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Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Karnot propped up his tired old body with his cane and quietly watched as a group of parents showed their children how to dig a small irrigation ditch. On most days, a sight such as that would be enough to move the otherwise stalwart man to tears. The 66-year-old Karnot had lost his only child, and now it was far too late for him to have another. For a man in his twilight years, it was a very lonely apocalypse. It would all die with him. But this time, watching the process of one generation passing on knowledge to the next quelled his sadness. The old pioneer may not have carried his genes into the cosmos, but he could be sure he was leaving behind a hard-earned and well-deserved legacy. The survival of any species is never more than a numbers game. Life, especially in its more complex forms, is exceedingly fragile. Matter will only take on consciousness for the briefest of times before entropy tears the physical form apart and scatters the pieces into oblivion. Make as many copies as you can as quickly as you can. That is life’s chief directive. The eternal void of space is even less forgiving than the cruel and indifferent Gai. Still, it was in this cold emptiness humanity was forced to find its new home, and when these pioneers set off, they knew almost none of them would make it. The cosmic refugees crowded into the titanium ships had no destination. There were no known planets that could support human life. Once they were free from the bonds of their celestial mother, the humans spread across the vast emptiness like spores looking for a host. It seemed a hopeless situation, but the only thing that stands between life and extinction is chance. Karnot and his followers spent nearly three years floating through eternity, just hoping they would be lucky enough to find a planet to settle. The tiny blue orb appeared in the empty darkness like a becoming oasis. Promising salvation from the deprivations of cosmic nomadism. There was only green and brown blemish on the water, and that’s where Karnot put the ship down. Just as miraculously as the timing of the discovery was just how hospitable a place it turned out to be. The atmosphere was stable and the climate steady. The solitary island the observers saw from space was the only land on the entirety of the planet. Despite these fortunes, settled human life got off to a tenuous start at best, but after ten grueling years, a kind of stasis had been achieved. Karnot put down his cane and sat in the long shadow of the derelict spaceship they’d arrived on a decade ago. The mighty vessel would never fly again. It was a relic from a bygone age. A slowly decaying reminder of a time and place destined to be forgotten by a growing population of settlers who never once in their lives set eyes on Earth. Ironically mastery of interstellar travel had taken the human race back to a much simpler state of being. They were forced into a way of life only their most distant ancestors would have found familiar. “In the end, we wound up right back where we started,” Karnot mused. “Good day Karnot,” a friendly voice said, snapping Karnot out of his quiet contemplation. “Oh, good day to you, Nicholas,” Karnot said to the thin-haired middle-aged man standing over him. “Mind if I join you?” Nicholas asked. “Not at all,” Karnot smiled. Nicholas let out a groan as he planted himself in the grass next to the old-timer. The two men sat quietly for a moment before Karnot asked: “Do you realize we’ve been here ten years?” “I try not to think about it too much,” Nicholas murmured. “Do you regret it?” Karnot asked. Nicholas was quiet for a moment. “I’m sad for what we left behind, but I don’t think I could ever regret being alive.” “Good answer,” Karnot grinned. “I think it’s important for people to keep track of milestones like that. I don’t have long left, and before you know it, you’ll be as old as me. We’re going to have to decide what the next generation remembers about our history and how they interpret and learn from those memories.” “I’d agree with that,” said Nicholas. “We’re the founding fathers of the new human race. It’s important we act the part,” Karnot said in a voice trembling with conviction. The gentle afternoon breeze suddenly accelerated into a typhoon. A thunderclap sounding like an erupting fissure in the sky became a terrible howl that resonated across the plant. The ground started to shake, and the sea began to bubble and growl. Then followed the high-pitched squeals of children. Nicholas jumped to his feet. “What’s happening?” Karnot asked as he struggled to pull himself up. Nicholas raced for the shore while Karnot lagged behind. When they reached the shoreline, they saw dozens of helpless people being dragged around by the swirling frothing sea. The foaming water suddenly started receding from the sands and dropping off fast, as if it was circling a drain. The children fighting to stay above the water were sucked below as trillions of gallons disappeared into a growing chasm. As the sea emptied, the terrain below the water was exposed. The seafloor was a pulsating fleshy mass that opened up into a black hole filled with a million blood-stained jagged razors. The sandy green brushed island was just the tip of a horrifically twisted spire of blood-engorged bumpy flesh. It was the concealed tongue of a hungry colossus. Slowly it started dragging the island down into the depths of its bloody gullet, and the last of the human race was devoured by the continental-sized mouth. All traces of the species dissolved in the ocean of acid inside its bowels. Once the cosmic monster was done feeding, the sea slowly began to refill. The island-tipped tongue emerged from beneath the waves, and the great beast was once again ready to patiently wait for another meal.

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