Dust Bunnies

Dust Bunnies was the featured story for March 2020 on Anotherealm.com.


“Grandpa Jack, Mom said you saved the world. Is that true?” Grace, his youngest grandchild was now eight, old enough to be curious, maybe even to understand. He sat back in his chair and she sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him.

“Not by myself,” Jack said. “I had help.”

The little one screwed up her face in confusion.

“It happened a long time ago,” he said. “Do you know about dust bunnies?”

“Those things that collect under my bed when I don’t run the vacuum cleaner in my room?”

“These dust bunnies are different. These are in space. Let me show you a picture.”

Jack pulled out his data store and showed her a picture, a white puffball like the head of a dandelion gone to seed against a background of pure black. Loops and whorls of white strands surrounded the core.

“It is a dust bunny!” Gracie exclaimed.

“It looks like one,” Jack said. “But it’s different. Remember the constellations we saw at the planetarium last week?”

Gracie nodded with a smile. It had been one of her favorite outings.

“Gracie, people used to think the constellations you saw at the planetarium were magical things in the sky. Gods, heroes, magic animals, anything they didn’t understand.”

“They’re not, are they?”

“No, sweetie, they’re not. They look like those things, but they’re really stars and planets and galaxies. A whole universe. There are even things we can’t see that are there anyway.”

“Our teacher told us we don’t understand dark matter. Is that what you mean?”

“Yes. We knew about a lot of things we couldn’t see. Only we never knew about the dust bunnies. But they knew about us.”

“How did they know?”

“They saw us in space. They knew when we built factories in space to make things out of asteroids. They saw us when we went to Mars and built the city there.”

“Grandpa, didn’t you help build Tharsis City?”

“I met your grandmother there. She and I flew out beyond Jupiter to find water for Mars. The bunnies saw us there, too.”

“Grandpa, why didn’t they visit us?”

“They didn’t know what we were. They’re not like us at all.”

“How did we find out about them?”

“Have you heard of Phaethon?”

“Our teacher told us it was a colony ship that went to Proxima Centauri,” she replied. “Uh, Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to the sun, isn’t it Grandpa?”

He settled his sore knee into a more comfortable position. “That’s right, Gracie. We first found out about dust bunnies when Phaethon flew though the Oort Cloud.”

“Where the comets come from?”

“Clever girl, Gracie. Yes, they lived among the comets.”

“But they’re not comets, are they?”

“No, sweetie, they’re not. They evolved while the solar system was still being formed.”

“We learned about the solar system this year,” Grace said with a proud smile.

“So you know the solar system started out as a dust cloud.”

She nodded.

“The bunnies started out as clumps of dust way out at the edges of the cloud. Most of the dust turned into rocks that ended up diving toward the sun. When those rocks banged into each other they made the planets.”

“Most of it?”

“You are bright, Grace. Some stayed out in the Oort Cloud. Instead of rocks, they stayed fluffy since it’s so cold out there. Those fluffy ones evolved into dust bunnies.”

“So they weren’t just rocks?”

“They were just puffballs of dust at first. But they started eating carbon and water.”

“That’s what we’re made of.”

“Right. After a long time they got complicated, like bacteria.”

“Like the ones that make us sick?”

“A little, but dust bunnies can’t live here on Earth. After a billion more years they became intelligent.”

“Like us?”

“As smart as us, Gracie, but not like us. When Phaethon went through the Oort cloud, it killed a lot of dust bunnies. The colonists didn’t even know they were alive. But the bunnies were angry. They decided to pay us back.”

“How did they know where we came from?”

“The first space probe we sent out was Voyager. The bunnies saw it go through the cloud. They knew about tracking things in the cloud. They traced its path back to Earth. They didn’t understand us, so they started to study us.”

“We’ve already got lots of dust bunnies here. Especially when I forget my chores. They aren’t dangerous.”

“The dust bunnies in the Oort Cloud know about how to move things. They sent an asteroid to hit Earth.”

“Was that right after Phaethon left?”

“No. Bunnies take a long time to do anything. The asteroid got here a hundred years after Phaethon. We’d mostly forgotten about them.”

“Why did it miss Earth?”

“I was in the Asteroid Patrol then. We saw it coming and my ship nudged it into the sun. But when we saw a bunch of other asteroids following it, we did what the bunnies did. We tracked it back to where it came from.”

“Did you find the bunnies then?”

“We did.”

“What did you do?”

“We got smart. Nobody knew what the dust bunnies were, but some scientists had been studying the Oort Cloud and the records Phaethon sent back. The scientists figured out who the bunnies were. I was on the mission that went to meet them.”

“What did you do? Kill them?”

Jack chuckled. “Fortunately, no. Remember when the Ramirez family, moved in next door?”

“Sure,” Grace smiled. “Jessica is my best friend.”

“We brought them some of the biscuits I make.”

“They really liked them.” Grace remembered.

“Well, we brought the bunnies food. We brought their favorite flavor of light.”

“Grandpa, light doesn’t have flavors!” Grace said, arms akimbo in mock indignation.

“The dust bunnies eat light like we eat food. Their favorite flavor is green. We brought a bright light on our ship and fed them. It took a long time. We had to keep several more asteroids from hitting Earth, but we learned how to talk to them.”

“How do you do that?” Grace wanted to know.

“We talk to them with flashing lights.”

“What did we say?”

“We just said we’re friends.”

“Like Grandpa Ramirez is your friend?”

“Kind of. I don’t know if we and the bunnies have much in common, but we have a lot to learn from each other.”

“Like not trying to kill each other?”

“Exactly like that, Grace. Maybe someday you’ll be friends with a dust bunny.”

“I hope so.”