fiction: a matter of time

meteoriteIt was a matter of days now, the astronomers said.  We were on track to pass by Comet Swift-Tuttle but this year there would be no celestial side-stepping and spectacular Perseid meteor shower, no, this year a meteor fragment would hit Earth.

Where would it hit? The question reverberated around the world, whispered in corridors and kitchens, boardrooms and bedrooms.

No one knew.

They could predict. 12,000 years ago it was North America, killing off the Clovis people and sending the world into a mini-ice age. This time the astronomical co-ordinates suggested it would be Turkey. Or Mexico. Or maybe Russia.

They didn’t know, not really.

So Nick was not taking any chances. For all our intelligence and evolutionary superiority, humans were delicate. The probability of our species surviving a meteorite crash was slim, but tardigrades, they could survive anything. Nick shivered, feeling a future ice age creep through his lab. He turned up the heat and picked up his vials of DNA.

He’s so creepy, the blonde intern had said, when Nick brushed his hand over her shoulder as he walked by her in the cafeteria.

It’s not just the girls, either, one of the postdocs had answered. The tall boy from the Hansen lab, the one who thought he knew everything.

Maybe we should report him.

There was no time for that now. Nick injected their DNA into more tardigrade eggs, not into the nucleus, where it might be used, but in a tiny capsule in the cytoplasm where it could float for millenia, if necessary, until someone evolved enough to understand it.

He watched as some of the injected eggs hatched, tiny animals uncurling and swimming through the broth in the culture dish, unaware of their internal cargo. Then he flushed them down the sink. This batch would swim to the ocean, some landing on the beach, maybe, some floating out to sea, spreading across the earth, carrying the code to make future humans.

More of Nick’s tardigrades lived in his moss-filled terrarium. And his garden. And in parks across the city.

He had taken them to Paris, when he flew in for a conference. And Argentina and India and South Africa. He had known this day was coming. If it weren’t the Perseids, it would be the Taurids, and if not the meteors, it would be the missiles. North Korea was itching to pull the trigger. It was written in the stars.

Nick poured himself a glass of wine and went out to the balcony. The sun had set and the moon was shining and as Nick sat there sipping his wine, stars began to shoot across the sky. He finished his glass. He finished the bottle. The stars blurred. He stopped seeing meteors. Nick was about to go inside, warm and fuzzy, when a star flashed through the sky, brighter than the others, arcing down towards the river, rumbling as it disappeared on the horizon.

Somewhere people were screaming and running, buildings were burning and collapsing. Nick opened another bottle of wine. His tardigrades were safe. Humans would survive.

You can find more of these stories in my book ‘five minute sci-fi stories’. It will be free all weekend on Amazon to celebrate Australian Father’s Day. Please share the link with anyone you think might like some free science fiction stories:

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