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It was a strange thing for a moon to not pull our tides. Our moon still pulled them just fine, but the new one seemed to have no effect despite appearing bigger in the sky. It had unofficially been declared a moon, anyway. It was so bright that we couldn’t see its surface with any telescope lens. In the few months since its appearance, it seemed to cycle through some subtle phases in shape and brightness, but nothing like the full waxing and waning of our good old moon. No matter where a viewer was around the world, this strange new moon appeared in the same place in the sky. We could not detect its orbit, and it didn’t seem to have one, but it could be seen from every continent as three hands above the forward horizon and centered between either side. If you turned, it turned with you. Its brightness was visible during the day and its great size made our real moon seem small and far away. If a viewer found the perfect spot between them and the sun, there seemed to be a level of eclipsing.
Humans were the most disturbed by this new celestial companion. The birds seemed to be following their seasonal schedule and the bright light did not seem to bother anything on land or in the sea. The success rate of night hunters did not plummet. It seemed that every creature stepped a little softer and checked the sky more regularly, but whatever thing this was, it did not bring a message meant for them. This they knew. People, on the other hand, were reporting loss of sleep, general unease outside their homes, and proclamations that the world was ending. Few were content enough with the possibility of this object being just a moon. Even though it didn’t appear to be getting closer or posing a threat of collision, it had been barely detected on its approach. A handful of astronomers had claimed they saw a new bright blip in the stars before it filled our sky, but those sightings were over the course of only a few nights. If this object had come from that far away it had to have been going incredibly fast and would have needed to stop very suddenly to avoid hitting us. The only comparable velocity would be some hyper-drive speed from sci-fi. Some wondered if we had in fact been hit and this was the stretched, frozen reality of the moment before. It could not be denied that waking up to alien light felt like an inescapable bad dream.
The confusion worsened when another sphere appeared. If we had been unsure of ourselves during the month of the new moon, we were struggling with reality now. This object was smaller, definitely farther than the first. It was situated behind it and could be seen from different angles depending on where the viewer was. It seemed to obey and deny more reality than the first strange moon did. They cast no shadows on each other.
Panic set in when our real moon was noticed drifting away. It turned away from us and left over the course of two days. Before we could catch much detail of what was there on the previously unseen side of our planet’s rocky child, it fell out of our orbit and disappeared into a dark part of the sky. It took with it all the hope in ancient lunar mythology.
But before we knew it, we had more satellites than we could ever wish for. The third and fourth orbs appeared in the coming weeks, and those after that only took days and then hours to join the line. It was determined that the line’s curve was that of our own orbit around the sun, and the orbs were following us close behind. They were spread enough apart that each was not obscured by the ones before it. They glowed intensely, a thick white ring extending behind us as we hurtled around the sun. Amid disturbing uncertainty, it was nice to feel part of something larger.
Until we lost sight of the sun. It had looked strange for a long time that no one measured, and one day it didn’t rise. Earth was left adrift with our strange visitors. If it was true that we no longer orbited our mother star, we were still orbiting something, and the line of moons only got longer, stretching beyond what we could see into space, a rocky ring around something massive and unseen. But we didn’t freeze, and the new moons gave us enough light to live like it was just before dawn all the time. It got a lot quieter after that. The plants didn’t die but just stopped growing, and it seemed the animals just went underground. Birds stayed in the trees, waiting. We waited, too, for any of it to be interpreted into something understandable. These were not moons, most people were sure. The clocks said it had only been a few days of twilight, but we couldn’t trust time anymore. Watches ticked fast but everything felt too slow, like fighting a bad trip.
Sleep was not appealing anymore, so more eyes than ever were on the sky. It was only when it dimmed much more that we could see the new planets past their blinding light. Like changing the exposure settings on a camera, the light was finally right to catch some details. They were in fact planets, but not strange new planets. They looked like other Earths. The closest one was easiest to see, and beneath its swift clouds we recognized our continents and oceans and mountain ranges, albeit a different version of them. We did not see our modern cities.
The historians were quick to claim we were looking back in time, and no one could disprove them. This other Earth looked much like we thought ours had tens of thousands of years ago. It felt less like the confirmation of accurate prediction and more like a collective recognition of our evolutionary memory of our home. This second marble was blue and strange and totally familiar.
As soon as we were able to observe this old-new Earth, we felt observed also. It seemed that those prehistoric forests were looking back at us, sheltering the bodies of hidden hominids while they met our stare. The thought was uncanny but felt truer than any other explanation. It was only confirmed when the next version of earth dimmed enough to see it clearly and we saw ancient glaciers carving out our mountains. Each Earth was from a different place in time, our history looking back at us. Someone pointed out a far-away Earth covered in volcanic smog and lightning storms, perhaps from the end of the dinosaurs. Finally able to use our telescopes, we saw Earths from even further back in time, glimpsing strange continents and oceans.
Despite finally being able to see what faced us, we did not know why these holograms had appeared. They couldn’t possibly be other physical planets, but they were definitely images of our own Earth. They didn’t pull our tides or cast shadows, and they appeared to reflect an unchanging light back at us despite the loss of the sun.
At some point, the first mirage started moving closer to us, and rapidly. It was a strange thing to witness, a bright orb approaching from all angles. It seemed certain that we would collide, but unclear how that would play out. We had little time to study what approached us. It drifted forward menacingly fast and agonizingly slow at the same time. It didn’t feel like the end of things.
And it was not to be. The first Earth floated right through us. We experienced nothing but a strange global mist and the feeling of running out of time. The next orbs in line came marching, following the pattern of their initial appearance. The Pleistocene blew through us, followed by frosty glacial periods and temperate warm cycles. Our Earth shook not from impact but in strange jolts of relived orbital tilts. When the line sped up, we could only sit on our solid rock and watch in awe, staring into a flashing tunnel of time. We witnessed Pangea come and go, tides recede and return in full force, the slow and steady loss of green from the land as we travelled back before the plants. Our young ocean looked so clean. We felt the presence of the first elders from within it.
The most surprising hit came after fiery newborn Earth approached, continental faults glowing and spitting orange. It flew through us with the rest and then was gone, fading into the dark that engulfed us in the absence of ancient light. Sound faded with the light. We finally glimpsed what had been hidden behind the line of orbs and would have cried out if we could. Our solar system’s planets were far gone, and now, familiar stars appeared farther away than ever. But instead of seeing more of our galaxy from farther away, there was only darkness around the window to the stars that was rapidly shrinking. In a directionless vacuum, we were falling into ceaseless dark. The light of our universe shrank to a blip and disappeared in little more than a star’s twinkle.
In the moments before the end of the fading, the mirage breaks down and time is seen clearly: a loop from beginning to apparent present, a cyclic present. We know what we have looked like, and we know what we will look like. We have seen our reflection before and it does not surprise us. Everything new is immediately understood as regained common knowledge. The filter over our eyes fades away and we see the changing color of the strange matter before us, full of waves and particles. What has happened will happen. There is no reason for us to be here but neither is there a reason we shouldn’t be. We will evolve, flourish, and fall into whatever awaits us.
Beware of strange moons. Be more wary of what lies beneath them.