Everything was so mundane: the car, the traffic, the road. Were the last few days on earth going to be like any other?

Why not? Did anyone have a good idea for making them better days? If so, why hadn’t it been done already?

On the other hand, if everything’s about to end, why don’t we just throw up our boring jobs right now? Fling care to the winds? Do whatever we fancy?

Well, that’s all right for an individual, but it only works against the background of a world which keeps on going. And that means ordinary people staying on at their posts. The police must be on hand to prevent everything from collapsing in disorder. The shops must stay open to sell us food and clothing, even if we won’t be needing those winter coats they’ve got in stock. The pumps must continue to deliver petrol, the banks to supply money, even though the accountants won’t have to worry about balancing the books at the end of the month.

Here and there people went crazy and made themselves look stupid. But most of us had made the decision to go on living just as we were. So far as I knew, nobody apart from me was winding up their affairs to go on a joyride.

But even though I abandoned my home and private commitments, I didn’t forsake my job. It so happened that, from being a state-sponsored luxury of no relevance to the lives of ordinary folk, I’d become the most important person on the planet. And as I had predicted to my boss, I was indeed re-running my calculations hourly.

In the entire firmament that we astronomers used to study, there was now just one celestial body that was of any interest: a hundred-mile-wide ball of ice that had been looping the sun for the past four-and-a-half billion years. And would be perfectly happy to carry on doing so for another four-and-a-half billion if only the bloody Earth wasn’t getting in the way.

Maybe Schott-Ito would miss us… and then how silly we’d all look. At least, those of us who’d cashed-in our chips in the great game of life. But that wasn’t the reason everyone was breathing down my neck.

Where there’s life there’s hope, don’t they say? Where there’s life there’s choice, more like it. Right now, I had no choice—and nor did anybody else. That’s what my calculations were saying. We were all as good as dead.

That’s why they used to put a black hood over your head when they hanged you. Otherwise you’d stare into the hangman’s eyes right up to when he dropped you through the trapdoor, looking for the slightest sign he was about to relent. But there was no hood big enough for our collective head. And no chance the hangman would relent.

It would have been better for it all to have been played out in private, letting the world go to its death in blissful ignorance. But I knew that in the actual hour of collision there’d be only one programme going out on all channels: the great white ball of Schott-Ito, growing ever larger in the sky as it hurtled towards us at ninety-one thousand miles an hour, to deliver the energy of thirty thousand billion Hiroshimas. That’s 4,411 nukes for every man, woman and child on the planet.

…to be continued