Never Is A Good Time To Die: a short but long-lived story by: GF Willmetts

May 4, 2015 | By | Reply More

Once upon a time, a long time ago, our ancestors measured the passing of time by the change of seasons. There were four and they were well marked out. Later, they realised that time could be measured by the orbit around the sun and spin of the Earth. From that, we ended up with years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. There was even centuries, although it was rare for anyone to live that long. Instead, we became more precise and had set periods that we could gauge our lives by. Putting time to numbers gave things some sort of relevance. A lot of people lived like that. Totally clockwork. They were born, grew a little, schooled, grew a bit more, worked for a lot longer, retired and finally died. Tick, tick, tick. Just like clockwork. Some people lived a little shorter, some a little longer, but everyone went in the end.

That was until the treatment and the spring was stretched some. For some dozen of us that is, life extended quite a lot. Now regular time seemed so brief and we went back to measuring time by centuries initially instead and even they weren’t really short enough and became our version of seconds before time started to race in millennia as time started to pass. We stopped being too friendly with the clockworks simply because they weren’t around long enough to care. They would age in front of our eyes and be gone in an instance that was nearly minutes then seconds as time started to race. It didn’t mean we couldn’t care but time moved far faster for us than them. They were gone in a flash and hardly remembered.

The ancient streams of Mars.

When we were made immortal or rather long-lived, to the rest of the clockworks we just vanished. We spent an instance reading what they thought of us. We had moved outside of their time frame. There were a dozen of us. Did I say that? We lived too quickly for them to keep up with us. Our sense of time…their time…was too brief to measure our own. They could see the effects of what we did but interacting was spread over generations. As Einstein once remarked, time was relative. We were there forever but at an accelerated time. Just not human-based time. No wonder we became obsessed with how time moved. Always forward. Never back.

Instead, we gave our accelerated time to the long term welfare of the planet. We could keep continuity in a way that the clockworks could never do. We ensured fresh air for all. We reminded everyone of failed experiments and legislation and why some things had to be done our way by leaving notes etched in metal so they would last across the generations. A second of every generation was spent doing that and we took it in turns because of the tedium and the clockworks’ poor memories.

In the end, we urged Man onto the other planets, terraforming them before they got there and further out into the cosmos to populate our part of the galaxy. Always they were behind as we lead but it gave us something to do. The various generations would occasionally loathe or hate us and then like or love us. They might only get a glance at us but they always saw the result of our work. Cults about us came and went in a couple of our minutes. No one wanted to repeat the experiment that gave us extended life. They knew it had succeeded but we must have been like phantoms to them. They would be giving up everything. We could hardly tell them that was why we were chosen. None of us had close family. Even we weren’t that close. It made it easier to go off and do our own thing from time to time. More so when we moved humans out into the galaxy and could move off in a non-linear fashion. It was as much for us as for them. There was only so much we could do on Earth and by our own time reckoning, an hour was quite enough. Time moved too quickly by then.

We needed to move most of mankind to give the Earth a chance to recover so we were still doing our job. To preserve both, then we had to split them up. It was a bigger risk that mankind would make a mess of other planets but it was better starting from scratch and knowing where our ancestors had gone wrong originally that kept us on track. For us, it was little more than a few hours of our time. The only thing we had to remember was that the time between stars for us was very short but all kinds of things could have happened to the clockworks while we were away. There was simply a limit to what the twelve of us could do. Even with the drug, we couldn’t administer it to anyone who was there for one of our split-seconds. In the odd minute, we watched as the Milky Way merged with the Andromeda Galaxy which made exploring a lot quicker, even for us.

We did wonder why we didn’t meet other sentients. The odd relics of past civilisations very occasionally surfaced but it proved the notion that life didn’t last forever and certainly they hadn’t been able to provide any of their people with the prolonged life that we dozen had or we might have bumped into them. Maybe. If they lived as fast, then we would never catch up as they journeyed elsewhere. They might have moved out into other galaxies instead. There certainly was enough out there to explore and we had all the time needed.

The clockworks aren’t totally useless. Did I say that before? At the beginning, they make the odd discovery and we point them in the right direction when we see something that hasn’t worked before when we could pay attention. It only takes a few moments and we’re there for fruition. That was how we moved out to the stars. We kept them from evolving too far, just so that there would always be a biped reasonable intelligent human breed out there. One of us, it might even have been me, thought we were fulfilling an SF dream of proper mankind spread across the galaxy. But for people like us, we needed to do more with our time.

From time to time, I had to ask myself, what do we live for? Just because we have extended lives didn’t mean that we didn’t always appreciate it. But even for us, life is too short and hadn’t physically aged in all that time. We do millennia long term experiments but even we are not sure if we’re going to be there to see them end. We dropped in on mankind from time to time and ensured they kept going but they were bearing little likeness to how they first started and didn’t look much like us anymore. One of us had taken the eye off how they were evolving and they had no chance of keeping up with us, just happy to have planets in our wake they could live on.

Setting terra-forming in motion, we didn’t just wait for one world to mature but once the template was working, we’d keep moving across the galaxy with the clockworks following behind us, happy to find new worlds to inhabit and quick populate. They bred and died, but we went on forever. We led. They followed. Occasionally, we had time to stop and marvel at the evolution of stars. Clockworks couldn’t breed that quickly to keep up with us. Occasionally, we left markers and told them to come back in a few millennia when the planets had formed. Even in the combine Andromeda Milky Way Galaxy, star systems were still being formed. Spending some time learning how to do it ourselves meant we could start bridging across to other galaxies and reduce our tedium and allow better progression for the clockworks. Always, we were on the lookout for other sentient life, but we occasionally found the remains of dead civilisations. We were always too late to sort that out. Those planets we thought might evolve more sentients, we kept away from the clockworks. Let them make their own way than think they missed something.

Life is too short…for them. For us, the older the universe, the more we measured our lives by the rotation of the galaxies. Mankind had physically evolved but mentally they were still basically the same. We got that right. Just spread across more star systems and now a second galaxy if they could keep up the population growth. Of course, they didn’t have every world, we wanted to leave some places to develop their own ecology but they were spread out enough to keep going. Did I just say that? It can’t be age. Maybe it’s because I don’t think you’d remember.

We talked amongst ourselves a lot, once in a while. A key discussion was why we never seemed to get that bored and then realised our time scale moved too quickly. The original thought about immortality was that it would be at normal human rate but the longer we went on, the quicker our own acceptance of time was. A day for us was over a thousand millennium for the clockworks. We could barely remember associating with clockworks any more. They were gone in a blur. Something akin to how older people saw life go by accepting we never got older. Maybe time worked like that. Maybe regardless of how long we lived, life will always seem shorter.

Just because we live longer doesn’t mean life is any slower. It just rushes by even faster. At the end of the day, we simply don’t have enough time to do everything as crazy as that seems.

Sometime in our near future, we are going to see the end of the universe and look back and declare we never had enough time. When that happens, who knew what we would do? Could we get out of the way and see if a new universe happened? Then what we do if we did? We’d probably make it easier for new species to evolve. It’s long over-due that we had more sustainable species out there. Maybe we could help.


The eternal end


© GF Willmetts 2015

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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