Tessa and her mom and dad were just walking back from having a proper picnic on the hillside near their home when they found a message in a bottle.
Two of them, actually.
The smaller bottle had Tessa’s name on it. She pulled out the cork and some papers that were inside.
The first one, no bigger than a notecard, was written in a careful hand. Tessa read it out loud.
“A little birdie told us to give this to you.”
The second piece of paper, a longer, wider, thicker one, had long words in big golden letters. Too long for Tessa to read, even though she was a good reader for her age. She would be 6 and a half in another year and a half.
Her mom read it out loud for her.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
In the bigger bottle, the bottle with the names of Tessa’s parents on it, was a sheet of paper with a lot more words.
“Congratulations,” it began. “We are delighted to present this award to Tessa. We are not allowed to say what the award is for, nor who will give it to her, only that she will be well worthy of it. Sadly, she will not be honored until after the two of you are long gone. But we wanted you to be proud of her just the same.”
“How do we know all this? Let us introduce ourselves and explain. We are the Secret Order of Seers, Oracles and Soothsayers. We know the future, to a point. We do not presume to speak for the stars, nor can we claim to know where the planets may go in their courses. What we can divine are the deeds of mankind, from all the many choices we make here on this earth. We have seen the sign -- the tealed eagle soaring at sunset, alone. It tells us that Tessa’s journey will be a remarkable one. And it is with this knowledge that we honor her.”
Tessa’s mom and dad looked at each other, and then at their daughter.
“What was in your bottle, daddy?” she asked.
“The same thing, Tessa.”
“About a little birdie?”
“But what does it mean, mommy?”
“It means you are very, very special.”
“Do you think so, too?”
And not at that very moment, but soon enough, in a most distant part of space, a comet slipped its orbit ‘round a dying star and began a steady, pointed path.
Tessa taped the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD to her bedroom door, hoping her parents would notice it every day and treat her a little more special.
It worked, for a while.
After a while, it did not.
She still had to clean up her room and put away her clothes and do her homework and go to sleep on time and sit up straight and all the other things little girls named Tessa were always being told to do.
And as the years passed -- five of them altogether -- Tessa grew to like the daisy shade of yellow, the sound of many violins together, and turtles.
Just months away from retirement, but still an official Searcher of Skies, Dr. Marco Darkly would not have been expected to be the one to find what he found.
He didn’t see quite as well as he once did. He had been squinting all his life.
And he seemed most interested in a part of space that wasn’t very special -- no good galaxies, no strange swirling clusters to speak of, just specks of light dotting the deep vastness.
Late one night he was having his cup of tea and making one last check of the skies when he saw it -- or rather, didn’t see it.
He didn’t see one of the stars he had always seen before.
He blinked and looked again.
The star was there. But a nearby one was not.
He blinked again and looked again.
Now another star was not there.
Six hours and just as many cups of tea later, he knew.
It was a comet, burning black, blocking out starlights as it passed in front of them, heading for earth.
And hitting in five days.
He told the world, and the comet was named for him.
Everyone looked to the skies, but they couldn’t see it coming, in the night or in the day. That didn’t stop them from looking.
Some people cried and some people prayed. And some just laughed about it all.
Nobody paid for anything, and nobody wanted to go to sleep.
And then it was upon them.
As Comet Darkly bore down, it nudged the moon, knocking it from its place, making all the world’s oceans quickly rise up where they had not risen before.
So quickly that Tessa’s parents, who were saying goodbye to some friends just a few miles away, could not get to the hillside near their home in time.
Tessa did, all by herself.
The sky glowed red.
The water lapped at her feet.
She thought of the piece of paper on her door.
The LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.
She wondered what she might have done to deserve it.