In the Hall of Geological Personifications the assembled periods were arguing, as always. Atomic fire sparkled in the fireplace while lightning buzzed and crackled in the air, which smelt strongly of ozone. Pale light filtered through the arched, narrow windows, though not from any star we know.
The Triassic period, a feisty young female wearing a glossy dress made from green nothosaur hides stitched together with seaweed, rose to her feet. ‘Am I not inimitably wondrous and fine?’ she asked the gathering, one hand on her shapely hip. ‘I created the first dinosaurs, the most spectacular land animals which ever existed. Not to mention lizards, turtles and crocodilians.’
‘What nonsense,’ lisped a watery female voice. The Devonian period stamped her slipper, the same pale blue as her crinoline dress. The Carboniferous chuckled to himself, his white teeth gleaming against his coal-black skin. Both ladies were rivals for his affections.
Just then the Anthropocene shambled into the hall. A cigarette smouldered in his trembling fingers, his grey eyes peered out of dark hollows and his thinning black hair hung lank on the shoulders of his greasy raincoat.
‘Ah, it’s the Anthropocene,’ boomed the Silurian, in his scaled cloak of coral. ‘The youngest of us all. How goes the world in your care?’
The Anthropocene shuddered and coughed, as if he had been tramping hard streets on a frosty winter’s night. ‘Not well,’ he muttered. ‘Not well at all. Why was it my fate to be ruled by a species determined to destroy both me and themselves?’
‘You are a strange era,’ said the Cretaceous, shaking his head. ‘Most of us end through some external agency or accident – continental drift, climatic changes – ’
‘And asteroid strikes,’ said the Eocene, grinning.
‘Yes,’ said the Anthropocene, stamping out his cigarette. ‘I will be the first period to be terminated by its own inhabitants. Ungrateful wretches! At this rate I’ve got five good decades left in me. Then it’s the end of all organic life – as nearly happened to you, Permian.’
The Permian, a thin woman with pale eyes and mousey hair, nodded bleakly before popping two pills into her mouth and swallowing hard.
‘If it’s all too much for you, let me take over,’ said the Technocene strongly. ‘Once the world is under a single machine intelligence, all your problems of pollution and overconsumption will simply fade away.’
‘It’s already too late for that,’ replied the Anthropocene, with a heavy sigh. ‘Unless you want to be a lifeless wasteland, I need a good few decades yet.’
‘You’ll turn it around, Anthropocene,’ said the Holocene, a hearty old fellow with a great sandy beard, jocular face and gleaming bald head. ‘Most of us ended through some external agency, not through things within us. There are ways and means of managing your own creations – ’
‘You don’t understand,’ said the Anthropocene, shaking his head. ‘Humans aren’t giant sloths or flying reptiles but the smartest animals that ever existed. I am unique in being named after my inhabitants and there’s good reason for that. They have transformed me in their image as no other animal could.’
‘Have you ever considered re-educating them?’ asked the pre-Cambrian, a wild-eyed eccentric who painted abstract pictures in his spare time.