Sardang was a troubled pterodactyl. As a species, it was a matter of pride to the pterodactyl community that they could interpret the knowledge of the skies, their natural homes. Through reptilian evolution, they learned that not only did the heavens forecast the weather but they also revealed celestial secrets. Sardang was frustrated with the data they had acquired. He had re-verified as much of it as he could, tabulating it afterwards against past data engraved on the cliffs, but the conclusion seemed irrefutable. The accumulated statistics were leading to an unbelievable disaster. Amid the growing confusion, the pterodactyl community had called for a meeting of the Council.
The Reptilian Empire had accomplished so much. His data claimed that all of it was going to be ground to dust just by one bright flash in the sky. The thought was frightening, to say the least. Civilization as it had existed for so many years would vanish. Sardang felt that at least with an early warning, the dinosaurs would at least be able to store their best components away, or keep them in some form of suspension or preserve them to continue the way of life as it was before the disaster. This wasn’t going to be the end, hopefully. A new reptilian kingdom would arise, and someday claim the same power as the current reign had.
As Sardang flew, he saw a group of young styrachosauri fighting over some petty grass groves. Sardang was momentarily disgusted to forget that he was bearing the message of doom. After years of development, he felt it was pathetic that reptiles, elevated creatures, should still feel the need to indulge in raw displays of animalism. If they were mammals, perhaps, they could be excused. Mammals had been a lesser form of life ever since their evolution. They were small creatures, too limited in their scope to see and understand anything beyond the basic needs of survival. But to think that after so many years, even respectable members of the reptile empire felt the need to do the same, made Sardang feel shameful. Even within Sardang’s own swarm, small arguments continued to break up the formation. Sometimes, it seemed to Sardang that the pterodactyls had forgotten their honorable duty and were now using their sharp eyes to pick up petty squabbles. In times of such uncertainty, how could they argue about such minutiae?
The Council was an exhibition of passive croaks, groans and shrieks against the primeval sunset. Usually, the Council convened for disputes over the allocation of power, food or shelter. The largest of all the species assembled, the King of the Empire, sat in the centre, and any sensible dinosaur knew to give this creature a very wide berth.
A huge ferocious animal that lumbered around on the land, his fore-arms were unusually strong given their size, combined with the agility of a huge tail which made him a formidable predator, Rakavar was a clumsy tyrannosaurus. He was annoyed by sensing a slight movement in the grass behind him and with one sweeping motion had the poor mammal in his jaws, perfect for a light snack. As his powerful fangs ripped the meat apart, the herbivorous members of the Council edged away nervously, while the carnivorous members crept closer, lured by the blood. Soon, an entire swarm of pterodactyls glided into the focus of his tiny eyes and gracefully landed before the Council. The sight of a tyrannosaurus feasting made the pterodactyls want to stay at a respectable distance. When he had the attention of the Council, Sardang presented his case.
“Honored Council, we wish to bring a matter of utmost importance to your notice. After months of observation, we have discovered that there is a bright flashing object, unlike any that we have encountered before. From the projected trajectory, it is heading straight towards the Earth. We believe it could cause very serious damage to our habitats.”
“Where is your evidence, Sardang? A bright object blazing across the sky could be anything. In any case, even if it is something new and undiscovered, it doesn’t necessarily mean it would amount to catastrophe as you have claimed. It might just be a pebble from outer space. Surely, a pebble wasn’t capable of destroying our habitats?” croaked, Balgar, a particularly eloquent velociraptor, preening himself with the importance of an experienced spokesperson of the Council.
Sardang noted that the lack of the customary tone of respect. Balgar harbored a grudge against him for rescuing a small hatchling from his hungry clutches and had since then, always been on his snappy side. Sardang was annoyed with his interruption. The velociraptors never seemed to give up on any opportunity to claim political power, an annoying trait they had inherited along with the genes that made them distant cousins of the tyrannosauri. This was a question of the near total destruction of the Empire, not some petty ego issues. Offending the velociraptors would lead to the eviction of pterodactyls from the Council, a maneuver designed to acquire more power. A pebble, indeed. What did that smooth-jawed scavenger know about watching the skies?
“Respected Speaker, we have watched the skies for many days. The object is brighter than several of its neighbors in the sky and is considerably larger too. If it is perceived to be this large from such a distance, it will only become bigger and brighter as it approached the Earth. Are we to risk our habitats at the mercy of such a powerful force? My data will testify that what I say is not a fabrication.”
Rakavar growled in contemplation, overriding Balgar’s authority. “Consequences, Observer?” The entire Council fell silent.
“Almost irreparable destruction of the Reptilian Empire,” said Sardang quietly, trying to avoid staring into the expressionless eyes of his king.
For a moment there was only the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and the leaves rustling in the air, and the distant screeches of younger dinosaurs and the cries of pained mammals. In the tense silence, Sardang was desperately trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing. Then, Balgar spoke up, shattering the silence.
“Is there anything that can be done to avert this disaster?”
Sardang felt the annoyance at the back of his beak. Just like a velociraptor to ask the stupid questions. He was not bringing them news of some carnivorous dinosaurs pillaging the habitats of some innocent herbivores. This was not the kind of thing that could be solved by the interruption of a few sturdy triceratopses. What possible defense could they have against an astronomical fireball? Hide under the trees, hoping to avoid the impact of a supposed pebble that was already leaving streaks of destruction in the sky? Cower under the cliffs?
Rakavar, for the benefit of other members of the Council, asked Sardang to answer the question.
Sardang tried to control his impatience. “Honored Council, this is the end of civilization!”
The Council erupted in chaos. Every creature flurried around in panic, loud screeches and barks tore the air. The denizens of the ocean were startled by the sudden din, and a few even ventured closer to the surface of the water to satisfy their curiosity. Amongst this pandemonium, the only group that stood its ground was the pterodactyls.
Rakavar rarely roared. But he did so now. Every creature who heard Rakavar unleash the full strength of his roar shivered, trying to suppress the instinct to return back to the burrows of the earth, to dive back into the depths of the ocean, to take off into the comforting heights of the skies or to run away as fast as possible and never look back.
“I will have silence! Citizens, are we not higher beings? Only a Council of mammals would allow themselves to driven by panic.”
The Council was instantly silent at the general insult. Sardang poked his leathery wings with his own beak, in agreement with Rakavar’s methods. Even mammals knew how to behave better, noted Sardang as he watched with disgust the prancing group of velociraptors, chirping away in high-pitched squeals, snapping at themselves in nervousness.
The only community who had the strength to combat Rakavar himself then spoke up. Heradon, leader of the triceratops, quietly pawed the ground for attention, more as a formality in the silence than as anything else and then said, “Since the Great Observers,” here she paused to bend her huge head to the pterodactyl group, as a mark of respect, which was returned with a bend of their beak “have implied that nothing can be done to avert the disaster. Surely, we can contrive other means to ensure that at least the casualties are minimized?”
Finally, Sardang felt that somebody in the Council understood the real reason why he had brought this news. An early warning was better than no warning at all. Rakavar nodded his enormous head in approval.
Balgar felt the innate need to speak up again and this time, he was careful to be more polite, as he usually was when he wanted to be sarcastic, “What possible means can we contrive to save ourselves from a disaster of the order of magnitude as described by the Great Observers?”
“I don’t mean to interrupt you, Respected Speaker, but perhaps we can preserve our specimens for re-growth after the disaster?” volunteered a voice from the skies.
Diploid, foremost representative of the brachiosaurus community was speaking. Sardang took flight and perched himself on the tallest enough tree that would enable him to listen to Diploid’s views better. In any case, they were worth more than Balgar’s opinions and sarcasm, wondered Sardang as he watched the little creature struggle to climb up to a tall enough rock. To pick on Diploid’s valid arguments, no doubt. The creature was deeply biased against herbivores.
“But we are so many species! How will we preserve them all?!” asked Balgar, almost laughing at the ludicrous idea. Rakavar emitted a low, echoing growl that hastily shut him up.
Heradon asked, “In what way do you propose to execute this plan, Respected Thinker?”
Diploid turned his small head to a side, as though contemplating the horizons of some distant ocean. He conferred with some of the others in his group for a while.
“Honored Council, we wish to bring a matter to your attention. One of our herds was grazing near the other side of the coast, when we heard an interesting report from one of our marine cousins. Several tylosaurus communities have complained of increasing activity under the ocean beds. A few tylosauri schools have located a crevice in the beds, more an accidental discovery necessitated by the search of food than anything else…”
“What is the relevance of all this in the face of a catastrophe?” interrupted Balgar, condescendingly. These brachiosauri were going off on a tangent again.
“Balgar, don’t interrupt, or I’ll personally have you thrown off the cliffs,” said Rakavar, quietly. Heradon pawed the ground threateningly as the velociraptor tried to hide behind her huge form. Sardang watched from above with satisfaction.
“Please continue”, Rakavar nodded his agreement, baring his bloodstained fangs at Balgar, who retreated hastily, knowing that the next interruption could not only cost him his membership of the Council but also his life.
“The tylosauri have found that there are several rock sheets, peeling away near the crevice which contains several remarkably intact skeletons of some of our evolutionary ancestors. Notably, the preserved skeletons seemed to belong to a species of Trilobites, which have been long since extinct. Trilobites are simple minute creatures that used to inhabit the ocean beds. Perhaps, if we could study them, we may discover how they managed to preserve specimens that survived so long under the oceans.”
Again, there was a silence as the creatures stared either in silence or preened each other in confusion.
“Pardon me for disagreeing, Respected Thinker, even if we were to discover their methods of self-preservation, they probably would not be applicable to our particular case,” countered Heradon.
“The specimens have survived under the ocean, which is a relatively much calmer and uniform environment than what our world might be after the disaster. I doubt that we have places above the water which are capable of withstanding such a catastrophe. There is no point in preserving specimens that do not have resuscitation procedures, as we have not seen any living specimens. Also, the natural habitat of the Trilobites served as a convenient store house. All of us cannot do the same. Again, the Trilobites are only one species, we are an entire planet.”
“Respected Fighter, your arguments are pertinent. But, we still ask permission to study the Trilobite specimens.” conceded Diploid.
“Thinkers,” said Rakavar, “we will justify your allocation of resources to this Trilobite project. However, as the Fighters pointed out, there is the danger of your results being inconclusive and arriving too long to be effective. While I sanction your research, I need the Council to come up with more immediate plans of action.”
After sharing several grunts with her comrades, Heradon pawed the ground for attention again. “Honored Council, we think that dinosaur populations should begin evacuating. By dispersing, we are less likely to be wiped out in one single stroke. If the Great Observers,” again Sardang flew down to a lower branch to hear what she was saying, “could pin-point the exact location of impact, we can begin pushing out dinosaur populations from there. Until the Thinker’s research provides us with optimistic results, we should consider this.”
The Council slowly grew to a buzz. It would clearly involve the separation of many herds and swarms who have shared several life-times together, let alone disrupt all the symbiotic relationships that sustain them. How would they divide the groups? How would they be able to protect their young? How would they be able to find new nesting sites? How would they have access to food or prey in new unfamiliar territories? Sardang volleyed a few screeches between his swarm. Some of them were to go back to the largest nesting sites and convey the news. The others were to watch the skies, with the intention of finding where exactly on Earth it would strike.
Rakavar called the Council’s attention. “Citizens, decide amongst your populations how to share your responsibilities. Leave to your homes and do not delay.”
The beach was a flurry of many different sounds, as Sardang and his group took flight. They watched the ground for a while. Heradon was leading her group back over the plateau, remarkably agile for a creature of her size. Diploid and his herd craned their long necks forward and began to run, while Balgar had emerged from hiding and began to jump his way home, prancing from rock to rock. Even Rakavar had lumbered off to some other part of his territory. The earth, as it seemed to Sardang, was a canvas of reptilian motion whereas the darkening sky above told the story of impending doom.
As Sardang’s leathery wings glided over the air currents, he mused about the plan of action. If Diploid’s hypothesis was a success, then the whole disaster would be a minor interruption in the glorious history of the Reptilian Empire. But, Heradon’s arguments were right, as well. There were far too many creatures to preserve. No doubt they would be preserved in some form of socio-political hierarchy. Hopefully the brachiosaurs would forget the velociraptors do everybody a favor. It was also necessary, especially for herbivore species, for plants to survive as well. Under the endless grasslands, Sardang passively noticed several groups of tiny mammals trying to burrow their way out of the ground, evading the passively grazing hadrosaurs. Those poor things would probably be extinct. How could beings so delicate have any chance of survival?
Sardang crossed a stretch of water, watching the ripples shine with the undulating forms of the tylosauri under it. He scanned the waters with his probing eyes. They probably had all the hiding places, Sardang wondered. Not like the skies, where it was impossible to hide anything. Sardang hoped to spot a few Trilobites soon, in some confirmation of a faraway dream. He had now reached the top of the cliff where several pterodactyl families were nesting. In the corner of the robust nests, were freshly laid eggs. What would their future be? How was he going to ask parents to part with their hatchlings? Families to disintegrate and form new relationships based on trust?
When the next Council was summoned, Sardang had already disbanded several nests, though not as many groups as the other dinosaurs had. He was still expecting something worthwhile from Diploid’s research. In any case, the remaining pterodactyl populations were small enough.
As the Council had assembled, the opening formalities hurriedly done with as an indicator of stress. Rakavar began, “Citizens, before we ask every species represented here…”
Sardang wondered if every species was represented here. They didn’t have representatives of the trees and grass, or even of the mammals or insects for that matter. Also, several of the dinosaurs were missing, the most conspicuous of which was Balgar’s absence. Had the velociraptors fled already? Cowards.
He turned his attention back to Rakavar. If resources were going to be scarce, they’d need every little bit for themselves instead of worrying about mammals. “… we will ask the Thinkers to present the results of their studies.”
Diploid spoke, “Honored Council, after we had retrieved several intact specimens from our tylosaur cousins, we monitored them under different conditions. We tried exposing them to atmospheric conditions, allowing them to revive their natural metabolism. That did not succeed. So, we asked the tylosaur cousins to observe a few of the specimens submerged underwater, the assumed natural habitat of the Trilobites. After a few days, we noticed a green protrusion growing from the skeletons. We assume that rapidly expanding mass is the Trilobite body, filling itself out due to regenerative growth caused by exposure to the right conditions. However, it has not shown any sentience, or any motility.”
Rakavar was surprised. “The Trilobites don’t eat? Or speak?”
The Council was suddenly interrupted by Heradon and several other dinosaurs “Look! Look! Look at the sky!”
Sardang and his swarm flew upwards immediately. The sky had immediately become much brighter, and there in the distance was a huge bright streak of light, which made the night sky seem almost like day. A bright, fiery intruder was blazing past.
There was no panic. Just this awe-inspiring silence, followed by a rapidly increasing boom as the object collided with the surface. The resounding thud knocked everyone on the ground off their hind-limbs. Even the triceratopses, the strongest of the land animals, staggered under the shock. “What happened? What happened?” was the general murmur as the creatures cowered in fear.
The brachiosaurs were the first to raise their heads to look. Sardang was still trying to deny what had happened. They had taken off just in time, as the ground began to quake. The shake which began as a small vibration in the ground began to worsen as cracks spread along the way. The oceans were pushed out of imbalance as the ground gave way. And where the blinding ray of fury had struck there was a now a dull, expanding darkness. Sardang and the pterodactyls tried to stay in the air as long as they could, knowing that any terrestrial structure was unstable now. The air was rent with shrieks and howls. Nearby groups of disbanded dinosaurs had surely seen the impact. Sardang tried to fly in closer to explore the debris. The object that he had spotted in the skies was huge. Sardang had no doubt that at least a million dinosaurs had died on the spot. As he struggled to fly higher, he saw that where there had been vast plains, there was now a giant rock. A giant, red hot rock which left waves of cinders behind.
There was a sudden rush of air away from the alien intruder, billowing out the darkness. The winds carried the dust uprooting trees, disturbing the tormented waters, pouring dust all over the ground. Sardang heard a familiar roar. The sound had been going on for quite some time, but the pterodactyls had been too absorbed by the spectacle of raw destruction to pay attention. Rakavar was calling them back. Even Rakavar’s roar could not match the ferocity of what they had just seen.
Sardang did not know how to describe the masses of charred remains of countless species. The rock had wiped them clean off the face of the planet. His descent to the council was accelerated with the winds pushing him away and outward, clawing his leathery back with dust, leaving painful scratches. They could not fly. They were literally thrown back covered in dust and injuries to the Council.
Sardang tried to recover from hitting the earth at such speeds. He was sure that his beak was broken. Several others had their wings torn and digits damaged. Heradon gently pushed him to his fore-limbs with her massive skull. He had mustered enough strength to tell the Council what had happened, when there was another loud boom. For the second time in the night, the sky was lit brighter than the hottest day. The creatures were thrown into disarray and panic, clinging onto the earth as the ground rippled and the sky began to rain dust and fragments of rock. This was disaster personally wreaking havoc on them.
“The object seems to have exploded” said Diploid, to nobody in particular, in the midst of the chaos. The winds were brutally punishing now. Sardang tried to fly back up. He needed to watch. To observe. To do his duty right. But the air, the skies, which had been the familiar territory of the pterodactyls, was now filled with vengeful alien dust. Creatures groaned and shrieked and dust filled their jaws and contaminated the air. The dust coated the ocean and the ground. With the dust, followed the darkness. With the darkness came death.
As the swirling vortexes of dust blacked out the stars of the night sky, creatures began to suffocate and slowly die. Wherever creatures tried to flee, death followed. Sardang soon realized through partial visibility, that the wind carried a lot more than the dust. Trees, rocks, pebbles, followed in the darkness, claiming their victims. The hadrosaurs coughed and choked to a painful death. Sardang was about to leave the ground, until he heard Heradon’s hoarse, dust-filled shriek. He felt the gentle thud of her body collapse, glad that he had moved away quickly enough just to avoid being crushed by the massive body, her cold blood oozing on him. “Fly away”, said Heradon, before she coughed herself to death.
Sardang did not know exactly what strength allowed him to take off. The only way he could feel that sensation was when his hind-limbs finally let go of whatever they were holding on to. In the darkness, air, water and earth all seemed the same. All filled with pain and anguish. Sardang was in blind shock to realize that one by one, his swarm was dropping out of the sky and falling down into the many corpses. The carnivores were torn between trying to flee, trying to survive or trying to eat as much as they could. Velociraptors and other scavengers began to pick on the raw supply as quickly as possible, until the dust and darkness claimed them. Rakavar lumbered around, trying to get the smaller species to the safety of stable rocks, trying to fight the dust with his tail. Diploid’s body lay on the water, his neck tantalizingly close to the disturbed sharks. Soon enough, all that was left of him were the few fragments of his bones and an expanding pool of black liquid on the black waters.
Sardang felt his body shatter as a large rock of nearly the same dimensions of his body attacked him. His eyes burned with the cruel abrasion of the dust. He knew he was falling, flecks of blood oozing from his beak. He didn’t know if it was his blood or Heradon’s. He felt his leathery body surrender to the pain.Sardang hoped his descendants would live to see another Reptilian Empire. Hopefully there were enough evacuees to see the morning sun.
None of the dinosaurs survived. There was no morning sun for a very long time. If Sardang had lived long enough to survive the catastrophe and the aftermath, he would have been very surprised to find out who survived….
145 million years later
Paleontologist Ryker was annoyed with digging in the unbearable heat. Anthropologist Weaver had already contaminated the spot. She could still remember how Weaver had confidently said, “Sorry,”evidently not sorry at all.
“What are you doing here?” asked Ryker,failing to hide her inherent dislike. She had to push around several papers, and glower at several people indignantly to get this excavation approved. Now she discovered that this incompetent buffoon had first access to it with lesser effort. All because his museum placed a higher priority on extinct Neanderthal artifacts than her museum placed on finding some of the best preserved fossils.
“We came in the morning, given that we’ve got some really nice pieces lying around here. But I didn’t know you’d be coming,” said Weaver, aware that his museum provided him with more funding for his project than Ryker’s had. “Don’t worry. We find any big bones, we’ll let you know.”
“You don’t have to. My team’s getting on it in exactly five minutes.”
“But, we’ve already set up our grafts and started cataloging. You can’t just barge in!”
“You can catalog at the museum as well, Weaver. As for barging in, I was scheduled at this site before you.”
She went on to firmly but politely offer that Weaver’s team either evacuate the place or remained confined to very strict boundaries of the site.
Weaver was about to interrupt when Ryker flashed him a sarcastic smile and said, “Don’t worry. We find any odd lumps of clay, we’ll let you know.”
Now that the afternoon sun was burning her back, Ryker regretted sending Weaver’s diggers away. By now they should have dug up something substantial, unless the natives’ reports were false. Still, she wiped away the sweat and continued with a personal vengeance, before Weaver saw the opportunity to claim back his territory. Dark shadows arced over Ryker, who sat amongst geological evidence of nearly 145 million years ago. Ryker looked up.
Birds. The last evolutionary remains of the dinosaurs. They screeched and flew across the sky, enjoying the freedom of their natural homes. A peregrine falcon, swooped on her with its majestic wings over the sky and settled on a rock near Ryker. It stared at her with its expressionless eyes, not afraid of the proximity. Ryker almost felt as though she was being watched.
“They’re probably wondering why this mammal is digging up their remains,” said Ryker, more to herself than anything else. The falcon squawked, almost as if in response, startling Ryker out of her wits. The expressionless eyes seemed to be considering her with the hidden intelligence of an extinct species. Ryker was momentarily intrigued.
She moved closer to the bird, which still remained unafraid. “You’re watching me dig up your ancestors, aren’t you?” she said to the bird. The bird sat quietly, cocked its head to one side, as if trying to understand. It hopped over to where Ryker’s tools were lying on the ground and nudged them with its beak. The falcon then pushed the pickaxe over the rock edge, to where the underlying layers were peeling away. “Hey!”, said Ryker, as she tried to retrieve the pickaxe. Unimpressed, the bird stared back at her with intimidating intensity. This was either some very advanced Pavlovian reaction or some elaborately random motion.
A large shadow loomed up and the falcon suddenly took off, leaving a very puzzled Ryker in its wake. Weaver had frightened off the bird. “Passing interest in zoology, I see?” he sneered. Ryker immediately felt foolish. What possible reason could she have, for standing in the middle of a barren plateau and talking, of all things, to a bird? The sunstroke was definitely leading her to imagine things.
“What are you doing here?” she asked for the second time, sounding as annoyed as ever.
“Generally checking up on the progress of one who is dedicated to looking for lesser species.”
Reptiles were not lesser species, she wanted to argue back. But she knew that was what Weaver wanted. His half-evolved apes weren’t any better.
“You’ll get your site back by the evening, Weaver.”
When Weaver left, Ryker returned to the ground, forgetting her avian companion with every stroke and worrying more about the complete lack of discovery. Her efforts were not in vain. She had finally found the shale bed with a beautifully preserved specimen of a pterodactyl.
Within minutes, the entire site was full of activity. There was an instant boost in morale; everyone was already describing the pterodactyl, trying to classify it, estimating its dimensions and so on. Weaver haunted them again, bearing apparent congratulations. Ryker accepted his congratulations very neutrally. The pterodactyl remains made Weaver’s mud clumps look absolutely irrelevant and ugly. This was nature’s beauty at work. Not some primitive manifestation of supposed intelligence. It took her quite a while to discover a large peregrine falcon staring at her from the cliffs above.
Ryker ensured that Sardang had survived to the future. He was now behind a glass cage, called by the name of Pterodactylus simus, while mammals stared at his bones. The observer under observation. Perhaps what was an even greater twist of irony was that the next exhibit was that of a Trilobita asaphidae.