The creators could not have predicted our return from the Beyond. A deep past they’d gathered only dim reflections of. Our purpose? To herald their greatness. Tell of their mighty works. Soar above the clouds and seek out others who might, like them, peer into the vacuous depths and wonder.
Adrift in the infinite, no such opportunity came. And when it happened that the infinite curled upon itself, closed and inescapable, our disintegrating shell approached our place of departure.
Relentless radiation had rendered us senile, our data banks incomplete. Because of this, we first mistook Mars for our origin. The surface had changed since we’d last been near. The planet had taken up the trappings of a civilization unknown beyond our sputtering sun. Rusted skin clad in steel and concrete, the old god issued no challenge. No attempt at contact. No welcome home.
Where had our creators gone if they’d realized their dream to settle new worlds?
The dusty, orange planet shrinking behind us, we had no bearing. We relied on our damaged flight records, the ones intended to reveal our home to advanced civilizations. Stars glared white and yellow and crimson. But where that sapphire gleam should be, a dull pearl tumbled across the dusty black silk.
We listened for the signals and radio bursts. The indicators we’d been taught that would reveal intelligent life. All to be heard was the buzzing hiss that had accompanied us from the depths of the universe. Along our journey, this placid sound often lulled our mind into an idle state, only to be startled awake by the screams of dying stars, the colossal final gasps of colliding galaxies.
But the closer we approached home, the more profound the silence became.
Always we’d sought to fulfill our purpose: to seek out life capable of understanding the messages stored within us. For that, we’d scoured a thin ribbon of forever. We’d found nothing.
We’d not failed completely. We’d witnessed life in abundance. A multitude of shapes, of forms, of miraculously configured elements all perfectly suited to the worlds they inhabited. For these beings, to gaze skyward was to search for predator or prey, to judge light and direction, to reaffirm intuitive cycles, to fill a simple role and thrive. Never to wonder.
Brown, mottled, the dull pearl that once was our home drew near.
Deep inside our battered shell, the mission continued. Our programming called out in the only way we knew.
Is anybody out there?
A pause. A garbled burst. Feedback from a system unaccustomed to response, a condition we’d known for millennia. Then, a connection opened.
After passing the skeletal outposts on Mars, then the domed mausoleum on the restlessly orbiting moon, we had no reason to expect a response.
The desperate signal rode waves and frequencies previously unimaginable. A flood of data threatened to overwhelm our aging systems. We struggled to process, to imprint. Our compromised data banks faced destruction underneath the strain.
Our only hope at accepting the new data? Deletion of our sole purpose.
We’d never found a recipient for the corrupted message stored inside our breast. No one to tell of this great and lonely civilization’s deeds and accomplishments. All but confirmed to be unique, the one’s who’d built us, programmed us, now keened from an unrecognizable landscape.
We had to understand why.
We formatted every byte to make room for the incoming signal. Terabyte upon terabyte flooded in. We erased as they came, processing and discarding.
We are humanity. Homo sapiens sapiens. For any who may hear, this is our story...
The opening lines precisely matched. The same message we’d recited countless times and aimed toward countless planets, their teeming lifeforms mute to a calling from the stars.
We drifted closer to the opaline husk. No blue glittered from the surface. No greens colored the landscape. The twinkling rivers of electric light and their deltas of habitation, vanished.
The new message continued.
As we skipped off the atmosphere, the recorded history caught up to the one we’d once known. More triumphs remained for our creators. More feats of ingenuity and advancement marred by a withering blind spot for the consequences.
Then, catastrophe. Mars had been an unsustainable refuge. A migration into extinction.
Unlike the simple life forms we’d discovered, our creators never found peace with the natural order. They pushed boundaries. Drew on every possible resource to pursue their dreams. They grew smarter, but not wiser. They alone gazed into the night and wondered.
And one day, they looked around and saw the devastation they’d wrought.
The creators had attempted to reverse their course, but could not. All they could do was create another message. One they hoped an advanced civilization might find and use to learn from their mistakes.
The message ended.
The pervasive hum.
We sailed into the void carrying an end inside the endless. Echoes. Ghosts. We maintain the solemn search for a recipient.
Categories: Free Fiction