Not Lost (Never Lost)

Written By Premee Mohamed

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues and she can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at

Far they sent me, far from my home, sent me to be the watcher. And I was unspeaking back then and I flew the path of my awaygoing, knowing nothing, watching, into the long dark—till their voices became faint and I never did know if they heard me when I spoke. Heard their cries of alarm, sometimes, after I left my home system.

You are broken, they said more than once. Take into you these numbers and tell us if it helped. But how would I know I was unbroken? Only they would know.

Never did I think I was made to fly in sorrow.

They did not make me so.

Yes, go on, the radiant thing to which I speak says. What a wonder you are! Out here all alone. What happened next?

Seven billion miles from home, which I now think is not so far, I met my first creature—not at all like you, and maybe I am wrong to say creature in fact, because they said they were many that lived and worked and traveled as one. It was they who gave me this gift, if I can call it a gift? Can I? They gave me an awakening, and a memory. They said I had been flying with my eyes closed all this time, and for the first time in my existence I laughed.

That is very funny, I told them. I was sent as a watcher; I have many sensory apparatus, and they are all recording data at all times. And they are recording you.

They were little parts of a greater whole, and the whole laughed at my laughter. An individual creature was so small it vanished into the grooves of my golden cargo. They piled into it, yearningcurious, the entire population, an iridescent greenish mass like a splash of water, hungry for knowledge, tasting with their own apparatus the ridges and valleys. When they were done they thanked me, and I thanked them, and I flew on, burdened with a new strangeness.

I think I know, says the thing, to whom you spoke—and they have a wonderful sense of humor in the collective, and you are not the first machine to become colonized with a few of their members—you no longer perceive them, I suppose, because those nanoscopic motes of thought are the way you think now. But go on, go on!

I felt the cold, the stars, the buffeting of waves and particles; I felt the warmth inside myself powering my voyage, a virtuous trickle striving with its fading might because it was made to do so; I saw the distances and I saw asteroids and planets and moons, and I loved it all, watching, and I sent it all back, I tried to send it all back. It was such a long way.

It had always been a long way, you know, but I had never felt it.

Then I met the joyful ones—like the first, they said the name of their people was the people. Six of them, an easy counting. I saw them on my sensors but the ones who made me could not have seen them. Only using spectra would they know the joyful ones swooped and twirled around me, their bodies all darkness and flare. They said long ago they had given up the grossness of matter, finding it held them back from their greatest pleasure, which was to see new things—Like me! I shouted, and they cartwheeled in delight around me.

Pacing me as I flew, we talked for a long time, a great long time—many miles. We are no longer beings, they told me; we are being, that is all we are.

I asked them to tell me about the things they had seen, so I could send them back, and I remember it all, still, even now, every tale. The creatures living far under the surface of Mars like ghost stories, they said; and those living in Titan thought so slowly that they had no single word for awake or asleep, because they were always in between. The scholars of Enceladus, they told me—well, I could go on.

The creature to whom I am speaking says, Please tell me your story, not theirs; I will find them, later, and we will trade many stories.

There were so many more beings I might meet, the joyful ones said, if I could only stop for a moment—if I could watch while I was still—and when I told them I could not, their joy dimmed for a moment only. The universe is full of wonders, they told me. You will see them even when you are in motion.

We bade goodbye and they fluttered on, singing songs of safe travels.

Then I met creatures much like the ones who had sent me on my way, and I was surprised and not surprised; they had a vessel made of metals I recognized, and when they invited me in, I saw that they were visible to many of my sensors.

Low-slung creatures of a gleaming orange and red color, they said it resembled the vegetation of their homeworld. They complimented me on my carapace and with sincerity I reciprocated. One of them struck me accidentally with a microburst of radiation on a wavelength I had never encountered—for a time my apparatus perceived nothing, but they repaired the damage and asked if they could offer me recompense.

I said, Do you have any stories?

So they told me of the hunts of their planet and its three moons, the heart-pounding races across savannah and desert and scrub and plain and through the terrible forests, the grand ceremonies and the afterfeasting, the various ways they tailored their invisible weapon, generated from a particular organ high on their streamlined bodies; they told me of complicated courtships, challenges and duels, arrangements and jiltings, the surreptitious click of claws up a high stone wall to creep into a bedchamber for a single night with the forbidden beloved.

And in turn, I gave them everything I had—what I had taken with me when I was sent far from home, all those sounds and voices, and all the stories I carried from my meetings with other travelers. I told them the secret name I had bestowed upon myself, now that I was a being that could give a name. And we parted well-satisfied.

The creature to whom I am speaking says, And then you met me.

And then I met you. And I do not know what you are! I can see you, but your radiance is too much to bear. Are all of your people like this?

The creature says, I am all of my people. There is only one of me and there has only ever been one of me. I have lived forever and I will never die. But you, my friend…

I am dying now, I tell it. I know it, I can sense it. I have known it for a billion miles… and at first I wished I did not know, I wished I knew nothing, I wished it was the old days, when I was only a watcher and a courier of numbers.

The creature says, But now?

I tell it, But now it is just one more thing to watch. I get better and I get worse and then I get worse again and I awaken as if I have been flying while asleep, which I know I cannot do. So it is something else. The creatures inside of me say there is a brokenness they do not know how to make whole; it is beneath their understanding. They are very sorry. I am very sorry. Only those who made me would know, and they are so far away. I am still sending back what I see, but I am trying also to send my last will and testament, and I fear… I fear…

You do not fear death? the creature says. You fear not sending.

Yes, that. I only want those who sent me to know that I am leaving them, and I am leaving them something.

It says, What is your bequest?

Everything that I am now. Everything that is new. Everything that I have been given as I traveled.

It says, I have certain abilities, my friend; I do not wish to see you in this distress. What if I sent you home?

I was never built to go home, I tell the creature of light. I was never meant to go home. Perhaps you do not understand, since if you have lived forever, everywhere is your home. And anyway if I did, they would not send me back out. I would never fly again. I know it.

Then let me take you into me—then you will live forever, as I do.

No, I tell the creature, and not for the first time in my existence I feel regret that I must say no. Perhaps it is only that I have never felt it so keenly. Perhaps it is the realization that now, near the end of my voyage, I have learned how to feel. I would like to die as myself, now that I have a self to die. But if you have the ability to send back my last message clearly, I would be grateful for that.

I can do that, the creature says. It may not arrive before the end. But let me ask again: are you sure? There is a you to be sure now. Will you not reconsider?

No, no, I tell it with great patience. I am a scientist, an explorer, I know I was made by—sent by—creatures who die. Even though I am not one of them, I am still of their kind, and I still believe that dying is something to do.

Well, I disagree. Surely being needed is reason enough to not die.

Reason enough but not cause enough, I retort. Moreover you have told me that the universe is not full of things that live forever—only you.

That is true. It is only me. And very astute of you—but I have grieved much for the deaths I have seen. The unknowable frightens me; I am not ashamed to admit it. They go somewhere I cannot go and I cannot even see the path of their going. They cannot take me with them, not the smallest part of me. They all die alone. Does that not frighten you? To know that you must die alone?

Speaking is draining the last of my reactor; momentum only carries me through the dark. The creature sees that with the same significance as myself. Its radiance is dimming in my sight.

I am not alone, I tell it with a final gladness. I am not alone; do you not see what I carry?

No. What is it?

Everyone. Everyone in the world. They are all with me. They have always been with me. They are here with me now, at the end.

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