Christina Keller lives and works in the Washington, DC area. Her work has appeared in 4StarStories and the anthologies Magical and Dear Robot. She is currently working on a novel. For more information please visit her website -- christinamkeller.com
The Universe Takes Care of Itself
The first witnesses to the earth's destruction stood in front of their homes on the moon. The last life forms to call themselves human, the people of the moon, in those final moments, tracked, in a respectful envelope of awe, the large meteor hitting the planet. They considered it a solemn occasion, a day of remembrance they would honor once a year for their now dead home planet. Over time, everyone had a story about the day the earth died. Who you were with and where you saw the meteor hit became family stories passed down throughout the years. According to the absurd folklore that would develop years later, some people swore the force of the impact caused their own windows to rattle. In the past, debate within the million people population focused on what to do with the earth. Some wanted to re-terraform it, make it habitable, while others wanted to keep it the universal trash dump it came to be. Once everyone realized the meteor would take care of the earth, the subject was dropped. The universe takes care of itself, the people repeated. They watched, on the appointed day, as the large debris cloud plumed into the air surrounding the planet. The oceans, a sick green from years of indiscriminate pollution, evaporated minutes after impact. Land masses crumpled and disappeared. The planet looked as if it was encased in a large shell of gray. Many citizens would report later it felt like watching something being born. A new age is upon us. Scientists measured. Preachers sermonized. All bore witness to the new age. The news was recorded, processed, and then passed to Mars. # Mars received the transmission eighteen minutes later. Broadcast on the evening news, most Martians noted and then discarded the information. That use did they have for a long dead planet? Almost none of the ten million had ever been there. Only the rich, who had their own space crafts, traveled off planet. Even so, the idea of going to earth was unappealing. Why would anyone want to vacation there? Only one lone nation, Aries, still held a fascination with Earth. A few years before the meteor hit, the country tried to raise funds for a scientific voyage. They didn't get much support from other nations. Many remembered the failed expedition a hundred years earlier. A team of ecologists and holy believers convinced themselves that they should return to earth to save it. They made the trip, only to miscalculated the toxicity of the atmosphere. It ate through the hull of the ship in thirty minutes and killed everyone aboard. After this disaster, funding dried up for earth explorations. Why should we spend money to go to earth when so many other problems warranted our attention? Aries attempted to raise money every year with a series of charitable events, but they never saw much of a turn out. Other countries called them foolish and chided them for wasting their talents on such silly concerns. Aries needed to stop dreaming and be practical. The meteor hit extinguished the last bit of interest in earth. The planet was now uninhabitable and would remain so for thousands of years. The people of Aries refocused their attention on preventing Mars from becoming another Earth. They adopted new strategies for smart population growth. They focused on innovative farming which cut down on pollution and depleting the planets resources. Many swore that they would remember the earth as a warning, but after a few generations citizens retold the story of earth as folklore instead of history. The images of the now gray, white, and black earth became surreal paintings in museums. Writers used the earth as a backdrop for epic science fiction stories, or the occasional odd horror story. Nostalgia held the earth as common knowledge, but no one dreamed of the planet. # Ten years after the meteor hit the earth, the signal reached the planet Magellan. Hundreds of years earlier, Magellan had been colonized because of the rich mineral deposits beneath the surface. The planet promised wealth to those that stayed and worked the land. The constant farming and mining upset the natural balance in the ecosystem causing unpredictable weather and earthquakes. The planet's hostile environment took its toll on their human bodies. For those who stayed, their later generations grew taller and broader. Their eyes grew a thin red film cover to protect them from the dry arid climate. The planets double suns baked the planet into hues of red, yellow, and brown. The only lush vegetation grew in the southern continent. People mined all over the world, but the rich lived in the south. Visitors from neighboring planets always marveled at how industrious, yet rural they planet seemed. As the signal broadcasted out over Magellan, Mr. Baker, who owned a small farm in the north continent, entered his kitchen. His wife waved at him and turned on the monitor. Mr. Baker slumped into a chair at the table and stared at the flashing images. His day had been spent fixing a series of holes in his barn on the south end of his property. Mr. Baker wanted to patch them up in order to save his mining equipment. He saved his tools, but a long morning and afternoon of climbing and patching exhausted him. He rested his head on his hand and calculated how much money he lost fixing the barn instead of mining his fields. Without saying a word, his wife walked up behind him and slid a plate of bright red berries and a glass of water in front of him. He looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back and sat down across from him. He picked at the fruit, turning his attention to the images of the earth now flashing across the monitor. He watched as the planet took the impact of the meteor and then slowly changed into a place of utter lifelessness. He looked down at his plate and realized the earth now resembled a piece of moldy fruit. It was round and gray, ready to crumble as soon as someone held it too tight. He sighed and popped a berry in his mouth. “I guess it's true,” he said. “You can never go home.” Mrs. Baker snorted and turned toward the monitor.“Who would want to go there anyway? Nothing lived there. Good riddance to that place.” She pushed her long black hair from her face and shook her head. “It won't do any good to mourn the death of that planet now.” He nodded. She made sense. “I finished the barn,” he said eating another berry. “It should hold for the rest of the spring.” “Good, I was beginning to think I should send Kierin out to help,” she said. “No, the kid needs to play once in a while. He'll be working soon enough.” At the mention of his name, the Baker's son raced into the room. Although still young, they could tell he would be strong. Kierin ate constantly, a good omen they both thought. Their other children had been frail and sickly, not making it past the age of three. Kierin was almost eight. Mr. Baker reached out and pulled his son towards him. He pointed at the monitor, but his son didn't have much interest in the broadcast. Instead he grabbed a handful of berries off his father's plate and shoved them into his mouth. A stream of bright red juice oozed over his chin. Through the food in his mouth, Kierin asked, “Can I go outside and play?” “Okay,” Mr. Baker said. Mrs. Baker shouted as he scrambled out the back door,“Not too far! Stay in the main yard.” She frowned as she watched him leave. Mr. Baker reached for her hand. “Don't worry. No weather patterns are predicted for today. He'll be fine for a few hours before the suns set.” She turned back to the monitor. The program continued to drone on about the history of the earth, but Mr. Baker only half listened. He thought about the other chores that needed to be done by the end of the day. Equipment needed to be cleaned for tomorrow's work and the bills needed to be paid for the quarter. His wife groaned and jerked her finger towards the screen. The ruler of the southern continent was now on the screen. Dressed in an elegant suit, with his white hair swept back into a ponytail, he spoke about the toll the earthquakes took on his lands and people. His red eyes projected concern and he spoke in a soft controlled voice. The camera then focused on the ruler of the northern continent. His hair was white as well, but clipped short and he wore an simple worker's shirt and pants. He argued that the south held most of the resources. If most of the southern businesses moved to a neighboring planet, what would happen to the rest of the population? Back and forth they argued on the screen. “They'll go on like this forever,” Mr. Baker muttered under his breath. Politics made his head hurt. Why couldn't they just find a good compromise? He listened for a few more seconds and then switched off the monitor. He had enough for one day. Mrs. Baker got up and cleared the dishes. She dropped them into the sink when a low rumble came from the ground. They both looked at each other and then shifted their gaze when the shelving doors opened and the dishes began to slide out and crash on the floor. Unsteady as their house moved in violent jerks back and forth, Mr. Baker jumped from his chair at the table and grabbed his wife's hand. “Outside!” he said. They both rushed through the back door into their yard. Turning and with the suns beating down on them, they watched their house as it swayed back and forth. One upstairs window shattered and some siding on the house shook loose and fell to the parched, yellow grass below, but the house held up. After a few seconds the tremors stopped. Both exhaled. Mrs. Baker turned from the house and called to her son. He didn't answer her. Mr. Baker cupped his mouth in his hands and bellowed his son's name. “Kierin! It's okay. The earthquake is over. Time to come home.” He hoped he sounded cheerful. When he still didn't come forward, Mrs. Baker ran around to the front of their house. “Where are you honey? Answer Mama now.” Mr. Baker followed and sudden prayer repeating in his mind. Let him be okay. Let him be okay. Kierin didn't answer, but they saw him crouched in the corner of the yard some twenty feet from them. He was on his knees and bent over, holding his stomach. She pointed at their son and they both hurried over, thinking he was injured, but they were wrong. The boy wasn't hurt. As they got closer, they saw he held something tight to his chest, something small and furry. Mr. Baker peered closer and saw that is was some kind of small rodent. It was covered in beige fur and had small black beady eyes, with a tiny black nose and long black whiskers. It squeaked a quiet terrified wail. The boy looked up at his parents, with damp red eyes. “The quake scared him. I didn't want him to be alone, in case the world swallowed him up.” Relieved, both parents hugged their son and told him that his new pet would have to be his responsibility. He would have to feed it, wash it, and for god's sake, don't hug it too tight. The poor thing needed to breathe. # Twenty-five years after the meteor hit Earth, the signal arrived on the planet of Prometheus, one of the outermost planets human beings had colonized. The planet's government dutifully transmitted the imagery and notes, but for one young girl, Helene, the news bored her. Instead of watching, she went into the forest next to her home. She liked to take quiet walks just after the sundown to relax, taking a few hours for herself. In the early evening, she stretched out her arms and unfurled her wings. They had only just grown in, a signal that her womanhood had begun. They still felt alien to her, these delicate, see-through appendages that beat at a rapid rate. But the sensation of floating high in the air freed her in a way she loved. Tonight the whole nebulous lit itself up. One of Prometheus's moons, Pisces, was particularly bright. It hovered in the southern part of the sky, a bright blue orb, with only small patches of land. The place was about eighty-five percent water and, although Helene had never been there, she dreamed of floating in the warm oceans and gazing back at her home planet one day. Near the very top of a tree, Helene rested on one of the branches. She recently made friends with a young man who lived on Pisces. They exchanged electronic messages over the common site and, even though they were different species, bonded over poetry and star gazing. Olivander was part fish and could breathe underwater for days on end. His species, like hers, had mixed with the indigenous population on their planet and adapted over the generations. She smiled when she thought of his picture, a playful, handsome face with iridescent hair and a long green muscular tail. He wrote her a poem about her new wings calling them “silver strands that pulled her towards adventure.” He had such a gift for words. She told him one day he would have to recite his poems to her in the flesh. She blushed. That was such a bold thing to write. But if she kissed him, would he taste like the ocean? She imagined him whispering in her ear to fly, fly away to a secret spot only he knew about. They would be on some distant shore of his planet on the soft warm sand inhaling the scent of each others unique bodies. The night moved on and Pisces soon set out of her view. She knew that soon she would have to leave the trees and go back home. Chores needed to be done and homework awaited her, but the night could have her for a few more minutes. She turned her gaze to other far distant stars. Off in the night, they twinkled calling to her. She remembered a news blip from the other day. In it, scientists had said they would soon be able to solve the mystery of faster space travel, so one could move from planet to planet without cryo-sleep. A new age is upon us, people repeated. Helene hoped so.