We'd been running for ages. The hard vacuum was nothing compared with the harshness we'd left behind, even amidst the lush, green forests and blue streams of our home. Looking back on it now, the thought of home is just a vague feeling of loss joined with a series of images that barely make sense anymore. It's a shame how time makes us betray what we thought we'd always cherish the most. Still, we knew that there had once been a place where we had felt content, and because that vague memory had to suffice, it did. Moving through the dark, a herd of fugitives in the eternal night, we all knew that there had once been happiness. Most of us had given up the hope that there would be again.
Perish the thought! We will live to thrive again!
Open to the elements in ways that nature had never intended, our weaknesses were numberless. We barely survived. Were it not for our ancestors' evolution toward endosymbiosis, neither metabolism nor communication would have persisted after our launch into space.
We can live without these parasites. We must find another planet where we can live without their help.
It is not parasitism if they provide us with that which we cannot provide ourselves, and without which we could not continue.
It was a madness that had come over many of us, that we might find another planet as lovely as our home. No planet was as lovely as home had been.
What little we remember about our home, that is.
Between all of us, we held enough of a memory that we could piece together enough of our history that we could pretend that we remembered our own growth to maturity. Even with the several hundred thousand of us that survived, we could only piece together enough for us all to share the same constructed memories of juvenile stages and progression to maturity.
So many of us spend so much time focusing on what is lost forever. The devourer has surely consumed our home as inexorably as it had consumed our little niches by the time we launched.
Is that such an objectionable thing? We must try to remember at least a little of what we lost.
We could be using the computation power occupied with memory for projecting a better course toward a new home. Better to think forward than think backward.
Perhaps we might learn from our mistakes, and from the devourer's, by thinking about the past.
Our home had been spacious, with every imaginable type of evolutionary niche, and yet the devourer had coveted them all. All that had been left for us was to claim the only niche left to us: outer space.
We have evolved in wondrous ways because of our plight. We should view this exodus as a blessing. Our kind has never been so beautiful or varied.
It was true. Once, we had been a drab race, with hard shells, and scrabbling little bodies. Our armor sheltered us from predators and the elements as surely as it shelters us now from the lack of elements. It is even within our armor that our symbiotes--
That the source of our nourishment lives. The lack of light forces us to grow slowly, and generation times have become extremely long, but our offsprings' adaptations to space travel are glorious. Gigantic, scintillating wings! Feathery, paddled feet that help the little ones of that line move among us, gaining momentum by rapelling off of we older, denser, more momentous adults. They have eyes arranged all over their bodies, to allow them to visualize better in three dimensions, and their sensors can see in ranges only the devourer's technology had ever been known to visualize.
There, look! A planet is ascending!
The little ones can see further and in more detail than we can imagine. Their perceptions, shared as they are, were alien to us when we first became aware of them. Even now, we can only make sense of their perceptions with the most laborious of explanations.
It is not visible on the old spectrum. Is it far?
We could be there within a generation. It is very far, but if you wait a little, you'll be able to see its light when it condenses.
Have we seen anything like this before?
Only in the distance.
Isn't this one off in the distance?
Compared to the last few, this is right in front of us. We could practically use the light of this star's birth to feed ourselves.
Then we should stay here a little while.
But we must move on! The faster we fly, the sooner we'll find a new home!
In a sense, it could be that the coldness of space is our home.
Only for now.
It's true, but we have passed many stars along this voyage, in many stages of maturity.
That's true, but the relevance is not clear.
In every case, the stars seem to collect debris that we have, in every case, passed by because it was not as beautiful as our home that was. What if we waited for this star to collect enough debris to form planets and then colonized one or many of them?
That could be millions of ages from now!
Indeed, and until that time, our numbers would grow. We could colonize that planet, and allow the photosynthetic parasites from our dead to seed the nascent worlds with life that we can cohabitate with. We could live with the independent forbears of our parasites, so we could likely live with our parasites' descendants.
And until then, we could orbit this new star? The thought has merit.
How long until we reach the star?
We don't have to reach the star, just come close enough that we can live within its light. Until a planet is formed, all we need to do is orbit at a distance. In a sense, we would become a ring of planets.
A ring of tiny, green planets, with their own atmosphere and ecology locked wthin their shells.
And between those planets, us young ones can fly, as gracefully as the butterflies in the memories of our elders!
Why should we settle with only a ring? In the time that it takes for a suitable planet to form out of stardust and the thin gas of space, there will be time for us to breed enough to form a sphere of orbiting bodies! Even if we all keep the same distance from this new sun, it would take all of us to plot an orbital pattern for hundreds of millions of bodies to swim in space without colliding! What a puzzle!No more shall we be allowed to think backward in time! We shall all be forced to think forward to create a new pattern that we can ride until the time comes to settle amidst the lonely dust of a new planet and create a world for ourselves. A world without devourers. Within our minds, we carry the seeds of precisely intricate motion; within our shells, we carry the seeds that will germinate a new, green world.
At last, the hope no longer seems madness. At last, we have a plan. At last, all we need to do is wait for paradise to come to us. We will create a place for ourselves. The future is at last beautiful, free, and bright.
“Captain, I think you should come to the bridge. There's something ahead that you should see.”
“I'll be finished with this inspection and review momentarily. Can it wait?”
“It probably can, but I think you'd much rather be here to view this. We're approaching something I don't think I can describe over an intercom.”
The starcaptain paused before answering, “Thank you for the update. I'll be on the bridge at once.”
The screen hummed and beeped, translating the images from the outer sensors to images that could be magnified or enhanced in real time for human viewing. The officers and workers of the ship's control cabin stared in disbelief at the video display taking up the wall in front of them.
Surrounding a yellow sun, six planets orbited, four of which were a very familiar combination of blue and green, with shifting patterns of white floating across. Between them, delicate creatures floated on massive, gossamer wings, chasing comets and dancing gracefully together. All around was a thin haze of green and grey; the reason for the haze was enhanced in a video inset, each specimen resembling a tiny grey beetle with green, lichenlike spots.
The Captain stepped onto the bridge, looked at the screen, and said, “I don't know if we came from this place, or if this place came from Earth, but I have never seen a butterfly so beautiful.”
The second in command nodded, thought for a moment, and said, “I wonder if those planets are habitable for humans.”