It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. All those years ago, in the depraved, early days of the 21st century, it must have seemed like such a clever idea to them. To send a satellite into space carrying the messages of thousands of people, a satellite that would orbit the earth for five thousand years before returning. Stocked with the dreams and madness of a futile race, unwittingly eking out its final days. They must have thought we would be so grateful, poring over their messages as eagerly as they would have greeted messages from their primitive ancestors.
But they weren’t to know. How could they? How could they have possibly imagined how far the human race would have evolved in that time? That we would have eradicated all wars and conflict, and the disease and poverty that they bred? That man and machine would have synthesized to such an extent that we would have evolved into something beyond Homo-Sapien? They couldn’t have known.
Nor could they have known what would be unleashed when we opened the primitive capsule to see what was contained inside. It was a momentous event, carried out in front of the World Council and beamed live, via brain waves, to every being on the planet. And every being on the planet watched, in blissful ignorance at the time, as whatever primeval bacteria the satellite contained was unleashed into the room.
It didn’t take long for it to start. Within hours, everyone that had been present in the room began to get sick. Of course, no one could explain what was wrong with them, the concept of sickness having long been banished from our consciousness. But, by the time it had spread to other cities, the realization began to dawn. What was left of the Council tried to initiate a quarantine, shutting down air and sea ports, but it was too late. The bacteria didn’t need planes; it was already airborne.
Within weeks, chaos reigned. All the centuries of progress were discarded, and people reverted to superstition and myth. They turned to archaic notions like organized religion, and began proclaiming the events as divine retribution, saying the satellite had been a punishment from one omnipotent being or another.
For those of us still clinging to reason and logic, all we could do was watch in horror. But, in the end, none of it mattered. The superstitious died just like everyone else. For whatever reason, some of us lasted longer than others. We were given the perverse honour of watching the dying gasps of our civilization.
As I look around at the ruins at my feet, it’s hard to believe that all this destruction was wreaked in just a few short months. The silver towers of progress that once touched the sky now burn like funeral pyres. Everywhere, bodies litter the streets, the living having long since given up burying the dead. The pungent smell of death and imminent extinction hangs on every one of us.
And yet, I can’t help but ponder the irony of it all. For so long, we prided ourselves on having left behind the barbaric ways of our Neanderthal ancestors. And now, a piece of them has travelled through time and space, hurtled towards us like one of their vile ancient missiles, and wiped out everything we built. Fifty centuries after we thought we’d eluded them, they still managed to destroy us.
And the greatest irony is that, after all their years of ravaging and infecting the planet, the thing that destroyed us was something they saw as benevolent. Something that was meant as a gift to us.
Something that probably seemed like such a good idea, at the time.
Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Derek’s short story “The Healer” was recently featured in Surge, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. He is also a regular contributor to http://www.writing.ie where he writes his “Songbook” column. And because he obviously has a lot of time on his hands, he is currently working on his latest solo album.
Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt.