Author : Bob Newbell

The infinitesimal point that had been the universe bounded out and stars and galaxies returned to their proper places in the cosmos as I defolded back into normal space. I steered toward the small world orbiting the red giant star. From a distance, the planet appeared to have a ring system. I knew it didn’t. The “rings” were hundreds of thousands of vessels and beings and those for whom there was no distinction between the two.

The word had gone out long ago that we would meet here at this time. Some, like myself, had traversed the galaxy in the span between two adjacent moments. Many had had to cover the intervening space between here and wherever they came from at many times the speed of light, still painfully slow given the gulfs between the stars. Others had made the journey at subluminal speeds, a good many at so leisurely a pace that they had had to resort to multigenerational vessels or suspended animation ships, the civilizations that sent them now unrecognizable or extinct by virtue of the passage of centuries or millennia.

Several of the gathered races had never before had any contact. A few represented species currently at war with each other orbiting the planet together under various states of truce and ceasefire. There were oxygen-breathers and chlorine-breathers and those who didn’t breathe at all. There were biological races and machine races and races that incorporated elements of both. They had all come to this world for the same purpose: To say goodbye.

The quintillions of species that walked and crawled and swam and slithered and floated on millions of natural and artificial worlds throughout the Milky Way all traced their origin back to this small, dying planet. Its sun had been a yellow dwarf star billions of years ago. The aging star had become red and bloated and had already engulfed two worlds. Now it encroached on a third.

The mourners at this cosmic funeral paid their respects in diverse ways. A group of ten-legged crustaceans from some world near the galactic core played a mournful dirge. A collection of mammalian bipeds from a nearby system sang and got drunk. An aquatic species laughed riotously while a reptilian race wept and wailed. One robotic civilization bowed their heads in respectful silence while another society of mechanicals recited impromptu poetry.

Some of us tarried for days and others remained for months or even years as the planet’s surface blacked under the relentless heat. In time, I departed. As I slid into the interstices between dimensions, I thought that the galaxy, for all its endless diversity of life and civilization, seemed somehow lonely now for the loss of that tiny rock in the hinterlands that gave birth to us all.

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