Thursday, March 20, 2014
Once upon a time, an asteroid large enough to make all life extinct was headed in Earth's direction. The size of Texas, they said, if you were from North America. Or the size of France, Ukraine, Botswana or Afghanistan, depending on where else you were from. Perhaps this was an exaggeration, some said, but it was Coming Right For Us!, everyone said, with an uncharacteristically communal air. A direct hit.
People were scared. If such a thing could wipe out the dinosaurs, they thought, just think what it could do to us! A summit was called, and soon it was decided that there was a reasonable chance for survival if some missiles were shot up into space. Not to blow up the asteroid―it was much too large―but to deflect it. Nuclear missiles, they said. The only kind strong enough. With something like this, they said, you don't want to take any chances.
The United States decided to launch three missiles, each from a different location. Better odds, they said. China made their own calculations and decided to launch three of their own. Better odds, they said. Russia joined in too. Hearing this, the United States added six more for good measure. Even better odds, they said.
To help conceal the dread, the event was marketed as a sporting event. The commercials buzzed. Who was going to make contact? Who was going to land their bomb in the end zone? Who was going to save us all? Bumper stickers were printed, pressed, and stuck. Meteoric dance moves were invented for the upcoming celebration. When not frozen with fear, people were in a generally positive mood.
The Nights of Nights, as it was marketed, finally came. A satellite with a special camera was sent up just for the event. (The money spent wasn't argued over because secretly no one thought it would matter in the end.) People in the dark half of the world peered up at what promised to be a spectacular sight, while people in the light half kept their fingers crossed and tuned in to the live stream brought to them by innumerable sponsors. A select few others who had not heard of the event lived the Night of Nights just like any other.
On 15 channels there was nothing to be seen but the blackness of space and the dim shimmering stars. Experts and pundits chattered, made predictions, and kept things moving. The remaining channels continued on with their usual programming.
Onscreen, a blazing light could be seen growing larger and larger inside the frame of the television set. The increase in size of the asteroid was frightening, the pundits said, as it approached with tremendous speed. The experts gave a few relevant figures.
Soon the asteroid passed the calculated point of no return, the pundits noted. The missiles, which were pre-programmed to launch, lifted from the Earth. Three from the United States, three from Russia, and three from China. A moment later the United States launched six more, each a few seconds apart.
Sitting in front of their television sets, people watched silently. The missiles soon entered the frame, shooting up from the bottom of the screen. Following them were large tufts of smoke. Better than any Hollywood movie, a few pundits remarked.
The asteroid moved closer. The picture was pristine. In the coarse, churning surface of the ominous rock, malevolent faces appeared for a instant, then vanished, only to appear again in a somewhat altered form as the asteroid slowly rotated. (Had there been a psychologist present, he could have explained what all of this meant.)
The asteroid and the missiles blazed toward each other as if magnetized.
Then: a flash. And another. Then another.
Some of the missiles―whether through malfunction or miscalculation―detonated just before hitting their target. White smoke slowly filled the black space while various people argued over what was happening and who was to blame for whatever it was that was happening.
The rest of the missiles, the world saw, had missed their target. The asteroid emerged forcefully from the icy smoke.
People gasped. Others wept. Some screamed. A few committed suicide.
But a few moments later people noticed that the asteroid had missed its target, as well. Dipping near Earth, it somehow escaped the planet's pull.
People cheered. Others kissed. Some wept. A few committed suicide.
Meanwhile, the radioactivity from the detonated missiles created a dark cloud that blocked out the sun and slowly rained poison down over the planet. Within a decade, all intelligent life on Earth was extinct.