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Visiting Planet Earth

Eric Brown sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories and has published forty books, over a hundred short stories, and dozens of reviews. His latest books are The Kings of Eternity, a scientific romance, and A Monster Ate My Marmite, for children. His work has been translated into sixteen languages, and he writes a monthly science fiction review column for the Guardian. He lives with his wife and daughter near Cambridge, England. His website can be found at: ericbrownsf.co.uk.

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.
"Watching what?"
"Your world."
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.
The boy's grandfather was old, so old and bent that he seemed even older than myself. But worse than his wrinkles and his obvious infirmity, worse even than his rattling breath and his palsied limbs, was the fact of what he trailed.
The young of your race do not trail, and we do not know why. It is to do with their youth, we assume, but more than that it is to do with our own perceptions.
With the old, we apprehend their approaching end, their inevitable death. And we see--or do we really see?--all the dead they trail in their wake, the legions of this planet who died before them.
And this old man was no exception; he trailed a crowd that filed behind him to the horizon, and all of them, every one, was staring at me with accusing eyes.
The old man squinted at me, then looked dubiously at the boy. "It spoke, you said?"
"Sure it did. It said it was older than the stars!"
The old man laughed, but the host of the dead he trailed did not laugh with him. "Why, it's nothing but an old rock," he said, and gave me a half-hearted punt and turned away.
Those he trailed turned away too, and followed him back to his clapboard house, and in so doing filed past me, one by one, like mourners at my grave.
And the young boy, just seven of your short years, turned away too, shaking his head.
I wept for days and days, then gathered my strength and departed planet Earth.
I visit your planet from time to time, but it really is too painful.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, January 30th, 2012
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