THE RAT RACE OF TOMORROW

Larry Hodges has sold more than ninety stories. His third novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, was recently published by World Weaver Press. His When Parallel Lines Meet, a Stellar Guild team-up with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, came out in October of 2017.

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It really hurts to get thrown out of the only home you’ve ever known. After four and a half billion Earth years you’d think I’d get some consideration. But I made one mistake—one!—and out came the torches and pitchforks. (Why do I feel groggy? My head, or what you’d call a head, feels like a supernova crashing into a black hole of chili pepper.)

Sure, I killed off humanity and most other life on Earth. But it wasn’t my fault—just a little careless horseplay in the asteroids, and how was I to know Ceres would go off in that exact direction? Just plain bad luck for them. (Wait—the chances of that are next to impossible! I would have had to aim it—did I? Why can’t I remember?)

But look at all the good I’ve done. Who do you think planted the seeds of intelligent life on primordial Earth? Who gave nudges here and there—and a big shove during the Cambrian—as they evolved from amoebas to lemurs? Who cultivated and protected human ancestors all these years, from the Stone Age to the Space Age, right up to the rat race of today that you call civilization? That was me.

But of course you invading Crites only recently set up your colony on Ganymede—already a million of you!—so you don’t know any of this. To you, I’m just an oozing mass of cold, green plasma that seems to break the laws of physics as I zip around the solar system, and that scares you. But you look like giant, slimy earthworms with two little wiggling worms for eyes, and eight more for arms and legs. Yuck! But I won’t judge you for your looks, so don’t judge mine. I’m really a nice guy. At least I think so, though I’m having trouble remembering much right now.

Sure, I’ve caused my share of mischief. I kicked Mercury, a former moon of Jupiter, practically into the Sun. Dumped carbon dioxide waste on Venus. Pretended to be a god on Earth—thought I could teach moral values, silly me. Stole the water from Mars. Punched Jupiter in the solar plexus. Played ring toss with Saturn. Gave Uranus a funny name. Strangled Neptune till it turned blue—who knew it had that much blue-reflecting methane inside! I even tricked those gullible humans into declassifying Pluto as a planet.

But the minute Ceres smashed into Earth—pow!—and killed humanity, you Crites hit the galactic roof as if you were Earth’s protectors—where were you the last 4.5 billion years?—and came after me. We had some crazy hide and seek in the asteroids before you got me in a tractor beam and flung me out of the solar system at escape velocity. So began my friendly tour of the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. Thanks a bunch.

My head is starting to clear. And—I remember! I REMEMBER!

The humans, practically my children, they didn’t like you Crites any more than I did—they were just scared—but even I don’t normally believe in genocide. My God! You were the scapegoat for leaders all over Earth to take over. With half the world rallying behind them and against you, they declared war, though you probably never noticed. They created a superweapon to destroy you, a superfusion bomb, and had plans for an even more powerful one.

It was the toughest decision I ever made, but it was either you or them, and they were the aggressors. That’s why I sent Ceres after them. And that’s why I blocked their superweapon on its way to Ganymede—it got me smack in the head, ow!—to save your silly little tushies. Boom!

And my reward for saving you worm-guys was a heave-ho into comet central.

But there’s a limit to my goodness, and you’ve rocketed past it like a crazed Halley’s Comet. (Which is right over there.) No more Mr. Nice Oozing Green Plasma Guy. So a little nudge here, a little shove there…well, I’m counting the seconds. It’s been a hundred and forty quadrillion seconds since the solar system and I were created together, and I can wait another three billion, about the time it’ll take the remnants of Earth to circle the Sun ninety-five times. That’s when Halley and about a trillion other comets and asteroids will smack into Ganymede. And if you Crites show up again, well, last time you caught me a bit groggy, that superweapon-in-the-head thing, but I’ll be ready next time. This system’s off limits for you.

With you gone, I’ll start over on Earth. I learned from the failed human experiment. Some rodentia survived, and I always thought they had promise. This time I’ll focus a bit more on moral development. My little rat friends, we’re going to have a fun time together as you guys evolve and get smarter. I’m counting the seconds!

Copyright © 2018 by Larry Hodges