The Loneliest Race

Jan 17, 2017

(Excerpt from Expedition 37, Log 243-F6-A8885A) We have now traversed over a dozen systems, each isolated from one another by vast interstellar distances, and yet we find impossible coincidences everywhere we turn. All of these worlds possess sapient beings bearing uncanny resemblance to ourselves: bipedal, mammalian, and sharing even similar ethical and moral philosophies. Their languages approximate our own to such an extent that our xenolinguist is convinced there must be some sort of cross-contamination. And yet there can be none. Perhaps the most troubling of all is the consistency in oral tradition across each of the twelve different species. While retellings differ in some details, all share a single remarkable story, a myth that their leaders assure us is older than written language. Could it be that there is some grain of truth in this legend, some sort of proto-historical remembrance? I cannot say, but I transcribe it here, in as complete a form as I can recall, in the hopes that linguists, historians, and xenobiologists greater than I can make sense of it.

Four billion years after the rocks solidified from interstellar dust, and three more after life had begun, a not-quite ape lived upon the earth, content to roam the open fields and taste the warm embrace of the sun. And so it happened that one day the not-quite ape glimpsed his reflection upon the face of the waters, and for the first time he understood.

I,” said he, for so he was. And in that moment the not-quite ape became a not-quite man. He wandered about the face of the earth, searching without understanding why, until thoughts arose in his mind, and he paused and formed those thoughts by purse of lips and curve of tongue:

“It is not good that I am alone; I shall find another I, for there must be another.”

And so the not-quite man traveled far, searching for another like himself. A thousand creatures he met and named, plentiful as the sands upon the shore, but none were worthy of his name. Still the man wandered until one day he finally stood before another I. And each one gazed upon the other, for long had both journeyed and long had both feared that each was alone.

And for a time, it was good.

But when the sun fled and the light faded, the man would find himself standing alone upon the hills, staring at the thousand shimmering points above. And when he did he felt the wandering stirring again within him, and the old ache of loneliness would return.

Soon the man took sky-light for his own, and taught it to serve him. With stone and with fire he drove away some of the creatures he had named; others he brought under his roof, to serve and protect him. And when too many creatures fled, and the fruits began to wither, the man took the grasses of the earth and the seeds of the trees and began to press them into the rich, dark soil in his own fashion. And when the grasses grew the man took the best for his own, and again and again and again until he had made something new. And the man no longer feared the gnawing of hunger in his belly.

But others of his kind coveted his creations, and soon the man learned to protect himself with stone and stick and blade. When the others became too strong he forged great cities with his brothers. The cities rose and the cities fell, and then kingdoms rose and kingdoms fell, and then empires rose and empires fell, each in its own season. But always in his mind the man heard the voice calling out to him from the darkness:

“It is not good that I am alone; I shall find another I, for there must be another.”

And so the man took the wood of trees and the cloth he wove and sailed the mighty seas, plying the waters with raft and barque and caravel. And when the man felt his foot sink in virgin sand he soon met another like himself. As before the man and his brothers built cities and kingdoms and empires, and as before each rose and fell in its turn.

And for a time, it was good.

But still the man stood upon the hill and gazed up at the sky, and still there waited the lights of old, a silent reminder that he was alone.

Soon the man build ships, not of wood but of iron, and soon these ships danced not the blue but the black seas above. And so the man traveled far, searching for another like himself. For in his stories he dreamed of an elder I, one who knew of his struggles, one who had finally sated the ache of loneliness in himself. Countless years the man searched, gazing upon the countless lights of the sky from the windows of countless vessels, building countless new cities and kingdoms and empires out among the countless worlds he found.

But there was only silence.

And for the first time since the man gazed at his reflection and understood what he saw, the man knew he was alone. When he gazed upon the darkness he no longer wondered, but instead he said:

“It is not good that I am alone; I shall make another I, for there must be another.”

And so the man made man in his own image, first of metal and clay and plastic, but soon of flesh and sinew and bone. He flung himself across the stars, filling the empty void with his children and his children’s children, down and down through the countless sea of generations, until even his own sun grew and faded and slipped away into the long night.

The man is gone, but still the man lives, for a million different I that shine from a thousand million worlds bear his blood.

But man was the first.