The paper that I am writing these words on is now one of rarest commodities in the whole universe. It was created on Earth by pulverizing living plant matter into a pulp, mixing in chemicals to get a desired appearance, and then squeezing and baking all of the water out of it until it reached a preferred thickness. After that, it was sliced into pieces and - in this case - forcibly pressed into a book with glue. If this process sounds incredibly violent and destructive, that's because it is. All that living beings do is about obliterating other life. Deep down, these organisms know that they do not belong, and will try to turn any life they find into non-life.
Much the same, when humans ingest other life (and let's be clear: plants, fungi, bacteria, and other such things all have the same claim to life as homo sapiens, no matter what line some people try to draw between animals and the rest), their own internal systems break it down into basic molecular and atomic components so that it is actually useful. Life is not valuable on its own; it is just a bag to carry chemical reactions around in. And frankly, it's not really a very efficient one, either.
As much as I would like to be completely divorced from life, everything around me is here because of it. By looking no further than the pen in my hand, I discover more life. Forget the microbes crawling all over it; the plastic shell and constituent parts themselves were once an oil that was derived from life. Inside, the ink, too, contains organic-based dyes, perfumes, fungicides and other ingredients. This pen may not look like life, but it is - it is teeming with it.
Of course, a pencil would be far worse. One may try to take comfort in the fact that the graphite inside the "lead" is actually naturally occurring, but how it got into the pencil is anything but. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because one look at its woody exterior takes away any illusion of pretending that it is not life. Not even the shiny bit of aluminum holding the eraser (that is technically synthetic rubber, but which is actually formed from a life-based hydrocarbon) in place is enough to pretend it is appropriate.
Ironically, out in the colonies, these cheap and easily replaceable items like paper, pens, and pencils are rare, high-priced luxuries. Due to the lack of ancient life on their worlds, they lack large deposits of various existing bitumen. Also, since they do not have a long history of destroying their planets by burning fossil fuels, they cannot just pull resources out of the air like those on Earth could. Instead, they basically would have to create all the necessary bonded chains from scratch. The colonists, however, have much higher priorities for these molecules and would rather use them for maintaining their tenuous existence than for trifles.
Yet, that is exactly why I have filled the ship's cargo holds with paper, pens, and pencils. These things may seem like the most ridiculous manifest to bring on a journey of tens of thousands of light-years, yet these items will be my most important goods for trade. As crazy as it sounds, my entire mission will depend upon humans wanting to write something down, and being willing to pay dearly in order to do so.
The above piece is an excerpt from the speculative hard science fiction novel Compendium of Humanity's End by J.P. Prag, available at booksellers worldwide.
Learn more about author J.P. Prag at www.jpprag.com.
Compendium of Humanity's End is a work of mixed fiction and nonfiction elements. With the fiction elements, any names, characters, places, events, and incidents that bear any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental. For the nonfiction elements, no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated except for hypothetical situations.
Marco Chung is the oldest human in the known universe.
Displaced in time by his job ferrying people and supplies to the extrasolar colonies around the galaxy, Marco finds no semblance of peace or belonging upon his rare returns to an ever-changing Earth. Meanwhile, despite centuries of exploration and settlement, there have been no signs of past or present life anywhere that humans have looked. Whether it is nearby Mars or far away Novissimus, it appears more and more likely that Earth is uniquely filled with life, at least within the Milky Way.
Despite these setbacks, colonization of the stars continues unabated and has even become the epicenter of popular culture. Due to the fanaticism around all things related to the Human Expansion Program, Marco now finds himself an unwitting celebrity in his own right. All he has witnessed is that on these so-called "Earth-like" planets, nature seems to be constantly trying to wipe every living thing off of their surfaces. After participating in so many journeys to the outer reaches and having a hand in helping to implement the occupations of these exoplanets, Marco is starting to wonder: if we are truly alone in the cold emptiness of space, then is life simply a mistake? And if existence was made in error, what should he do about it?
About the Creator
J.P. Prag is the author of "Compendium of Humanity's End", "254 Days to Impeachment", "Always Divided, Never United", "New & Improved: The United States of America", and "In Defense Of...", and more! Learn more at www.jpprag.com.