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2014 – A Year In Stories: Week 11 – In Off the Rim

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Posted on March 23, 2014 by

Hello all, just a quick word from me this week. I’m sad to say that this week’s story isn’t very good. I rushed it a tad at the last minute and honestly I think it would have been better if I hadn’t included any named characters at all.

Oh well, no one will ever be completely happy with everything they write. And after all, that is what editing is for!

My cousin Simon (father of Rosie and Sam from one of my early stories) asked for: ‘A huge asteroid heads towards earth. The world awaits with baited breath. Good news: it missed! Bad news: it took out the moon. Cue massive changes to tides the world over, mass flooding and the rapid collapse of civilisation.’

And here it is!

2014 – A Year In Stories
Week 11
In Off the Rim

2000 Years Ago

The quiet in the void was deafening. The icy, craggy mass hurtled its way through the vastness of space like a master assassin. Silent. Deadly.

It careened on with a purpose beyond comprehension. One day this ball of rock would affect the destinies of billions of people.

Without warning it collided heavily with another asteroid, and in that one action the very fate of human history was defined.

The rock span out of its orbit around this far off star; a star as yet unknown to humanity, whose fledgling civilizations were only now looking up in wonder at the heavens, and wondering if perhaps they held the answer to life’s questions, utterly oblivious to how right they were.

The Near Future

Jeff Rogers sat dozing in his chair at Jodrell Bank. It was 3am and he had drawn the night shifts this week. It wasn’t so bad. Someone had to man the equipment that looked out in to the infinity of space in case new objects were perceived entering the solar system that required an early warning.

This was the last of his night shifts for the week, and there had been nothing to report. There was never anything to report. He had been working at Jodrell Bank for 5 years and he had never had to report a single incoming object during the night shift.

It seemed to him that it was almost as though the universe went to sleep at night with everyone else. Of course, when he thought about it the idea was preposterous. It was always night time somewhere on earth, and new objects were sighted several times daily. Perhaps the universe just ran on GMT.
His colleague wandered past the open office door.

“How’re things, Jeff?” the man asked, poking his head in.

Jeff came to and glanced at his watch. “3 o’clock and all’s well, Barry…” He replied, with a wry smile, and went back to sleep.

#

On the other side of the northern hemisphere, in a room deep below Cheyenne Mountain, Sergeant Benny Goulding of the United States Army 405th Rifles, a stellar avionics expert on special secondment to NORAD, sat and watched what everyone in the base affectionately called the ‘Fortune Teller’.

It was actually a series of sophisticated computers linked to a number of orbiting satellites and other probes sent in to the depths of the solar system.

It’s sole purpose was to detect incoming interstellar objects, and determine the chances of any one of those objects colliding with and obliterating the Earth. It existed to give humanity a few hours warning if the whole planet was fucked.

Sergeant Goulding sipped at a cup of coffee and listened to the familiar bleeps indicating that the system was fully functional. It looked like it would be another easy shift.

#

Scientists had been predicting for years that eventually the earth would be on a collision course with an interstellar object the same size as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs all those millions of years ago.

Most of them would say with a wave of the hand that any such event was millions of years away, that mankind would long since have left the confines of its home planet and conquered far off stars by the time some kind of cosmic disaster wiped the tiny blue and green rock from the annals of history.

But there were those who were a lot more pessimistic. It’s only a matter of time, they would warn, wagging a cautionary finger, as their more reserved colleagues made a joke of their crackpot theories behind their backs.

They were constantly dismissed as nutjobs. The kind of people convinced that everything was out to destroy the world. From Vesuvius and the super volcanoes in Yellowstone to solar flares and the San Andreas fault, the planet and everything outside was trying to wipe away the stain of humanity in one way or another.

Quite some of these scientists were about to, for a very brief moment indeed, feel extremely smug.
Both machines were set off within seconds of each other as the asteroid reached their sensor range.

The British dishes, which were older and suffered from a lack of military funding enjoyed by their American counterparts picked up the signals just as the red phone on Jeff Rogers’ desk buzzed.
He jerked awake, nearly falling off his chair in surprise at the sudden noise.

The phone was designed to be used when one station reported an unusual object and needed to check with its sister station to verify the sighting. He picked up the phone gingerly, and licked his dry lips.

“Hello?”

#

Sergeant Goulding replaced the receiver slowly. He let out a long breath and slicked his hair back. This was it. This was not a drill. He went through his procedures in his head. In this situation it was necessary to immediately inform the Commander in Chief. He had to call the President.

#

It wasn’t long before the news filtered its way down to the general public. An asteroid had entered the solar system and was on a collision course with planet earth.

Different time scales and projected landing areas were plastered across the media. Some said it would be days before the object landed, whereas some gave weeks, and others a matter of hours.

Everywhere from California to Scotland to the Sahara and the Himalayas were posited as possible impact sites by different experts. Wherever it landed, it was going to be a big one. Big enough to eradicate civilisation from the world. No one had any doubt that this was the end.

Sergeant Goulding and Jeff Rogers both knew exactly how long they had. It had been computed that at the speed it was travelling the asteroid would collide with the earth in 5 days time. And there was nothing they could do. The Fortune Teller had done her job and predicted the doom of humanity.

Vigils were held worldwide, nations put aside their differences and people spent their last moments together before the coming apocalypse. Eventually, society began to crumble as people abandoned their workplaces. Power ran out and utilities broke down as those called on to repair them stayed with their families. Petrol stations ran dry and supermarkets were looted for their remaining food as people fled underground with supplies to wait out the coming disaster.

It was on the 4th day that the news came. The rock had collided with another object in the asteroid belt. Experts predicted that it would now bypass the earth altogether, but the millions who had gone underground were unable to receive the message. They were prepared to wait it out whatever happened, and had simply locked themselves away until they were certain the event was over.

Those that had remained above ground were elated and tried to return to their normal routines on the next day; the day when the asteroid should have struck.

What the experts failed to mention, however, is that the collision with the object in the asteroid belt had thrown the rock so off course that no one could predict where it would go.

At 12pm GMT, the previously expect impact time, millions gathered together around television screens expecting an update on the progress of the asteroid. Littered on the floor in cities worldwide were newspapers with headlines reading ‘Near Miss!’ and ‘Humanity Saved!’.

Cheerful newscasters around the world announced that the asteroid had indeed missed the earth, and would have gone on to say that humanity had indeed had a narrow escape, had their broadcasts not been interrupted by a catastrophically loud explosion as the stray asteroid whizzed past the earth and slammed full speed in to the moon.

The impact sent chunks of the earth’s satellite hurtling through the atmosphere, and the shockwave shattered glass and collapsed buildings worldwide.

The tides were immediately affected and within hours several gigantic tidal waves were bearing down on densely populated costal regions of the planet.

Millions were killed in the initial shockwave, and further still in the subsequent natural disasters and debris impacts. Interstellar radiation put paid to most of those who were left after the first couple of days.

Within a week less than a million people remained alive, scattered across earth’s surface. No semblance of government or order remained, and the people were left to fend for themselves.
But if civilization did not endure, humanity did, and those that survived were eventually joined by those millions who had, sensibly it turned out, fled underground. Between them they took stock and began to rebuild the world. They vowed to right wrongs and make a new world, a better, fairer world than before.

It was certainly no easy ask. The circumstances were difficult and for some time food would be scarce. In addition there would always be people willing to take advantage of lawlessness to carve out some influence for themselves in a post disaster environment.

But humanity, like the cockroach, endured, and eventually again began to thrive. Life went on for those who remained, and the earth went on turning.

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