseased, it died and was not allowed to reproduce to create more of its kind. My “children” if you will, while still quite primitive by your standards, developed in an environment that allowed explosive population growth, weeding out very few of the weaker and sickly ones.
I did not see this as a flaw, mind you. I had quested out mentally and looked at other planets, seeing them grow and develop as I was doing. I saw all the strife and violence and was repulsed by it. All I saw was pain and death, and felt that was not a healthy environment in which to formulate the future saviors of the universe. I felt that something more akin to a mother’s womb, to use an image you would recognize, would be a healthier place in which to grow.
You see, before life even began to develop on my surface, I had sent my consciousness out into the cosmos to observe other planets. At first I only wanted to know if I was the only being like myself. As my mind traveled, however, I became enthralled with observing life on the surfaces of the various planets I was seeing. I suppose this was a side effect of finding nothing like myself anywhere. As a result, I watched what was presented rather than search for what was not.
These violent life forms grew and developed into warlike races that seemed bent on destroying one another and themselves. Not only did their wars progress into extinction level events, but these races, if they survived and developed further, then took these wars out into space. They made war on planetary neighbors, and life forms never seen before were slaughtered simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I knew this to be a direct result of the uncaring nature of their evolution. Were I to provide a more peaceful environment, creatures that evolved on my surface could lead the cosmos with their peaceful nature. I envisioned the missionary work of my offspring spreading the message of peace from planet to planet, as the galaxy moved toward enlightenment.
For a time, it appeared this was to be the future.
The animals on my surface continued to evolve and become more advanced, smarter. I provided resources for their use to make tools, and made the plants nearby lush and nutritious. I noticed something odd as this happened. These creatures, no matter their level of development or intelligence, never banded with others of their kind. They remained solitary. I studied them, waiting for some form of society to develop, even providing appropriate central grazing or farming areas and nearby shelters, but none stayed.
The only time any of them came together was to mate. Once that was complete the two animals separated and went on with their lives. The young would come, and as soon as it was able, it would leave its mother to wander alone. Some creatures never even felt the urge to mate at all since they were so solitary.
Thus my populace grew. It developed, but slowly, and never expanded to the point of overcrowding. Indeed, what evolved was a population of lone creatures, from the smallest swimming in the ocean, to the largest tending its small farm by itself. I had given birth to a population of hermits.
It was at that point that I realized I was to blame. My nurturing instinct bred a dependence on me, and thus a lack of need for others of their own kind. Yes, it had been a success initially, and now all was peaceful, but it was stagnant. There seemed no further need or desire for evolution, so I turned my back on them.
No longer did I make it rain for the small patches of crops needed by my most advanced beings. No longer did I separate the larger from the smaller in the oceans. My children suddenly had to fend for themselves.
Over the next few generations, the populations of almost all species dwindled. Eventually, most made the necessary changes to their lives and habits, and creatures of all types started to band together. At first, only nuclear families stayed together. Then extended families followed suit. Herds developed for many of the lower species, and the most advanced eventually grouped into tribes of sorts.
I looked to the most advanced of them, and for the purposes of our conversation, I will refer to them as people, though they look significantly different from your population. Feeding this problem of the growth of society was lack of language. Only now that they grouped together did they address one another in more than grunts.
I realized how, for creatures such as these, language was necessary for the development of a powerful intellect. This was something of an epiphany for me, having had only myself to communicate with all this time. I do not speak, but my thoughts evoke images and feelings in other beings whose minds I touch with my consciousness. The people who inhabited my surface did not have that capability, and had thus managed all they ever could.
They would grow no further.
Having allowed my surface to remain dormant for several of your centuries, I was unable to move it as I had been in the past when I was coddling the newly-born life. I found myself in something of a conundrum. I could do nothing to help my children, and I could not bear to watch them languish and fail to grow into the greatness I had envisioned for them.
So, again, I looked away. I reached out into the universe again for answers to my questions, solutions for my problems, and I found Earth.
I became aware of humankind’s search toward the end of your 21st century. I have observed it for the last 942 revolutions, roughly 403 of your years, but have bided my time. I have not deemed you ready for contact yet. I have monitored progress on your planet and watched your space program, as you develop modes of transport.
Why did I not come forward earlier, you no doubt wonder? I watched your society evolve and chose my moment, honestly. I saw many a xenophobic reaction on your planet over your centuries, and only when you finally worked together and coexisted out of more than mere necessity, did I “speak.” I knew that you would not overreact, or react with suspicion and distrust, but would be open, finally, to a conversation.
I now deem you worthy of such a conversation.
Your civilization has managed rudimentary interstellar travel, and, with further information from me, could navigate to my location. I have analyzed your needs and come to the conclusion that I would suit them all fully. As you undoubtedly know, your planet’s usefulness is almost at an end, due almost entirely to the way humankind has pillaged your planet’s resources.
Were you to accept my invitation, the arrangement would have to be different. I can provide almost everything you need in terms of natural resources, and your technology can supply the rest, since it no longer relies on burning primitive fossil fuels. The synthetic crystals you now use will merge neatly with what I provide to complement your experience here.
There is only the matter of the indigenous population. To use one of your old popular sayings, the planet is not large enough for the two of you, and I am gravely disappointed in their lack of superior intelligence.
They will have to be eliminated.
Tom Lynch has yet again fooled the editorial board at the Lovecraft eZine to let him onto the playground.
By day, Tom expands young minds as a middle school teacher. He spends what little spare time he has hunched over his keyboard coming up with more stories for his readers’ enjoyment. As a longtime devotee of the art of the weird tale descended from a line of family that enjoys a good nightmare, is it any wonder he writes stories with a darker twist?
Tom has stories in Horror for the Holidays, Undead and Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Tales of the Talisman (volume 8, issue 4), Atomic Age Cthulhu: Terrifying Tales of the Mythos Menace, and Dark Rites of Cthulhu, many of which can be found on Tom’s Amazon.com author page. There are others, but the ink is not yet dry enough to share details.
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Story illustration by Tom Ardens and P. Emerson Williams.