In this one there’s a time traveler. (There’s always been a time traveler, except when there wasn’t.) He hatches out of his isostatic bubble and removes his biomimetic suit, and he stands as if to receive revelation, catharsis, consecration. He is breaking three hundred protocols to greet the oncoming meteor in bare skin. The time traveler, bless him, has constructed this moment, this towering inferno of an exit interview, from grief and things his psychological screening didn’t catch, but all he feels now is out of breath from the heat and unfamiliar oxygen density of this Cretaceous afternoon. His last moments feel dishearteningly humid.
Perhaps first there should be a god. We’ll flip a coin—yes. Young as gods go, only a dozen billion or so years old, not yet stilled by the contemplative heat-death that awaits most gods and universes. This god still delights in sharpshooting Her marbles across the cosmos. They carom and splinter and gravitate in ways that never cease to delight the math of Her. Older, more rarefied gods might disdain her childishness were they not placid with proton decay. She will slow and she will learn. Nothing a god does can be a mistake, after all.
The true heroine here is the tyrannosaur. She’s ancient as predators go, two decades deep into bloodshed and want, scarred and grizzled and limping from countless past fights. Her teeth steadily replace themselves thanks to an old archosaurian parlor trick, however, and that’s what counts. Her eyes are excellent but scent dominates her world. Just the faintest trace of the time traveler’s flop-sweat reaches her. Her brain doesn’t possess the concept of anachronism, but the scent is new, something potentially threatening, potentially delectable. It’s enough to stir her from her nest of laurel and stalk him, stride by purposeful stride, through the steaming forest.
Something itches on the god’s attention, some algorithm abuzz and just a few angstroms out of place. She hasn’t yet invented the concept of anachronism, either. It rubs against the grain of the universe, something that should not be, but She doesn’t recognize it, can’t classify this sensation within the electrons of Her. A bit of chaos is to be expected in a universe this young, but whatever is happening here draws Her eye. She sneezes out a cascade of starlight and a cloud of butterflies that eclipses the time traveler’s view.
This planet is a pretty marble, blue and white and gleaming, a wonderful burst of warmth that delights Her. The water and carbon molecules of this world retain the heat of its star just perfectly so. Gods can’t touch anything but probabilities, of course, but She wants to interact with this bright joy. She pulls some gravity strings and
The meteor isn’t much. Not yet. A pebble the size of Manhattan skipping across the sky, the angle just a bit wrong, about to be swallowed into the depths of patient gravity. Barely anything, really, in the grand scheme of things. A few hundred thousand years and everything will be the same again. More furred things than before, maybe fewer beasts of feather and scale, hardly any difference. The god feels no guilt over the impending collision. These are just two of Her many marbles. Life is a newer toy, one She isn’t used to factoring. She won’t calculate the full ache of life’s probabilities until many eons later.
The time traveler’s hand shakes as he uncreases a photo of a young woman who looks remarkably like him. A young woman who deflected their father’s blows from him and hid him in the woods behind their nice suburban home when their mother drank too much. A woman who, for all he knows, might never be born in the new future spread out ahead of this moment. A few last butterflies grace the picture, tickling his fingertips. He waits for the tears to come, waits for the tomb of his heart to open and crumble in the light of the approaching star, but his eyes sting instead with sweat. It seems important to say her name in this place, this precipice, but his tongue isn’t cooperating either.
The tyrannosaur drinks warily of his scent, her vast nostrils vibrating at frequencies too low for human ears. Frogs and turtles and shorebirds have quicker senses and scamper and flap and leap from her path. She is close enough to snap him up now if she chose, but her patient predator brain (and the stiffness in her limbs) warns her to analyze, to categorize this new thing before making any sudden moves.
The time traveler finally seems to catch wind that something is amiss. His mouth opens as he turns, belatedly whispering, “Marie?” to the magnolias behind him.
The god, pulling strings of integrals forward and backward from this moment like printouts from an adding machine, tabulates that something is very wrong.
Soft mammalian flesh—that the tyrannosaur understands. She lunges. The time traveler screams. The god adjusts, recalibrates, subtracts.
The meteor impacts—but its angle is different, shallower, a less direct blow.
The tyrannosaur snaps on empty air. Time traveler and bubble and shed gear alike unwrite themselves. Her confusion is displaced by a sudden flare of light, a million sunrises lifting the seafloor, and although nothing will change her fate, she digs her claws into the dirt where the time traveler had been and raises her head and meets this last challenge with teeth bared.
In this one, there’s no time traveler. (There’s never been a time traveler, except when there was.) A young woman wakes up with her head on her girlfriend’s lap and realizes her phone is ringing. “Marc? What’s—what’s up?”
Somewhere in the Yucatan, her brother’s hand shakes on a payphone. “Hey, uh—Marie. Thought I’d say hi. It’s been a while.”
|Rick Hollon (they/them or fey/fem) is a nonbinary queer writer and dinosaur enthusiast from the American Midwest. Feir stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Prismatica, Idle Ink, the HELL IS REAL anthology, and elsewhere. Find them on Twitter @SailorTheia.|