Stone People

#####Archive recorded 234.12.1677 by AI-Scraping the Dust From Forgotten Bones

#####—begin transmission—

The end began with the poet Orek, who made music of the groan of shifting rock, the crack of basalt, the trickle of water over limestone that is our language. Orek did not sing of rock, as all poets before him had done. Instead he sang of space, of the grandness of stars and planets. Orek found beauty in the nebulae and black holes, in that vast emptiness and unimaginable density with colors brighter than cobalt vein, darker than hard obsidian.

His music woke a volcano within us. Us, the stone people, the workers of rock, come from the very core of our world.

Before Orek hurried was not a word well known among us. Only the youngest felt it, in the jarring slip of mantle against mantle, in the flow of lava down the mountainside. But soon they forgot that hastiness and worked with slower things. The slow rise of mountains and the drift of seashores. The hills and depressions that guide water and become valleys and canyons. Our work takes many circles around the sun.

The volcano of Orek changed all of this. We stone people began to pull the rocks to create a different thing. We made ships to float away from the rocks of our world and into the black nothingness. And the ships were things of beauty and pride. That we, we the stone people, could create something so elegant, so precise, to carry us across the stars. The world-shrinking ships were larger than mountains, with masses measured in thousandths of our entire world.

I was the first to question what would happen when all were gone. In only a few eons, would we so quickly leave behind the rock that had birthed us so many billions ago? And to what lonely fate? But the stone people’s minds were full of stars and space. The ore of their blood had turned to lava. They had no time to listen to doubts. No time for anything but ships and songs of the places they would soon go.

My friend Getalt and I watched the first ship in a valley of its making as the builders prepared to board, Orek in the lead. He held a spire of obsidian in his hand like an elder’s staff. It swooped up in great curves laced with diamonds, splitting at the head to flow in unnatural directions. At once I knew the meaning of haste and sprang toward the ship, my legs moving on rock with grinding shocks. I crossed the great valley like a landslide and strode in front of the yawning chasm of the ship’s doorway, flinging my arms wide and my legs deep into the rock. I pulled at the rocks and spoke, my words echoing across the valley.

“Hold!”

Orek’s smug beatific features hardened. I stared at him, my eyes pouring over the cracks and crags of his face, searching in its shadows for some doubt, some hint of a question. What I saw buried my will in my feet. With a sigh I turned to the crowd of builders behind him.

“What you do, what all of you do, dishonors your parents. It dishonors your ancestors. And most of all, it dishonors the earth mother who bore you, who created all of the stone people from the very matter of her own body. Do you now cast that away so easily?”

They stood without a sound, waiting for Orek to speak.

“Honor, elder? You speak of honor as if it should be the bedrock of all, as if it should supplant even love.” He turned and faced the crowd. “We do no dishonor here. Our destiny, the stone people’s destiny, is in the stars. That is the true gift of our earth mother. Should not a mother encourage her children to fall away from the steady rock face of her home? Where is the honor in clinging to that face in fear? No, we cannot forsake our destiny for your fear. We love our earth mother too much for that.” He paused, his inflection soft and perfectly gauged. “We love you too much for that.”

My shoulders drooped as his words fell around me. This crowd was already lost. And with them, so were we all. “Orek,” I said, looking at him with sadness, “you are ever silver-tongued. But with that gift of language comes a vast responsibility that you do not yet grasp, and the day will come when you will have to face that it is you, and you alone, that condemn this world, condemn us, to nothingness.”

“What nothingness elder? Come with us. Join the pilgramage of our people. Even in the depth of their new vision, the people still respect you.”

I glanced at the staff in Orek’s hand, my face knotting in a rage. “Black obsidian space, bright diamond stars. These are the trappings of a magician! Which elder gave you an elder staff, hmm?” My voice shook now as the wind. “I know. I know no elder would make a staff so garish, so calculated, as that. You must think me a fool, Orek.”

I released my legs from the rock and turned away, my shoulders heavy. And as I walked I listend to the sound of the stone people leaving. Getalt and I watched as thousands filled the huge ship. We felt the rock move as together they gathered at the base, crouched low, and then pushed the iron rock of the world away with all the strength it had given them. The ship rose like a mountain into the sky and behind it left a hole in the horizon.

A single revolution around the sun was enough to see the change, our orbit distorted by the loss of mass, the thrust of the mountain ship. The sun grew in the sky and our blood melted and ran, and then it shrank and the world froze and cracked.

After that there were more ships. People speaking of the dream of space, but driven by fear of the sun. Years passed and each ship took a piece of the world with it, leaving the rest of us diminished, the path of our planet thrown further off course.

There is a small hill, once cradled by steep peaks that reached into the sky and sang against the wind. It was the first hill I built, when my stone song was still chaotic and quiet. That was many millions of years ago, and it has weathered with time, but it is still a good hill. I stand there now, my legs driving deep into the rock, listening for the wind on peaks long used up.

Getalt stands one hill over. He is looking toward the horizon, watching for the sun to rise over the torn remains of our world.

Only the forefathers are left now. Only the old ones who refused to go. The last ship pushed away as the sun was shrinking, knowing that doing so would provide condemning thrust. We stone people are not great astronomers. Our gifts are with the rock, not the empty stuff of space. But we knew enough to answer the question I had asked. The stone people had abandoned their home, and in so doing left it to fall into the sun and be consumed.

We who remember the old time, who pull at the rock of our world and feel it sing in our hands, we chose to stay. This is the world that birthed us. Our children have ripped their womb to pieces and hurled themselves into the sky, but we are not so quick to cast aside our mother.

Getalt pulls at the rocks, singing a song to the broken remnants of our once great mountains. He sings of our lost world and our lost children, pulling with his whole being, so that even my bones shake with the deep rumble of his mourning. I thrust my arms into the rock beneath me and add my own pull, add my voice to his voice, my song to his song. My song is softer, the warbling ache of wind and water across rock so weathered that it barely stand out from the ground.

Today is the last day of our vigil. Our world is melting. As the sun comes over the horizon other voices join us. The molten rock swells and rages against the current of our song. I imagine Orek floating through the black, holding his staff, proud and driven. He always was hasty, even at birth he rushed out so that his mother had to take him quickly in her arms and hold him close. Already he had sought to leave. Now he had succeeded. Perhaps he is smiling now, his vision filled with stars.

Our song, the song of the stone people, grows and reaches a crescendo. Then it falters and melts away.

May our children find their own peace.

#####—end transmission—

#####Archiver note: non-interference according to SC 34.4291 Section 3: Sentience non-extinction event despite loss of planet.