A Little Research Trip, Aborted

By Joshua A. Johnston

Reading Time: 5 minutes

(You can read a little about the history of this story here.)

“Perhaps they will discover fire.”

Telsenti, the anthropologist, lowered his optics, looked over at Milgarn, the biologist, and scowled. “The likelihood of that is impossibly low.”

“I know. It would just make this more interesting. They’re not doing anything we haven’t seen before.”

Down below, in the ravine, a group of upright apes went about their business, building huts, scavenging for plants, and interacting with each other. One of the males made unintelligible noises at a female, who promptly shoved him away.

Milgarn stood upright. “I am going to forage for new species. You can keep watching this primitive spectacle as long as you want.”

Milgarn had just turned to leave when a voice rang in his implant. “Telsenti, Milgarn, I need you back here now!”

Telsenti, also hearing the message, stood up. “What is it, Paxsis?”

“Something happened in the brush one-eight xex by three-two qx from my position. Mastadon stampede. Headed this way.”

Telsenti took a step in the direction of the temporal pod. “How long?”

“Seven-six cres.”

Not long.

Telsenti and Milgarn looked at one another for a fraction of a moment, then shoved their optics into their packs and took off in a sprint down the hill in the direction opposite the upright apes. The brush cut painfully at their bodies as they ran, but all Milgarn could think about was the temporal pod in a crushed ruin beneath the charge of those massive beasts.

Up ahead they could see the plain, in the center of which was their pod. Off to their right, Milgarn saw and heard—or imagined he heard— a plume of dust that almost certainly demarcated the onrushing horde of the large, furred mastadons.

Telsenti, running a few mixex ahead, leapt over a small creek and nearly lost his balance on the landing. Milgarn made a last-second adjustment to leap just to Telsenti’s qi side, missing the anthropologist by a fraction. Milgarn paused just long enough to pull Telsenti to a standing position, and again they were off, sprinting the last bits of distance to the opaque brown pod that was now within view.

In front of them, they could see the orifice to the pod open. They closed the distance until, finally, just a few long footfalls separated the two researchers from the pod. Milgarn knew the sound was not just in his mind, now—he could hear the roar of the approaching mastodon stampede, could feel the ominous shaking of the earth beneath them.

Milgarn, now in the lead, dove into the pod first, followed closely by Telsenti. Milgarn, still on the floor, shouted, “Now!”

The world around them shimmered and stretched, passing into a flash of color and undulating movement. Milgarn’s insides turned at the disorientation, his appendages not moving from the floor of the pod.

At once, the movement stopped.

Milgarn, heaving, came to a sitting position at the foot of the pod, looking at Telsenti, who was slumped with exhaustion against the wall. From the control room, Paxsis emerged. “That,” she said, “was nearly fatal.”

“Only nearly,” Milgarn said.

A few moments later, the three emerged, looking out with relief at a more familiar world. In front of them was the research institute, set along the edge of the four-three dome metropolis, nestled among the trees and grasses of the northern continent.

Traveling one hundred and fifty million years into the future was always a valuable experience, Milgarn thought, but it was nice to be home.

Telsenti stepped up next to Milgarn, staring out at a brontosaurus gnawing on a conifer just beyond the dome perimeter. “Every time we come back,” Telsenti said, the sun glistening on his green reptilian body, “I wonder how that era would be different had the Cataclysm not happened.”

Milgarn allowed his inner eyelid to blink. “It’s not our job to find out, is it?”

© 2017 Joshua A. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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