Apocalyptic Scenario 5.c

“Did you see this?” I held my phone up to the woman sitting next to me. We were wheels-up, Chicago bound from Kennedy Airport, the six a.m. eye-opener.

“I’m sorry, can you hold it a little further away?” She was older, seventy maybe, with eyes that look liked they’d been shielded from pain for decades. “Oh, NASA is it? I’m not much for space and rockets and things.”

“Well, they’ve just spotted an asteroid headed toward North America. It came from behind the Sun.” I flicked the screen. “This shows where they think it might hit.” A graphic depicted the U.S. and Canada, with a tinted circle that stretched from D.C. to Kansas, Ontario to Arkansas.

“Hit?”

“Well, unless it breaks apart in the atmosphere.”

She tilted her head back to focus through her bifocals. With a finger she pointed at the center, inching forward until she gave my phone a tap. “But that’s Chicago, right there in the center.” The circle expanded, showing the belly of Lake Michigan. “Are we safe up here?”

“I don’t know.” I began browsing the news. The story of the asteroid blazed across every outlet. “You think the pilot knows about this?”

She peered over her rims. “Dear, do you want to take that risk?”

I cocked my cheek. Maybe she’s seen more than I realize. I pressed the attention button above my head.

“Yeah, hi.” I lured the attendant closer with a finger. She bent in, leery. I said, “I’m sure the flight crew already knows about this, but here, take a look.”

The flight attendant’s scarf, a blue and gold breath of perfumed guaze, brushed my hand. I took a guarded breath trying to fill my lungs with her scent.

“Is this today?”

“NASA’s twitter feed popped it up just before we left.”

“Hmm.” She pursed her lips, a shade of pale strawberry. “May I?” She opened her palm. On her hand she wore a ring on every finger, but the one that mattered showed a turquoise stone, hardly nuptial material.

I blinked to clear my daydream. “Sure, here.” As she left, I leaned over to watch her thread the aisle.

By that time, others around us had heard me talking and had independently discovered the news. Chatter swelled like teacher had left the classroom. Turquoise charged back toward me, phone gripped in her fist, having recognized the buzz, she eyed me, a frown spoiling her face.

She bent close, closer than before. “Did you leak this?” Not waiting for my reply she straightened and announced, “Everyone, the captain is well aware of the recent development. Please remain calm. He’s…”

The overhead speaker crackled like parchment. When the captain began speaking, Turquoise dropped my phone in my lap like a dead fish.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. As you may know, NASA has announced a surprise discovery of an inbound meteor of indeterminate size. They expect arrival sometime soon, somewhere in the mid-west. At this point in time, that’s all we know. Until we hear otherwise, we’ll be continuing our flight as planned. NASA will keep us appraised and we’ll fill you in as soon as we know more. Please, try to relax. We have the situation under control. Chicago is fifty-five degrees with just a whisper of a breeze, which is unusual for this time of the year. Thank you.”

Speculation ran like a plague through the cabin. I heard talk of Chelyabinsk and Tunguska, and not a few mentions of the KT asteroid. Glasses next to me, Audrey, was keyed into the rumors.

“Every few years? But why don’t we hear about them?”

“Well, mostly due to probabilities. Over the oceans, no one can hear you scream.”

Audrey tisked me down. “Don’t say such things. You’ll bring bad…”

“Oh, my god. There it is!” A kid three rows back on the right had had his face smeared against the window. “I see the tail.”

“Must have come in over Canada,” I said. “We should see it break up any moment now.”

With the sighting, the captain was forced to come back on to instruct the passengers to sit down. “Yes, we’ve identified the meteor. Please return to your seats. We suspect heavy turbulence if and when the… the rock explodes.” We felt the plane bank away from the incoming threat.

Audrey and I remained entranced with the video streaming in from twitter feeds. This asteroid didn’t seem to want to detonate. I quickly flipped back to NASA’s feed and couldn’t help but gasp. “Geezus! This thing is the size of a city block. How could they not have detected…”

Audrey pulled her glasses down from her face and grabbed my hands, lowering my phone to her lap. Calmer than the captain, who’d just come on to tell us to lower the window shades and brace for severe shaking, she looked me in the eye. “Have you lived a happy life?”

I gawped and swallowed hard. “I’ve had some good times. Some bad. Tried to be kind, I guess.” I squeezed her fingers. “You?”

I could see the pain in her face now. It hadn’t been vacant, I realized, it had been confronted and beaten. She smiled, thin-lipped. “Yes, I’ve had good times. And bad. And yes, I’ve tried to be kind. My daughter was in an accident. I’m to… Well, I was to meet her at the hospital today.” Audrey pinched her eyes tight. “My grandson, he’s only eight.”

I brought her head to my shoulder. “The subways will be safe from much of the explosion. And they’ve had plenty of time to get to shelter. He’ll be OK.”

In the last few seconds, the cabin had become silent but for the increased drone of the engines. I looked at the time; hell, it had only been three minutes since the sighting. We’d been over South Bend when the kid had spotted the asteroid. I figured we were now going over six-hundred miles an hour, due south from Chicago, about thirty-thousand feet. I swore this felt like a movie, surreal and scripted.

Yet, when the seams around the windows flashed to pure white I expected instant death. I’d returned to watching the video—airborne wi-fi was surprisingly good these days—and was stunned at NASA’s final headline speculating three levels of destruction.

A two mile radius around the southern end of Lake Michigan would be vaporized. Ten miles out, the fire-wave would incinerate everything in its path. Thirty miles from the impact the shock wave would flatten all non-reinforced structures.

When the light dimmed, I could still see and breathe and Audrey looked up at me in confusion. My mind rationalized our existence. “At the speed we’re going, the shock wave won’t come for a while.”

Hmm, I thought, as my phone continued to work. The twitter feeds I’d been watching had quit streaming. In macabre fascination, I re-wound a few to watch the last seconds of the impact. Each one terminated in a flash—white fading to nothing.

The next fifteen minutes stretched out in terrifying anticipation. By then, we were well south and when the shock wave hit us, all we experienced was a rumbling shudder that felt more like a thunder storm than the apocalypse.

“Where will… What now?” Audrey said, slowly rocking back and forth. The window seat, vacant next to her, held her purse and a bag of chips.

“Why don’t you lift the shade and let’s see what’s what.”

She peaked and then slid the plastic sheath all the way up. Patchwork green, yellow and brown flowed beneath us like a game board. Above, a cloudless sky smiled down. The world continued to exist. Life pulsed on.

The captain returned to the speaker. “For all on board, our deepest condolences. I… I live in Denver, but I have… had close friends in Chicago. This emotional shock we’re all feeling, I’m sure it will last for, I don’t know. A long time. But we still have work to do. We’re being re-routed to St. Louis where… what?” He broke off when the co-pilot began speaking. With his finger still on the switch we caught his final words. “… More meteors?”

I swapped my place to sit next to the window. Audrey seemed lost, looking through a wallet album. I scanned the vast blue sky through frosted glass. It didn’t take long. I heard others cry out discovery as I identified what looked like a squadron of contrails, straight as ruler-marks, descending all around us.

I struggled from my row and walked up to the attendant’s station. “Plenty then. Good,” I finished as I’d made my case. Turquoise had eased up and smiled briefly through tear-blurry eyes. I turned and announced to the cabin, “I cleared it with the flight attendants. Drinks are on them.”


Dystektopia

Momma Path straightened up from her work in her garden and tapped the screen attached to her wrist. Down the road, she’d heard the driverless shuttle squeak to a stop and expected young Nicholas to come running up and around the house to find her minding her rows. When he didn’t show, the GPS pinpointing his Patch-Trak flashed his location—cousin Ben’s house across the small Appalachian valley.

Oh, that’s right, Friday night at Ben’s.

Despite the shift to being a Ward-State, the country’s school calendar remained stuck in the 1800’s. Summer became a free-for-all and Momma Path’s large farmhouse and barn transformed into school-age-mayhem central. One more week and Nick and the others will finally help me sow our greens and victuals.

At eighty, Polenna Path had, as most folks who shared her geriatric tendencies, benefited from guv’ment’s research and subsequent distributions of “health-gevity” programs. “Healthy to the end,” had been their chorus. Little had they realized, that for most, the end now came much later in life. Her morning ritual included twenty minutes of exercise and scrounging through her weekly Ward package looking for the bright-yellow blister packs and gulping her dose along with a peanut-butter protein bar that came as standard fare.

She set fists to hips and regarded her plot. A quarter acre cordoned off from the deer and rabbits, tilled to uniform rows, with the heads of corn and squash seedlings leaning toward the early June sun. When her wrist chimed, instead of glancing at the screen she spoke openly.

“Who is it?”

A guv-droid voice, sounding like the historical filmstar Julie Andrews, spoke, “The caller is Regina Walker, Ben’s mother enroute from her residence.”

“Accept. Reggie, how are you dear? I hope Nicholas is behaving himself. I’m sure those two are bracing themselves for next week. I only…”

“Momma Path, what do you mean? I thought Ben and Nick were going to spend the night at your place. I see Ben’s tracker, he’s right there on your front porch.”

~~~

100 years into the future, technology’s promise has been fulfilled. A form of UBI, Universal Basic Income, has been implemented, funded by the incredible advancements of work automation. The United States has become the fifth nation to implement the Ward-State. Those who wish it can work as they like, educate themselves as they see fit, pursue pastimes and the arts to their heart’s desire, in a word, retire. Ward benefits include medication, food and a stipend for housing, clothing and sundry needs.

Capitalism’s strangle hold on the working-poor has given way to government managed communalism. The financial cast system continues to influence the lofty regions of political office where only the richest of the rich believe they still hold sway. In general, however, corporate entities innovated themselves out of their own profits — they automated themselves out of existence.

Momma Path has witnessed the change. She welcomed the release of worry yet still distrusts the surveillance state she knows watches her every move. Today, that distrust proved critical.

 

 


Apocalyptic Scenario 7.b

Surrounding the Arctic Ocean, the continental shelf harbors thousands of gigatons of of methane in the form of methane hydrate, fire-ice. This substance, methane gas surrounded by water ice, forms when microbes eat organic sediment and release methane (like in the bowels of a bovine) which gets trapped by high water pressure and low temperature.

Were just five of these gigatons of methane to be released into the atmosphere the concentration would double methane’s current contribution of 25% of global warming.

Fifty gigatons would wreak an environmental catastrophe. Five hundred, released in a continuous stream around the Arctic would induce another PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum).

Deep beneath the East Siberian Sea stretching across the straight into the Beaufort Sea and around to the Barents Sea the earth is shifting. Tectonic forces have been pulling apart the crust, magma is seeping upward, and now the once frozen methane hydrates are thawing. Swelling. Bubbling to the surface.

Vents along the Siberian coast crack open and haphazard lightening strikes have ignited the plumes of methane. Volcanoes of flame burn hundreds of meters into the sky. What doesn’t burn, drifts high into the atmosphere where it traps the reflective solar energy. The Arctic has become a tepid bath. Greenland’s ice cap and its hundreds of glaciers steam and melt. Measurements along the Eastern Seaboard measure an inch a month sea level rise.

Life is about to experience Sauna Earth.

Bring your beer and spruce brushes because we’re gonna get sweaty.


Interstellar trash

In 2017 the asteroid/comet Oumuamua whizzed through our solar system. Recently Comet 21/Borisov, another interstellar wanderer has been detected. Two objects in as many years. This got me thinking about astrophysical opinions regarding the “emptiness of space.”

What if it’s not empty at all? What if it’s full of solar system trash, the debris of billions of years of supernovas spewing out the stuff of stars?

If the void between stars is not a void at all, if it’s chock full of debris, stellar-bits that we’re just now starting to detect, then there is no way in hell we—or anyone—could traverse the trillions of miles between stars. Were we to get a starship up to a fraction of lightspeed, anything larger than a grain of rice would destroy us.

The Sci-Fi theory of creating force-fields or “shields” to protect us is fantastical at best. “Passengers”, a great movie, showed us how tenuous the theory. All it would take would be one failure, out of thousands of successful avoidances (lasers, magnetic pulses, kinetic diverters, etc), would still be a failure.

Interstellar trash may be one answer why we don’t see an exo-civilization filling the galaxy; a possible Fermi’s Paradox solution.

 


Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 


Writer’s Log: 2130

By quick reckoning, he figured this was his eighth jump. Driven to near insanity by the previous seven, and embroiled in the failed life of the last consciousness, a miserable life indeed, he’d expected oblivion. What else but oblivion—one doesn’t leap off a downtown Denver skyscraper expecting anything but. The fact that he could smell coffee and feel the warm spot in the bed next to him, recently vacated, proved that whatever this was, it was most assuredly not oblivion.

He’d learned a crucial lesson after the third shift, a lesson he now practiced, stay calm and wait. Wait in silence until someone, anyone notices you and calls out your name.

Let’s see what we’ve got this time. He probed his body checking for vitals: hair, toes, aches and pains, limb count, skin color. Excellent, two eyes and two ears—operational and all my fingers. I can work with this.

A musical voice drifted from behind a bathroom door. “Rick, come on. Joanie leaves for academy in one hour and she can’t be late again.” Rick. I’m Rick and I’m married and have at least one child. Well, Joanie might be a French bulldog, so let’s not be hasty. At least this is better than last time.

‘Rick’ gave a shudder and let his mind wander back to what he estimated must be about a month ago. A month and, if previous transitions were any indication, a world away, Denver lockup with slick concrete chilling his bones. That had been his last gift of consciousness musical chairs. The accommodations, though unpleasant, were tolerable. That time, the worst part of waking up was the screaming urge to pee, but without a penis. All his previous occupations had been men. Some old, some black, some disabled, but all of them could pee standing up.

“Rick. Now would be good.”

“You got it, honey,” he said, risking an endearment that had worked in the past.

“Honey? Don’t honey me. I’ve got clients flying in from Brussels and you promised.”

Promised what? “On it.”

~~~

Simon had gotten sick and died. Or so he’d thought. For the last eight months, he’s been playing hopscotch with people’s lives. It’s not been pretty. A horrific trail of chaos and disappointment is what he would eventually come to call it.

Today, however, he struck upon a glimmer of understanding, a thread of commonality that each mind that he’d possessed thus far had exhibited. It may have been the somber environments, or the sense of desperation that coated most of the lives he’d visited. But each life had, he believed, reached that critical point that tips between living and dying.

He admitted no knowledge of where the other minds went during his visits. He’d never felt them. And so far, he’d never gone back to check up on anyone after he’d moved on.

I’ve made a mess of things, I’m sure of it. And I’m fairly certain that this is not working out for anyone involved. But damn if I know how to fix it.

 


SepSceneWriMo: Catcha-22

“She’s not taking your calls or email.”

“No shit. You guys took my phone.” I scratched at imagined flea bites. “Then I need to speak to her.”

“Sorry, no direct communication of any kind, whatsoever. ”

“What? How can I explain or defend myself?”

“Defend? ‘Guilty as a scorpion’, she called you.”

Continued…

https://davecline.wordpress.com/2019/09/22/sepscenewrimo-catcha-22/