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You Just Need to Know Where to Look

Pushcart Nominee 2022

     He sat down in front of his computer terminal and slid a stack of hard drives off to the side before setting a banana and a fresh mug of hot coffee down in their place. After taking a sip, he sighed contentedly and gazed out the window to his left. It was a clear, cool night outside the observatory. Perfect conditions. He turned his attention to the small desktop terrarium that sat just to the left of the monitor. “Good evening, Molly,” he said, tapping on the glass with a pen, “where are we looking tonight?”

     From underneath a broken piece of terracotta pottery crawled a beetle. Her mandibles chittered as her dark, iridescent carapace shimmered like a cosmic oil slick under the overhead light. With her antennae erect, she began spinning in a slow circle and clicking her wings together over her back in short, deliberate bursts. He scrawled the pattern out on a yellow legal pad and then fed this string of information into the self-written decryption program he kept tucked away in a password protected folder buried deep on his hard drive. Soon enough, he had a set of stellar coordinates. When Molly finished, he peeled the banana and broke off a chunk into her terrarium. She made a grateful chittering noise and began munching away.

     He set his pen down and leaned back in his chair, taking another sip of coffee as he admired the framed awards proudly mounted on the walls around his office. The Hawkings Award for Habitable World Discovery of the Year, two Tyson Recognitions— one for Outstanding Achievement in Astrophotography, the other for Significant Contributions To Our Understanding of Dark Energy—and a dozen more of equal prestige. He was often called ‘History’s Greatest Astronomer,’ a title he embraced even though he was merely a conduit. Anything important he had ever done was solely because of her. Of course, that was a secret he would be taking to his grave.

     “I love you, Molly,” he whispered and then went to ready the telescope.

Hayden Waller is an evolutionary biologist by day and speculative fiction writer by night. He grew up in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho and currently resides in Hørsholm, Denmark where he works as the Associate Editor of the American Genetics Association Blog and writes stories when the world spins too fast.

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