by Catfish Russ
George Tilliam had just quit his job a month before, a Ph.D. astronomer, educated at Clarion and Princeton. He of course discovered the shard and calculated the Bingo window — the point at which nothing could be done about the shard.
Short of a miracle.
Tonight he was building the Super Type A Cruiser, the only model of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Super Yamato Class Destroyers. No Super Yamato had been built before the end of the Second World War. But the plans were finished. This ship would have nine 14-inch guns and six 20-inch guns. It would fire a 3,200 pound shell as far as 59 miles, one that penetrated any armor on any military equipment ever made anywhere on Earth.
This was what he would do on the historic evening. In the quiet of his cabin in Martha’s Vineyard. It was about 7 pm. Bocelli’s Romanza was playing on his Bose and it was rather loud. Molly, his geriatric black lab was asleep on the couch where she knows she’s not supposed to sit.
George pulled his ocular down and leaned over with a gun mount hanging from the end of a long pair of tweezers. He had two more gun mounts to place after this. Then he had to paint them, and wait for them to dry and then put on the turrets.
He would not finish this project. But then, he thought out loud: “I am here with Molly. Bocelli is playing on my expensive sound system and I am building a rare model, rendered from captured post World War II document safaris. I had a successful career, made good money was married once and have three great kids. Well, two great kids but had three.”
Of course there was a black sheep offspring in his otherwise perfect life he was talking about. It was Ryan, his Pronounced Personality Disorder son, who at 19 put $10,000 on his grandmother’s American Express, bought a car, and drove it to Mexico. He didn’t make it to Mexico. He crashed and needed special care after that. Special care that put help and loved ones in close quarters with his particularly poisonous, life-sucking brand of manipulation and emotional blackmail.
An overdose ended his misery, and others’. His mother barely shed a tear at his funeral. She had none left. She had cried for ten years caring for this monster. Now he was done with that and he had also spared himself this night, George thought.
“Anyway, that’s all a bad memory tonight, and tonight there is no time for the past. There’s only now,” he said out loud. His Joyce Carol Oates life of family pain was over. Forever.
The clock ticked. Utter absolute silence. The sound of his Molly sighing. The tinkle of her collar. The creak of his chair. Perfect, he thought. Absolutely perfect. This is how I always wanted the world to be. No noise. No suffering. No yelling. No stress. No squeaky brake and screaming parents and no gunfire. Too bad it finally happened on the last night on Earth.
Another irony is that George was finally famous and well paid for a deftly made prediction: a 122-million metric ton shard of ice and rock, approximately 190 kilometers across by 67 kilometers by 59 kilometers and moving at 122 thousand miles an hour will strike the Pacific Ocean tomorrow morning at 2:10 a.m. GMT.
That’s what he’d won the Nobel Prize for.
Of course all of that was wrong.
He had secretly recalculated the approach velocity to be more like 322 thousand miles an hour. But he and the powers that be decided not to make a point of it. People were holding onto a glimmer of hope with massive calculations. Maybe if they could get to the top of a mountain somewhere in Europe, then maybe they would survive. That wouldn’t happen.
There was worse news. The Shard was bigger than previously estimated, and it took out the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that had gotten a good look at it days ago. It’s not 190 kilometers across: it’s pointed at us, point end first. And it’s 2100 kilometers long.
So here he was. Famous. And like everyone else, utterly incapable of stopping his own death. You see, this shard was not just big and fast, it was shaped like an arrowhead with the tip end made of rock, and its almost aerodynamically shaped body was going to hit the bottom of the ocean and most likely penetrate a deep fault just southeast of a line running from New Zealand to American Samoa.
Probes to the Shard indicated that it had a massive iron core under the body of ice. Its momentum would probably set off a series of mega-volcanoes and earthquakes starting with the closest volcano, Niuatoputapu. The fault line underneath could actually help the Shard split off a piece of the Earth.
There are those who will not take their suicide pill. They follow the beliefs of wingnuts who believe the worst thing that will happen is a few earthquakes and otherwise a broken-down civilization, because people believe this crap. These are the remnants of the there-is-no-moonwalk and there-is-no-global-warming crowd.
The approach velocity increased because of an unbelievably unlucky confluence of events. The Shard first dropped out of the Oort Cloud and into our Solar System. It traversed the orbit of Saturn, which sped it up, and then the gravitational pull of a perfectly positioned Jupiter added another 100,000 miles an hour to its velocity.
Next, its shape and target convinced a lot of people around the world that this was either a divine retribution or a deliberate strike on us from a superior technology.
Few people knew this about it either: the thing is being followed by at least 160 kilometers of debris that has been shaking off of it during the rough ride through the Solar System. Gravitational stresses have increased the number of projectiles. Each of these things is coming in at over 300 miles an hour, and all of these pieces will move through the atmosphere behind it and land on Africa and both Americas.
When the Shard hits bottom, it will cause an explosion that will literally rock the planet, move tectonic plates, shear atmosphere off the Earth, and ignite fires across the globe.
It is the geological effects that will kill everyone. There will certainly be billions of gallons of hot steam in the air and massive rains of poisonous gas bubbling up out of the ocean and into the atmosphere. This will kill sea life for hundreds of miles and most likely everyone in Australia and Papua New Guinea and New Zealand within hours.
The volcanic activity will be violent enough to poison the atmosphere in a long lazy westward drift until about the time the debris behind starts to hit, and the air over the Americas will be hardly breathable. Africans will be suffocating. Fires will ignite when the debris following it penetrates the Amazon basin and Pacific Northwest of the U.S.
And worse, and this is the last of the bad news. Because of the angle of the approach, it will most likely knock the Earth’s axis out of alignment.
Deserts will become oceans. Oceans will become deserts. Ice caps will melt. Day will look like night, and night will look like day, and the food supply and power supplies that keep us all alive will fail.
George put down his tweezers and lit a cigarette and didn’t even walk out to the patio. What’s the point of that? All irony, George thought. All of life is just one irony after another.
And why am I building the Super Yamato? Because it would have been the largest, most destructive battleship ever built.
But it was never built. “So to me,” George said out loud, “this is a glimmer of hope that somehow my calculations were wrong and by some miracle, the end won’t come. That, and the fact that I love model building and military history and this is how I want to spend my last day on Earth. With Molly and a pack of Viceroys in a quiet home in my quiet study.”
He knew that was wrong as well. His calculations were dead on. All his life he was not just good at math, he was great at arithmetic. Not everyone knows that many great physicists cannot get the right answer. They get the relationship and what it means. But not Dr. Tilliam. No sir. He calculated this one to a fare thee well. And so right there, sitting in the middle of his table, next to a bottle of Claret, sat his pill. The name of this pill? X-It. Clever huh? That or stupid. Why be clever when you’re going to die?
Are there survival scenarios? Yes.
Did any of them make sense?
Not after the sabotage they didn’t.
You see, this was the final irony. The Christianists kept telling everyone to convert because this was the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse. This was the Rapture. But a vehicle was designed to land on the Shard and deflect it before the Bingo point passed. It was a multinational effort and perfectly workable with redundant systems. It was sabotaged by a Christianist crewman who did it in the middle of the night, and on-air. He was on board the middle booster module orbiting along side the Space Station. On a net broadcast, he pulled out a Bible and a hand grenade and recited a passage out of Isaiah.
The explosion could be seen over the U.S. in the night sky.
That was the last best hope. And so they were right. They guaranteed they were right too. That seemed like it was forever ago.
A gunshot sounded far away. Molly didn’t move because she was old and almost deaf as a rock. George listened carefully and heard nothing else. It sounded a tiny bit muffled. He imagined that someone stood on a deck or a porch, one that faced away from his home, and then pulled the trigger and killed themselves. That’s probably what happened.
George sat down by Molly and petted her.
He went into the cabinet and pulled out the X-It-4-Pets, took the pill and wrapped it in a piece of cheddar cheese, and Molly took it, and went back to sleep. He covered her up with his LL Bean sweater and kissed her on the head.
It was 1:15 a.m.
Forty-five more minutes, At best it would take 35 minutes for him to start seeing effects of the impact after it hit.
He smoked another Viceroy, turned out the light over the Super Yamato, left the tweezers where they were. He heard another muffled gunshot in the still of the night. This one was followed by a cry.
George turned out the kitchen and porch lights and allowed the ambient light from his neighbor’s porch lights or emergency generator lights to illuminate his workspace. He opened his bottle. The 1997 Coppola Claret. Last one probably in existence. He poured a glass, popped his pill, and washed it down with the best red wine he ever had.
A little while later he thought he heard Molly whimpering or having a seizure. But he was too tired. Couldn’t open his eyes. Morpheus had him. Sleep came. The best kind of sleep, too.
Copyright © 2007 by Catfish Russ