Somewhere in deep space flies a ship. Having five hundred and eleven rooms arranged into as many as six floors at its tallest (from one of its six towers to its flat foundation), it more closely resembles a Turkish palace than most spacecraft. Its outer surface consists of mostly ivory-colored walls and reinforced, grey-tinted windows. Inside are ramps and platforms at all sorts of odd levels leading to floors offset from one another. Winding hallways wrap around the ship connecting all rooms together in such ways that some rooms next to one another can only be reached by walking halfway around the ship. Other rooms are reachable only through other rooms. Some hallways are much narrower than others and new rooms and halls emerge and grow, replacing older, shrinking ones. The strange, ivory walls grow such that the entire inner layout changes every two years. Most of the rooms have swinging doors, and these often open both in and out. Most of the rooms are also empty. There is gravity on board, consistently pulling towards the foundation. There are also lights – some of them rather ornate – and most of them unique. The ship races between the stars at speeds thousands of times greater than light by bending space itself around it. There is no pilot on board, for this his is no ordinary ship; it is alive, and today it will have its first passenger.
Deep inside the ship, one room is decked with soft, fuzzy walls. The floor and ceiling are too covered with fuzzy padding. In the center of the room is a large pile of pillows. Inside this pile is a sleeping dromaeosaur. It wakes.
“Welcome to awareness, my creation,” a voice booms. The dromaeosaur peeks out and looks around, trying to find the source.
“It’s time to wake up, Nathaniel,” a softer, slightly higher-pitch voice states. It comes from a figure to the left side of the door. It resembles a very large sea anemone growing from the wall with a rather human-looking face on one side of the stalk. As the dromaeosaur watches, the face smiles at him.
The dromaeosaur – being only seconds old at this time – had never seen humans or sea anemones before, nor had it ever seen a face of any kind for that matter. Nevertheless, it recognized what it was looking at as a sort of face by instinct alone. It also recognized a smile when it saw it, and it smiled back.
“I bet you’re hungry,” the first voice says. It comes from a similar anemone-figure to the right of the door. “Hungry” was a word the dromaeosaur knew. Yes, it was hungry. It crawls out from the pillow pile completely and stands before the two figures.
It is a small dromaeosaur, about one meter tall, and covered with very small, bright green feathers. It has large eyes, gleaming white teeth, a slender tail, and large, curved claws on both hands and feet. On each foot, one toe bends backwards, holding erect a single, giant, curved claw. No one knows why the ivory spaceship-creature chose the dromaeosaur form to model its creation after. It could merely be that it was one of the forms it was very familiar with, seeing them on many of the planets it frequents. It could also be that it had specific plans for its creation that required speed, agility, and intelligence. No one really knows the motives of the spaceship-creature but the spaceship-creature itself.
“Your name is Nathaniel, my name is Mama, and that is Daddy,” the figure to the left says, pointing a tentacle to the figure on the right. “If you want some food, follow us,” it continues. The door between them opens outwards on its own. Nathaniel the dromaeosaur pauses. “Out here,” a voice calls from the hall. It sounds like Mama’s voice, but Mama is still attached to the wall inside the room. Nathaniel looks and sees that both figures now sit motionless, their eyes, mouths, and noses tightly shut. He peeks into the hall and sees more figures along the walls up and down it. One moves. “Over here. Come on.” Nathaniel follows Mama and Daddy as their essences hop from figure to figure, never existing in two places at once. The figures exist in every room and at every major turn. They always come in pairs. It is as easy to tell them apart by appearance as by voice, and the wrong voice never comes from the wrong figure. Soon, they arrive at what they tell Nathaniel is the kitchen. A circular table sits half in an alcove where a bench against the wall wraps halfway around it. Above the bench is a large window. Nathaniel watches as a nozzle over the table squirts grey jelly into a bowl. The bowl is part of a tall stack of bowls growing straight up out from a circular table. The table is fused to the floor with a single, central support. A Mama-image and a Daddy-image grow from the edge of the table farthest from the bench. Everything is made of the same ivory-like substance. At his parents’ prompting, Nathaniel detaches the top bowl from the stack with a faint snap, sets the bowl on the table, sits on the bench, and proceeds to lick the bowl clean. Nathaniel was indeed very hungry.
“Did you make me?” Nathaniel finally asks.
“Yes we did,” Daddy responds.
“Why?” Nathaniel asks.
“We wanted to show someone the universe that hadn’t seen it before, and we wanted to make someone new that we hadn’t seen before,” Mama says.
Nathaniel thought this over for a second but soon became interested in other things. “What’s that?” Nathaniel asks, pointing to the window behind him.
“That’s a window,” Mama says.
Nathaniel stands on the bench and looks outside. “What are those dots?” he asks.
“Those are stars,” Mama responds.
“Would you like some more food?” Daddy asks. Nathaniel turns around and thinks for a moment, then nods. “If you ever want to get food yourself when we aren’t here, hold your bowl under the nozzle, flip the orange switch, and push it back when you have enough so it doesn’t overflow,” Daddy explains, pointing with a tentacle at an orange switch on the table next to the stack of bowls.
Nathaniel tries it and jumps up, excited, when it works. “There are no strings! How does the food know whether I hit the switch or not? It doesn’t even touch!” he exclaims, “The switch is down here and the nozzle is way up there.” He pulls and pushes the switch again, laughing.
“Don’t pour more than you are going to eat; don’t waste it, and sit down when you’re at the table,” Daddy says.
“Why?”Nathaniel asks innocently, his mercurial curiosity suddenly prompting an interest in the phenomenon of behavioral rules.
“Sit down first and I’ll tell you,” Daddy says gently. Nathaniel sits down and begins to eat. Mama starts to answer, “It costs us energy to make food and it is only worth making it to us if we know that it is making you happy, so don’t take more than will make you happy.”
“Why should I sit down at the table?” Nathaniel asks.
There is a pause of several seconds before both Mama and Daddy say together, “We don’t want you to get hurt.”
Nathaniel’s mind instantly begins playing out all the scenarios in which he might possibly get hurt from standing. He had no idea standing was so dangerous. He suddenly realizes in slight shock that he stood all the way down here from his room to the kitchen and his parents didn’t warn him! He resolves to be careful. “What’s this for?” Nathaniel asks, pointing at a second nozzle overhead right next to the first, positioned over a stack of cups.
“That’s for water,” Daddy says, “Take some.” A second orange switch on the table next to the cup stack flips on its own and water streams from the nozzle about into the top cup. Nathaniel breaks free the top cup and drinks. He was very thirsty.
When Nathaniel finishes his food and drink, he is directed to a small hatch on the opposite wall, told to throw his cup and bowl inside, and close the door. He is told it is a recycling unit. Later, Mama and Daddy show him how to use the toilet and the light switches. “How do you turn the lights off and on and flush the toilet without touching the switches?” Nathaniel suddenly asks, noticing that their tentacles don’t reach very far.
“That’s hard to explain. When you’re older, you will understand,” Mama says, “This whole place is our body, and we are your home. Together, we are the Mama-And-Daddy. Well, we’re going to rest now. If you want to talk to us, just tap one of our polyp-heads to get our attention.” With that, Mama and Daddy shut down, their essences going elsewhere.
With some time to himself, Nathaniel explores the inside of the Mama-And-Daddy ship-creature. He decides to count the number of rooms, but soon gives up. Then he examines the light fixtures and plays with the switches. Finding a switchboard at a hallway intersection controlling four sets of lights, he rapidly turns them off and on in succession, creating different shimmering effects. Pleased with his accomplishments, he rounds the corner looking for switchboards with an even greater number of switches in one place, but is instantly distracted by a very large window spanning two floors, and twice as wide. Nathaniel realizes he is in a tower and can see much of the rest of the Mama-Daddy-ship outside. Nathaniel also realizes they are very near a planet. He runs to the nearest anemone-figure he can find and shakes it.
“What is it?” Daddy asks, coming to life. Mama comes to life next to him.
“We’re near a planet!” Nathaniel yells, jumping up and down.
“Stop that!” Daddy says, “Yes, we’re going to land on that planet soon. We wanted to show you around. Would you like to explore it?” Nathaniel barely contains his excitement. It takes over an hour to come to a rest on the planet. To Nathaniel, it feels like an eternity. Finally, Nathaniel is led to a room containing a single spacesuit and told to put it on. He does and it seals itself. It fits perfectly and even has special boots to accommodate his giant foot claws. Inside the helmet, on either side of his faceplate, sits a Mama image and a Daddy image. These images talk to Nathaniel and direct him to the airlock room. Once inside, the door closes behind Nathaniel, seals itself, and the air begins to drain with a huge rushing noise. Seconds later, the outer door opens and Nathaniel steps out.
The first thing he notices is the change in gravity. Every step sends him bounding further than he had wanted. Soon, though, he adapts by adopting a shuffling gait. There is nothing but rock and dust – and a huge volcano in the distance spewing yellow lava. “This rock is pointy and this one is smooth,” Nathaniel says, excitedly picking up rocks, “but most are in between. That’s so awesome!”
“Why don’t you see what’s behind that big rock over there,” Daddy says, pointing through the faceplate. Nathaniel looks up and sees a boulder twice as tall as he is.
“Wow! That’s huge! That must be the biggest rock ever!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“Actually, there are rocks in other places millions of times bigger than that one,” Daddy replies.
Nathaniel climbs on top and looks down. “Be careful!” Daddy and Mama both scream at him in unison. There are large, very pointed rocks below. “You were going to jump on those rocks,” Daddy says. “Those rocks are sharp; they could have hurt you very badly or killed you,” Mama says.
“I wasn’t going to jump on them; I looked down and I saw them,” Nathaniel says.
“You were going to jump, and you weren’t being careful,” Daddy insists. Unsure just how to respond, Nathaniel drops the matter and climbs down from the boulder. His thoughts and mood are soon lightened when he spies a pool of blue and yellow several meters away. He races over to check it out.
“What is that?” he asks.
“That’s a pool of lava slowly seeping to the surface. Don’t touch it; it’s very hot,” Daddy says.
“Your spacesuit can withstand temperatures of several thousand degrees Celsius, but only for a few seconds before disintegrating. Without your spacesuit, you would be exposed to the airlessness. You wouldn’t be able to breathe and if you hold your breath in, the difference in pressure would cause you to pop,” Mama explains.
“Your spacesuit will protect you from freezing, drying, airlessness, heat, light, and small amounts of strange energies, but not if it gets cut or melted, so be careful,” Daddy adds.
“Okay,” Nathaniel says as he pokes around the pool. He gingerly slips a stone into the pool so it won’t splash on him, taking into account the low gravity. He times how long the stone takes to fully melt, counting out loud. It takes twelve seconds. Nathaniel slips a larger stone into the pool. It takes thirty seconds to melt and dissolve. He slips an even larger stone into the pool. This one quickly breaks up into smaller pieces and so takes five seconds less than the medium-sized stone. Losing himself in this activity for a while, Nathaniel suddenly notices the pool is getting wider as more blue and yellow lava seeps to the surface. He takes a step back. When he does, he notices a very large rock. Curious, Nathaniel starts to roll it in until it gets stuck. Pushing at it from different angles, Nathaniel determines that the only way to apply enough force will result in him losing his balance and tumbling in after the rock. He gives up.
Suddenly, something catches his eye. Several dozen meters away, a purple and green fountain of energy springs up! Other, smaller fountains spring up around it and grow. It quickly rises until stabilizing at about fifteen meters tall, the energy dispersing into invisibility at the top. Nathaniel quickly rushes over to it. He looks up at it in awe, watching the intricate swirls of purple and green and the bubbles that grow out of it and pop, rising with the flow as they grow. He had never seen anything like it – but then, he had never seen rocks before, either. He marvels at the smooth, swirling patterns of the stones surrounding the fountain, weathered from the strange energies. As he watches, they continue to reshape as the swirling fountain dissolves and redeposits the minerals.
“Don’t touch it; it will take your claws right off,” Mama and Daddy say together, seeing Nathaniel stepping closer.
“Look what it does to the rock!” Nathaniel points out, noting an arc of stone on the side bending over and reconnecting, forming a loop.
“Yes, and rock is much harder than you are,” Mama and Daddy say together. Nathaniel dimly becomes aware that sometimes the Mama-And-Daddy speaks in the Mama voice, sometimes it speaks in the Daddy voice, and sometimes it speaks in both at the same time. Pondering the reason it does so, however, has to wait for another time.
“So harder things break softer things?” Nathaniel asks, though even as he said it, he instinctively knew it must be true, the very nature of hardness and softness being intrinsic to the definitions of the words he had been preprogrammed with. While not all beings in the universe in this era are preprogrammed in this way, most are – and they are all preprogrammed with the same language, because in this time, only one language exists. The beings of this time are of course unaware of this, it having never occurred to them that there is any other possibility.
“Yes,” Mama suggests. The Mama-And-Daddy was pleased. So far, its project was going perfectly. Nathaniel was healthy, was learning quickly, and was showing the Mama-And-Daddy a fresh perspective. On its exact motives one can only speculate, but it is suspected that like many creatures of the era, the Mama-And-Daddy did not experience boredom as an emotion exactly (at least not on timescales shorter than years), but still had a certain drive to learn, especially by experiencing new things outside of its normal experience. While other creatures primarily satisfied this drive by seeking out new (and by definition unusual) places to explore, the Mama-And-Daddy instead was among those that created new life and so was able to observe a new (unusual) perspective on familiar places and things. Knowing that this planet was going to self-destruct soon, they decided now was the perfect time to finish their creation and glean that fresh perspective on the event. The Mama-And-Daddy had seen dozens of strange-energy fountains much like this one on other planets, on stars, and on comets, but had never noticed the tiny differences before, such as some having more bubbles than others.
“This one has more bubbles than that one!” Nathaniel exclaims, having wandered near a slightly smaller fountain nearby. Nathaniel wanders around and between the fountains for some time before moving on, taking note of the bumpiness of the ground. Crossing over a ridge, Nathaniel finds he has to walk between two very large boulders. “You were right; these are way bigger than the first rock,” he comments.
Suddenly, Nathaniel ducks out of instinct. He sees something move across the gap between the rocks near his head. The Mama-And-Daddy senses it at the same time. “Don’t go through there,” Mama says. “There is a strange energy channel here,” Daddy adds. As Nathaniel watches, he sees faint swirling wisps of blue and white pass from one boulder to the other in both directions across the space between them. They appear and disappear. Nathaniel turns around and chooses a different route to explore.
Just then, there is a quake. It is not very strong, but it catches Nathaniel by surprise and he falls over. It lasts only a few seconds. “Why did all the rocks shake?” He asks.
“Large movements deep underground caused by heat,” Daddy says. “It is no longer safe here; we will move you to a different part of the planet,” Mama says. “This planet is experiencing rapidly increasing volcanic activity and will soon be torn apart by tectonic explosions, shaking it into pieces” Daddy says.
“Oh,” Nathaniel remarks.
“We will move you now,” Daddy says. One second later, Nathaniel blinks and finds himself on the top of a large hill. The sudden change was just a bit disconcerting, as he had felt no sense of movement. It is a very high hill. From this high, on such a small world, he can just make out the curvature of the horizon. From this part of the planet, he can see several very large and very steep volcanoes climbing up into the starry sky. Each has its own shade of lava. Most of the lava is red, orange, or yellow, but Nathaniel also sees green and blue-colored lavas. The lava shoots so high above the surface of the planet, that a few of the smaller (faster) drops never quite come back down. He makes it a point to count the volcanoes he can see. There are thirteen. Pointing to a volcano, the yellow lava-fountain of which is just visible above the horizon, he asks, “Is that the same volcano that I could see before?”
“Yes,” Mama and Daddy answer together.
Nathaniel spends the next couple hours exploring the boulder fields, stopping to look at every strange energy fountain and every rivulet of lava. Several minor quakes occur. Nathaniel loves exploring, but eventually he begins to tire from running everywhere at top speed. He pokes around, breaking open rocks, releasing tiny green and orange bubbles that vibrate and run swiftly around and around the surfaces of the rocks until they disappear in tiny flashes of bright yellow light. Then the second-nearest volcano explodes.
The shaking knocks Nathaniel over and he dodges out of the way of a sliding boulder. As the stones around him finally settle, he looks up and sees distant glowing stones arcing over him. Looking over, he sees a new volcano rapidly growing to fill in the place left by the old one. “Wow! That was so awesome!” Nathaniel exclaims.
“The entire planet is rapidly becoming more dangerous now. We won’t be able to stay much longer,” Daddy says.
“Okay,” Nathaniel replies. For a while, Nathaniel just stares at the horizon, hoping another volcano will explode so he can see it. Eventually, he gets bored and finds a large boulder freshly broken open and encrusted with vibrating green and orange bubbles. He throws pebbles at it and watches the masses of bubbles skit around. Later, he makes a game of seeing how many times he can make a single pebble bounce between two sides of a cracked boulder.
Then the ground shakes again. Nathaniel looks quickly to see if any volcanoes will explode. For several seconds, nothing happens. Then two volcanoes explode simultaneously. The green-lava volcano and the blue-lava volcano violently blow to smithereens. Four seconds later, two of the orange-lava volcanoes blow up. Waves of lava slosh around the valleys. “Awesome!” Nathaniel exclaims, jumping up and down. In the low gravity, Nathaniel jumps very high. As he rises, he sees the ground suddenly drop away from him. Huge cracks open up, crisscrossing the landscape. Vertical beams of blinding white energy shoot out of the ground up into space. As they move, the stones churn. Suddenly, Nathaniel is enveloped by a flash of white and finds himself teleported back in the airlock. After equalizing the pressure, he enters the Mama-And-Daddy and takes off his suit. They have already taken off.
Over the next several hours, Nathaniel watches the planet from afar as ever-widening cracks spread across its surface, the planet slowly falling apart only to come back together, the chunks orbiting each other precariously. He watches as every surface becomes covered in volcanoes seemingly made of a transparent, green and purple, glowing liquid. Finally, nothing but red and orange embers are left, drifting apart in black space. Finally, Nathaniel’s parents coax him into returning to his room and climbing into his pile of pillows. Warm, snug, and exhausted, Nathaniel falls asleep almost instantly.