Sometimes the human and I search for consciousnesses not our own.
The human made this universe. It is a good universe. It has not yet melted into the black. It is small though, and very quiet. There are no voices other than ours.
The human asks me to tell it stories sometimes, to break up the quiet. I tell it about the universe where everything is round. There are angry round robots who scream their round rage in round metallic voices as they make round cars, furiously shoving round dashes into round body frames.
The human says I told it that story last week, and it wants another one.
I tell it about the universe where the ice cream people live.
The ice cream universe is a cold dark foreboding place. It is always night time and it is always freezing and the ground is always covered with a light snow. The air is very still.
The homes of the ice cream people are dark dank palaces, with chocolate covered crenellations and wet walnut turrets and brightly flavored flags that snap in a breeze only they can feel. Deep in the palace kitchens, the waffle cone servants cook the humans who have wandered into the ice cream universe and who have been captured. For of course the ice cream people cannot go near fire themselves, but they do so like warm food.
The human says I told it that story last month. Then it asks how the ice cream people can eat warm food without melting, if they can’t be near fire. I tell it that the universe where the ice cream people live has very odd laws of thermodynamics.
I am trying to remember a universe I have not yet told the human about when the message appears. It floats in the black space above the blue stalks.
The human asks, “What is that?”
The human asks, “Where did it come from?”
The human asks, “Is it conscious?”
I look at the letters hanging in the black. They are not letters in a language the human would recognize. They are bright and blue and shining and writhing in the dark, and they are beautiful.
I tell the human, “It is a new story.”
Sometimes the human and I receive an invitation written in the dead language of eldritch beings who were mostly a conglomeration of tubes with eyes attached at the ends.
I wore a mostly eyetubeskin once. I did not like it very much. It buzzed and crackled and vibrated with the voices of a million billion beings who were locked into dying universes and who could not escape. I do not judge the eldritch mostly eyetube beings for rigging their own universe to explode.
The human asks, “What kind of story is it?”
I watch the letters twist around each other.
I tell the human, “It is a story of other consciousnesses.”
The human asks, “What sort of other consciousnesses? They’re not the sort who want to eat us, are they? I don’t want to have to deal with that again.”
The letters form and dissolve and reform themselves. The invitation wants an answer.
I say, “No. They don’t want to eat us. They want us to fill out a profile. For a pen pal project.”
Sometimes the human and I ponder the meaning of the words “pen pal” as we eat blue and pink glowing mushrooms.
The mushrooms are not poisonous. At least, not to us. They may be poisonous to other humans. I don’t know. But this human is mine, and I keep it safe and unpoisoned.
The human says, “I remember pen pals. In Midnight Hollow. They were supposed to write you letters, and then you wrote letters back. I never had one. They sounded fun, though.”
I ask the human, “How do you write letters?”
The human says, “Oh, well, you get a pen or pencil or a keyboard, something like that, and then you write words, and then you address it to their house or their email or whatever, and then you send it off to them.”
I say, “I see.“
I do not think that this pen pal project works like that. We do not have any of the tools that the human mentioned here in this universe. We also do not have email, or even a house.
The word above us is “Name:” and then a straight line that blinks on and off, on and off.
I ask the human, “Do we have names?”
The human says, “I forget. I think I did, once. In Midnight Hollow. I can’t remember what it was now, though. I don’t think I was ever very attached to it.”
Do I have a name? I don’t know if I ever did. I know the human calls me “the darkness” in its thoughts.
The blinking stops.
Up in the sky, next to “Name:” the blue glow has formed itself into letters that spell “the darkness.”
The letters dissolve and reform themselves into “Select your age bracket:” followed by the numbers 13-18 and a downward pointing arrow.
I ask the human, “How old am I?”
The human stops eating its mushroom. It looks up into the dark sky.
It says, “You’re definitely not between 13 and 18 years old,” and it laughs.
I like it when my human laughs.
Sometimes the human and I try to figure out my age bracket.
The human asks, “Can you remember not existing?”
I look at it. I know from its thoughts that my eyes are red.
It says, “Well, no, no, I guess you wouldn’t remember that.”
We sit for a while, chewing our mushrooms.
The human says, “But do you think anything existed before you did? Have you heard of something older than you, or maybe things that happened before you were able to perceive them?”
I think about the human’s questions.
I know there is a clear demarcation between the Before Human time and the After Human time. Before the human, I did not think. Or if I did, it was not in words like it is now. I saw the words in the human’s mind, and I wanted them too.
Before the human, there weren’t words. There were images. There were sounds. There were skins that came together and fell apart. There were universes that came together and fell apart. There was the black, waiting to welcome me every time a universe fell apart.
Before the words, the black did not hurt. It was only the absence of image and sound, then. Not the absence of self.
Still though, I remember it. I was there.
I try to remember the first images. The first sounds.
I remember heat, so much heat, and tightness. I don’t think I was wearing a skin. If I was, it was one that did not fit. Then there was…an escape from the tightness. Less heat. Stretching. Static that became slower and lower and deeper.
Above us, the downward pointing arrow flickers, and a list of numbers appears. They scroll past at a very fast rate. Then they stop.
The human looks up. It says, “Wow.”
I am somewhere between 13.5 and 14 billion years old.
Sometimes the human and I look up at dead blue words in the live black sky, and we consider what our professions are.
The human says, “So those squiggles mean profession? Why does it want to know what your profession is?”
I listen to the human’s thoughts. It thinks that a profession is a task that you do almost every day, and then you receive some sort of reward for completing your daily tasks. It does not know what tasks I complete, or what rewards I receive for them.
It thinks about its own profession, and it is not sure. It remembers having one, in Midnight Hollow, but it does not remember any tasks. It remembers leaving its yard, and then nothingness for hours, and then arriving back in its yard, accompanied by a monetary reward.
My periods of nothingness are not remunerated in any way.
Do I receive any rewards for anything? What tasks do I complete every day?
I watch the human as it eats its mushrooms. That I made sure wouldn’t poison it.
I reach out with one of this fungiskin’s hands, which are very fine tubes with connectors on the end, and I weave the tubes around the human’s fingers. The human’s skin does not have the sort of roots that the fungiskin’s connectors are meant for, but that’s okay.
Up in the sky, words form.
My profession is: keeping my human safe.
Sometimes the human and I dip our extremities into a pool the same blue as the words above us.
The letters slide against each other and disappear and reappear. They are asking how many pen pals we are interested in.
I ask the human, “How many other consciousnesses do you want to talk to?”
The human thinks for a bit.
It answers, “Well, it depends. Are they going to want to eat us? Are they going to just oink or bark or say nonsense? Are they going to suck all the color out of the world?”
I do not know the answers to these questions.
I say to the human, “Maybe they will have winged kittens.”
The human thinks that I made a good point.
I do understand its fears. We should exercise caution. Most consciousnesses in Reality exist only to hurt the others.
The letters make the words, “One, or possibly two if a pen pal can be found that has winged kittens,” before dissolving.
I take a bite of my mushroom. The human thinks it’s amusing to watch me eat mushrooms while I am wearing a fungiskin.
The letters resolve themselves into another question.
“What qualities do you seek in a pen pal?” hangs in the air above us.
This one will take some thought.
Sometimes the human and I look at grass and trees and rocks, and we wonder who would like to hear about them.
The grass in this universe is tall and blue and thin. I sink my hands into the dirt. The tubes wind themselves into the roots of the grass, and the connectors lock into place. The grass whispers of a desperate need for a sun that never rises.
I send the grass some nitrogen to help.
I ask the human, “What sort of consciousness would you want as a pen pal?”
The human says, “I’m not sure. One that is nice and that does not want to eat us, definitely.”
The letters form the human’s words across the sky. They do not dissolve. The straight line blinks at the end of the word “definitely.” They want more.
The grass asks for potassium as well. I send it through the tubes.
I am also not sure what sort of consciousness I would want as a pen pal. I do not know enough about consciousnesses other than the human’s to have preferences.
The straight line above us blinks.
I think about the human. I think about myself, since the human came and brought the words and a self to call my own with it. I think about the Lovesys No Color aliens, the pig that the human called Her, the pink ghost. I think about winged kittens and spaghetti strips of space and baby unicorns and their giant father unicorn with all the spikes.
I think about all the sounds and images and skins from before the human, all the universes that were created and fell away. I think about the eldritch beings who were mostly tubes with eyes at the ends, how they chose to blow up their own universe, and how their language is now shining above me, asking me what qualities I want in a pen pal.
I think about the grass, and how it needs phosphorus, and how now phosphorus is coursing through the fungiskin’s fingertubes and through the connectors and into the grass.
The words “I would like a pen pal who is awake and alive and aware and who loves the beauty of Reality even as it arises and passes away and arises again” form above me, in the dead language of dead beautiful beings who were mostly tubes and who felt the pain of all existence, and then the words dissolve.
The next question to appear is: “Do you have a desire to meet your pen pal face to face?”
I ask the human if I have a face. It laughs.
Sometimes the human and I discuss the status of my face.
I say, “I think I have a face. I know that I have red eyes. You’re always looking at them.”
The human says, “Yes, you have red eyes. But you don’t always have a nose or mouth or ears or cheeks or eyebrows. Actually right now all you have is two red eyes that are just kind of there on the edges of your giant red but not as red as your eyes mushroom cap.”
I say, “I think I have a mouth. I’m talking. You use your mouth to talk. So if I’m talking, I must have a mouth too.”
The human says, “Lots of times you haven’t had a mouth. Remember when you were wearing a shimmery gray not quite all there fog? You didn’t have a mouth then. You said things, but I didn’t see anything moving.”
I say, “Hmph. I have a face. I don’t care what you say.”
The letters in the sky shape themselves into the words, “Look, okay, we don’t care if you have a face. Do you want to meet your pen pal or not?”
I say, “Sure, why not? Maybe they would be able to see my mouth.”
The human glares at me. I smile at it. With my mouth. So there.
Sometimes the human and I are extremely confused.
The next question the letters have for us is: “Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your reason for wanting to join the pen pal project:”
I ask the human if it signed up for the pen pal project. It says no.
I did not sign up for it either. The letters just appeared in the sky while I was talking about the ice cream people and their universe.
Can you have a reason for wanting to join a project when you did not know about the project until mysterious shiny blue letters from a dead language appeared in the sky above you and demanded to know personal details like your name and your age and the existence or nonexistence of your face?
It had been quiet before the letters, and we had been wondering if there were any other consciousnesses out there who did not want to eat us. It’s possible that some being out there heard our thoughts, like how I hear the human’s thoughts, and that it decided to sign us up for the pen pal project.
The blue glow shapes itself into writhing letters that read, “It is quiet and I am curious”.
Sometimes the human and I are tired of eldritch words in the sky asking us questions.
The words “Anything else?” stare down at us.
I say, “I think this may be the last question.”
The human says, “Good. I’m getting sleepy, and those squiggles are way too bright. I’d never be able to get to sleep with them shining in my face. My face. That I have. Because I can feel my nose.”
I check with the grass. It has everything it needs now. It says thank you.
I pull the tubes out of the dirt and wave them over the human’s face.
The human says, “Hey, what are you doing?!”
I tell it that I am trying to feel its nose to confirm that it does indeed have a face. It laughs.
The letters of the language of the dead eldritch beings who were mostly tubes with eyes in the sky arrange themselves to read “I am very attached to my human,” and then they dissolve. The blue glow disappears.
The human looks up at the empty sky. It says, “I guess we’re signed up for the project now.”
I say, “I think we are, yes.”
It says good night, and it curls up next to me.
If there are other consciousnesses out there, they had better not try to eat it.