by Adam Wiesen
From 50 Years From Now

Rashid sipped tea through a straw, and wryly noted that throughout modern history, most death sentences were at least underwritten by a last meal, usually of some quality. This, his final cup of tea, was a half-sweet compost of earl gray, hydrated with recycled water, probably from crew urine.

‘Hardly fair,’ he sniffed. As a pilot, he was used to pumping out solutions under duress, patching together fortune from disaster. It was his reputation, as such, that got him the gig flying shuttle runs to the International Space Station. Lucky Rashid Mayhew, best pilot in the ESA, gem of the British airforce. Life-taker, heartbreaker, international man of adventure. Woman in every port, enemy in every town—that sort of thing. His life was a roadmap of hair-raising escapes and dogfights. ‘This was supposed to be a cakewalk into retirement. Now look at me.’

From the control center, he looked down at what was supposed to be Earth, and grimaced.

“Won’t be long now,” Amit said clinically. The wiry operations officer, late of the Indian Space Bureau, had a knack for understatement.

“How many days?” Rashid asked.

“If those things keep accelerating, figure hours, not days,” Amit answered.

“That’s impossible,” Walker said. The older astronaut still waited for word from Houston, under some kind of delusion that a command structure waited beneath the miles of weird red matter covering the normally blue planet. “How fast are those things moving?”

Amit checked his dashboard, shrugged. “24 miles per second, and gaining. Rash, do we have any more tea, perchance?”

“That’s just not possible!” Walker balked. “What’s it using for propulsion?”

“I’m afraid this is the last of it. You’re welcome to the rest, if you want.” Rashid said, handing off the plastic cup.

“By all accounts, it’s using its musculature to push up into the atmosphere. At that size, I can’t imagine its much more difficult than your average benchpress, Captain Walker,” Amit said coldly, gulping Rashid’s lukewarm tea. “And once it’s past the troposhere, I imagine it will be even easier. Like popping through a piece of cellophane.”

“How can you be so damned calm?!” Walker demanded. “That’s our people down there! Our countrymen! Our fuh-families! Our…oh God…”

“What else should I do?” Amit asked evenly. “It is done already. The organism has reached the Bering Straits on one side, and Chicago on the other. It has already sunk its roots through the mantle at Hyderabad, at last report. Whatever is not beneath that thing’s skin will be under volcanic ash within a few days, breathing rust and methane. Either way, it is not something we will have to worry about much longer. Those tentacles aren’t just reaching horizontally.”

“What’s the trajectory?” Rashid asked absently.

“It looks like we’re between the first round of tentacles and the Moon. The other ones are en route to Mars. I imagine once it gets around the equator, it will reach out to Venus, maybe Mercury,” Amit said. “You know, this tea is truly awful.”

“I’ll file a complaint,” Rashid said.

“What is wrong with you people?” Walker squealed. “That thing is eating the whole God-damned planet, and we don’t even know what it is!”

“We have no proof it’s actually consuming anything,” Rashid said, taking the cup back from Amit. “And by the last report from Hyderabad, we know exactly what that thing is. It was apparently dormant in sixth-dimensional space before the University punched a hole through it. Hell, the report said they weren’t even sure the thing had physical form in the traditional sense before we bothered it. Some kind of quantum entity. Strictly conceptual, they said. Like a ghost. Then we bollixed it all by looking at it, and gave it form.”

“I don’t believe that,” Walker said, small child’s voice. “Why would we give that thing the form of a, a, a blob? A planet-killer? A fucking monster? Why not Micky Mouse? Or, or, Jesus Christ? Or Buddha?”

Amit chuckled darkly. “All we know is that it did fill all of sixth dimensional space when the University punctured it.”

“And now it’s going to fill all of ours,” Rashid said softly. Drank the last of his tea, stared at the pulsing red globe that had overtaken the roadmap of his life, and watched the snakelike tentacles reach towards them, each the diameter of his beautiful, dead London. ‘Not long now,’ he thought.

And for the first time in his life, savored the wait.

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