Gaia and the Cuttlefish
Let us imagine...
The human race has been extinct for millions of years. On this timeline, humans sadly never succeeded in carrying life beyond the gravity well of Mother Earth. But Earth still strives to give birth to a family of living worlds.
Gaia's new intelligent sparks are the distant descendants of today's cuttlefish. For the first forty-two thousand years of their existence as civilized creatures, they never rose above the ocean waves. But now, their curiosity has gotten the better of them. With their ten clever tentacles, they have constructed water-filled amphibious vehicles that enable them to travel into a realm utterly hostile to cuttlefish life, a realm where they cannot breathe without a technological cocoon, but where other life is thriving in vast and spectacular diversity.
Traveling over land in wheeled conveyances quickly grows tiresome for creatures accustomed to complete freedom of three-dimensional motion. Soon after inventing the car, the cuttlefish invent the amphibious airplane, and begin to fly to and from their far-flung ecological research sites, making it far easier to explore the heartlands of vast continents.
But there's a problem. Cuttlefish eyes, with their strange W-shaped pupils adapted for seeing underwater, simply can't see clearly in air. Cuttlefish lensmakers rise to the challenge, developing their art rapidly in an environment where high heat is enormously easier to achieve than it ever was underwater. Soon they begin stamping out eyeglasses that bring the fuzzy visions of the world of land and air into sharp focus.
Of course this simple technology is a great boon to the work of cuttlefish ecologists and paleontologists trying to piece together the Great Story of life on land and in the sky. But it also has an enormously significant unexpected outcome, one that will change the fate of the galaxy itself. One clear night, a cuttlefish pilot wearing glasses looks up at the sky, and where only blackness and the fuzzy white patch of the Moon existed before, now she can see what no cuttlefish has ever seen: the bright points of planets and stars and the soft wash of the Milky Way arching overhead! She has half a mind to jump in her airplane and try to fly it high enough to reach one of those mysterious objects (the Moon is particularly attractive), but instead she simply slithers across the grass to talk to her best friend, giving her the glasses and saying simply, “Look up!”
Several centuries later, at the ceremony for the launch of the first cuttlefish spaceship that will carry life to another world, a cuttlefish philosopher well versed in what cuttlefish archeologists have learned of humanity gives a speech asserting that history could have gone no other way. “Humans,” he says, “never had a real reason to want to live anywhere other than Earth. They never even adapted themselves to life underwater as some of us have adapted ourselves to life in the air.” He takes a deep breath into his air-breathing lungs, his dormant gills fluttering prettily in the breeze. “And besides, there is no air of the kind we Earthlings can breathe on any other world in the Solar System—but there is water, water everywhere!” In a single breath he names five moons and a dwarf planet where water oceans are strongly believed to exist—“yes,” he admits, “they are all locked away under thick layers of ice and sometimes stone—but cuttlefish drilling technology is up to the challenge, and curious cuttlefish eyes will soon verify our robots' findings and encounter in person something human eyes never saw—the native life of the ocean of Europa!”
The crowd cheers wildly, waving a sea of tentacles in the air, as the antigravity-powered spaceship lifts slowly from its launchpad, accelerates, and arrows away into the heavens. And we, the invisible human observers of this strange tale, are left wondering—is the philosopher right about the difference between humans and cuttlefish? Does the likely lack of dissolved oxygen in the oceans of these other worlds prove him wrong? Or is it merely that some humans are so motivated to explore space and spread Life that they will brave the endless airless wastes, proving that on this timeline, Gaia needs no cuttlefish to attend her Great Birthing?