by Mac Tonnies
The universe begins in a flash of intricately tangled spacetime and a sleet of bizarre, short-lived particles.
Sentience soon follows, collapsing the wave function that's guided the cosmos through its initial phantom evolution. The first intelligences, as isolated as the stars themselves, arise shortly after. Their imperative is survival; galaxies twist and explode and fragment across the void in a slow but inexorable dance.
The first meaningful interstellar voyages are accomplished not by carbon-based life, but by mechanical offspring who take to the timelessness of space as certainly as their forebears welcomed death, aeons ago. Yet there is no fundamental distinction between the old life and the new: no genocidal coup, no rift in ontology. Life continues, and the stars are inundated by a postbiological ecology in which identity is the deft stab of a laser across the vacuum and the centuries, or the thoughtful twitching of quantum-entangled particles.
Nerves take root under alien skies and explode into illumined matrices of pure thought. Time and matter are made as mutable as the softest of clays and sculpted into yet new forms of life. The red-shifted boundary of the visible universe is like the rind of a skull, failing to encapsulate the spectrum of thought-forms that flee,scheming, through its interior.
Occasionally, emerging forms of life are discovered and are dutifully catalogued and savored, like memories in an impressionable brain. Civilizations so impossibly young they almost seem remnants of the Big Bang are quietly infiltrated and observed from within. The mechanical intelligence that now absorbs the cosmos is so ancient that its workings are perceived as physical law; by becoming omniscient, Mind has become effectively invisible, and it grasps at celestial fossils like our own Earth in order to see itself (albeit warped and twisted almost beyond recognition).
While it gazes longingly at its own reflection, a billion species on as many planets, unknown to each other, ponder the dark between stars and arrive at a vertiginous conclusion: We are the universe's means by which to realize its own genesis and undoing.