by Richard Berry
A spaceship carrying two intelligent beings of distant origin powered down its engine as it entered orbit around the planet Earth.
‘Complete shutdown in twelve seconds, commander,’ said the first being.
‘Thank you, commander. Let’s proceed.’
They had the same rank within the organisation that had planned and executed this journey, these beings. But it wasn’t an issue. There had been no discord between them.
'Actually, commander, we have a problem here,' the first being said.
'What's that, commander?'
'I think we may have miscalculated our destination.'
These beings and their kind realised long ago that travelling vast distances across the galaxy required the manipulation of time, not just movement across space. Put simply, they had discovered how to delete the time it took to travel between two points. With some allowance for the process of deletion to run its course, they could effectively go from A to B instantaneously.
It nearly always worked.
'I concur,' the second being said. It was studying the viewscreen at its station, which displayed various readings from the planet’s surface. ‘Mean temperature is higher than we expected. The major land masses differ in shape, too.’
‘Something else, commander,’ the first said. ‘There is no evidence of human civilisation here.’
‘That’s what I feared, commander,’ the second said. ‘Is there any life at all?’
The first being read out the names of animals as their images flashed across its screen and were matched to entries in the ship’s database.
‘Ornithomimus. Ankylosaurus. Chasmosaurus. Triceratops. Edmontosaurus. Maiasaura. Parasaurolophus. Pachycephalosaurus. Deinocheirus. Quetzalcoatlus. Tyrannosaurus.’
The second being interrupted. ‘I’m not familiar with these species. How far away are we from our target point in time?’
‘Sixty-five million, two hundred and twenty-seven thousand, nine hundred and eleven Earth years, one hundred and thirty-three Earth days. Rounded to the nearest day.’
The second struggled to comprehend what it was hearing. ‘There must have been some error in our calculations. How could this happen?’
It was at this point that these beings looked - for the first time since arriving in the solar system - out of the small, circular window of their spaceship. They both saw the likely culprit for their miscalculation. A rocky entity, eighty-one kilometres in diameter, could be seen at the outer edge of the planet’s atmosphere.
‘Probability of collision with the planet is one hundred per cent.’
‘That must be it, commander,’ said the second. ‘I sometimes forget to account for asteroids in my calculations.’
‘Such an amount of mass would have made a significant difference.’
‘Mistakes happen, commander,’ said the first.
These beings were nothing if not resilient. No sooner had their problem been identified, than they were discussing options for what to do about it. There weren’t many, unfortunately.
‘It’s not possible to attempt another journey to the correct destination. We don’t have enough energy.’
The original plan had been to land on Earth, settle, develop a relationship with the humans, and eventually harness enough fuel from the planet for a return journey.
‘We could land anyway, stay out of the way, and gather what we need. We’d have plenty of time to check the calculations before we tried again.’
The first being gave the second’s idea some serious thought. ‘It might be possible, commander, but the risk is too great. If we are witnessing the mass extinction event I’ve read about in the Earth history files, then conditions are about to become extremely inhospitable. Even with our technology, without the protection of a native, intelligent species, I doubt we’d survive’
The second being nodded. ‘Reluctantly, I have to agree,’ it said. ‘Do you have any ideas?’
‘Only one,’ the first said. ‘And it’s causing me a degree of discomfort just to think of it.’
‘We need to consider all options, commander,’ said the second.
‘Very well, commander. It seems to me that, despite the size of this asteroid, one of our missiles would probably be sufficient to destroy it.’
‘I warned you about the discomfort,’ the first continued. ‘If we do proceed - and I’m not necessarily advocating this - we could settle on the planet in its current, stable condition, and remain there long enough to harness energy without significant risk to our wellbeing. Perhaps longer, if we like it there.’
As they spoke, the asteroid continued its descent. Until now it had proceeded with the usual sense of inevitability that gravity provided to the larger objects of the universe. But now that more influential forces were minded to intervene, the probability of its colliding with the planet Earth was considerably less than one hundred percent.
‘What about the humans?’ The first being asked the question despite already knowing the answer. ‘It’s unlikely they’ll evolve if we intervene, commander.’
‘It’s them or us, commander.’
The decision was made. As quickly as the command could be processed by the ship’s computer, the missile was on its way.
‘Preparing for landing,’ said the first being, who had already moved on to the next challenge.
The second being hesitated. ‘I’m just thinking,’ it said. ‘They won’t have any knowledge of human civilisation back on our home planet, once the trajectory of life on Earth has been altered. As our ship will be protected from the changes. Perhaps we should send back a copy of our database, to preserve their existence.’
‘For what purpose?’
‘Perhaps for our historians to study.’
The first being was mainly occupied with plotting the ship’s descent to the surface. ‘I can’t imagine there being any interest, commander, in studying a species that never existed. It would be considered a work of fiction.’
‘I suppose you’re right.’
‘Besides, commander, we wouldn’t want anyone finding out about our miscalculation, would we?’
The second being stared out of the small, circular window. All appeared calm on the planet Earth. It seemed like the asteroid and its burning tail were suspended in mid-air. Then missile arrived, and the window was filled with a flash of brilliant light.
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