It was a strange planet, unique in my experience as an observer. I couldn’t help but wonder what evolutionary path its life forms had followed to cause it to become what it was. There was no diversity, at least not in the way diversity is normally defined. There were no separate species, no separate life forms.
Yes, there were creatures that lived under the oceans. Creatures that flew in the skies. Creatures that lived on the ground, and in the ground. What was unique was they were all derivatives of the same species.
At first, we didn’t know what we were observing. I remember the first images from the drones, flying over barren ground. There were two of them in one image. Sticking out of the ground, buried from the waist down, watching the drones. We circled them, they kept watching. We moved one drone closer, they ducked back into the ground. Like worms, or voles, as if in the ground was their home.
At first, the avian forms avoided us. We realized they could hear the drones, and they fled, staying out of sight of the cameras. It wasn’t until we set the drones on the tops of forest canopies that we saw the first of the avians.
They were strikingly similar to the creatures we’d seen in the barrens. Bipedal, with two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head. From the size of the head, we knew they possessed large brains. But, where the ones on the barren had been in ground dwellers, these were avians, living in trees, and flying. They had wings.
We found fish too. Again, bipedal, hominid type creatures. We armed the drones, had them take tissue samples of all the creatures. They were all the same. Genetically, they were all variants of one proginater. They all came from one life form.
An entire world, a vast ecosystem, a complete biosphere. And only one dominate life form. A single life form that filled all the ecological niches.
We knew we’d never figure out what was happening on that world without putting bases down. It took decades, of course, but we did get our bases. Then, it took decades of observation. And decades of learning to survive on that world. But we figured out what had happened.
Each of the bipedal beings, we learned, was part of a single life form. A macro life form. One that lived as a symbiant with the planet itself. The planet provided the sustenance the life form needed. The life form helped the planet’s biosphere maintain its balance.
With time, we did archaeological research on the strange world. What we learned was shocking. We learned that world had once been like so many others. Filled with millions of life forms, from all kinds of branches of a genetic tree.
But, we learned too, the surviving life form, when it first appeared on the planet, grew, like a virus. It spread across all the land. Where it spread, it killed everything. What happened next was unique across all the worlds we’ve ever studied.
When they destroyed their biosphere, and were inevitably going to die, they learned to make food from raw materials. They learned to manufacture what they needed. Until that time, they’d been separate life forms, with limited ability to cooperate, and no ability to work for the good of the whole.
Faced with their own destruction, they changed.
It’s the only world we’ve ever found where life started as chemical soup. Then formed single cell organisms. Those organisms evolved into colonies of cells, and those colonies became complex life forms. The deviation was when a single complex life form began to evolve the same way. Into colonies of life forms. And those colonies grew and became complex. The original complex beings became like cells in a complex life form. They became specialized.
When we realized what had happened, we rapidly learned the purposes of each of the different branches of the bipedal life form tree. We’ve identified the digestive system, the reproductive system, the lungs, the circulatory system. It’s one planet sized life form.
It will take centuries for us to figure out how to talk with it, how to understand it.
It is the only such life we have ever found.
It’s week 91 of Miranda Kate‘s Mid-Week Challenge. The picture this week forced me to begin the years long process of putting a story into words, and bringing a new story to life. You can read about Miranda’s small fiction challenge here. Please, go read Miranda’s short tale this week, and any others that showed up. The tales are always little works of art, crafted with words, meant to be shared, and enjoyed.