Back home in little England, prophets of society’s collapse looked like being proved wrong yet again. Other peoples’ untempered response to unavoidable doom had brought it home to many that, hard though it was to carry on as usual, things could be far, far worse.
But how would folk behave when it was no longer days to go, but hours… then minutes?
I wept silently into my beer. I thought of the old man who had predicted the rainstorm: called it up, no less. They said at camp there was nothing he couldn’t do… if you asked him nicely.
Why hadn’t someone asked him to avert the catastrophe? Surely a man with meteorological powers could deflect a meteor?
And then it occurred to me: might it have been he who’d called it up in the first place? As punishment for our heedless rape of the Earth? I ought to pay him a visit. Say how sorry I was for all my wasteful habits and beg him to turn the asteroid aside. I vowed that if Schott-Ito missed us, I’d love the Earth and cherish it—and never throw away another plastic bag for the rest of my life.
And so my magical fantasies struggled with my scientific training. For hadn’t I done the calculations myself? It was astrodynamics alone that governed the Earth’s fate. Before ever a creature crept out of the sea, it had been “in the stars”, quite literally, that next Monday evening all life on Earth would stop.
Chris was working the graveyard shift: our off-duty times barely overlapped. We were getting a precious hour or two together, but all we did was lie in bed hugging each other. My wonderful scheme to zoom off into the sunset had wafted away like smoke. But I’d come up with no better plan to fill my remaining days.
In the space community, of which observatories like mine are the eyes and ears, I knew that people were working round the clock without a break. Rockets were being cobbled together and space capsules dragged out of museums. The aim was to launch every bit of space hardware that could possibly be brought back into service, to be in orbit at the moment Schott-Ito struck.
And then what?
Nobody had managed to explain it to me. After nearly seven billion souls had perished, for a year or two there’d still be a couple of dozen pairs of eyes to weep over the boiling earth. Then, pair by pair, the eyes would close… until all human experience became history.
A history no one would ever read.
Just then a conversation going on behind my back intruded on my misery. There was talk amid chuckles of spree, guns, hospital, rape and slaughter. “It’ll be something to look forward to”, I heard.
I glanced around. Those dismal words could have been coming from any of five groups of people sitting at the tables. I swivelled right round and stared about me. Nobody was talking.
It was at that moment the last of my illusions left me. Something to look forward to. Didn’t that just sum it up?
We know that death comes to us all in the end, but do we ever thread the implications into our lives… until it gets a booking in our diary?
My first response was to stand aghast at men planning to inflict atrocity upon their fellow-beings, to no more enduring consequence than the last meal of a man due to be hanged. Just something to look forward to. But was I any different? Being more resourceful than the bastards I had overheard, though not as pragmatic, I’d planned for less repulsive delights to fill my last few days.
But all that had all depended on Chris’s cooperation.
These louts knew something I didn’t. If others were to play their part in my plans, they had to be compelled.
…to be continued.