The Deinonychus Empress sat on the heat-rock of her favourite city-view balcony. Her attendants strung beads of gold and asteroid pebbles around her body and installed fake feathers to hide how much her coat had moulted. There wasn’t actually much of the city visible from this balcony. Instead, the grounds of the palace stretched on forever, teeming with pristine oasis gardens and magnificent stone buildings in various stages of renovation. From here, she could see her two pet tyrannosaurus shredding tenontosaurus carcasses. Unlike previous rulers, she had done little to expand the palace. Instead her legacy could be seen beyond the walls, in the glistening skyscrapers the parted the clouds. In the flocks of flying cars that streaked across the reds and purples of sunrise. In the thin cable of the space elevator that she imagined she could just make out.
Her make-up groom blocked her view of the greatest city in Deinonychus history. The groom opened her box of tweezers and brushes and begun preening the Empress’s face. She also glued tiny diamonds to her feathers. Her assistants were doing the same thing with Empress’s tail. The result would make her look as if she thought nothing about walking to the temple after throwing a 50 million credit bucket of diamonds all over herself. She didn’t snap at the groom. She’d only abdicate once after all, so she needed to look perfect. But she did wish the groom wouldn’t block the view. This would, after all, be the last sunrise she saw for 65 million years.
As the Empress was dressed in her full royal regalia, she was briefed by her Housemaster. It was strange to think that this was the last time she would do either of these things.
“The morganucodon infestation problem in the kitchens is just getting worse” The Housemaster said. “The exterminator says they’re getting smarter.”
The Empress snarled just enough to make the make-up groom jerk her tweezers away.
“Are you really going to waste my last briefing with an update on the palace’s pests?” Empress asked. “Do you think a morgie infestation will be relevant for my journey?”
There was a pause as the Housemaster crouched down and spread his wings. As he rose from the ritualistic gesture of contrition, she glanced his way and saw the genuine sadness on his face.
“I apologise Your Grace” he said. “I just, I wish I could keep this briefing going forever.”
“I understand” Empress said, soft enough to make her attendants pause in surprise. “You’ve been a source of great joy and comfort throughout my reign. I’ll miss you.”
He dropped to the ground again, spreading his wings in the same gesture.
“I am honoured, Your Grace. If I may be so honest though, I worry that very little will be relevant to you so far in the future.”
“Do not fear that my dear” Empress said. “This palace and it’s people have stood for a thousand years without so much as a single lightbulb. With all the technology I sponsored and provided, do you imagine this empire can ever fall? I have given our descendent all of space, and after today, all of time. Even death may soon be defeated. The doctor said that when he diagnosed my illness. You need not doubt our empire.”
“Of course, Your Grace. It is a long time though. And you will need specialised care still.”
“They should remember the date of my arrival. I am more concerned with the present. Are you ready for my grandson to become Emperor?”
“As ready as I can be, Your Grace. I have even had cause to reassure him already.”
Her reply was delayed by the arrival of the dentist. She had debated with her son weather to wear her normal dentures, or the diamond topped baby tyrannosaurus teeth she had received as a gift from one of the more eccentric high lords. They had reached a compromise and added a golden canine to her regular dentures.
Once the dentist left, she asked the Housemaster to continue.
“One of his friends had gotten into his head Your Grace” Housemaster explained. “He was worried that with how different life on Earth was 65 million years ago, that when you went forward in time 65 million years you’d find the world unrecognisable. I gave him the report from the science committee about how technology halts natural selection. I went through the most relevant passages with him.”
“Thank you” Empress said. “I are warmed to know he is in good claws.”
“Your words honour me, Your Grace. Please be safe once you are sent to the future. I tremble at the thought of anything bad happening to you once you leave us.”
“I’ll die soon weather I stay or go. We both know that. This way everyone gets what they need. The science committee will know if the time machine works, and I’ll know what happens to my empire. I just wish they could send me all the way to the end of the Earth. 65 million years isn’t that long on a cosmological scale. Tell me more about the plans for this power outage I’ll be causing.”
The Housemaster continued talking about the logistics of the day and the days beyond. Days she wouldn’t see. Then he asked her to consider what her lack of a funeral would do to the religious feelings of the people. She focused on the horn the make-up groom was inserting through the stretched piercing on the bridge of her snout. Traditionally, the horns in royal piercings were taken from baby herbivores, but as her reign began to be associated with technological progress, she had switched to a sleek, white metal barbell.
“My absence from the heavens will cause issues” Empress admitted. “The priesthood has assured me that my status as an undead Empress who will one day return shall inspire the faithful like never before. Of course, I am not taking this journey purely for my own greatness, but I do admit I look forward to stepping into the future and seeing how much our descendants have been anticipating my return.”
With that, the Housemaster ran out of things to brief her on. He handed her the gauntlet that contained her electronic internet device and its holographic projector. No previous Ruler had dared been seen with ‘modern’ technology, but she changed that. The technological greatness of her empire was her legacy; of course her last public appearance would feature the latest, most high-tec smart device.
Once her device was secured, the Housemaster bowed to her. She reached out and touched his head as lightly as she could. How many people had she touched during her life? How many would continue to be touched by her legend after today?
She stood up for the next pieces of her costume; greaves that weighed down her sore feet with large metal blades covering her sickle-toe. Once dressed she said her goodbyes to the staff and let her security escort her to the flying car. Once at the car, another guard appeared with a briefcase chained to his wrist. The security team opened the case to present her with the final pieces of her ensemble. Six rings were in the case, each with rocks from other worlds. Two rings with moon rocks, two with stones from Mars, and on her middle claws were two pebbles retrieved from the hellish surface of Venus. The Venus rocks were so rare that there had been controversy about her taking them with her to the future. Her grandson had insisted she take them just in case something went wrong and there were people in the future that doubted she was the returned Empress.
The journey through the sky to the temple was uneventful, but Empress was transfixed regardless. Looking at the flocks of drones and the giant neon signs scattered amongst the impossible glass towers, she couldn’t help but wonder. What would the people of the future think of her city? What would they think of her? She imagined they would see her as a pioneer and her reign as the beginning of a golden age, but 65 million years was such a long time.
Those same questions ran through her mind as she entered the temple. She walked down the aisle of the wide, marble chamber, surrounded by the aristocracy and the media. She stood before her throne with the High Priest. There was an entire shuttle behind the throne. Previously there had been a mural depicting the first Empress leading her people to the heavens on a path of stars, but once she had actually sent her people to the heavens, she felt justified in having it replaced.
Would her future empire be so far advanced that they saw her achievements as primitive? Would she be overshadowed? She hadn’t really let herself consider the possibility before, and throughout her Grandson’s coronation her self-importance and her desire to see her empire grow were in conflict.
She was so distracted that it came as a surprise when her Grandson was proclaimed Emperor. It was done; her reign was over. It was time to go to the future and discover her legacy. The idea terrified her now. She snapped out of it long enough to nuzzle her Grandson before being led away by a priest. She was taken to a massive chamber beneath the temple, where the scientists had set up the time machine. There had once been an underground city down here, back when her people were too weak to defend a city on the surface. A metal ring three stories high had been installed against a ruined stone wall. She was led through the maze of computers and crumbling statues. She remained composed and answered questions, but everything said to her was immediately forgotten. She was going to go through the gate.
Soon she stood before the ring.
The gate was glowing.
Bolts of electricity met in the centre of the ring. A coating of blue plasma and energy formed in the air between the ring and the wall. Now she couldn’t see the wall beyond. The time gate was filling up with this strange energy. As she watched it turned from lightning to plasma to an ethereal static. Someone handed her a duffle bag and asked if she was ready to go.
Go through the gate.
Step forward 65 million years.
See her legacy.
See the completion of the empire she had built. See what her children had done with the gifts she had provided them. See if anyone else in history could ever measure up to what she had become.
“I’m ready to go” She said.
The countdown started.
Six, Five, Four,
She moved closer to the gate. It was all mystical blue and grey static now. Her real feathers puffed out.
She’d had the longest reign in her empire’s history. Now she would truly be immortal.
65 million years would pass with a single step.
She stepped through the gate.
She stepped out.
Onto a quiet beach.
It was sunset, and all she heard were the lapping waves and the buzzing of insects. She looked behind her. No time gate, no ruined underground city. Just a few wooden houses and simple fences beyond the dunes. A few thin boats littered the beach. There were a few feathery flying creatures, but there was something off about them.
There was no-one waiting for her. No sign of her people at all.
No towers reaching for the sky, no space elevator, no flying cars. The skyline was empty.
She looked up and saw the moon. It seemed further away, and the surface more cracked. For a second, she imagined a meteorite hitting the moon colony and turning the site into a crater. How much could be wiped away in 65 million years?
Where was her empire?
What had happened to those flying creature’s snouts? And where were their tails?
She took a step towards the houses. She could barely move in the sand, so she kicked off the greaves. She walked toward the house, trying to work out why the dimensions felt so wrong. So uncomfortably narrow. She stopped when she saw the thing on the porch.
No; way too big. It lacked the timidity of the vermin, but she couldn’t think of any other creature with so much fur. It was looking at her with predatory eyes. She took a step forward, terrified of this strange creature despite how small it was. Terrified by what it implied about this future. It hissed at her, revealing little fangs. She was frozen now as it stood up, the fur on its back and tail puffed up. She could rip this hissing morgie-descendent to pieces in an instant, but she was so afraid she could barely look at it.
When did the morgies get so big?
“Bark! Bark!” boomed down the beach. She whipped her head around and saw another morgie. It was huge with shaggy fur bouncing as it ran. It ran across the beach; it didn’t scurry and hide like the morgies of her time. This creature had no fear. It stopped just out of her reach and jumped around, crouching and growling between its loud barks. She backed away. She dropped her bag and raised the device on her arm. She had a crazy urge to call the Housemaster and offer him half the empire’s defence budget to fix the morgie infestation.
Then she saw the creatures behind the barker.
She froze and let out a hiss of her own. Big morgies had been terrifying enough, but these horrific creatures were worse. They stood straight up as they walked, without a tail for balance. One was tall and one short, and neither one had fur or scales or feathers, except for a patch of fur on the tops of their heads. They had flat faces with dumb round-pupiled eyes. They looked like nothing that could naturally exist in any ecosystem. No horror writer could describe creatures this unsettling.
The worst part of these mutated long morgies was that they were wearing clothes. These unimaginable horrors were intelligent enough to make things. To care how they looked. She glanced back to the house where the hissing morgie had been. The weird proportions made sense now; her empire had been replaced by a village of these things.
The taller morgie person had seen her. It was shouting and shielding the smaller one behind it. Its mouth was completely disconnected from the small fleshy stump she assumed served as a nose. Why would anything evolve a split snout? Its mouth was a gaping hole in its face, stretching into contorted shapes surrounded by flapping lips as it screamed. The sight was disgusting.
She tore her gaze away from that horrific mouth, and then saw something that made her heart skip a beat. The garment covering the big morgie-person’s chest had an imagine on it. A black tyrannosaurus skeleton against a red circle. Did the tyrannosaurus cult still exist? But why would they depict a dead tyrannosaurus?
The smaller morgie-person stepped away from the bigger one. Maybe it was a curious child. The adult wrangled it back to safety, but she saw the design on its clothes too. There was a crudely drawn green creature that could be a tyrannosaurus, next to what could only be a brachiosaurus. Why would they depict a tyrannosaur next to such an ancient creature?
Unless they didn’t understand how her world and the creatures in it really lived.
Unless her empire had been completely forgotten.
Unless everything had been forgotten.
She hadn’t been remembered after all.
There had been talks before she left. Ever since the doctor had confirmed she wasn’t long for this world, she’d wondered about her legacy. Ever since she volunteered to test the time gate, she’d imagined worst case scenarios.
None had been this bad.
She had been incapable of imagining a world where everything she had built was so utterly lost. The city of impossible towers, the flocks of drones and flying cars, the tyrannosaurus and the space shuttle. All gone? Without a single person to remember and mourn? She felt a pain on her arm and realised she had been clawing out her feathers. She’d pulled some real ones out and drawn blood.
The adult morgie-person had an electronic device. It didn’t look too dissimilar to some of the cheap ones back in her empire. The contrast between the familiar and the fungus-like ear the device was being held against enraged Empress. What were these creatures and why did they get to survive when her empire couldn’t? Why couldn’t they at least remember her?
She crouched down and buried her face in her surviving arm feathers. She nuzzled her electronic device, the realisation that it would never call anyone she knew hurting more than she had expected.
Her final days would be spent with impossible people who didn’t remembered her at all.
She threw back her arms and lifted her head to the sky. She screamed at the setting sun.