Few roads led to this remote
village. The bus navigated the hills by
following a dry river bed. Before even
seeing the crater, I knew when we had arrived.
Not only did a score of tents and trucks bear witness to the event, but
a noxious odor had permeated the landing site.
At the center of the heavenly
visitor’s footprint, the impact of the disintegrated particles formed a minor
dimple in the earth, at least thirteen meters in diameter. The resulting airburst caused collateral
damage, a circle of bare soil which stretched on for perhaps a kilometer.
I overheard chatter between our
interpreter and the indigenous population telling bizarre stories of foreigners
arriving to collect rocks, soil samples, and things less lucrative than
artifacts one might normally loot.
As I walked to the edge of the crater, I felt a warm spot
behind my eyes, a swelling of background knowledge before the burst of
realization, a bright point in the overwhelming void. Around the mud rim I saw others surveying the
damage, but one man captured me with his austere face.
The man returned my wide-eyed look with a smile. He seemed to recognize me despite my bristly
beard, ragged hair and local attire. He
yelled, “Proteus?! My dear old boy, what
pleasant fate brings you this way?”
“You’re mistaken,” I said.
On hearing my voice, he examined me again, squinting his
eyes. “I apologize. I thought you were …”
“No. But I know
him. Who is he to you?”
His eyes opened. “He
… he once called me a mentor turned misfit.”
I instantly knew and confessed my awareness. “Ah, Mithras.
My brother described you precisely.”
Mithras had recruited my brother because of his obvious
talents, but as they both interfered with the schemes of secret societies, they
mutually agreed to part ways. Mithras started his own biomedical research
facility in Singapore. Proteus obeyed his wanderlust and
serendipitously discovered a lost Hopi artifact to hasten the beginning of the
Mithras answered, “So, you must be Cyrus, a near double of
my friend Proteus. You didn’t answer my
question. What brings you here?”
“This impact, obviously.”
“Yes, is it not marvelous?
The meteorite was mostly stone, chondrite. You can see remnants everywhere. The smell you notice is from the arsenic in
the soil, released after the heat from the impact boiled the groundwater. Don’t worry, although the locals became sick
earlier on, it’s not at dangerous levels anymore. My team has already gathered samples, so
there is no reason to collect anything.
I came back here just to, ah, well, outside the impediments of official
business, ah, walk in the fingerprints of God.”
I smiled. “I’m sure
Proteus enjoyed your poetic metaphors.
But samples? When did you stop
working on viruses and begin venturing into astrophysics?”
“I haven’t. Research
into viruses has led me here. Where do
you think these things came from?”
My left eye twitched.
“Ah, what a poor poker face.
You don’t have to pretend that you haven’t stumbled upon the same
theory. Scientists, for decades, have
tried to recreate the so-called primordial soup—the basic elements of life:
water, carbon, electricity. They have
failed in every aspect. They cannot even
manufacture simple nuclear proteins, yet they expect us to believe that it came
“No, my friend, the catalyst for life on earth came from
above. Meteorites from Mars, asteroids,
even comets from beyond the Oort Cloud, brought the basic elements of life here—hydrocarbons
that synthesized to form the first amino acids.
Come back to my lab. We can
discuss it there.”
“I can’t. Proteus. I’m here to find him. He’s lost.”
“Lost? I think
not. He will return when he finishes his
“Is there a finish to the mission?”
“Rarely. He used to
say there are no ends, only beginnings.”
Mithras nodded. “Like
the beginning of a new research project to gather data on this chondrite
meteorite. I’m anticipating that I’ll have
to arrange for funding. Come back to my
lab. You’ll be glad you did.”
I hesitated. He held
out his hand to shake. “To Destiny. There’s no sense in averting this adventure
that Proteus brought you into.”
We matched hands on that.
As we walked to his Jeep Wrangler, he discussed more
possibilities. “The locals say that a
man dressed in American clothing has been looting the site, taking impact
fragments. Could be our Proteus, no?”