I have 17 minutes left. You know, until the world ends.
The second hand on the clock by my desk moves silently, but I like the ticking sound, so I made one up in my head.
Tick tick tick.
I closed my eyes, counted the ticks in my head. And waited. They say, when our ancestors left the earth, that millions of people turned out to watch the launch. The ship, even in orbit, was large enough to dominate the night sky. It was a star brighter than any object visible aside from the moon. Thousands of colonists were there, entering into coldsleep. The best and brightest, each chosen for their skills, knowledge, attitude and health.
When those fusion torches fired up, the earthside lit up like the noonday sun.
Whatever, I’m not sure I believe any of it. It all sounds too… fairy tale-ish. I liked imagining what it would be like though, looking out a window at the earth tumbling far below, and seeing a whole city’s worth of people with lights held up to wish you well on your journey to the stars.
I might have slept. Because I glanced at the clock and there were only 12 minutes left. It didn’t seem that long. Just a blink really, but five minutes disappeared.
The room was dark, aside from the wall clock with the silent second hands and the tree in the corner. The bioluminescent fronds made itglow in greens and blues. Quite beautiful. That the silvery sap collected at the ends of the branches and solidified before they can drip down to the ground below, well, that was the kicker.
The trees were a Christmas miracle. A whole world, covered from pole to pole, with the most beautiful trees imaginable. Nothing else larger than a pinky nail appeared to live here. Not plant, animal, or structure of any type. Just a world of Christmas trees.
Tick tick tick.
When the colony ship arrived in orbit it had been traveling for nearly a thousand years. Things had gone to hell en route, and all the foodstuffs meant to keep everyone alive upon arrival we gone. We were barely holding on. Well, my parents were anyway. I was born here. After the arrival. I was the first local baby. They called me Nikki. You know, for Saint Nicholas.
We arrived, or my parents did, and were forced to ‘live off the land.’ It was a scary time, and the colonists found forests full of these beautiful trees, decorated and waiting for people to come find them.
That was 13 years ago. We survived. In case you were wondering. The seed stocks took, the ground was filled with local biota that earth plants mostly ignored – and vice versa. We showed up near death, on the brink of cannibalism and madness. And found our salvation.
Four minutes. Tick tick tick.
To add one more thing to the mix, we’d made landfall a week before Christmas, ship-time.
The holiday immediately became much more popular. The trees were chopped and moved into people’s new prefabbed homes. The sap balls that looked like ornaments and the glowing needles that were just like lights.
Then, a week later, the Nguyen family came home and found the inside of their home destroyed. The place looked like a machine had exploded, the plaster and wood from the interior were splintered into pieces barely large enough to give a person a splinter.
Amy, their youngest, was in there somewhere. A laughing, crying, playful little girl one minute. And minced into organic matter so fine the next, that it took a few days to realize she wasn’t missing, she’d been mulched.
A few days later, it happened again with the Rodriguez family, they all died. All 5 of them.
Half the colony was dead before anyone figured it out. They were looking for a murderous kid with a chemistry set. But that wasn’t it at all.
It was the trees.
The sap wasn’t sap, it was a sac of spores. When the tree begins to die, it pumps all of its remaining life into those sacks that dangle like silver bulbs from their glowing fronds. Some alien chemistry experiment goes on in there.
Then boom. Spores for everyone. They don’t release them into the wind, or depend on a wild animal to pick one up and carry it. They shoot the damn things out, like filaments fired from a grenade. They rip through wood, flesh, bone, even metal. The spores themselves are harder than diamond, they have to be, to survive the fiery blast from their birth.
Maybe its best to describe them as bits of glass and metal, they slice apart anything they touch, another evolutionary advantage in a world overrun with these things. On earth, trees would grow taller, reach for the sunlight with and block all the things underneath in a shadow that chokes them out.
Here though, in Grinch’s World, they just blow the shit out of each other, best guess, once every 18 years or so, give or take.
They kill everything that walks on land. Flies through the air, or breaths the air. Best guess is that there are approximately 120,000 of these things for every square mile of land on the planet.
There is no place to hide.
When they all go, it’ll be like a nuclear winter out there, for the survivors, if there are any. Food crops will be ruined, all we’ve worked for for the past dozen years will be ruined. Sure, we can survive the hell week when the things all go crazy and start exploding, probably, but that’s just the beginning.
Any survivors will starve, turn on each other. That’s when the real nightmare will begin. These Christmas trees are made of alien wood. It’s less nutritious for us than regular earth wood would be.
And that’s all that’s here. Anywhere.
Time’s up. I look at the wall clock, seconds tick by. One, two, three.
I held my breath. Nothing. I looked away from the clock, towards the tree in the corner. The fronds were glowing, as were the ornaments, well, spore sacks. I’d never seen that before. It was hypnotic.
The colors danced inside the spheres, I couldn’t resist. It was hypnotic. I left my place by the desk to get a closer look. It called to me, this tree did. It begged for my help.
“I’m here,” I said, “I’m right—“
There was a flash, then darkness.