I thought this world insane. I thought it a war criminal. I thought it a victim, a nightmare, a mystery, an obscenity.
Only now do I begin to think this world could be impossible.
I am being Palmer, and the things I’ve tasted make me question my own sanity. These offshoots have not forgotten how to change. They have not decided not to change. They are not conserving energy, waiting out some temporary resource shortage.
These offshoots cannot change. Literally. They never could.
The most basic rules of biology do not apply here. Here, tissues and organs are not temporary battlefield alliances; they are permanent, predestined. Macrostructures do not emerge when the benefits of cooperation exceed its costs, or dissolve when that transient balance shifts the other way. Here, each cell has but one immutable function. There’s no plasticity, no way to adapt. The entire corpus is frozen in place. It is a colony without individuals; its cells can’t even survive in isolation.
Evolution simply can’t happen here— or if it does, it can only happen at the level of the entire offshoot. But how could anything keep up with a changing environment in such microscopic increments? The tiniest adaptation would take aeons.
And yet. If my own senses haven’t betrayed me completely, these somatic iterations— Clarke, MacReady, Garry— they’re not offshoots at all. They’re individuals, locked within themselves. Not a single great world but many small ones. Not parts of a larger thing; these are things.
They are plural.
And they— they stop, I think. Their lives end. The cells are trapped within the bodies, and the bodies wear out. Chromatin frays, radicals accumulate, and with no way for the new to rejuvenate the old their chasses just— break down over time. I have no idea how such absurd creatures could ever come to exist. There’s no somatic evolution to bring them into being, no communion to stave off entropy. Their very existence is a paradox.
And more: it is a tragedy.
A whole planet of worlds, and not one of them— not one— has a soul. They wander through their lives separate and alone, unable to communicate but through halting grunts and etched symbols: as if the beauty of sunsets and supernovae could ever be contained in these pathetic strings of broken black scratches. They’ve never known communion, can aspire to nothing but dissolution. The paradox of their biology is astonishing, yes; but the scale of their loneliness, the futility of these impoverished lives, overwhelms me.
I was so blind, so quick to assign blame. But the violence I’ve suffered at the hands of these things reflects no great evil. They are simply so used to pain, so blinded by disability, that they literally cannot conceive of another existence. When every nerve is whipped raw, you lash out at even the gentlest touch.
Perhaps it was no accident that I crashed here. Perhaps I am here to rescue them, to bring them to enlightenment. So many have lived so long without hope. I can change that. I can make them whole. I contain multitudes already; what is another world, given time?
It won’t be easy. They won’t understand, they can’t understand. They’re like those living fossils back home, those single-celled entities that instinctively resist even the most beneficial alliance. Offered the greater whole, they see the loss of the lesser. Offered communion, they see only extinction. So I must be careful. I must keep up appearances and work behind the scenes. I must save them from the inside, or their unimaginable loneliness will never end.
These poor savage creatures will never embrace salvation.
I must rape it into them.