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  • Writer's pictureErin Snedeker

The Genesis Code

A small galaxy floats in a quiet patch of space on the edge of the universe. It is, as galaxies go, completely unremarkable, with no strange or spectacular properties worth noting. In among the spattering swirl of stars, is a humble yellow dwarf and the handful of planets she keeps. This pinprick of the universe, this miniscule collection of dust and space refuse is so insignificant, that it would be beyond mentioning. But it is here that our story takes place.

It is an old story, as old as the universe itself—and it is also new. That is the way the universe works, isn’t it? The universe has always had a special bias for the paradoxical. She is, after all, the maker and breaker of law.


It was dark when the traveler arrived. The pod in which she’d travelled steamed and smoked and the wet ground bubbled and spat in reply.

She was old with wrinkled skin and long hair that had lost all color a very long time ago. It took her some time to work open the door of her vessel. Her body had long since forgotten how to work under the forces of gravity. But she did, eventually, work open the door. Otherwise, I would not be here to tell this story.

She stumbled out onto the soft ground, a soupy mixture of earth and water and particles that would one day meet and form the attachments for what would one day be called life.

She righted herself, and with difficulty, straightened to her full height. She was tall—almost as tall as the vessel in which she’d travelled for so long.

She looked up at the stars, the ones which had been her travelling companions since she left her home.

Home was up there too. A planet, the fourth one from their star, with its cities and its rivers, its mountains, its people, its wild and hungry life. Back home, she had been called Yvv. Here, she was called nothing.

She pulled her gaze down. Here. This was what was important now. There was no saving home, but if she succeeded, perhaps there would be some redemption. It may take a thousand million years, but she had learned that this was the natural pace of things.

Maybe if her people hadn’t rushed it—surviving, living—perhaps she would still be among them. She would have died under the red sky, painted gold by the sinking star, surrounded by her children and all their progeny.

Maybe, but she holds no ill will toward her people. She has learned that the folly of their choices is imbedded as deeply as the urge that drove her here.

In her youth, she had studied the planets of their star. Using the rapidly increasing technology to search for signs that there was life beyond their planet. She had a particular fondness for Three, so named because it was the third planet from their star, and the closest to home. And so, when the weather at home soured and turned against them, when her people had used up all their home had to offer, when the Instinct activated, she knew that she would finally be able to see for herself what Three was really like.

She stared, underwhelmed, at her surroundings. The land was barren, nothing but puddles and mud and rock. In the distance, she could make out the shape of cliffs, dark against the brilliant sky. Plumes of fog and clouds of vaporized gasses drifted here and there, occasionally illuminated by the flicker and snap of lightning.

Move, the Instinct urged, and Yvv listened. She walked, sensing, which direction she needed to go by the same inexplicable urge that told her to steal the vessel and travel here.

She walked until she came to the edge of a massive body of water. Whether the water was drinkable or not, she wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter anyway. She hadn’t come here to live. She’d come here to die.


Yvv hadn’t planned on becoming a thief as a great-grandmother. She had lived a quiet life since she had left her position at the Institute for the Search of Extraplanetary Life. She did the normal things that a person of her advanced age was expected to do. She enjoyed visits from her sons and daughter, from her grandchildren, and from her only great-grandchild. She would meet a group once every seven starshines to discuss current events and reminisce over time long past. She tended to the vegetation she’d cultivated in the boxes that hung happily from her windows. She had no delusions about what the end of her life would be like, and she was content to fade quietly into whatever came at the end of her existence.

That was before the Event.

It is important to know that Yvv was a scientist, trained to observe, to think, to understand the laws that guided the workings of the universe to the best of her abilities.

She knew, of course she knew, that Events happened. The ones that wiped out most life on the planet. She’d seen—studied, even—evidence of previous Events. She’d seen the fossilized bones of the poor creatures who’d suffered, whose kind ceased to exist, and if she was frightened of anything it was the destruction, on a planetary scale, of her kind.

The Event began slowly, and I don’t mean to mislead—it wasn’t a single action, a single moment in time. It was a thousand tiny actions that cascaded into the failing. But, in any case, it was the Event that triggered Yvv, a great-grandmother, to become a thief, to abandon her people and her world, and to travel to the muddy, belching, unruly, and harsh Three.

As a scientist, Yvv had spent most of the journey thinking about what she had come to refer to as the Instinct. She had heard rumors of its existence, this complete and overpowering need to survive which sometimes overtook a person, usually resulting in some inconceivable feat of strength, or flexibility, or speed. She knew that for all their thousands of turns of wonder, observation, and study, that her people had barely begun to understand life, and what drove life to continue.

She knew that the Instinct was old, rooted in the very essence that made up her being. It had told her to flee and before she was fully conscious of her actions, she was in the pod, punching in the trajectory to Three. There had been no denying the command that had come from the very particles of herself. There had been no time to say goodbye to her family. No time to explain her actions.

She would not have been able to explain them, anyway.

In the long swath of time that it took to reach Three, she had come up with guesses, ones that seemed to please the Instinct.

What if, she wondered, this was not the first time her people had caused an Event? What if this had all happened before, or some version of it? People had come from ancient creatures, they had adapted, they had collaborated, they had advanced and invented marvelous technology; they had learned how to do miraculous things—leave their planet to play among the stars—and terrible things—destroy the very planet that had given them life. What if, she wondered, this Instinct had told those people to flee and one had listened, and, maybe, reached Yvv’s home? What if the essence of that creature had mixed with the soup that eventually grew and changed and formed her people?

And if this was true, maybe the Instinct was driving her to begin the cycle again. Maybe, this had happened a thousand times. A million? Maybe, the Instinct was as old as the universe.

Maybe the Instinct would continue, passed down to whatever life came next.

These thoughts pleased the Instinct, or… satisfied it? Yvv couldn’t really describe the feeling… Rightness, like pieces finally locking into place in an ancient, cosmic, puzzle.


And so, Yvv stood on the shore of a vast ocean, the only living creature on a planet brimming with potential.

Rest, the Instinct whispered, and Yvv found herself bending, lowering to the soft damp earth. She was so tired. The journey had been so long.

But she had made it. She had listened to the Instinct, but she didn’t know what to do now. How was she supposed to satisfy the Instinct?


Yvv pulled off the clothing that had protected her from the hostile atmosphere. It hurt to breathe. The mixture of gaseous chemicals was different here, and made her breath come in burning pants. But this, she knew, was right.


Yvv lay on the sand, staring out at the horizon. A thin stripe of purple light had appeared. It would be dawn soon. She wanted to see it—Three, the world she had imagined for so long—she wanted to see what it looked like in the starshine. She hoped that she was able to stay just a little longer.


She had lived a long and wonderful life. Her breathing came easier, but she was no longer fighting the sleep that rushed for her.

Their star broke the horizon, and like back home, shone in brilliant rays of white and gold. Yvv smiled, barely breathing now. The sky here was not red, but blue. And it was beautiful.


The tide changed, and slowly guided Yvv’s body into its embrace. The water began its duty, sending Yvv on its currents to the farthest reaches of the world.

Millions of years later, Yvv’s children would emerge from the water. They would depart from their cousins, lose their hair, and walk upright. They would work together to create things both terrible and miraculous. They would learn to love. They would play among the stars.

Perhaps Yvv’s wishes would come true. Perhaps her children would, one day, maybe, redeem their ancestors. They would call their home Earth, and look with longing and adventure toward their neighbor, a dusty red planet.

And in each of these children, created by the stars and the universe, Yvv rested, in hope. In each of her children, the Instinct slumbered.

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