The prairie was flat, green, and rich with scattered stands of oaks. The sky above was blue as generally. On the horizon there was a movement, like the shadow of a cloud: a vast herd of animals on the move. There was a kind of sigh, a breathing-out. An observer standing close enough might have felt a whisper of breeze on the skin. And a woman was lying on the grass. Her name was Maria Valiente. She wore her favorite pink angora sweater. She was only fifteen, but she was pregnant, and the baby was coming. The pain of the contractions pulsed through her skinny body. A moment ago she hadn’t known if she was afraid of the birth, or the anger of Sister Stephanie who had taken away her monkey bracelet, all that Maria had from her mother, saying it was a sinful token.
And now, this. Open sky where there should have been a nicotine-stained plaster ceiling. Grass and trees, where there should have been a worn carpet. Everything was wrong. Where was here? How could she be there? But that didn’t matter. The pain washed through her again, and she felt the baby coming. There was nobody to help, not even Sister Stephanie. She closed her eyes, and screamed, and pushed.
The baby spilled on to the grass. Maria knew enough to wait for the afterbirth. When it was done there was a warm mess between her legs, and a baby, covered in sticky, bloody stuff. It, he, opened his mouth, and let out a thin wail.
There was a sound like thunder, from far away. A roar like you’d hear in zoo. Like a lion.
A lion? Maria screamed again, this time in fear. The scream was cut off, as if by a switch. Maria was gone. The baby was alone.
Alone, except for the universe which poured in him and spoke to him with an infinity of voices. And behind it all, a vast silence.
His crying settled to gurgle. The silence was comforting.
There was a kind of sigh, a breathing-out. Maria was back in the green, under the blue sky. She sat up, and looked around in panic. Her face was grey; she was losing a lot of blood, but her baby was here. She scooped up the baby and the afterbirth- she hadn’t even tied off the cord- wrapped him in her angora sweater and cradled him in her arms. His little face was oddly calm. She thought she’d lost him. ‘Joshua’, she said. ‘Your name is Joshua Valiente.’
A soft pop, and they were gone.
On the plain, nothing remained but a drying mess of blood and bodily fluids, and the grass, and the sky. Soon, though, the scent of blood would attract attention.
And, long ago, on a world as close as a shadow:
A very different version of North America cradled a huge, land-locked, saline sea. This sea teemed with microbial life. All this life served as single tremendous organism.
And on this world, under a cloudy sky, the entirety of the turbid sea cradled with a single thought.
This thought was followed by another.
To what purpose?