The First by Stuart Atkinson


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THE FIRST

You're out there. Somewhere.
The First.
Somewhere, right now, taking tiny,
microscopic breaths; waiting
patiently to be found; biding your time,
as You've always done,
ever since the Sun
was just a glint in the Universe's eye.

Maybe you're on Mars, inside
or hiding beneath a rock, many rocks,
exiled by the lethal blue-leeched sky
to a world of damp and dark,
A crystalline, Noachian dungeon where
"water" is just a scent and Time runs slow:
one billion sols... two billion sols...
between each breath a billion more...

Or do you live upon Europa's icy lands?
Across that criss-crossed cross-
hatched crust do you huddle in puddles
of Jupiter-warmed water, blue and green
oases of What Could Have Been
had your world been closer to
the star that leers, lantern-bright,
from your moon-infested sky?

Do you flit and skitter through the waters
deep beneath the cold carapace, floating
through the gloom like a star through space,
a dust mite drifting thru the vast cathedral
of Creation, past pillars of hardened hoarfrost,
all beneath a yawning, coloured ceiling
of life-stained, stained-glass ice..?

Or do You cling in terror to the trembling slopes
of black smokers on that ocean's odd floor,
huddling there for warmth and nutrient
chemical scraps tossed contemptuously from
its table, devouring its begrudged black bounty,
knowing each meagre morsel may be your last?
Through breaks in the broiling black clouds
that passes for your air do You glimpse the sky?

If Jupiter is barren, could the many whirling worlds
of pastel-painted Saturn conceal You from our eyes?
Do You lurk high in Titan's smog-fat atmosphere,
joyfully flying through its billowing
methane mountain clouds before falling in slow-motion,
dropped and plopped onto the dune-streaked plains
in a pat-pat-patter of thick organic rain?
Blind, do you look up and sense the razor-edge rings
slicing the sky, and Saturn, into two?

Or is frigid azure Enceladus your Saturn-circling home?
Sheltering in the thawed-out folds
of her Tiger Stripe oases are you deafened by the howls
and screams of the geysers vomiting ice and
clinking, twinkling crystals into space?
Or, having been ejected, days or aeons ago,
are you cocooned now in an icy shell, tormented
every orbit by your ring's-eye view of Home?

Drifting round that gushing moon, entombed,
are You lost in a blizzard of cell-streaked snowflakes,
trillions of tiny lifepods, tossed out to tumble
endlessly through space, eyeing Iapetus, teasing Tethys...
As Time and Evolution both silently pass by, casting you
not even a curious backwards glance as they continue
on their way, will you weep bitter tears for what you
might have become if they had paused awhile, and let you grow..?

You are a stealth payload, perhaps; hidden inside one
of the Universe's ultimate weapons, a
Life Bomb comet, a bacteria-soaked iceberg,
dark as night, mighty as a mountain
that falls on newborn, barren worlds
and jolts their sleeping hearts awake
with cosmic shock and awe; a weapon of
Mass Creation that everyone can find.

Wherever you are found, when we first see You
- with our own wet, water filled eyes, or through
dry silica lenses of a droid despatched to track
you down? - the world will gasp, then rejoice,
then drunkenly drink in the meaning
of the strange... little... thing... circled crudely
on the "historic discovery image" by some shaking,
shaken tech, or pale, Net-dwelling Morlock.

The next day: your picture, everywhere,
plastered 'cross papers, magazines and pc screens
in every land on Earth; within three days more
recognised than any footballer's reed-thin wife
or moody movie star. In college halls,
on white lab walls your grainy, pixel-painted portrait
will be raised and praised as proof
that Life Will Find A Way.

And yet, while some rejoice, other voices
will speak against You, sneering, dismissing
You as a mere bug, pointing out how every step
on terra's fields or grim, gum-stained sidewalks
massacres millions of your kin, yet we never pause
to mourn their loss; countless billions more are swilled away,
they'll say, with each flush of our toilets, or doomed to die in
tatty tissues if we should catch a common cold...

But they miss the point. For finding You
will mean that we are not The Only, or were even
The First; that Life, once thought a chemical
slapstick joke, a clowning cosmic fluke
is a process, a practical, celestial "And Then"
subroutine, looping through the Universe's
Basic program without Stop or Exit signs.
Ironic, for a virus, or a worm.

Finding You will mean much greater
chance that there are Empires in our sky;
that whale-sized ships of light and
gleaming gold ply the silent seas between
the stars themselves with alien Magellans
and Columbus's at their helms, navigating
nebulae and neutron stars as boldly
as Cook hauled his keel 'round rending rocks and stones.

Once recovered, brought Home in chains
we will peer and leer at you. First through microscopes,
blinding you with terrifying light, then prod
and push and poke at you, uneasily, warily,
still worried, deep inside - despite our scientific
minds screaming "We are safe!" - that you may yet
unleash some planet-wasting plague
upon our lovely, lonely world...

Finding You will change everything - and nothing.
The world's wearies will still trudge to work,
walk their dogs, bathe their kids and queue for bread
and milk, live their lives with tired eyes to the ground..

And yet...

If they should look up on clear and starry nights they'll know,
and feel, that they are Not Alone; that they share the Void
above their heads and round their heavy hearts with Others,
even if they are only fragile, paint-fleck flakes of Life...

You're out there.
Somewhere.

I can feel you...



(c) Stuart Atkinson 2006