Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Travelling home

You never hear the bullet that has your name on it, so the story goes. As above, so below: we only became aware of the asteroid designated AmRa when it was far too late to do anything about it. Despite NASA keeping a database of over 20,000 near-Earth asteroids, despite the New Earth Asteroid Tracking (N.E.A.T.) system and despite the Asteroid Terrestrial Impact Last Alert system being on full alert nothing saw nothing until one day ago.. and ‘they’ were going to keep it under wraps.
We should have realised that something was up when the Orbit@home website shut down –this was supposed to provide another resource to monitor near Earth collisions by asking individual’s to download a programme that could run in the background and optimise the search strategy. (SETI used a similar premise to monitor radio transmissions from Space, would you believe?) The Orbit@home site was unpublished a few days ago due to an unspecified glitch which no one questioned –why would they? If asked I doubt two people in a thousand would have listed an extinction level event as a reason for the site being pulled.
But that was exactly what was happening. The news finally leaked on Twitter from an anonymous source yesterday morning, and was subject to much scorn and derision from everyone… well, all those who knew no better. It was strange that NASA kept quiet and all the governments were strangely silent as well –even Donald Trump refrained from his usual bombastic approach to social media.
Of course, it was soon confirmed by thousands of amateur astrologers everywhere –by that time it was pretty hard to ignore it. It was then that the questions and theories started –as if any of it actually mattered. I knew enough by then of the different arguments and explanations as I had planned to write a short story about the asteroid that hit Tunguska… I shelved the story after I realised just how little we really knew about the cosmos; how likely it was that such an impact could easily happen again and how little prepared we were to stop it –all of which had come frighteningly true now.
Upon hearing the news on the radio –the newsreader doing their best to annunciate through their tears- I knew there was only one place I had to go –back home; back to Slaugham where my mother and father lived. They were the only people that mattered now.
I knew that the main roads would be chaotic so I aimed to stay on the smaller roads; I lived in Wilmington so I had at least an hour’s journey ahead of me, which could well be doubled depending on the traffic and stupidity I encountered on the way.
It was George Carlin who said never to underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and that was on an average day… now that people knew there was nothing to lose and no consequences only God knew what to expect and it was clear to everyone that he had deserted us.
I had the foresight to buy a Mercedes G-Class which came in particularly handy during the muddy months as a Sussex Downs Ranger and if things got too bad I could easily go off-road. I had an air-rifle too if things escalated too quickly –I didn’t want to use it but nothing was going to stop me from getting home.
I’d tried ringing my father as soon as I heard the news but the networks had collapsed, probably due to everyone doing the same. I knew that father could take care of himself but mother had suffered from Dementia for years and had rapidly gone downhill in the last few months; I didn’t want them to be alone when it finally happened.
The country lanes were quiet and the first part of the journey from Wilmington to Ditchling was pretty uneventful; there were enough of the smaller roads that I barely saw anyone else. I wondered why there wasn’t the madness and looting that was normally portrayed in the various Hollywood-style scenarios but knew that it was due to the suddenness of the news. In all of these films Earth had time to prepare for the attack, whether through nuclear bombardment of the asteroid or the use of lasers or high powered rockets that could be used to deflect the chunk of rock… but I knew from my own research that NASA needed at least five years of preparation before undertaking any of those scenario’s –that was even if they worked. AmRa was far too large for any of those scenario’s to have an effect and chances are they could only have made things worse –splitting the 60 mile asteroid into smaller chunks that would have done even greater damage in the short run. As it was, this was a globally catastrophic event, there was no denying it. It was dark now, even though it was only two in the afternoon, AmRa blocked out the sun and chilled everyone to their marrow.
There are those that say the moon was formed from a smaller planet hitting the Earth over 4.5 billion years ago. The impact from Theia threw up millions of tonnes of debris that circled the Earth for hundreds, if not thousands of years, before finally coalescing into the moon. There are others that say it was due to the impact of several larger asteroids that water was brought to Earth –Earth being far too hot for water to condense. It was only through the meteors and asteroids bringing frozen chunks of water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and ammonia that the atmosphere formed and cooled. Who knows what will happen when this one collides?
It's on the drive from Ditchling to Slaugham that my faith in humanity is finally crushed. With fewer roads to criss-cross I have no choice but to be witness to the dregs of humanity. With no consequences and no chance of redemption there was nothing holding people in check any more.
Religion had been a poor solace to people too weak to find out their own truths and now it had been proved to be a fraud, people realised that there was now nothing to stop them from doing whatever they wanted –with a few hours left why not rape, murder and desecrate? Where had the manners and understanding gotten them –downtrodden and shit on their entire lives, being told it would all work out in the end. The Pope had misjudged the situation entirely when he called his followers to their knees in repentance. Though their prayers would not be heard in this life they might still atone for their sin in the next. It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines; that it was due to the collective sins of humanity that the meteor had been sent to cleanse the Earth just as the flood had done two thousand years previously. This time there would be no ark to save the just.
It only took one shot to silence the Pope before more could be said; but the damage had been done. In the last day of Judgement Catholicism had been dealt the most savage of blows that it would never recover from.
With nothing to hold people back there was now carnage everywhere I looked and I did my best to inure myself to the travesty that I drove through. Haywards Heath itself had been the worst I was forced to plough through crowds of people rioting in the high street; I knew that with every alternative route I tried I would add precious time to my journey and I was sickened by what I was now witness to. Imagine the last days of Rome; the sacking of Carthage and the rape of Nanking; all of those paled into insignificance against the atrocities I witnessed then. I told myself that I had no choice but to plough through them; to simply go round them would have left me open and vulnerable to their collective might; they had given up any sense of individuality and surrendered finally to group oblivion.

Finally I reached Slaugham and I could sense that there was very little time left. That was irrelevant now, I had made it – whatever time there was, and there was probably little less than an hour, I was to spend with them.
The village was strangely quiet except for singing coming from the church –the Protestants, it seemed, had managed to keep a better handle on the situation and had probably profited from the Pope’s blunder. I left them to their much needed succour and ran inside the house. It was starting to get blustery now; oppressive winds buffeted, tearing down trees and chimneys. I shouted throughout the house but heard nothing and there was no one there in any of the rooms. I looked through the bedroom window and saw the brick built summer house at the bottom of the garden; it was the obvious place to watch the end of the world. My father was a pragmatist and I could think of nowhere better to be.
Sure enough, there they both were, sitting on the recliners, hand in hand, watching the rapture. The bottle of whiskey sat between them, the sleeping tablets strewn where the bottle had been dropped. It was the right thing to do… Dad wanted to save mum the pain and fear of the impact and he couldn’t live without her. He had no way of knowing whether I was going to make it or not, so this was the only option open to him. I kissed them both on the forehead and took the bottle for myself. I drank heartily and toasted the inevitable as it all became dark lastly.

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