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Short Story: Progress

Sixty five million years ago there lived a monstrous lizard.

It was a great, lumbering beast that felt more at home in the steamy, languid swamps than having to deal with the burden of its heft on dry land. Its peanut sized brain barely had the capacity to keep it moving and chewing at the same time, let alone comprehend the fixation of its gaze. The days were spent eating, and staring, and lumbering, and eating, and staring . . . and avoiding death.

On a day that was not particularly worse or better than any other swamp day, it raised its great serpentine neck out of the water all the while chewing on some exotic, prehistoric equivalent of a lilly pad. On the shore of the swamp it noticed a small furry . . . thing. It didn’t know what it was, nor did it even know what fur was, but it did register that whatever this small thing was, it was different. The furry creature scurried about gathering food and material from the ancient underbrush. Suddenly it stopped then bolted down a hole to avoid its impending death. Survival of the fittest dictates a heightened sense of self preservation.

A great, deep rumble began to slide through the trees of the jungle. The lizard bent its great neck down into the murky water to gather the last bite it would ever take, and as it raised its head out of the water its underdeveloped eyes took in the last sight it would ever see. The sky was burning red above the grey clouds, causing them to glow orange with fire. The deep rumble turned in to a thunder tearing through the atmosphere, louder than any the dinosaur had ever heard. A hellish plume of fire arched down from the ruddy clouds and struck the Earth a great distance away. The celestial gods had rolled their dice for the billionth time, and the Earth had lost.

Ba-Da-BOOM

Mountains rose and fell. Oceans boiled and condensed. Floods and tsunami ravaged the coastlines, eventually receding their hands of destruction. Brimstone rained from the sky. Firestorms raged through the forests boiling away the swamps. Oxygen was consumed and carbon dioxide produced. Ash filled the sky and blanketed the land. The sun hid, and the long winter began.

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The unstoppable arrow of time marched forward and the winter subsided.  Beasts of the ocean weathered the destruction.  The furry creatures emerged from their holes.  The monstrous lizards perished and faded from the face of the planet.  Millions of years passed as the Moon orbited the Earth, the Earth the Sun, the Sun the Milky Way, and the Milky Way slowly and inexorably moved through an ever expanding and cooling universe kept company only by other galaxies twisting through the darkness of infinity.

More mountains rose and fell, and the rain gnawed away their sharpness.  Ice sheets flowed and receded.  Species flourished and died.  An offshoot of the furry creatures eventually evolved and learned to walk upright, use tools, and speak rudimentary languages.  Their brains developed and were genetically rewired as the last several hundred thousand years passed.  These new creatures learned to control fire, develop language, art, mathematics, music, and printing.  Civilizations rose and crumbled into ruin.  Philosophers gazed upwards to the stars and pondered their existence.  Wars were won and lost.  Cities were planned and built.  Streets were laid out.  Populations expanded.  Electricity was discovered. They also learned, by choice or chance, to survive their own brutality . . . so far.

The industrial revolution arrived, and the demand for energy increased.  The ancient remains of our extinct dinosaur (and its prehistoric lilly pads), zooplankton, phytoplankton, and other organic material is harvested from the bowels of the Earth to fuel our industry, wars, and personal machines.  The automobile was developed.  Cars clogged the transportation infrastructure.  Streets were paved. Streetlights were installed . . . and here we sit with a coffee in one hand and a cellphone in the other, playing continuous games of Red Light, Green Light.  We spend our days working, and driving, and eating, and working . . . and driving.

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On a day that was not particularly worse or better than any other commute day a human at one of these stoplights raises its head from taking a sip of coffee and notices something different.  A smell is filling its car, one that makes its nose burn and throat itch.  It bends its small neck to the right and sees an unkempt, bearded, hunchbacked human sitting in the remains of a dilapidated truck.  Its engine sputtering in protest as it simultaneously battled the forces of friction, combustion, age, and an unhealthy state of tune.  Endless clouds of pollution and unburned fuel spews from its tailpipe choking the human, and all the others huddled in their cars waiting for the jaunt to the next light . . . and the next coffee stop.

Suddenly the light changed and the truck bolted off to the next light in a cloud of stinking death.

FIN

Author’s note:  On a day that was not particularly worse or better than any other I was stuck in traffic behind an old beater truck.  You know the type.  Some 1967 Chevy that’s half teal paint and half rust with old ropes and beer cans rattling around in a milk crate in the bed, practically dripping unburned gasoline from it’s tail pipe.  You reach over and hit the re-circulation button on your AC as fast as you can find it.  I hate those trucks, I hate the smell they belch.  So this story is about the life cycle of mammals . . . and dinosaurs.  It had the original title of “Evolution of the Peanut Brain.”  Have we progressed?  Some might argue, no.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Neal is a writer and recovering engineer who likes pizza, the insidious power of sarcasm (and pizza), and debating science fiction (and pizza). You can also find his writing on Omni, Geeks, and other media platforms.