â€œItâ€™s not that youâ€™re boring,â€ John protested, even though it was. He hated conversations like this, and they always seemed to happen to him. This was his third uncomfortable breakup in as many months.
â€œThen what is it?â€ Lila demanded, her pout twitching on the edge between anger and tears. John sighed. Heâ€™d seen this one before.
â€œI just, well, Iâ€™ve got other things to worry about in my life, you know?â€ John turned his head away and fiddled with the miniature joystick on his day planner. Heâ€™d had a portable version of Exatz World IV custom-installed so that he could play it while waiting for the train to work. Lila slapped his hand away.
â€œYou mean like that game? Donâ€™t touch that thing when youâ€™re around me, Jonathan! I mean it!â€ Lilaâ€™s eyes were sparking and her pout increased, screwing up her face in a most unattractive manner. â€œIs that what this is all about? Did you meet some girl online? Are you cheating on me?â€
â€œNo!â€ John protested in exasperation. â€œYou canâ€™t cheat on somebody with a video game, damn it! They just have much better writers than whoever came up with your life.â€
â€œWhat do you mean, writers?â€ Lila was aghast. â€œJohn, this is real life. There are no writers! There is no script! Get your head out of the clouds!â€
â€œIâ€™m sick of real life, okay?â€ John snapped, sitting up from his customary slouch and glaring at Lila. â€œNothing changes! All the girls are the same, all the places are the same, all the stuff that happens is boring and predictable. Itâ€™s all sugar and no spice. Thereâ€™s noâ€¦ noâ€¦ conflict! No heroism! You canâ€™t be a man in real life!â€
â€œJohn, you are really starting to scare me. Are you even listening to yourself?â€ Lila stared at John as if heâ€™d grown two heads. â€œThat â€˜sugarâ€™ is called peace! The world finally gets itself into some sense of order and youâ€™re complaining?â€ She threw up her hands in disgust. â€œYou are the most disrespectful man Iâ€™ve ever known. What would your father say if he could hear you now?â€
â€œAt least my father was a man!â€ John snapped. â€œHe got to fight for what he believed in. He had a heroâ€™s death.â€
â€œWhat he believed in was a peaceful world for his son. Youâ€™re disgraceful.â€
â€œGet out of here!â€ John grabbed a cushion from the couch behind him and threw it angrily in Lilaâ€™s direction. He had had enough. Everything she said was exactly what heâ€™d predicted. It was a good thing this wasnâ€™t a script, because John would have marched right up to the writers and given them a piece of his mind.
Lila gritted her teeth and clenched her fists. â€œYour father would be ashamed of you,â€ she said, voice trembling, then turned on her heel and slammed the door behind her. John sighed. In all honesty, he was relieved that she was gone.
Turning to his console, John sank back into his comfortable, slouched position with a groan of contentment. It only took a single keystroke to call up the world of heroes and villains, of struggles and escapes and creativity. It was easier than breathing to slough off the peace that his father had fought for in the war to end all wars. As he fitted his goggles over his eyes, John prepared to lose himself in an earlier time.
The curtain went down.
The heat death of the universe played out in one last resounding note, the final dÃ©nouement to the performance.
â€œWell.â€ The young one emoted wildly, sending sparks of light and beauty bouncing off its consciousness. â€œWhat did you think?â€
The Eldest did not comment but turned its presence to another, a middle aged being by the count of their people. They had all always been there, but their consciousness sparked in and out, sometimes sleeping, sometimes dying and reborn. The middle-aged consciousness had a voice like the whirls of a sucking black hole.
â€œVery enthusiastic.â€ It intoned â€œbut not very heavy. The piece was shorter than I expected and the sentients were concentrated in that one area, which was quite an odd choice. Personally, I found the lack of activity in the wider cosmos to be quite dull. The stars, the cosmic dust, these seemed unremarkable, lacking in chemical drama.â€
â€œWell, yes.â€ The young one admitted, â€œIâ€™ve never been very good at all of that cosmic art. Iâ€™m really interested in what all of you thought of the sentients, thatâ€™s where I put most of my energy. What did you think of the sentients?â€
â€œOh, they were quite dramatic.â€ Chimed one that had just woken from a long death. â€œI only saw the end, but it was very magical.â€
â€œI thought it was a little too over the top.â€ Said the middle aged one. â€œA bit much for my taste. Iâ€™d like to see you do something less fanciful, more meaningful next time.â€
The young ones glee swirled around him like a solar wind. â€œOh! Oh! Then there will be a next time?â€ it asked, focusing on the Eldest. â€œEldest, I have such plans. Could I please try again?â€
â€œYes, youngest. You shall do it again. This time, let us see more of what you can do with these sentient beings, but always remember, my youngest, never neglect the stars.â€
We finally did it. For centuries philosophers both of science and religion wondered how much it would take to push ourselves to the brink. They hypothesized and prayed to what end man would come if they kept pushing the limits. All of the wars fought, the corruption broadcast and the sin rampant in environment and in our everyday lives could never have awoken us to the simple truth that we had been sliding down this inverted mountain since the day an ape chose a stick over its bare hands.
They wanted to know what would happen if we continued along our ways. Today they got their answer.
I was what you would call a believer in nothing. Nihilism wasnâ€™t my game it was the mark of atheism that took me by its reigns. Being an atheist wasnâ€™t my problem. Not thinking that there was something right in front of us that weâ€™d all been missing that was. When I woke up today I didnâ€™t question why things were different I just knew that they were.
Even when I walked outside I knew that something was missing more than the obvious and I felt cold and dim. The news yesterday had announced how many had died from the nuclear affair in the east and how many more had been killed in the name of having the almighty on ones side. Truly, I never thought that our time would be the last straw.
Everyone did the same thing upon waking up. Hell, I did it too. We all checked our clocks, we looked at the date and we tried to come to grips that we werenâ€™t crazy. No, I knew it was more than just a lost point in our daily lives that was gone. I stepped outside and I didnâ€™t have a shadow anymore. No one had shadows anymore.
The news didnâ€™t come on today and I knew it was because they felt the same as I did. You wake up; you expect it to be there to greet you. It was right in front of us and we had it right a long time ago but science made it like unto a fairy tale.
All of us woke up today and found that the sun was gone. It didnâ€™t explode and it didnâ€™t fizz out. It left. The warmth that was lost was more than just from the heat the rays gave us. We felt empty inside, we felt cold in a way that not even electric heaters turned on high could fix. The wars might stop, they might not. Something gave up on us today and it left because we were beyond hope. I have to wake up tomorrow knowing I am hopeless; knowing this world is lost.
I woke up today and walked outside to a world with no sun and no warmth. I looked on the ground and saw that I had no shadow. No one had shadows anymore. We were the shadows now.
Zai Lockheart felt slightly claustrophobic on her motherâ€™s porch despite the open, rolling wilderness of the Martian countryside that surrounded her. The house was a pre-fab jobâ€”â€œmy aluminum boxâ€ her mother called itâ€”and it felt cheap and flimsy compared to the monument of stone and wood Zai had grown up in back on Earth. Zai was sitting on the lacquered-metal porch because she couldnâ€™t sleep inside the house; the image of the house tumbling down the mountainside sprang to life every time Zai closed her eyes.
â€œThey have a legend up here, you know.â€ Zai was startled by her motherâ€™s voice behind her. â€œThey say, before you can live up here on the mountains, you have to go to the highest bluff you can find, and shout, loud as you can, â€˜I am a Martian!â€™ And if God believes you, youâ€™ll live in these mountains in happiness and peace, until the end of your days.â€
â€œAnd? If God doesnâ€™t believe you?â€
â€œSmiting. Lightning. Fire from heaven. That sort of thing.â€
â€œWell, it is a beautiful country-side. I can see why Godâ€™d be so picky about whoâ€™d get it.â€ Zai stood up and stretched. She had her fatherâ€™s height, and as such towered over her mother, despite them both being in bare feet. â€œI miss the old house, Mama.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t seem to miss it when you moved out,â€ Zaiâ€™s mother gave her a sly grin. â€œIt was too big. Too big for an old woman without a family. I could have kept it, and you still would have only visited on holidays.â€
â€œI just have trouble picturing you living anywhere but home.â€
â€œAnd I have trouble picturing you without a scabbed knee and pigtails. But look at you now.â€ Zaiâ€™s mother turned away from her, and placed her hands on her hips. â€œWatch that sun come up. Paints the whole world red. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll ever get tired of that.â€
â€œMom, why did you move here?â€
â€œBecause,â€ her mother said, not looking back. â€œI am a Martain.â€
â€œI donâ€™t believe you.â€
â€œThatâ€™s nice, dear,â€ Zaiâ€™s mother said patting Zaiâ€™s hand as she shuffled back in the house. â€œBut youâ€™re not the one I have to convince.â€
TO: Major-General Peter Wixtreed
FROM: Colonel Todd Fuller
RE: Continuing contact with Species #7652-28D
As suggested, sir, we pressed for visual contact and after some time the diplomatic envoys gave in, though not without a good deal of trepidation. They seem uncomfortable dealing with military personnel, so I reduced our contact with the envoys to a minimum and instead allowed the ambassador to speak to them directly. Her conversations seemed to persuade the envoys and put them more at ease, and when they at last capitulated, they extended the condition that she be the one to make such contact, alone. It took three hours more to get them agree to our termsâ€”neutral ground, a military escort, and standard contact proceedingsâ€”but their affection for the ambassador was, I believe, the strongest motivator for their acquiescence.
The meeting took place on Elaxron, an inhabitable but as yet undeveloped planet in the near vicinity, and I commanded the troops in attendance. We were universally shocked at the sight of what the envoys had been hiding from us. The men had speculated when off-duty that we were encountering intelligent slime monsters or other creatures of legend, but none of us had expected simians. They have altered and evolved, of course, but the creatures we are meeting with are monkeys. I admit I was aghast. The ambassador was the only one who seemed unaffected, possibly due to her diplomatic training. My men and I retained composure, of course, but I intercepted more than one startled look before cowing the men back into military discipline.
Though I would have expected these creatures to fear us, they do notâ€”or at least, not in the way I would think. It soon became clear that they had indeed evolved from the monkeys of our own world, sent out in experimental rockets and presumed dead centuries ago, during Earthâ€™s first forays into spaceflight. Rather than looking upon our scientists as cruel experimenters, however, they view humans as a sort of father race. Their devotion is really quite touching. Their fear of being seen, it was revealed, was due to embarrassment rather than fearâ€”they had not expected to encounter our species, which is only a legend in their society, for many more years.
After this revelation, I allowed my men to stand down and permitted the ambassador to meet with the simians alone as they desired. This discovery is an historic one, General, and I hope it is not out of line to say that I am proud to be a part of it. It has been rather quiet here since the ambassador left for her secluded meeting; I believe the men all appreciate the gravity and awe of this situation and have made themselves scarce.
With respect, I await your next dispatch.