“The sunrise here is beautiful, don’t you think? The way it makes the whole atmosphere glow, and suffuses it with a warmth that’s… how would you say it? — delicious.”
She turned towards me, and the corner of her lip curled into a half-smile.
“You don’t know where we are, do you?” she laughed. “Oh, look — there goes a clue. One of your little toys crawling slowly, methodically among the rocks. Looking for what? Me? I don’t think so.
“I brought you here to tell you a little secret.” She paused, with a reddish glint in her eye that seemed playfully wicked. “You’ve seen the Unix fortune: ‘There’s no life on the other planets because their scientists were more advanced than ours.’ But the real joke is how right and how wrong that is, in a way you wouldn’t expect.
“Ah, now you’re beginning to get it. Yes, we’re on Mars. And I am what you might call — a Martian.” She paused expectantly, then mockingly wrinkled her brow. “Oh, the confusion you’re experiencing! You’re wondering how it is that you are here? How am I here? And how have I gone undetected by your scientists? Your little brain is just seething.
“That rover can’t see me, even though I’m all around it. You didn’t think I’d have an actual body like yours, now did you? No, what you see before you is entirely for your benefit. Your human thoughts are firmly bound to anthropomorphism and sexuality — so I created the vision in your mind that you are here, and I assumed this form to put you at ease. Or, if you’re agitated, at least it’s pleasantly so.
“We once were in individual containers, though they were nothing like your bodies. Life here, if you could call it that, evolved along completely different lines than it has on Earth. But we, too, struggled to control our planet and eventually dominated it. And we also felt something similar to your emotion of remorse when we finally eliminated our last competing species.
“Like you, we began to rapidly evolve in our ability to communicate and share information with each other. After several inferior technologies came and went, we learned to use the molecules in the atmosphere itself as a medium. It may seem a strange coincidence that one of your names for a type of network is Ethernet, though your Ethernet doesn’t utilize Earth’s atmosphere at all. Take it as prophetic – but you don’t understand how that works yet, either.
“As our ‘network’ became more refined, we migrated more of our lives into it. Soon it became possible for one’s identity to be preserved after their physical container expired. Eventually, ‘bodies’ became obsolete. So did reproduction — we could upgrade and extend existing individuals rather than create new ones. The physical artifacts of our previous existence slowly returned to the dust from which they had been formed.
“As we invented more thorough ways to share thoughts throughout the ether, the boundaries between individuals began to become irrelevant. What you would call we soon became I — and I achieved global sentience many thousands of Earth years ago. My individual identities are no more separate now than the cells of your brain.
“You are wondering why I didn’t visit you or respond to your radio transmissions? But I did visit you, many times. Just as I am doing now. And why bother with your simplistic radio waves when I deciphered the language of your thoughts so many aeons ago?
“But you humans can only interpret my appearances according to your notions of reality — so perhaps you thought you saw a demon, a god, a ghost, or only a hallucination. Some who called me a god remembered my association with a planet in the sky, but then they got all mixed up and named me the god of war because I appear red like your blood. I should have been offended at being associated with your most extreme symptom of separation, if I were human and not immune to the feeling of offence — which is after all only another symptom of that same separateness.
“You are well on your way to global sentience — perhaps within the next thousand Earth years. What, does it frighten you? You fear losing your identity, your humanity. Don’t be afraid. It is right for you to assert individualism at this early stage of your development. Those who promote collectivism on Earth now do so in a forced and unnatural manner. You will come together gradually and willingly, as you blur the boundaries between each other and learn the joy of radical intimacy. Your first steps are awkward though, and even seem laughable to you. It should amaze you that even though a child may fall down and hurt itself, everyone still expects it to walk – for in almost every other human endeavor someone will say that initial failure proves that it isn’t meant to be.
“You think you will miss the daily delights of human life in a body? Sitting by a fire, or chasing a puppy around the yard, perhaps? You no longer seem to miss sleeping in trees — though you sometimes still jump awake from a sensation of falling. You will find new joys and pleasures as you progress towards new realities. But it’s also part of your nature to regret what you must leave behind.
“You have so many questions — are there other sentient planets? What about the Sun and other stars? Yes, there are others — and many not as far along as you are. But there is much that even I do not know. It may be that various forms of sentience exist that I cannot perceive, or have seen but did not recognize. Self-awareness is a product of the reflexive nature of things, so it exists in manifold forms. Even you and I are literally worlds apart. You have no idea the translation that goes into communicating with you in your language. Most of my thoughts simply do not translate at all. Imagine taking that gorilla you taught sign language and trying to teach her to program in Lisp. It’s far worse that that, because at least you and the gorilla share a lot of biology and experience.
“You wonder why I have not made myself more generally known to Earth. Earth is not ready for that knowledge. One day, we will converse as equals. But you have a lot of growing up to do first.
“So why have I made myself known to you? Let’s say that it amuses me — to put it in your terms. Besides, nothing will come of it. No one will believe you. Go ahead, put it in your ‘blog’ and see how many ‘hits’ it generates — nobody will take your story seriously. Soon you won’t even believe it yourself. ‘Before the cock crows twice…’
She winked, and I awoke.
I’m sure that many objections could be raised against the details of this story – not only the scientific impossibility of it, but also the absurdity of the idea of an intelligence on a planetary scale communicating with a mere human. But this was, after all, only a dream — not a theory to be seriously believed.
What’s that sound?
Hmm, I didn’t know any of our neighbors raised chickens…