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Cradle

Tom Jolly’s stories have appeared a few times before in the pages of Daily Science Fiction, in addition to showing up in Something Wicked, Fox and Raven, and Acidic Fiction. While he isn't out terrorizing his friends with horror stories or confounding them with SF, he also designs board games, card games, and horribly difficult wooden puzzles. He lives in California with his wife, Penny, of 36 years.
The alien splayed a group of five tendrils above its body, extended from the primary bulk of its multicellular colony. The saurian in the room nodded to the alien and said, "The Amass gives its greetings to you," then looked back at the group of humans for a reaction. Its English was perfect, with a slight London accent.
Will Ember, leader of the European League of Nations, glanced around at the other world leaders in the Parliament meeting room, taking his cue as the appointed speaker, and replied, "Thank you, Miss Charaka, for offering to perform the translation for all of us. As you might guess, learning that there are seven other sentient species in our stellar neighborhood was a bit of a surprise for us." He redirected his gaze to the gesticulating blob before him. "We return the Amass' greetings, and welcome it to Earth."
The saurian Charaka, the first of the seven species to contact humans on Earth, motioned with body language to the Amass, which responded in kind. She honked a laugh and returned to look at the humans. "The Amass was first among us by nearly a billion years, so we feel it is appropriate that it deliver our message, though we provide the translation."
Someone behind Will snorted in disbelief, and one of the others gasped. Will sighed. Alien diplomacy would have to be learned, especially amongst this crowd. Still, a billion years. It was hard to swallow.
Charaka motioned to the other alien representatives behind her, introducing them one at a time. There was one that could possibly have passed for a tree, with a rough skin, leafy head, and an array of focused shiny leaves quivering around orifices in the bark that must have qualified as eyes or ears. Thick tendrils at its base gripped a levitating platform. Next to it was an alien mostly immersed in fluid, also on a mobile platform for the occasion. A bulbous semi-transparent head was fringed with thick tentacles that sometimes rose up out of its container as though sensing the air. If it had eyes, Will couldn't tell. Yet another creature had a thick, layered shell-like carapace, with multiple pairs of legs constantly twitching along its side. Flat, pinhole eyes stared at them from its upper end. On one of the leather chairs in the room, a mass of tiny writhing things collected together in an ever-changing form the size of a basketball. Will might have called them beetles, though they looked like nothing he'd seen before. Another colony-type intelligence, like the Amass. They'd burn that chair when all this was done, Will thought. It made a soft, continuous rustling sound that made his skin crawl.
The seventh alien was another saurian. Odd that they would have two of them in the mix. Did planetary evolution favor reptiles? The one that was chosen as speaker was smaller and more human-shaped than the other. This larger one looked like it would sooner eat you than talk to you. Its teeth seemed to be constantly, rigidly exposed. But it also wore some electronic device on its head, like a video-game helmet, which ruined much of the "I am death come to claim you as a snack" effect.
It was little surprise that the Kaplan representative, Charaka, was the first one they met. The others would have scared them to death. Or worse, scared them into bringing out and rattling their useless sabers.
"The human species," Charaka continued, "has possessed space travel for over two centuries, with self-sufficient colonies on the planets you call Mars and Europa, and large free-standing colonies in your asteroid belt."
Will nodded. "That's true. We hope to completely colonize our solar system in the next century, and then spread to neighboring stellar systems." If they're not too crowded already, he thought. If they've already got a billion years of settlements on us, we're screwed. They're here to tell us to stay the hell inside our own solar system.
"We hope to help you in your efforts to move into space," said Charaka. "We're happy to see that this is your species' intention. In fact, we'd like to help in your effort by giving you the technology for our interstellar jump drives." Charaka smiled at this, which displayed alarmingly large teeth. She closed her mouth abruptly as Will and most of the other humans visibly cringed.
"You... aren't here to restrict us?" Will asked.
Charaka laughed, another barking goose-like honk, which made some of the other world leaders chuckle and relax. "Restrict?" She looked over to the Amass, which flailed tendrils around in a somewhat chaotic manner and changed color multiple times as Charaka signed to it. "No, in fact, quite the opposite. You have to leave Earth entirely and move out of your solar system."
The world leaders erupted in shouts of dismay and anger, but Charaka held up a scaly hand, twitching a single claw into view. "Over the next thousand of your years, of course. That should be adequate time to get you all resettled to new planets. We've already prepared new homes for the first billion on a planet about 150 light years from here, based on your current home designs. We can, of course, synthesize any foods you might need."
"And alcohol, I hope," one of the leaders mumbled. The larger saurian snorted in apparent amusement. Maybe not such a terrifying creature after all, Will thought.
"This will not be an easy sell to the human race," Will said. "They aren't going to want to leave their homes." Their planet.
"Humans have had their time in their nursery. It's time to leave home and make way for the next child." She motioned to the other aliens behind her. "We've all taken this step."
"Easy for you to say. Earth is our home. It always will be."
Charaka sighed, an odd sound to come from a lizard's throat. She pointed to the Amass and said, "Precambrian. Multicellular life arises." Then pointed to the others one at a time; "Cambrian. Carboniferous. Silurian. Permian. Triassic." She pointed to herself and smiled. "And Jurassic. Mr. Ember, Earth is our home, too, and it always will be. And a million years from now, or a hundred million, it will be someone else's. It will take a few centuries to clean up your technological residue from the solar system, but trust me. In the long term," she looked around at the other species, nodding, "it will be worth it."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 27th, 2015


This story idea came to me while reading about the evolutionary process, and made me wonder, what if intelligent life had evolved on Earth before? What if the mechanisms that made us inevitable required that something intelligent came along every few million years? Why wouldn't there be any evidence of these ancient predecessors? And there was the story. Many stories are just the logical outcome of a "what if" question.

- Tom Jolly

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