art by Jonathan Westbrook
Visiting Planet Earth
by Eric Brown
I visit your planet from time to time, but it really is too painful.
My race is immortal now, and our client races are immortal, too, or have transcended bodily form and exist in virtual realms, which is immortality by another route.
But you humans are the only sentient beings we have discovered whose lifespans are finite.
It pains me to visit planet Earth.
Let me tell you about my last landfall.
I came down in the countryside, well away from any towns or cities. I hid myself and observed.
I remained in situ for perhaps a week. I took great delight in your clouds, watching them speed along, change shape, vanish. I watched what the wind did on your planet, watched its invisible force stir trees, scatter leaves, sigh. I watched the rainfall like liquid code, and I watched the sun appear and burn up all the moisture....
Then one day a young boy found me, before I could change and conceal myself.
He was wide-eyed with wonder.
"What are you doing there?" he asked.
He was silent for a time. I looked at him. I can bear to look upon the young of your race, for they do not trail.
He was blond and thin, and so young to my eyes.
"What are you?" he asked.
"I am old," I said, and I wept as I looked upon him. I wept at his youth. I wept at what his youth contained, its own corruption and eventual demise.
He screwed up his face, taking in my ugliness. "How old?"
"Oh," I said, "I am older than all the life on your planet, I am older than your sun, I am older even than many of the old stars you see on a clear, bright night."
He frowned even more at my cryptic reply.
"And how old are you?" I asked.
He stood to attention, suddenly proud. "Seven!" he announced.
I wept anew. Seven? Just seven. Why, that was no age at all.
He said, "I'm gonna go get my grandpa, take a look at you..."
And off he scurried, heedless of my shouted, heartfelt plea, "No! No."
I am old and powerful, but also I am slow moving. I could not move fast enough to evade the approach of the old man, fifteen minutes later.
So I changed my appearance and braced myself for the horror of the encounter.