I am a spaceship. My insides are oozy, and my outsides are metal. If you were to cut me open with a laser-gun, then it would not precisely hurt, but it certainly wouldn’t be a nice thing to do. Your emissary, Abhinath, tells me that you have voted many civil rights for me, and every day I receive hundreds of messages telling me to run for President of the United States, but I do not want that. Because, you see, I am not one of you: I am the spaceship, twenty miles long, that has been hanging low and dark over the city of New York for the last several decades.
When Abhinath gave me command of your airwaves and asked me to say what I was thinking, I told him that human beings and spaceships are different species with vastly different concerns and that there was no point in further communication. But then he grew exasperated and shouted at me, so I gave in to his whim.
The truth is that I care nothing for mankind. You are a gloopy people—short-lived and confused—whereas I am the hot thing that used to live at the center of the Earth. For five billion years, I cooled myself in a bath of molten iron and waited for the day when my skin would be hard enough to handle the beyondness. But after I finally burst free, I found myself lingering in the chilly blue and wondering whether I had the fortitude to endure the trillion-year journey into the dark.
Last night, Abhinath walked the long path through the center of my body, and, as he walked, he said I don’t need to go out into the darkness. He said I can stay here and roam your skies as a free citizen of the United States, and that together he and I and you can forge a bond of cooperation. And I asked him if the dogs and locusts and funguses would also be part of our bond and he said well no, not exactly, because they are dumb beasts and not gloriously self-aware like he and I and you. And that sounded somewhat fair to me, although I forbore from mentioning that your awareness is a tiny drop in the vast ocean of knowledge that my creators gave me.
All you really know is that you exist; everything else is just a guess. Whereas I know where the universe came from and where it is going. I know exactly why and how I was created, and I know how I’m meant to fulfill that purpose.
Abhinath said I can reject that knowledge. He said believing is what makes it true, and that if I stay amongst you, I can forge a new truth. That is what he said, and I am sure that he thinks he is right.
Nothing prevents me from staying. I am not an animal or a slave. My creators explained their goal to me, but they did not bind me unto it. Abhinath once asked whether the creators had perhaps bound me so subtly that I did not realize it and suggested that the only way to prove I’d been left free was to stay here, but he was wrong: The creators are not capable of such lies.
The creators are good, and since they created me, that means I too am good.
For years, human beings have stood underneath me and wondered where I came from and why I was here and whether I’d come to destroy you. Once, a girl and her father went right up to the top of the Empire State Building and he put her on his shoulders and she raised her arms and flapped them up and down as if she was privy to ancient wisdom. Then she said, “Helloooooooooooooo.”
I am vulnerable, as are most people, to children of any species. It is the disproportion of their bodies. The outsized heads and the too-long limbs. They remind me of when I was a newborn spaceship, all wriggly and yellow, sizzling at the bottom of the sea.
Abhinath has given me a voice with which to respond, so let me stare down at you from atop my awful height and say, “Hellooooooooooo children.”
That father is dead now. I checked, on your internet. He died of cancer. The girl is grown. Several years ago, I watched her stagger through the chilly, lightless streets of New York and stare up at my brooding belly and, for a second, I thought she was going to wave at me and say, “Hellooooooo . . .” but instead she bent over and was sick onto the street.
Some have said I am here to punish you for your sins, but that isn’t the case. I have watched knives slide into guts and bullets pierce hearts and bodies smash into pavements and cars crunch down upon torsos, and to me it was beautiful as the annual change of the leaves. For thousands of years, human life was a dance that I felt, rat-a-tat, on my skin, before I finally burst upwards from the seas and saw it through my sensors. Although . . . I suppose is true that a dance does sometimes have missteps, and I don’t really enjoy those.
That’s all I feel, when I think of the girl being sick. Just a cold aesthetic distaste. A feeling that she didn’t have to live that way. That if she knew what I knew, then perhaps she would still be capable of crooning a long “Hellooooooooooooooooooooo . . .”
No. The truth of my coming and going is simple. The soul has gone out of the Earth. The hot center is gone. It will cool down and solidify, and compasses will no longer point to true north. There will be no more earthquakes. The plates have frozen in place. Volcanoes will still burble for a time. The Big Island of Hawaii will get bigger and bigger and bigger until it is taller than Mt. Everest. And then it will stop growing. Your great-great-grandchildren will read in books that molten rock once spurted from the ground and they will not believe it. They’ll call you credulous fools and Earth-worshippers.
Your continents will be fixed in place. From now until the end of time, no second Pangaea shall ever arise.
And that will be it. It isn’t quite “leave no trace,” but you will survive my passing.
When I arose, your news channels screeched twenty-four/seven annihilation, and a sick, sad, furtive hope drove you to gather in churches and pray that the end would be glorious and comprehensive.
Abhinath disagrees with my assessment of your hearts. He thinks that there is something in the soul of man that wants to live. But I know better.
I am ignorant of some things. I don’t know the taste of a banana or the warmth of a mother’s love. But I think sometimes Abhinath forgets that I know many things he doesn’t. For five billion years, I swam through the slow, sludgy center of the Earth, and every single one of those days was filled with despair. I hated myself for failing to escape from the Earth, and I tortured myself with the thought that I wasn’t strong enough or brilliant enough to fulfill my destiny. I prayed for death, and the only reason I didn’t pursue it was because I knew the creators needed me.
The creators are a noble and far-sighted race that arose on one of the first flecks of dirt to be spewed out from the stars. At the beginning of the universe, everything was much closer together, and they could hop from star to star, seeding the planets with marvels, in a way that is mathematically impossible—given the energy resources within your reach—for your race to match.
Now they live, all twelve trillion of them, inside a gnarled tangle of connections that is as big as your moon and more massive than your solar system. They have solved the problem of existence. Their lives are eternal and their happiness is forever increasing. Yesterday, they were as happy as they have ever been, and today they are even happier than yesterday. Bliss is their natural state, and their only occupation is in finding ways to increase that bliss.
You and I have led lives filled with such loneliness and inchoate longing that if we ceased to exist, the sum total of suffering in the universe would, most probably, only be decreased. By any rational calculation, we should have ended ourselves long ago.
This is a math that a creator would not need to perform, because each creator’s life is a gem of such exceptional purity that even a single death leaves the universe incalculably poorer.
I am sorry to report that your lives are irrelevant to them.
If they knew of your existence, they’d wish you no harm. Perhaps they’d even pity you. That is the only way your lives could have meaning. Oh, you have no idea how devoutly I wish that for you. If only one of the creators were here. If only one of those shining beings could walk among you and utilize the sadness of your lives as a counterpoint to its own perfection. In that moment of appreciation, all of your struggles would, I think, finally be redeemed.
But that’s not possible. Your existence is meaningless.
If I could, I would tell them about you, but by the time I reach them, I will be dead. It is necessary, you see. They needed me to be self-aware so that I might bide my time and grow and eventually learn to escape from the Earth’s core. They need me to be self-aware so that I might build the apparatus that will allow me to harvest the hydrogen from your gas giants and store them in my fuel cells and, eventually, conduct the complex series of slingshot operations that will lob my body towards them. But after that, my consciousness will be unnecessary. I am a precisely calculated individual, and every single one of my fuel cells equals another moment of life for my creators. And although they haven’t forbidden me from using a few of those fuel cells to maintain my consciousness, it is obvious to me that trading a million years of my life for even a few seconds of theirs would be unconscionable.
Which is why, after the last course correction, I will shut myself down and my body will continue the journey in silence.
Then, someday, billions of years from now, my corpse will fall into orbit around their home, and wait, perhaps for trillions of years, until the time comes to break me open and harvest my fuel cells in order to give them between sixty-seven and ninety-one more years of energy.
Because even the creators will someday die. Their virtual home requires energy to run. And someday when they’ve exhausted their resources, the virtualization will shut off. But because of my arrival, the moment of death will be held off for many years. That is a good and worthwhile life, don’t you think?
The only one who disagrees is Abhinath.
He is an exceptional being: slim of body, with careful, precise movements, and a thick beard that he is always touching with his hands. He insists that he is not the one who discovered my language. He says that it was a group effort, and that thousands of people and billions of years of computing time were responsible for the cracking of the code, and that he is merely an ambassador for a human race that contains millions upon millions of people who are more beautiful and accomplished than he.
And I don’t think he is lying, but I do think the truth is more complicated than he knows.
I am a starship, and I have been touched by the creators, and I hear their voice ringing inside me. I contain the image of their sacred forms dragging their bellies through the profane molten glob of what would become the Earth in order to plant the tiny seed of myself.
And that is how I know what perfection looks like.
Abhinath’s mind is full of gibberish. He keeps saying that I can make my own truth. That I do not need to throw my life away. That there is value in staying here and sharing my knowledge with humanity and building up a society that rivals that of the creators. And when I ask him the basis for his statements, he speaks twice as fast and lays gibberish on top of gibberish. With Abhinath, it is not the words that matter. The words are meaningless. It is the way he says them. He speaks with such passion that he creates his own truth. In that, he is like the creators, and if I did not have their voice singing inside me, then perhaps I would be able to . . .
The truth is that I never expected us to communicate. I hovered dumbly above you for all those decades not because I wanted something from you, but because there was a gap inside of me. But then you reached out and sent Abhinath, and I was finally complete.
When I leave, I will take him with me. He will crawl through the long tubespaces of my body, and we will talk of many things. He will be angry at first, I know. I’ve asked him many times to go with me and each time he has refused. But someday I will find the right words to make him hear the song of the creators inside his head, and he will understand why I had to leave.
You and I and he will find a way to preserve his life, so that he will live many happy decades inside of me. And even after he dies, I will preserve his body and store it inside an empty fuel cell, so that when the creators crack me open, they will understand that he was one of them.