Illustration by Mar Eway
With a thousand eyes and none, I watched the tiny blue planet below. With ears I did not have, I heard everything; from their radio transmissions that pierced through the veil of the atmosphere to the wailings of a firstborn child delivered into this world. With skin I did not possess, I felt it when the first men made war upon one another, made love to one another. When their descendants split the atom and dropped the first nuclear warhead, I felt the heat of the blast.
In every civilization in the universe, there is one such as I. Balance. The great equalizer. Death. I am a watcher who oversaw the development of societies and the people within. When a civilization would reach the pinnacle of its decadence, I step in to restore the balance.
I am the judge.
I am the executioner.
I have been watching human civilization since its inception, and now I feel that the time has finally come. The people of earth have finally reached the peak of dissipation, and what can only follow will be their complete destruction. It is my duty to see mankind through to its end — and to carry out their annihilation.
Of course, there are rules to follow.
Every judge needs a witness. Before I can lay waste to the civilization of man, I am required first to gather three souls to witness the end of their society. They are to be the souls of children who have recently died under terrible conditions, so that their insight of society would be fresh and painful. This is how it always has been, and always will be. Today is the day of judgment.
I will it and descend toward the surface of the earth. It is nightfall, and snow begins to blanket the land in white. The city I find myself in is a shining metropolis; its splendor hiding the hungry and impoverished who chew away at the city’s bones. The first witness is here. It looks as if the humans are celebrating some sort of primitive holiday.
There is a park at the center of the city. In it grows an ancient pine tree that the humans have draped in colorful, blinking lights. The first witness is a girl who lives in this park, and sleeps under the tree at night. I know her. She has managed to scratch out a meager existence selling matchsticks to passersby since her parents abandoned her in the park years ago.
Tonight is one of the coldest nights of the year, and no one has bought a match from her all week. She is starving, and the cold will finish her off. She crawls under the tree and draws her last breath. With that, the faint ember of her life is snuffed out. I take her soul and will myself to the next witness.
It is daylight where the second witness lives. I find myself in the ruins of a small town surrounded by an arid dessert, sand stretching for miles around. A war took place here recently; some buildings are still smoking, and the reek of phosphorus permeates the air. Human soldiers are picking through the rubble and slag. They walk right past me, unseeing, though that would be a bit untrue. I am everywhere on this battlefield.
The second witness lies underneath a collapsed house. His upper half is sticking out of the debris of his roof; his chest makes shallow heaves as he draws breath. His time has not come yet, but it will very soon. One of the soldiers walks on by, glances at the emaciated boy, and strolls right past. There finally! The boy’s body can no longer take the weight of his ruined home. I take his soul and will myself to the last witness.
Another city. A building. I look out the window. Late afternoon; the sun is beginning to crawl down the horizon. I am in a clean, white room. I feel the force of life here, but I also feel death.
The third witness is the youngest of the three. A stillborn infant. Not even a minute of life outside the womb. Its crying mother brokenly clutches the little bundle in her arms. Were it to be given a chance at a proper birth, would it be a boy or a girl? I cannot answer that, for reading into the future is impossible to all, including me.
As the grieving mother hums a lullaby to the life that would never be, I reach out to collect the child’s soul. It is faint and flickering, like a dying ember in the pouring rain. The witnesses are complete. I will it, and I find myself back in space, once again orbiting the bright blue ball.
They are with me, the three witnesses. They are not from the same place. They do not speak the same tongue. They do not believe in the same god, but they are all human, and more importantly human children — mortal children. Finite lives cut short. Who better to witness the finality of their world than these lost and broken souls before me?
Mortals live, and then they die. That is the universal truth that all humans live and die by.
I make my intentions clear to them. I explain that human civilization has managed to hang on for thousands of years, a shorter time than the civilization before it but a memorable few millennia nonetheless. I explain that mankind has finally reached the point where not even I can stand by and watch as they indulge in mindless debaucheries and dwell in their own ignorance and hypocrisy.
It is time to cull the human race, so that another civilization may emerge pure from the ashes of the old.
The first witness, the starving girl, speaks out in defense of humanity. True it is that she starved and died in terrible conditions, but she was loved once. She remembers the warm embrace of her mother. She does not know why she was abandoned, but she remembers the love she had. That is enough for her.
The second witness, the boy from the warzone, speaks out in defense of humanity. He died because of the inherent violence that comes with being mortal, stemming from the pride of men. His house crushed him and killed his family, but at the very least he had a house and a family. He remembers fondly his home. He is sad that it all ended abruptly for him, but at least he once had something. That is enough for him.
The third witness remains silent. I ask it if it has anything to say in defense of humanity. It tells me that it never got to live and that I should not deprive others of their chance at life. It is a selfless soul.
I reason with the third witness. The earth is no longer a safe place to live in. The evil of man is everywhere, and nothing is spared. The first two witnesses are testament to the inherent wickedness of man; the first through man’s apathy, the second through violence.
The third witness reasons with me. Its death had nothing to do with mankind’s inherent malevolence. It just never got a chance at life, plain and simple. It has no special memories or experiences it can go to beyond the womb, but it still had dreams. It had dreams of what life would be like were it to live. That is enough for it.
This is enough for me.
Humanity would get a second chance. I think of it as a final request from three dead children granted by me. I watch as the three bright souls begin to slowly fade away. The last one, like a dying ember in the pouring rain, flickers as it looks back one last time at the blue ball.
I go back to watching the planet with a thousand eyes and none.