Author : D. W. Hughes

Two-thirds the entire population of Minerva – almost a hundred and twenty thousand people – surrounded the only landing dock of the planet’s only city. Some looked on from peaked control towers, while others watched from a nearby field, spread out on blankets or sitting on the tops of their ergonomically shaped mobile homes. The mood and conversation was calm, family and friends chatted, keeping their eyes glued to the clear sky. A few amateur reporters talked to the air, their words being instantly uploaded to their respective websites.

“Today’s the day,” said Marten Donell, seemingly speaking to nobody, “when the U.S.S. Niels Bohr completes her journey: only took ‘er four and a half million years. This is going to be incredible!”

And indeed it was incredible. To earth – and the rest of the universe – it had seemed like the Bohr had taken a year to reach its destination, standard length for a deep-space journey. But when it attempted to heat up upon reaching the edge of the solar system after reaching near-light speed, the exact opposite happened: The craft had cooled so quickly, and to such an extent, that though it arrived at Minerva a year later, to a traveler inside more than four million years would have passed.

“And there she is!” said Marten, as the reflective glare of the chrome spacecraft shone in the sky. An enormous humming sound came from the spires as they emitted tractor beams. The spaceship was soon brought down, hitting the ground with a soft thud because, thought Marten, the fuel supply for the jets had been long gone.

Still, the spacecraft looked good. Really good. Almost as shiny and intact as the day it had been produced. They make ‘em sturdy nowadays, observed Marten.

Flight Captain Wu, in full uniform and waiting on the tarmac, climbed the rungs leading up to the main door and opened it with a halting, but functional, lever.

It was merely a formality: an officer from the Space Corps relieved every captain from duty. Wu had an ironic smile on his face as he looked in. The scientists – lined up on the tarmac to study a time capsule from the future – had assured everybody that none of the crew could still be alive.

The audience saw Wu’s expression change to confusion, then shock. Many laughed, thinking the officer was playing a joke. All noises from the onlookers stopped as Wu scampered down the stairs, and put his hand on his pistol, facing the door in a ready position. The scientists, all sitting before, stood up; some looking at each other with nervous glances.

A group of heavy feet sounded quickly from inside the ship, and a figure stood at the doorway, flanked by at least ten more. Four million people, viewing the event over the internet, either recoiled from their screens or leaned in for a closer look.

Attentively, looking at the spaceport with eyes red, beady, and full of intelligence, a creature impossible to mistake for human raised its head. Even those not scientists could tell what it was and what it had been. Though it stood upright like a human, its thick white fur, whiplike tail, and long head was that of a rat.

Without words, the scientists all knew what had happened. Over the millennium in space, the rats with the ability to cultivate the onboard organic gardens, access food supply, and use the armory had survived. Though the original crew had died quickly, their pests took their place.

And, cocking his head towards Captain Wu, the rat began to speak.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows