SFWRITER.COM > Short Stories > "Forever"
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1997 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
First published in the anthology Return of the Dinosaurs,
edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg (DAW, July 1997).
- North of Infinity II, edited by Mark Leslie, June 2006.
- Honorable Mention, Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction,
Fifteenth Annual Edition
by Robert J. Sawyer
Everything we know about dinosaurs comes from a skewed sample:
the only specimens we have are of animals who happened to die at
locations in which fossilization could occur; for instance, we
have no fossils at all from areas that were mountainous during
Also, for us to find dinosaur fossils, the Mesozoic rocks have
to be re-exposed in the present day assuming, of course, that
the rocks still exist; some have been completely destroyed
through subduction beneath the Earth's crust.
From any specific point in time such as what we believe to
be the final million years of the age of dinosaurs we have at
most only a few hundred square miles of exposed rock to work
with. It's entirely possible that forms of dinosaurs wildly
different from those we're familiar with did exist, and it's also
quite reasonable to suppose that some of these forms persisted
for many millions of years after the end of the Cretaceous.
But, of course, we'll never know for sure.
Jacob Coin, Ph.D.
A.D. 2018 Annual Meeting of the
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
Five planets could be seen with the naked eye: Sunhugger,
Silver, Red, High, and Slow; all five had been known since
ancient times. In the two hundred years since the invention of
the telescope, much had been discovered about them. Tiny
Sunhugger and bright Silver went through phases, just like the
moon did; Red had visible surface features, although exactly what
they were was still open to considerable debate. High was
banded, and had its own coterie of at least four moons, and
Slow Slow was the most beautiful of all, with a thin ring
orbiting around its equator.
Almost a hundred years ago, Ixoor the Scaly had discovered a
sixth planet one that moved around the Sun at a more indolent
pace than even Slow did; Slow took twenty-nine years to make an
orbit, but Ixoor's World took an astonishing eighty-four.
Ixoor's World yes, she had named it after herself, assuring
her immortality. And ever since that discovery, the search had
been on for more planets.
Cholo, an astronomer who lived in the capital city of Beskaltek,
thought he'd found a new planet himself, about ten years ago.
He'd been looking precisely where Raymer's law predicted an
as-yet-undiscovered planet should exist, between the orbits of
Red and High. But it soon became apparent that what Cholo had
found was nothing more than a giant rock, an orbiting island.
Others soon found additional rocks in approximately the same
orbit. That made Cholo more determined than ever to continue
scanning the heavens each night; he'd rather let a meatscooper
swallow him whole than have his only claim to fame be the
discovery of a boulder in space . . .
He searched and searched and searched, hoping to discover a
seventh planet. And, one night, he did find something previously
uncatalogued in the sky. His tail bounced up and down in
delight, and he found himself hissing "Cholo's world" softly over
and over again it had a glorious sound to it.
But, as he continued to plot the object's orbit over many months,
making notes with a claw dipped in ink by the light of a lamp
burning sea-serpent oil, it became clear that it wasn't another
planet at all.
Still, he had surely found his claim to immortality.
Assuming, of course, that anyone would be left alive after the
impact to remember his name.
"You're saying this flying mountain will hit the Earth?" said
Queen Kava, looking down her long green-and-yellow muzzle at
The Queen's office had a huge window overlooking the courtyard.
Cholo's gaze was momentarily distracted by the sight of a large,
furry winger gliding by. He turned back to the queen. "I'm not
completely thirty-six thirty-sixths certain, Your Highness," he
said. "But, yes, I'd say it's highly likely."
Kava's tail, which, like all Shizoo tails, stuck straight out
behind her horizontally held body, was resting on an intricately
carved wooden mount. Her chest, meanwhile, was supported from
beneath by a padded cradle. "And what will happen to the Earth
when this giant rock hits us?"
Cholo was standing freely; no one was allowed to sit in the
presence of the Queen. He tilted his torso backward from the
hips, letting the tip of his stiff tail briefly touch the
polished wooden floor of the throne room. "Doubtless Your
Highness has seen sketches of the moon's surface, as observed
through telescopes. We believe those craters were made by the
impacts of similar minor planets, long ago."
"What if your flying rock hits one of our cities?"
"The city would be completely destroyed, of course," said Cholo.
"Fortunately, Shizoo civilization only covers a tiny part of the
globe. Anyway, odds are that it will impact the ocean. But if
it does hit on land, the chances are minuscule that it will be in
an inhabited area."
The Shizoo lived on an archipelago of equatorial islands.
Although many kinds of small animals existed on the islands, the
greatest beasts wild shieldhorns, meatscoopers, the larger
types of shovelbills were not found here. Whenever the Shizoo
had tried to establish a colony on the mainland, disaster ensued.
Even those who had never ventured from the islands knew of the
damage a lone meatscooper or a marauding pack of terrorclaws
A nictitating membrane passed in front of Kava's golden eyes.
"Then we have nothing to worry about," she said.
"If it hits the land," replied Cholo, "yes, we are probably safe.
But if it hits the ocean, the waves it kicks up may overwhelm our
islands. We have to be prepared for that."
Queen Kava's jaw dropped in astonishment, revealing her curved,
Cholo predicted they had many months before the flying mountain
would crash into the Earth. During that time, the Shizoo built
embankments along the perimeters of their islands. Stones had to
be imported from the mainland Shizoo usually built with wood,
but something stronger would be needed to withstand the waves.
There was much resistance at first. The tiny dot, visible only
in a telescope, seemed so insignificant. How could it pose a
threat to the proud and ancient Shizoo race?
But the dot grew. Eventually, it became visible with the naked
eye. It swelled in size, night after night. On the last night
it was seen, it had grown to rival the apparent diameter of the
Cholo had no way to know for sure when the impact would occur.
Indeed, he harbored a faint hope that the asteroid would
disintegrate and vaporize in the atmosphere he was sure that
friction with the air was what caused shooting stars to streak
across the firmament. But, of course, Cholo's rock was too big
The sound of the asteroid's impact was heard early in the
morning a great thunderclap, off in the distance. But Cholo
knew sound took time to travel it would take three-quarters of
a day for a sound to travel halfway around the world.
Most of the adult population had stayed up, unable to sleep.
When the sound did come, some of the Shizoo hissed in contempt.
A big noise; that was all. Hardly anything to worry about.
Cholo had panicked everyone for no good reason; perhaps his tail
should be cut off in punishment . . .
But within a few days, Cholo was vindicated in the worst
The storms came first great gale-force winds that knocked down
trees and blew apart huts. Cholo had been outdoors when the
first high winds hit; he saw wingers crumple in the sky, and
barely made it to shelter himself, entering a strongly built
A domesticated shieldhorn had been wandering down the same dirt
road Cholo had been on; it dug in its four feet, and tipped its
head back so that its neck shield wouldn't catch the wind. But
five of its babies had been following along behind it, and Cholo
saw them go flying into the air like so many leaves. The
shieldhorn opened her mouth and was doubtless bellowing her
outrage, but not even the cry of a great crested shovelbill would
have been audible over the roar of this storm.
The wind was followed by giant waves, which barreled in toward
the Shizoo islands; just as Cholo had feared, the asteroid had
apparently hit the ocean.
The waves hammered the islands. On Elbar, the embankments gave
way, and most of the population was swept out to sea. Much
damage was done to the other islands, too, but thank the
Eggmother! overall, casualties were surprisingly light.
It was half a month before the seas returned to normal; it was
even longer before the heavens completely cleared. The sunsets
were spectacular, stained red as though a giant meatscooper had
ripped open the bowl of the sky.
"You have done the Shizoo people a great service," said Queen
Kava. "Without your warning, we would all be dead." The monarch
was wearing a golden necklace; it was the only adornment on her
yellowish-gray hide. "I wish to reward you."
Cholo, whose own hide was solid gray, tilted his head backward,
exposing the underside of his neck in supplication. "Your thanks
is reward enough." He paused, then lowered his head.
"However . . ."
Kava clicked the claws on her left hand against those on her
"I wish to go in search of the impact site."
The waves had come from the west. Dekalt the continent the
Shizoo referred to as "the mainland" was to the east. There
was a land mass to the west, as well, but it was more than five
times as far away. Shizoo boats had sailed there from time to
time; fewer than half ever returned. There was no telling how
far away the impact site was, or if there would be anything to
see; the crater might be completely submerged, but Cholo hoped
its rim might stick up above the waves.
Queen Kava flexed her claws in surprise. "We are recovering from
the worst natural disaster in our history, Cholo. I need every
able body here, and every ship for making supply runs to the
mainland." She fell silent, then: "But if this is what you
want . . ."
Kava let air out in a protracted hiss. "It's not really a
suitable reward. Yes, you may have the use of a ship; I won't
deny you that. But while on your voyage, think of what you
really want something lasting, something of value."
"Thank you, Your Highness," said Cholo. "Thank you."
Kava disengaged her tail from the wooden mount, stepped away from
her chest cradle, and walked over to the astronomer, placing the
back of a hand, her claws bent up and away, gently on his
shoulder. "Travel safely, Cholo."
They sailed for almost two months without finding any sign of the
impact site. Cholo had tried to determine the correct heading
based on the apparent direction from which the huge waves had
come, plus his knowledge of the asteroid's path through the sky,
but either he had miscalculated, or the ocean really had covered
over all evidence of the impact. Still, they had come this far;
he figured they might as well push on to the western continent.
The ship deployed its anchor about thirty-six bodylengths from
the shore, and Cholo and two others rowed in aboard a small boat.
The beach was covered with debris obviously washed in by giant
waves mountains of seaweed, millions of shells, coral,
driftwood, several dead sea serpents, and more. Cholo had a hard
time walking over all the material; he almost lost his balance
The scouting party continued on, past the beach. The forest was
charred and blackened a huge fire had raged through here
recently, leaving burnt-out trunks and a thick layer of ash
underfoot. The asteroid would have heated up enormously coming
through the atmosphere; even if it did hit the ocean, the air
temperature might well have risen enough to set vegetation
ablaze. Still, there were already signs of recovery: in a few
places, new shoots were poking up through the ash.
Cholo and his team hiked for thousands of bodylengths. The crew
had been looking forward to being on solid ground again, but
there was no joy in their footsteps, no jaunty bouncing of tails;
this burned-out landscape was oppressive.
Finally, they came to a river; its waters had apparently held
back the expanding fire. On the opposite side, Cholo could see
trees and fields of flowers. He looked at Garsk, the captain of
the sailing ship. Garsk bobbed from her hips in agreement. The
river was wide, but not raging. Cholo, Garsk, and three others
entered its waters, their tails undulating from side to side,
their legs and arms paddling until they reached the opposite
As Cholo clambered up the river's far bank and out onto dry land,
he startled a small animal that had been lurking in the
It was a tiny mammal, a disgusting ball of fur.
Cholo had grown sick of sea serpent and fish on the long voyage;
he was hoping to find something worth killing, something worth
After about a twelfth of a day spent exploring, Cholo came across
a giant shieldhorn skull protruding from the ground. At first he
thought it was a victim of the recent catastrophe, but closer
examination revealed the skull was ancient hundreds, if not
thousands, of years old. Shizoo legend said that long ago great
herds of shieldhorns had roamed this continent, their footfalls
like thunder, their facial spears glaring in the sunlight, but no
one in living memory had seen such a herd; the numbers had long
Cholo and Garsk continued to search.
They saw small mammals.
They saw birds.
But nowhere did they see any greater beasts. At least, none that
were still alive.
At one point, Cholo discovered the body of a meatscooper. From
its warty snout to the tip of its tail, it measured more than
four times as long as Cholo himself. When he approached the
body, birds lifted into the air from it, and clouds of insects
briefly dispersed. The stench of rotting meat was overpowering;
the giant had been dead for a month or more. And yet there were
hundreds of stoneweights worth of flesh still on the bones. If
there had been any mid-sized scavengers left alive in the area,
they would have long since picked the skeleton clean.
"So much death," said Garsk, her voice full of sadness.
Cholo bobbed in agreement, contemplating his own mortality.
Months later, Cholo at last returned to Queen Kava's chambers.
"And you found no great beasts at all?" said the Queen.
"But there are lots of them left on the mainland," said Kava.
"While you were away, countless trips were made there to find
wood and supplies to repair our cities."
"'Lots' is a relative term, Your Highness. If the legends are to
believed not to mention the fossil record great beasts of
all types were much more plentiful long ago. Their numbers have
been thinning for some time. Perhaps, on the eastern continent,
the aftermath of the asteroid was the gizzard stone that burst
the thunderbeast's belly, finishing them off."
"Even the great may fall," said the Queen.
Cholo was quiet for a time, his own nictitating membranes dancing
up and down. Finally, he spoke: "Queen Kava, before I left, you
promised me another reward whatever I wanted for saving the
"I did, yes."
"Well, I've decided what I'd like . . ."
The unveiling took place at noon six months later, in the large
square outside the palace. The artist was Jozaza the same
Jozaza who had assured her own immortality through her stunning
frieze on the palace wall depicting the Eggmother's six hunts.
Only a small crowd gathered for the ceremony, but that didn't
bother Cholo. This wasn't for today it was for the ages. It
was for immortality.
Queen Kava herself made a short speech there were many reasons
why Kava was popular, and her brevity was certainly one of them.
Then Jozaza came forward. As she turned around to face the
audience, her tail swept through a wide arc. She made a much
longer speech; Cholo was growing restless, hopping from foot to
Finally the moment came. Jozaza bobbed her torso at four of her
assistants. They each took hold of part of the giant leather
sheet, and, on the count of three, they pulled it aside,
revealing the statue.
It was made of white marble veined with gold that glistened in
the sunlight. The statue was almost five times life size,
rivaling the biggest meatscooper's length. The resemblance to
Cholo was uncanny it was him down to the very life; no one
could mistake it for anyone else. Still, to assure that the
statue fulfilled its purpose for generations to come, Cholo's
name was carved into its base, along with a description of what
he'd done for the Shizoo people.
Cholo stared up at the giant sculpture; the white stone was
almost painfully bright in the glare of the sun.
A statue in his honor a statue bigger than any other anywhere
in the world. His nictitating membranes danced up and down.
He would be remembered. Not just now, not just tomorrow.
He would be remembered for all time. A million years from now
nay, a hundred million hence, the Shizoo people would still know
his name, still recall his deeds.
He would be remembered forever.
• The End •
If you enjoyed this short story by Hugo and Nebula Award-winning
science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, how about giving one of his
bestselling novels a try? The opening chapters of each of them are
right here at
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