FIRST: SOME EXPLANATION:
I spotted a callout for stories and reviews from my college literary society, so I quickly rattled this off, and edited-down the Scott Pilgrim review, for the deadline. I didn’t have time to edit … which meant I wasn’t constantly going back, and actually got it finished. Writing in the unpublishable format of tweets seems to have successfully broken me of my constant need to hone before finishing, and I might be able to just proceed to prose format again. After that, I might even be able to trust myself to edit again.
I wrote this, sent it off … then came across an article on the hypothetical Higgs Singlet; ”The Higgs singlet may be able to jump through space and time, travel through a hidden dimension, and then re-enter our dimension forward or backward in time.”
In the highly-unlikely event that I was inspired to write this story by messages sent back in time, much as the story itself proposes all myths were sent back in time, I just have one request for being the mouthpiece for ‘The Future’: Lotto numbers, guys, lotto numbers.
NOW: READ ON:
Alien Races: Thirteen Vignettes on Space Monsters
Space Men, 001 YZ:
At the start of the latter-half of the Earth’s lifetime, we measured time differently. Instead of A.D. it was Y.Z.: Year Zero. Year Zero, as counted from the first year when, by way of bioinformatic clones and dedicated memory implants, nobody died. A post scarcity society, racking a solid ‘level 3’ on the Kardashev-Dyson scale of civilisations. The only remaining scarcity resource was land. Or, rather, space. Humans had filled up all the space on land, on water and underwater too, in air and in orbit. Naturally, the quest for space drove them into … space.
Ape Men, 298 YZ:
Humanity returned to caves, this time on the moon. Working in a gravity one-sixth of the Earth’s, the ‘Space Monkeys’, resided in geodesic-domed gardens and hemispherical moonbases. Light was sparse, and reserved for the plants. Space was at premium here, too, and all their work places were in three dimensions, with banks of computer terminals lining ‘ceilings’ as well as ‘floors’.
The changes they made to themselves were not even outside human baseline DNA.
They were prodigiously physically strong and blindingly quick, made for racing along the handholds on the walls of their weightless workstations, or swinging from the trees in their labour-intensive life-gardens. Their eyes were large, pupils as big as saucers in the darkness. They even grew a lanugo-like fur. Obviously, they could never go home like that.
Particularly after the final elective surgery; to give their feet opposable thumbs.
Vampires, 8, 436 YZ:
As it turned out, generation ships were just not reliable and cryogenics needed humanity to meet it half way. Even ships travelling at appreciable fractions of the speed of light would have millennia-long voyages. The travellers needed to drop into suspended animation for aeons. Even when they awoke, to pull century-long maintenance shifts, their food sources would have to be compact.
It would also help if they had no great love of light – the vastness of space would give them little.
They grew them on the dark side of the moon. Placed in steel caskets, the ‘Suckers’ would sleep for an eternity until they reached their destinations. Their blood diet was practical – it was the most compact foodstuff imaginable and their specialised biologies drew sufficient sustenance from a pint to survive a century. They didn’t need food, or water, or air, or light, or heat, or even company.
The controls on their craft were irrevocably locked on course, of course – couldn’t risk them turning around.
Werewolves, 14, 778 YZ:
Out by Proxima Centauri, there is a planet with fourteen moons and a faraway sun that shines weakly. Nights with one or more full moons on any section of the planet draw out a vicious perennial pack predator. A colony being, it reacts as one to moon light exactly, waking it for the hunt, some vestigial instinct leftover from hunting some night time herbivore, long extinct.
Naturally, the human colonists of this planet chose to change themselves to fit it than vice versa – it was quicker.
The tricky part was the timing. Humans could have become bigger animals for this world – it was beyond neither their science, aesthetics nor morals. But life, and resources on this planet were subsistence, at best – hence the colony-creature’s restraint. They looked for something that could shift between a low-energy human shape in safe times and a high-energy warrior shape by the light of the moon.
Of course, they looked to man’s best friend.
Mermaids: 675, 155 YZ:
Marooned on a water-covered planet, the cannibals had to adapt. Their lifeboat-planetship was the only floating apparatus across the entire world. It was a deep-bottomed ocean, filled to the brim with predators.
Adapting gill-bearing humans with webbed feet wasn’t that hard – it’s a stage in the womb after all. The true innovations were the increased aural and vocal capacities, putting their obsolete throats and lungs to good use. Most remarkable was their ability to manipulate the giant predators of the world sea with their songs.
When the cannibals grew hungry for human flesh again, the ‘Sirens’ sung into their lifeboat’s communicators, across the interstellar ether, and watched the rescue ships make planet fall.
Demons: 3, 568, 798 YZ:
Why limit yourself to planets? After so many colonists eschewed light, they swung in the other direction. After all, light and heat were essential to life. Creating something that relied on these alone, that could subsist on this alone was just cutting out the evolutionary middleman.
Creatures for the photosphere posed their own problems, but not insoluble ones. The horns and scales are simply hangovers from early heat experiments, and they only tempt the way stars have always tempted humanity.
Mummies: 54, 943, 280 YZ:
Crossing intergalactic distances takes a real toll on any body. The magneto-gravitic and electro-nuclear engines have no inertial dampeners, no radiation shields. That one is dead on arrival when travelling in one of these things is certain. Best to arrange to be dead on departure, too.
They sleep longer than the rise and fall of civilisations, their organs in preservative pyramidal canopic jars, waiting to waken.
Titans: 905, 777, 248 YZ:
Free from gravity, giants can finally be realised. ‘Starchildren’ are grown in orbit, the length of Noah’s ark. They have liquid nitrogen for blood, anaerobic metabolisms and slow, deliberate consciousness that can think in terms of hundreds of thousands of years. They are the only humans to appear on a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. They are launched into deepest space, willing themselves across the void with synapses the size of city streets, and cannot be felled by a meteor to the forehead.
Fairies: 2, 308, 578, 097 YZ:
Smaller people fit in smaller spaces; carry this axiom to its ultimate conclusion, and you create microscopic men. Humans as tall as a pencil, as small a drop of water, people who can fit under a microscope – even an electron microscope. The biological impossibility of this is immediately obvious – the physical ones less so. On the Yocto subatomic scale (0.000000000000000000001. of cubic measurement) one can’t breathe oxygen atoms the size of one’s head or visually process photons the size of a country. It was also unclear what was hunting them down there, until they found the tigers prowling between the quarks.
Zombies: 78, 265, 787, 901 YZ:
Going from end to end of the universe tests the resources of even a type 3 civilisation. The ‘Talking Dead’ – by majority just species-wide memory scans housed in planet-sized memory banks – consume three hundred planets just to build a ring around a sun. The ring’s diameter is exactly that or Earth’s orbit around its sun. They build a second, a third, a fourth ring, interlacing. These alone are larger than anything ever yet attempted and they are but the scaffolding for a greater work – a Dyson sphere.
Mad Scientists: 854, 786, 630, 904 YZ:
They create entire species by accident now, even in the least of their endeavours. Afterwards, they feel a proprietary guilt towards the offspring, like an unplanned pregnancy. The fledgling natives are easy to unintentionally destroy as they are to unintentionally create. Sometimes the worst thing a creator can do is show his creations that he can bleed.
Gods: 5, 789, 203, 978, 467 YZ:
They never found any true aliens, anywhere, after all that searching. There were a few almosts – one set of posthumans mistaking another as having an entirely otherworldly origin. Who can blame them? Near-baseline humans travelling at relativistic speeds in slow-ships would awake, encounter ‘Dog Soldiers’, ‘Sirens’ and ‘Talking Dead’, and wonder at the otherness of the alien. But no. And so they threw up grand conceits with their monster-technologies – impossibly ringing a black hole’s accretion disc with the last seven shining suns in the entire universe, shifting planets so the music of their spheres sounds in perfect harmony and tampering with universal constants of the universe for the doing of it. They dedicated memorial-museum planets to the minutiae of their history and declared themselves the wanton emperors of the galaxy and the mercurial queens of deep space. And no one gave a damn.
Devils: 89, 064, 312, 765, 294 YZ:
The first of the self-hating self-deletions had occurred. The grotesques and the holocausts and the masquerade-frivolities of the Gods have faded away. Now solemn, humanity is truly up against the constraints of a deteriorating universe. The stars having long, long gone out, entropy is their single and undeniable enemy. Heat-death is all that awaits them. With their monster-technology, they might, possibly win.
But should they? Should they succeed, will they become corrupt, proud and decadent, as they did before? The technology required to reshape the universe at the base of reality would be dangerous to even conceive of. They might well simply carve the very universe, excepting no molecule, omitting no atom, into a beautiful, horrific statue of themselves and their lonely glory.
The last great technical revelation is what decides them. The branes of reality were once thought to be layers of other universes, one on top of the other. They sought to escape to other universes, only to find the branes bent at the edges, folded over on themselves, leading only to the past. The ‘Devils’ can watch, even communicate with all periods of human history – even the pre-YZ days.
They appear to old humans and (in the geographical language and cultural idiom of the time) and ask: Would one risk losing one’s few remaining self-defining aspects to the interminable furnace at the end of time to achieve one’s desires? Translating into ‘sell one’s soul’, ‘damned to hell’ and ‘Faustian deal’, the Devils noted down the responses of all humanity and acted accordingly.
Ghosts: 100, 000, 000, 000, 000 YZ
They fought, they lost. It was a near miss in the end, but entropy eventually rolled over their well-laid plans and complex forms. The water in among the clockwork, the rust crouched within the engine, the shortening telomeres in the cells. They had run the race, the human race, for a long time – many amongst their number being original Year Zero populace, in one form or another. They might have been tempted to walk away from it all then – if it weren’t for how alive, passionate and unconsciously fragile the prisoners of the past were. Twenty trillion generations strong, humanity chose to give their forebears one last chance to escape their fate.
Beings of light, and gravity, and energy and celestial firmament, now. They turn, travelling back in time. They’ve peered down their temporal telescopes and whispered into their interstitial radios long enough. They twist the branespace, transmitting their incoherent forms and memory totalities to the very beginning of the universe. This time they will have enough time. They will kick start ancient humanity’s growth and imagination, leaving it enough time to escape the dying universe – perhaps even create a few alien races for humans to meet. The images of them all shall provoke the thoughts of strange shores and great possibilities into the infant intellect of young humanity. Even if the next does not succeed, or the one after that, each human race will be sharper each and every time, until they free themselves of the universe – and free their neighbours too.
Back to the start. They are words and images now, formatting themselves upon psyches across the ages, knowing themselves not to be gods but to be the inspiration of gods. They are revolutionaries; they turn and, in turning, re-turn to the start. They are creating the human race, these aliens.
Let there be light.
EDIT: And now I turn on my podcatcher and find Drabblecast 200 with ‘The Last Question’, the story to which the ‘let there be light’ line is a shout out to, and find it came out the day after I finished the story and the day before I posted it.
So, uh, future peoples … who dost thou want smoten?