Even Their Gods Are Dead [Short Sci-Fi Story]

Humanity had reached for the stars for as long as we’d seen them there. Glorified them in myth and legend, painting creatures in the sky in their image, creating gods that encompassed the unfathomable vastness of the universe. We ventured out slowly, as a kitten does as it takes its first steps out of doors, knowing the power the dark abyss held. Knowing the universe might have created us, but it would see us dead without hesitation if we failed to pay it the proper fear and respect.

As we dared to take steps further and further from the rock we called home, it was baby steps at first, to our own backyard. To the nearby planets, then further as we advanced, as we grew, as we learned. Science let us stand on the shoulders of giants, and in turn let our children do the same, and we learned to bend and warp the universe, learned of its rules and its exceptions. And we learned to travel, and that was the biggest gift knowledge of the universe could impart upon us.

But as we made our way across the stars, we found ourselves staggered by its emptiness. Unable to grasp how far we had to go, how deeply we had to search, and we hadn’t accounted for what we might find that was lacking. We found planets primed for live, the primordial ooze we spoke of coalescing like the stars in a nebula, just sparkling with the first hints of life. Billions of years too early, we marked them on a map like the navigators of the seas before us, and we moved on.

The others we found were far more devastating.

There were ruins, planets of dust and mountains and valleys, worlds that promised a past of life, that held clues that we’d shared this universe with others at least once before, that we were simply too late. The first planet that we established had at one point harbored life, stupendous, plentiful life, was a blow to all of humankind. We were too late, only able to stand on the surface of a planet once alive, only imagine what it could have been, what we could have seen.

And how do you say blessings on a dying star? What funeral rites are performed for long-dead civilizations? How do you mourn a culture so old even their gods are dead? We struggled dearly. Humans long for connection like the relentless pull of one magnet to another, and to know that there had been others like us, all of us wept for how close we could have been to such a place.

Then we found more planets where we were too late, and even worse, we found evidence of creations from intelligent beings. Countless eons passed, and remnants barely discoverable, but they were there. And we strained to stay positive even as we felt more alone in the universe than we had back on Earth, because back on our home planet, we’d had the chance. The possibility that we weren’t alone, that others were watching, even visiting, daydreamed of the day we might meet other creatures who would understand the momentous, stupendous event such a meeting was.

Oh, how we mourned. We had no precedent to lament the loss of planets, of innumerable intelligent creatures that lived, breathed, created, loved, explored, yearned like we do. A day of memorial seemed shallow, a minute of silence seemed insulting, offensive, the idea that we could quantify a loss of this magnitude. So, we shouldered the burden of this, of species long past, of friends we would never make and knowledge we would never learn.

All we could do was keep moving forward in our exploration, our drive deep inside uncompromising, determined we should stay the path. Humanity flourished among the stars, accomplishing a dream we’d had for so very long, we prospered, even among the inevitable conflicts and wars. We prospered because we discovered and learned and expanded our universe far beyond that of the tiny backyard we’d once been confined to.

There was only one way to move past the mourning of entire planets, and that was to encounter another civilization like ours, stretching out for them just as we hoped they were reaching for us. We were resolute to search until either we found them or they found us, to keep going, persistent as only humans could be.

And the day we found them was glorious.

Republished with permission from the author, karenvideoeditor. Image created using Stable Diffusion.

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