The Serpent shuddered as he stirred. He shifted his great coils, wrapped throughout the Earth, sending tremors across the planet. He had been perfectly still for a long time, and as he awoke quakes shook every continent. Something had interrupted his sleep, and he was angry.
He looked out and saw, once again, a planet teeming with life. Cities, towns and villages covered its surface. Searching back in time, he surveyed what had been achieved by this civilization. Its people were prosperous and they had accomplished many extraordinary acts of charity and hope. He also saw suffering, despair, and war. All of this was familiar, no different now than it had been every time the Serpent had been awakened over the past ten billion years.
He did not like being disturbed. The people of Earth had discovered him, a great beast curled throughout their planet, and trying to understand what he was, they had roused him from his slumber. Flexing his coils, he prepared to send the globe into an apocalyptic cataclysm that would erase every soul. The people would eventually return, they were a resilient race and the Serpent had done this many times before, but there would be a few hundred million years of peaceful sleep before then.
Just as he was about to act, he noticed a solitary presence, a woman waiting in a great cavern dug deep into the Earth. The edge of the cavern was close to the Serpent’s colossal head, and with the tiniest of shifts — a small motion that sent spasms through the bedrock — he turned his attention to her.
“Hello,” the woman said, speaking with as much force as her elderly voice could muster. The sound echoed through the cavern, and even though she could not see the creature inside the rock, she knew he was aware of her.
The Serpent read her mind and knew what she said. “Who are you?” he asked, his words resounding in her brain as clearly as if a giant had shouted them.
“I am Myra,” she said, afraid yet amazed it was possible to communicate with this strange, terrifying creature. “I’ve been sent on behalf of my race to greet you.”
The Serpent studied her, looking back through time to witness her life. She was a leader, and she had experienced moments of marvelous success and others of crushing defeat. He saw how she had skillfully led a troubled nation, confused and frightened about its future, by navigating it through conflicts that would have torn it apart. He also saw how she failed to keep peace among her fellow leaders, allowing a war to erupt between Earth’s most powerful countries. It was still raging across the planet, unresolved.
“You’ve awakened me,” he said, agitated, shifting his coils again. The Earth shook violently and the cavern swayed, bringing Myra to her knees. The Serpent watched her struggle to rise, her old limbs no longer lithe, and he suddenly wondered why she was alone. Searching Earth’s surface again, he realized that many people were watching them from afar, anxiously observing their interaction.
“I’ve wanted to meet you,” Myra said after she stood, “to tell you who we are.”
“I already know your race,” the Serpent replied, “I see everything you’ve done. I don’t need to learn more.”
“You have the power to destroy us,” Myra said. “But, you can also help us.”
“You don’t want help, you’re too proud.”
“You generalize,” Myra said, stepping forward. “What about me? Am I too proud?”
“You’re a leader, and every one of your leaders is consumed with pride.”
“No,” Myra said. “I only want one thing: to protect my people. I want them to be safe.” She paused. “It’s why I was chosen to be here.”
The Serpent was quiet, studying her more carefully. Every time he had been awakened in the past, he had looked across the Earth, surveying its inhabitants. This was the first time he had examined a single person so closely. He saw she had many children, some of whom were no longer alive. Most had children of their own. She also had been married once, but her husband was no longer with her. Through this, he saw it was her family, despite her tremendous achievements as a leader, that had given her the greatest joy and the most devastating pain.
He saw the passion within her, the desire to protect her people, but there was another trait underneath. It was elusive and he could not understand it.
“There’s another reason why you were chosen,” he said to Myra. “Tell me what it is.”
“Perhaps,” she offered, “what you see is humility. I’ve lived a long life, and have many reasons to be humble.”
“I know all your race’s emotions,” the Serpent said. “Love, faith, fear, hubris, and hate. I’m not aware of humility.”
“If you’ll allow me,” she said, “I could explain it.”
This surprised the Serpent and gave him pause. “No,” he finally said. “There’s nothing I need to learn. I’ve been awakened, and now I must set things back to where they were.”
“Before you do anything,” she said, “why don’t we keep talking?”
“What would I gain from talking?”
“We might understand each other. We could become friends.”
The Serpent had never had a friend, and the idea made him suddenly uncomfortable. Yet he was interested, and when he looked again at Myra he saw something appealing and indefinable in her expression. He wondered if what he saw was humility.
“Maybe,” he said, intrigued by her request. “I’ll talk with you, for a little while.”
The delight in Myra’s eyes sparked a new emotion inside the Serpent, an unfamiliar one he had never experienced. Confused, unable to grasp what he was feeling, he looked within himself for the first time in his multi-billion-year life. What the Serpent found, was mercy.
John Levins is a husband, father, and chemical engineer who has gained a passion for writing. He writes in Pennsylvania, USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.