Colony, company.

Even from the depths of space, Earth looked special. Amidst the giants that worshipped the solar star floated a stone that brimmed with a sacred proportion of ocean, land and sky. Upon its soil and within its waters was a multitude of conscious beings, each inextricably spun into the makeup of the world. One species, a mammal, had achieved complex thought and detonated it through language into an elaborate narrative of reality and selfhood. It could get very serious, but thanks to animals like sloths and words like ‘bamboo’, it wasn’t too bad. Life renewed itself at regular intervals, every time a little bit different. Creatures would undergo dramatic transformations at an equally dramatic pace, becoming imperceptibly foreign to themselves over cosmic chapters. For humans, every generation was granted a slightly outdated set of instructions on how to survive in the world, spending their own lives making them irrelevant. As ignorance slowly dissipated, prosperity came, and so man learnt the value of progress.

This was just a portion of the history that the watchers had documented during their time on Earth. Over millions of years they had coalesced with the population, adopting the profile of domestic life forms, evolving side by side with them yet always observing. By the time humanity was advanced enough to detect its otherworldly sightseers, both parties would be indistinguishable from one another. After millennia of observation, the watchers grew to sympathise with and even love humans. Like a glass door that opened onto a scene of infinite light, humanity shone with warm-blooded energy. Each person with their own distinct strand of life gave the luminous door a fragment of inimitable colour, creating a mosaic of so many hues that every inspection would reveal new shades. At first, the watchers tried to catalogue these colours, nobly trying to index human variety. It did not take them long to realise the futility of this task. As life spiraled down the river of time, the only constant it retained was paradoxically that of change.

Within a few million years, humanity left Earth, igniting a colonisation effort that reached the corners of space. For every world humans discovered and planted their seeds, an eye opened in that area of the universe, ready to absorb that which had never been looked upon before. An interminable time passed and the solar star they had left died, destroying Earth. The human diaspora now spanned galaxies and ‘home’ became but a colonial word. By this point the watchers and humans were identical, indeed neither could determine their genealogy from one another. Watchers themselves forgot their origins, but, occasionally, when a new portion of the universe was being explored, some humans felt a strange sigh of déjà vu pass through them; none dwelled on it, but some were left solemn.

When it came to navigating the final, most ancient regions of the universe, humanity discovered something that, quite unlike the extraordinary findings that came before, was oddly familiar. A planet with an ocean made of water. Since departing Earth, water was found rarely, usually in the form of ice in the core of a planet. When Earth expired, naturally occurring water became something of a myth; humans could synthesize it, which they did rarely, as they resembled little of the mammals that were so devoted to it in the past. So when this ocean world was found, humanity could not help but warm to it with pangs of wistfulness. The death of Earth was accepted as an ineluctable chapter in the universe’s affair with time, yet this did not stop humanity mourning their lost home. Despite having transcended religion, many would come to deify Earth.

As scouts entered the planet’s atmosphere — a warm murmuration that colonies could only simulate — they found a continent emerging, sprawled, from the ocean. Sprouting from the ground was primordial flora — this planet, with all its haphazard harmony, had created complex life.

Humanity pondered on what role they would play in this planet’s future. In the beginning of the colonies, there had been a simple rule: native life would continue unimpeded, humanity must accommodate. It turned out however that other worlds only harbored single-celled life; humanity, it had seemed, was the only sentience in the universe. Now, with the universe almost entirely known, this germinating planet was found. It would be naïve to leave it unattended, for life was so vulnerable in its nascence. After all, here was the only planet in the whole universe that had created complex life — aside from Earth. To let its ecosystem crumble or have its life wiped out by a stray asteroid would be a tragic waste. At the same time, humans were well acquainted with the dangers of direct occupation; their proliferation on Earth was at the expense of many other life forms. As a million scouts gazed down at the fertile ground, many wondered why only this world could have life thrive naturally, rather than the countless others they had landed on before. Humans could create life effortlessly, yet it was always imbued with technology that would never occur naturally. When a fleet landed on a new planet, there was a period of ‘conditioning’ that allowed humans and their synthetic life to function. It was puzzling as to why this planet in particular did not need conditioning for life to bloom.

When humanity had made its decision, the fleets departed the planet, leaving no visible trace of their encounter. Within the sea, the primeval creatures that would eventually master the land increased in number, seemingly overnight. The new kin would evolve with these creatures, die with them and most importantly watch them, ensuring their survival by giving them the gentlest of nudges towards progress.