First a molecule, a cell drifting through an ocean, swirling through the superheated waters around a cloud of minerals erupting from a volcanic vent, and then algae growing along the seabed, and then vibrant sponges, and then radiant corals, and then jellies pulsing above meadows of seagrass, and then rainbow-scaled fish swimming through beams of sunlight in kelp forests, and then crabs scuttling from the foaming surf onto the shores of islands, and frogs hopping through ferns and sauropods plodding across creeks and pterosaurs flapping above swamps and dragonflies flitting through reeds and centipedes scurrying over mosses and turtles crawling across black-sand beaches glowing with streaming lava and pelicans gliding above briny lagoons and gulls soaring above brackish marshes and seals flopping across icebergs in glacial lakes and lemurs perching in baobabs and tarsiers clinging to mangroves and geckos darting between cactuses and kangaroos bounding across grassy meadows in the drizzling rain and wolves loping across cliffs and lions padding through canyons and starfish in shimmering tide pools and reindeer galloping past steaming geysers and mammoths stampeding across snowy tundras and hummingbirds zipping through flowering vines and monkeys leaping between branches, a global network of organisms evolving finally after billions of years a species with a unique power, a hypersocial primate with the ability not merely to communicate but to create systems of language, gifted with a brain capable of storing a vocabulary of hundreds of thousands of words along with an array of corresponding definitions and then spontaneously arranging words from that lexicon into a complex syntax in order to exchange information, a creature with the ability to share dreams, a creature with the ability to discuss hypotheticals, a creature with the ability to debate abstractions, a logical if-then creature of trues and falses, endlessly curious, imaginative, playful, emotional, both self-aware and possessing a capacity for profound empathy, born naked in the dust, and together seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe, discovering how to control the flames from a wildfire in the savanna, and chipping flakes of stone from a lump of quartz to sculpt the point of an axe, and poling a bamboo raft across a cove in a marsh, and paddling a teak canoe across a reef in a lagoon, and navigating a moonlit sea by the positions of the stars in the sky, and exploring a cavern by the flickering glimmer of a torch smeared with fat, and crouching in the shade of a palm tree beating a sheet of barkcloth with a stone, and squatting under a banyan tree sewing a pouch with an ivory needle, and hunching under a cypress tree weaving threads of hemp into a blanket, and singing on the rocks beneath a waterfall in a hide loincloth knotting strands of rope into a net, and sitting in a woolen dress baking a cluster of clay pots in the dazzling flames of a bonfire, and sowing wheat in a muddy field, and herding cattle through a chalky gorge, and striding across a peat bog on a boardwalk in a fur cloak, and spreading mortar across bricks in a cotton turban by the flickering glimmer of oil burning in a lamp, and gripping an axe grinning with pride at a wheel crafted from the trunk of an ash tree, and riding in a straw hat along a path through a rice paddy in a cart drawn by a horse, and glistening with sweat pumping a bellows to smelt copper from ore in the dawn beneath the fig trees, and striking a glowing beam of bronze with a hammer at a forge among mountains, and leaning from the prow of a boat in the spattering spray of the waves in kohl eyeliner in a linen skirt with hands clasped tight around a rope to harness the force of the wind with a sail, and smiling at the memory of a joke in a feathered armband churning a vat of latex into rubber beneath a flock of chirping parrots, and bending in a muslin sari in golden bracelets dipping a pitcher in the water of a lake produced by a dam, and soaking in a golden diadem in lavender petals floating in a pool of water transported across a valley by an aqueduct, and dripping with sweat pounding slag from a smoldering bloom of iron in the dusk beneath the coconut trees, and clenching a glowing beam of steel between tongs on an anvil gleaming with frost, and chewing a stalk of grain in a woolen cloak pinned with a brooch watching slabs of sandstone grind flour in a mill powered by a wheel spun by the force of the water in a stream, and grinding ink in a silk robe on the veranda of a palace in the flickering glimmer of a candle fashioned from tallow, and crouching in a linen tunic in thonged leather sandals blowing through a clay pipe to shape a bubble of molten glass in a workshop of sparkling vessels, and strolling across a surging river in a woolen toga in rose perfume on a limestone bridge supported by arches, and grasping a lantern in a satin cloak at the helm of a ship adrift in a foggy sea to examine the direction of a lodestone in a compass, and lying gasping in astonishment in a brocade coat in snowy grass after touching a flame to powdered sulfur, and twisting the brass dials on a mechanical calculator in a velvet doublet embroidered with golden thread, and gazing in wonder through the lens of a telescope at the blazing tail of a comet, and gaping in awe through the lens of a microscope at the glittering veins in a crystal, and measuring time by the strokes of a pendulum clock in a damask vest, and calculating temperature by the movements of a mercury thermometer in a chiffon gown, and kneeling in a woolen suit in buckled shoes in a windy meadow clutching the jerking string of a kite beneath thundering clouds in an attempt to capture lightning in a jar, and floating over a dewy pasture in a basket buoyed by a balloon, and streaking across a misty heath in a train propelled by a locomotive, and plunging beneath the surface of the ocean crouched in the echoing chambers of a submarine, and clattering laughing through forested hills in an automobile powered by petroleum, and experimenting with the flow of a current through a wire to summon a bright incandescent glow in a bulb of glass, amassing knowledge in leather-bound tomes in the stacks of grand libraries, and announcing discoveries by telegraph, and declaring findings over telephone, and reporting breakthroughs on television, and exchanging data through networked computers, and launching satellites into the atmosphere, and soaring through orbit in a space station, forming at last a global civilization, a corpus billions of years in the making, masters of the forces of gravity and electricity and magnetism, a species with the power to split an atom, to engineer a virus, to hack a bacterium, to alter the climate of a planet, destroy life itself, destined for the stars or maybe sudden extinction, a flash of light and then darkness, the end.