The Mercurian

First, I want to apologize. This message will not be nearly as eloquent or informative as the one you got from Kurt Waldheim. Though there is no way of knowing if you can tell the difference. I don’t know how much of this you will be able to understand. The details are going to be a bit fuzzy. Please understand, these descriptions are of a world that I have never seen, and that my family hasn’t seen for twelve generations. 

When we first found your planet, we named it Eden. The name was from a tale in a book that guided our species for most of its existence. The book was called the Bible. It used to be our explanation for how we came into being. We’re a species that created and destroyed with purpose and therefore we believed that everything was created and destroyed with purpose.  The book was waning in influence when we first found you. 

There was a place called the Garden of Eden in that book. A version of our world free of pain, suffering and hunger. The story goes that the first two people lived in this perfect place, free of all the vices that plague us. One day they ate a fruit they weren’t allowed to. They became wicked, and were cast into the planet that we came from. It was a ridiculous story, but we believed it for thousands of years. Our species has a renowned talent for lying and for believing lies. 

Even after we no longer believed, we still searched for that garden. We scoured all 197 million square miles of our planet, and when that failed, we tried to build it. The problem was that everyone had a different version of what they thought the garden should be.

We destroyed each other. Then we built something that could destroy us completely. We slowed down after that. That was when we started looking past our planet. We only made it so far. 

You must understand how much of our story revolves around muscle and tissue and decay. I don’t know if time writes lines on your face like it does ours. Each one of us has about a hundred years before we turn back into dust; sometimes more, sometimes less.  

Another thing that you need to know about our species is that we don’t want to be alone. Even though we didn’t last long, our stuff did. 

It was called the Voyager 1. A metallic box that contained images and sounds from our home planet. We sent “Hello” in fifty five different languages. We sent math equations, DNA strands, landscapes, human anatomy, animals, food and music. We fired them out into your direction, and five hundred and twenty six years later, you answered back. 

 I don’t know how much of the golden record you understood. I belong to the species that it depicts, and it doesn’t even make sense to me. I can’t imagine what you thought of it. 

I’m sorry. We never did figure out what any of the lines, shapes and waveforms you sent back to us meant. But we still heard you, and that made us want to listen.

We were shocked by how similar your planet was to ours, with fresh water, oxygen, foliage, oceans and mountains. Your planet is truly beautiful. I’m sorry that none of us will ever get to see it.  We were all in awe when those grainy satellite images came in. We immediately assumed it was better simply because it was not here. We wanted desperately to meet you. 

In most of the lies we told about space, the distance problem is solved. Space travel is as simple as a plane trip or a cruise if you break the laws of physics. Sadly, that only existed in our fiction. Truth is, we never even came close to reaching 299,792,458 meters per second. Even that speed feels like an eternity when you account for the distance between the two of us.

Our species survives through reproduction. A man and a woman will come together and create another one of us. It will spend nine months inside the woman and come out unfinished. The man and woman will have to care for it until it reaches maturity. This process takes about  two decades, more or less. When the man and woman whither away and die, their replacements will continue on. Those replacements will find another of our species and make replacements of our own. So the cycle continues. 

People tend to like the first part of the process, but hate the rest of it. We are biologically wired to enjoy the first part of the process. It dominated a good amount of our time and effort. Men, in particular, devoted a good amount of time into convincing women to start the process. Some started the process by force and we created laws to punish those men. Women enjoyed it too, but they had to be wary because the consequences were more dire for them. The rest of the process was painful, difficult and time consuming. We eventually invented ways to do the first part of the process without actually creating a replacement. It changed things a little bit, though not as much as you’d think.

We explained this all on the Voyager. Although, I haven’t the slightest idea how much you understood.

Even if we couldn’t reach you then, eventually our copies would be able to. That was the concept that led the Mercurian to be built. It was the largest public project humankind had ever undertaken. Billions of dollars and millions of hours were spent building this vessel. The Mercurian shared its name with a planet from our solar system and a god that we no longer worshiped. He was the messenger god, and the Mercurian was built to deliver you the message of our species. The Mercurian, the spiritual successor the Voyager 1, made us the new golden record. Each person was designed to be their own message in a bottle. 

I wonder if that phrase makes sense to you.

It was built to be a self-sustaining vessel home for over 50,000 of us. It needed to last over 2,000 years in the vacuum of space. The end product had enough luxuries to keep our species entertained and educated as well. Then all we had to do was send the breeding population out into the cosmos.

We sent 500 people, 250 men, 250 women. Married couples were prioritized. The few single people allowed to board were evenly split among genders. Everyone was between the ages of 18 and 36, though there was not a single woman over 30. Women lose their ability to make replacements quicker than men. Men needed to be between six to thirteen percent body fat and women had to be between fourteen to sixteen percent. Every founding inhabitant of the Mercurian was seen as someone of significant value to mankind. We sent up scientists, athletes, artists, inventors and models. Scientists, inventors and artists were known for what their minds can create while models and athletes were known for their physical perfection. 

Every person that originally left our planet on this vessel did so willingly. This meant that the Mercurian was populated by the most important people on earth, and the most desperate to leave it. This group of rich, talented and beautiful people who all thought that 196 million square miles wasn’t enough decided to shove their descendants in 50. 

How did they not expect us to tear each other apart?

In a lot of ways, The Mercurian was a garden of Eden in its own right. No struggle, no pain, nobody worrying about their next meal, or where they would take shelter. Production wasn’t an issue. The only purpose left was to go forth and multiply. We did this once with mice. 

A long time before I was born, a scientist named John B. Calhoun stuck mice in a perfect enclosed environment. They were free of disease, predation and scarcity. Nevertheless, they were contained. When this was done to members of our own species, we called it imprisonment. Imprisonment was seen as a punishment that was only fitting for the worst of us, though others ended up there too. The mice all stopped breeding and killed each other.

Poor little mice, there was nowhere for them to explore. 

It was okay for a while, heavenly even. The first few generations were able to remain rooted to Earth and fueled by their objective. They were God’s chosen people, leading their tribe out of Israel. Most of the original members continued working to the best of their ability, within the confines of the ship. Children took on the practices of their parents or developed practices of their own. Everyone bred. 

We used to get messages from our home planet. Updates from earth. They started out frequent. The first generation was able to keep in touch with the people they left behind. Then distance once again became a problem. It took longer and longer for messages to be received.

 Still, we did receive messages. Even if every new piece of information was already 50 years out of date. Even if every picture of a baby being born was likely already dead before the photo even reached our eyes. It was still something.

Then they stopped altogether. 

Even if you could comprehend everything sent to you by the Voyager 1, there was still so much we left out. We never told you about the organisms that used our bodies to spread from person to person and then killed us when they were done. We never told you about the bombs we built that were capable of destroying the entire planet. We didn’t tell you that our main source of energy was slowly heating the planet up. We didn’t tell you that we clustered into groups we called nations and that those groups would regularly decide to kill a different one. We never told you how likely it was that our species would suffer a violent and brutal death by our own hand.

It was around this time that we realized we were trapped in a box. 

We were all too interconnected. There was no escaping each other. There wasn’t much keeping us united either. Everything was already prewritten. No large goals or struggle that required us to get along. Creation felt like arranging furniture on the Titanic. Sorry, that’s another saying you won’t understand.

It took me a while to understand why humans were cast out of the Garden of Eden. I always wondered why God would tempt us with something that would doom us to sin. Now, I understand. The fruit from the tree of knowledge didn’t make our species sinful. Our willingness to eat the apple proved to god what we already were. We wouldn’t have survived in paradise. The original sin was want. In order to want, there’s always got to be something just out of reach. Otherwise, all that’s left is just an inevitable slow crawl to death.

Our species is not a hive mind, though yours may be. Every man can only experience life through their own eyes, they only think their own thoughts. We collaborate and communicate throughout our whole lives, but despite all of that, each one of us is alone. I hope that this will help you understand that a purpose that will not be fulfilled until long after you are gone, and takes no individual effort on your part, is not much of a purpose at all. The only reason to keep existing was something chosen by people that were long dead before we were even born. It didn’t require anything from us either.

We clung to that hollow purpose more than ever before. It was all we had. The entirety of communal life on The Mercurian became razor focused on being and breeding the best representations of the human species.

Our species is exceptionally good at finding ways to separate one another. Inventing ways to determine which of us were good or bad, worthy or unworthy, pure or degenerate.

On a ship comprised of what were supposed to be the most beautiful, creative and intelligent people, we still found ways to attempt to cull the herd. Ideas spread like viruses. Ideas of what society should be, how to best represent humanity, how we should structure ourselves. Some of them were old favorites. It wasn’t long before IQ tests were determining every aspect of your life. Then it was beauty. Then virtue. We invented disease where there were none. Anything to create division. 

I hope you don’t know what it’s like to live like this. Where every action, every word, every facial expression has the potential to out you as a deviant. Always feeling that you don’t belong, that you are less than those around you. A need to hide an ever present infection, lest you be found out and cast aside. I hope your species is better than that.

Every relationship you have just increases the potential that you will be caught. 

None of us are happy with being cast aside. We didn’t all handle it the same way. Some of us avoided everything, some of us were much more active. The more active found a purpose in destroying our Garden of Eden. It didn’t matter if they died in the process, so long as they took a few others with them. The lengths that people would go to in order to produce a copy of themselves became particularly nefarious. Men forced women into motherhood and those mothers would abandon their child. 

The population dwindled. The fighting increased.

We divided ourselves into groups. Each group convinced that the other was nothing but degenerates that needed to be cleansed from the ship. Then they attacked each other until one faction emerged victorious. The others were either killed or lived the remainder of their life in solitude. After they had cast away the heathens they began to divide and turn on each other once again. Mothers began to see the flaws that they had others killed for in their own children. They were not kinder to their kin. 

Sometimes the only choices you have are fight or flight. I fled. If I were a mouse I would be called a Beautiful One. They had a word for humans like me but it wasn’t as flattering. I locked myself into my chamber and watched as my species resorted to a divide and conquer method of suicide. I only ever left to fulfill my basic needs.

Then it got really quiet.

Everyday, I roam the halls of the Mercurian, looking to see if there is anyone left. It’s been a year now. So far, all I have found are bodies. I buried them in the planters, as is tradition. They will break down and provide the food for a colony that is no longer here. 

I don’t know if I am the last remaining member of my species. I don’t even know if I’m the last person living on the Mercurian. It is possible that there are a few stragglers spread out throughout the ship. It doesn’t matter though. If they are alive, they are probably like me. Pent up in their apartments, avoiding social interaction by any means necessary. They won’t breed either, and our species will die out with us.

It’s possible that we are earth’s forgotten science project, left to fester and rot. They might all be fine down there on that big blue marble. But most likely not. Most likely, they ate each other as well. 

I realize that this letter hasn’t painted my species in the best light. Please, don’t cast judgment on us simply because of how we went extinct. There is no such thing as a good ending.

 I was taught that even the universe, in all its divine and beautiful glory, will eventually collapse under the weight of its own expansion.

It is true that we were violent and jealous and spiteful. But we made things. Beautiful things, things that connected us all. Things that will reach out into the universe endlessly and make their impact on beings that our species couldn’t even fathom. 

In 300 years, when this ship crash lands on your planet, long after every human being that ever existed is dead, please enjoy the things we made. Remember the hands that built them.

Goodbye, Eden

One thought on “The Mercurian

  1. Great piece, impressive, a very ambitious theme. Coincidentally my co-author and I are working on a book that deals with, among other things, the Garden of Eden, and we spend a while talking about Calhoun’s mice and the “Beautiful Ones.” What I’ll say now, though, shouldn’t get your spirits down, because for several thousands of years now almost NO ONE has understood the Garden of Eden story as it was intended. The keys to unlocking it are all right there for anyone to see, which tells us how messed up our eyes are. Wish you luck and success with the story and I hope the air of hopelessness in it doesn’t extend to your personal life, though I would completely understand it if it did.


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