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The Anniversary
by Michael S. Collins

"Tomorrow this section will reopen to the public."

"That's brilliant!"

"It is. Sad to say, but too many of our fellows have no interest in our predecessors."

"How’s it possible? I mean, surely nobody could fail to be excited by prehistoric creatures?"

"You'd think that. But few are interested in history. These creatures existed so long ago. We just didn’t have the local interest in the specimens. Until recently anyhow, hence the reopening."

The youngster was incredulous, but seeing the look on the face of the curator decided to change tack swiftly.

"How long has the Museum been open?" he said.

The curator thought. "Well, let’s see", he said, "Longer than you or me. Probably for a century now. We’ve been discovering the fossils for two centuries now!"

"Two hundred years! That’s amazing."

"It is. And our knowledge has improved so much since. Did you know, for example, that my predecessors used to believe that these creatures had been bipedal?"

"You can’t be serious."

"They did", said the curator smiling, "But then we got things wrong all the time in those days. Take a look at that skeleton, at those forelegs. Strong fibula. Useless if not for supporting the creature’s body! The forefeet are flexible, which must have been in aid of finding direction. But not to worry, we all make mistakes. One of our most imminent predecessors placed that big digit on the forefoot in that facial cavity!"

"Paleontology is full of trial and error though, isn’t it?"


"It’s such a lovely creature", said the student.

"It is." The curator sighed. "We are almost positive they must have been extremely advanced by the standards of most animals we see today. Look at the cranium space. Think of that brain. Intelligence, they had intelligence, I’m sure of it. We find few examples of their society, but we can place their extinction at roughly sixty seven million years ago."

"Such a long time ago."

"Yes it was, and they seemingly disappeared almost overnight."

The student read the name plaque. "Smithsonian", he read aloud.

"We are finding Smithsonians all over this planet. They seem to have colonized the entire planet at their peak."

"How did they die out?"

"There are many theories. Some think an asteroid collided with the planet and blocked out the stars rays, causing everyone to freeze. Terrestrial iridium! Others think the race simply died of old age. There are clues in the sedimentary rock formations though. About sixty seven million years ago, there is a massive black line in the rock bed. You know what that means."

"Nuclear reaction?"

"Very large nuclear reaction. Nearly cracked open the planet. Must have been hell. And the Smithsonians died out. All of them."

"The fall of the Smithsonians."

"Quite. Now, would you look at the time. We need to lock up!"

" It was just interesting, reminiscing. I bet you it was some shock to our predecessors to learn we were not the first race to colonize this planet. "

"It was, as I recall. Still, we do find some useful things these days. Did you know the creatures had a writing system?"

The curator flicked off the lights. 

"They didn't!"

"Oh yes they did. Mostly illegible, but we managed to get some information. The name Smithsonian was prominent, so we guessed that was the name of the creatures. And there was one other very interesting piece of information found."

"What was that?"

"This planet. Apparently many millions of years ago it used to go by the name of Masse."