The postwar priority was to find our lost cousins. They’d scattered themselves blindly to the stars like fledglings too soon from the nest, taking with them only ingenuity, luck, and a desire to live in equal measures. We knew for certain only that they would no longer be human in form, if not in spirit. Since that time, when we relit the electromagnetic beacon called Earth like a lighthouse in safe harbor, we have reconnected with those that survived–through evolution, metamorphosis, mutation, and adaptation, not to mention the things we did to ourselves–and documented our findings in the Encyclopedia Humanica.
The most unusual and often cited of variants is the Time Tree. In the energetic orbit of a neutron star we discovered an artificial body, no more than ten miles in diameter. It was covered in a beautiful spiral of what appeared to be leafless trees. Closer examination suggested that beneath the powerfully shielded bark–as it were–of each individual was a distributed nervous system. Each Tree a brain! Most astonishing, indeed. But we ran into certain…complications.
The first was that every time we settled on a question to send them, we would receive a reply. Before the question was sent.
The second was that a strange energy came from the Trees, more powerful even than that of the neutron star at the system’s heart. It killed everything–and sadly, everyone–who approached.
It was wild speculation in the end that solved it. The Trees were emitting exotic matter–decaying tachyons. Where humans, normally, move fixed through time but at will through space, these conscious Trees, former humans themselves, became our opposites, moving freely back and forth through time, but utterly fixed in space. Planted, if you’ll allow it.
The Time Trees, it seems, will never die. Though to say they’ll outlive us would be to say that they are, indeed, alive–an idea too philosophical for my empirical tastes, I’m afraid.