by Michael Boyle
Her world grew colder day by day. A thin film of ice was inching its way across the surface of the nearby pond. Snow, unknown in seasons past, had become almost a daily occurrence. She didn’t know that the days were growing shorter. Neither did she know that the things she’d witnessed would change the world forever.
It was a long, long time ago.
An asteroid almost half the size of the moon, traveling at over fifty thousand miles an hour, intersected the orbital path of the earth. At its closest point it came within three thousand miles of the surface, casting a grim shadow across the earth as it raced through the midday sky. Fortunately, the moon was on the dark side of the planet when it passed by, but the sheer mass of the asteroid produced spectacular effects down on the surface. The immense gravitational attraction of the stellar visitor caused tidal waves of epic proportions, as giant tsunamis washed far up into the continental plains.
More importantly, the electrical charges generated by the metals within the moving mass permanently altered the magnetic field of the planet, shifting its poles by almost ten degrees. As the asteroid drew further and further away from the earth the magnetic field of the sun reasserted its influence over the planet. The earth began rotating towards its new pole locations, changing the climate all over the world.
The asteroid was an infrequent visitor even by cosmic standards, passing through this system only once every two hundred million years. In its fifteen journeys through the system of Sol this was the closest it ever came to any of its planetary bodies. Life on earth would have to adapt quickly if it hoped to survive, but down on the surface it was already too late. Another mindless force had been at work for almost twenty years.
The jungle she called home was strangely silent, which was just as well because lately every sound had caused her great discomfort. For some reason the very sight of water filled her with agony. A full moon shimmered off the lake below, a familiar but now painful sight. She was dying of thirst, but she was salivating heavily. A thick and greenish spittle dribbled freely from her jaws. She turned away from the water and ambled off into the forest. Despite the pain it was time to find something to eat. She had not eaten in days and the familiar pangs of hunger were growing by the hour. Luckily, the task of finding food was an easy one. The stench of rotting flesh filled the air and she had only to follow her nose to find a meal. There were animal carcasses scattered and strewn about the land, a sight she found a bit peculiar, but not terribly important.
As the day wore on her energy began to wane. Sunlight caused her unbelievable pain, and pain was something she understood. She managed to drag herself deep into the forest where she found some respite from the sunlight under the shade of the dense canopy, but when a passing breeze ruffled the treetops above her a need to flee overwhelmed her. As the leaves wavered gently in the wind the water they held rained down upon her. As painful as the light was, the water tormented her even more. She lumbered on until she came to a shaded quarry, a place without water or sunlight, a place where she could rest her massive body. Slowly, painfully, she managed to lie down under a thin rock outcropping. She would move no more. Her great strength had vanished. Her breathing was labored. Nothing was right in her world, nothing at all. Her muscles ached, her eyes, even her teeth. Perhaps if she could sleep...
She would be the last of her kind. A few days later an earthquake collapsed the outcropping above her, burying her remains under tons of earth and rock. The jungle denizens would never again cringe at the step of the fearsome Tyrannosaur, but none of the beasts would rejoice at her passing. Death by any cause was still death, and death was in the cards for almost all of them. The grasses and ferns that covered the land went largely untouched as the plant eaters met the fate of the last Tyrannosaur. The beasts had evolved through trial and error, but evolution has no grand plan, no great purpose. It was neither good nor evil, it simply was.
Given enough time anything that could evolve would evolve, and unfortunately for the giant reptiles that was precisely what happened. Sixty-five million years ago a primordial swamp spawned a terror unlike anything the world had ever known: a monstrous virus. Less than twenty years later, not even a tick of the cosmic clock, it had spread across the globe, and few would survive the short-lived reign of the newborn king. In a span of twenty years the earth suffered two of the greatest disasters in its history, but neither would be remembered. The near miss with the asteroid changed the world forever, but no evidence of its passing remained. The plague was catastrophic, but the virus left no lasting mark.
Fifty thousand years later another cosmic wanderer would spell disaster for life on planet earth, although it paled in comparison to its predecessors. A mass of stone the size of a mountain slammed into the earth at twenty-five thousand miles an hour. This meteor, like many cosmic bodies, contained a substantial amount of a rare element called iridium. When it crashed into the earth it raised a cloud that would reach every corner of the planet, depositing a layer of telltale dust on the surface of the globe.
Life on the planet was still recovering from the loss of the dinosaurs, and now it faced another challenge. Two seasons would be lost to the cloud of dust, and two years could be an eternity. As the sunlight waned most of the plant life on the surface perished, and the competition for food became more brutal than ever before. Thousands of species would be lost forever, but it would not mark the end of life. The web of life had been damaged, but time and evolution would mend it.
As the dust from the meteor settled the cycles of change began anew. The dead returned to the soil to take part in the rebirth and the sun, no longer obstructed, once again shined its life-giving energy on the planet surface. As time went by life gradually returned, ultimately repopulating every nook and cranny. A Darwinian struggle ensued as a rapidly growing animal population fought fiercely over an abundant yet finite food supply. Many of the older species were unable to adapt and soon disappeared, but new species quickly appeared to fill the voids. In time one would be a naked ape.
Nine hundred feet below the surface of the polar ice lay the fossilized remains of the Lady Tyrannosaur. She was a paleontologist’s dream. Her skeletal frame, frozen solid for thousands of millennia, was almost intact and amazingly well preserved. A microscopic nightmare still lurked inside her ancient bones.
Copyright © 2004 by Michael Boyle