Sunday, February 01, 2009

Rock of Ages

The end was near.

Or so most everyone believed. It wasn’t a new fear, some said, the end was always near. It was a relief, others said, the planet had gone to pieces, figuratively and literally, and was past saving. For most of them it was unfair. It wasn’t their time. They weren’t ready--yet. Like they were ready some other time. Some took the news as so accurate they were moving south--of the equator. Brownie Owens had taken the news hard. Bought four cases of top notch Scotch, said to hell with the doctor’s orders about alcohol and heart disease, and began drinking on a regular basis. They had three years to wait.

Brownie Owens and his friend Tank Arnold were staying, for the time being. Owens was on his first double Scotch after three p.m. It was a rule. Only one before lunch. One after lunch but before 3:00 o’clock. As many as he could handle after 3:00. He’d told the doctor--two days before the doctor closed his doors and took off--about his, Brownie Owens, medicinal purchase and the doctor asked Brownie if he, the doctor, could come over some time and have a couple. Brownie had said, “Sure,” but he, Brownie, wanted it taken off his bill. They’d both laughed, nervously, until the realization of the end being near rather sobered their expectations of just about everything held until the announcement. A new set of “dear” was emerging.

“So, what’s the latest” said Brownie Owens.

Tank Arnold didn’t drink. He was stout, would be heavy if he lived long enough, was concerned about the impending doom but undecided.

“No change. It’s still on course, for the northern hemisphere, due in something like three years. Four miles across. ‘They’ say it’s the biggest thing to hit the planet ever.”

“Who is ‘they’?” said Owens. Then paused. “Makes a person wonder what hath God wrought?”

“Not really.”


“It’s bad luck and bad timing. Maybe our time really is now. Armageddon and all that. But, God, deliberately wiping out all his creations? For some reason known only to God the mysterious? No.”

“Doesn’t sound like talk from church goer.”

“Church has been let out, you could say. Service is canceled. Sunday school is over. Go home. Pray. No one had answers. They only had platitudes,” said Tank. He sounded unsatisfied. Unconvinced? Of what? A part of him was lost and floating. Without answers. He peered out from underneath the porch roof at the sky as if to see the rock of destruction heading our way. Brownie Owens joined him, staring into the cloudy sky.

“It’s gonna rain,” said Owens. “Yard needs it.”

“You hope. Why bother mowing the yard? In a few years it’ll be gone.”

“You think?” said Owens. “Maybe after a couple of million years a new kind of grass will evolve. I won’t be here to see it but who’s to say.”

“The planet is about to get it’s lid blown off,” said Tank Arnold. “I don’t think there’ll be any new grass. Or new anything. You going to drink yourself to death?”

“Sure, why not? There’s only three years to live.”

“What happens,” said Tank Arnold, “if it misses. I mean, there’s a big margin of error with this thing. It could miss us by --what?--ten thousand miles? Is that what I heard? Is that enough?”

“Heck if I know but a miss would sure put folks who moved in a bad spot. But I guess if you got money you can always buy your way back or change the rules. We can move the country down there, instead? Gee, maybe I ought to invest in some real estate.”

“It’s cheap,” said Arnold.

“These people --the scientist types--know what they’re talking about, though. It’s been proven. It’s coming. Depending on how close it gets--if it barely misses-- it’d drag enough of our atmosphere with it or punch one heck of a hole in our magnetic cover. And if it’s ten thousand the other way, like off towards the south of here it’d pretty well smash up the southern hemisphere someplace. Or, it could land on the opposite side, in the eastern hemisphere.” Owens shot back a finger of Scotch.

“The impact would still blow up enough dust to do us in. Slowly. Jeepers! Can you imagine what that would be like?”

“No,” said Owens between swallows, “I can’t. Round and around we go, where it will land, nobody knows. That sucker could pass well clear of us or hit us dead on right on my house.”

“Which means all those people moving to south will look pretty smart or pretty silly, won’t it?”

“Won’t be anything left up here to return to, that’s for sure."

There was a pause, as if to refuel or re-arm.

"What I got to thinking about,” said Owens, “was that maybe this is how our life got started, since it is about to end. Think about it, this is how we got started. From some other planet?”

“Was this after three o’clock yesterday you started in on this idea,” said Tank Arnold. “We didn’t start from some other planet and you know it.”

“Now is not the time for theological primpiness. And, no, I don’t know it. What I know is the latest theories have it that some huge asteroid or meteor walloped one of the outer planets so hard it sheared off the crust and sent only a gazillion tons of debris into space, towards the sun, mostly. That’s all I know.”

“If they're right, that is. So...” said Arnold. He was not one to be easily convinced.

“, all that rock, and the germs and bacteria sealed in them, was ejected out into space. 'They' think.”

“That’s an awful long shot. To drive all that rock out into space and somebody just happens to run into some of our ...somebody else’s...stuff?”

“Why not be a long shot? Besides if enough rock just floats around eventually somebody’ll hit it. You just run into this chunk of planet floatin’ around in space. Happens all the time, actually.”

“That’s too much chance. You know that.”

“So. What’s the time frame? A couple of hundred million-billion years? What’s the rush? Out off the millions of tons of debris a few lone chunks from somewhere else make it to here. A few of those survive the atmosphere and the impact. A few of those had some kind of organism sealed inside the rock. Either by being crushed by other rocks or--talk about chance--getting hit by another meteorite--or just melting away by erosion frees the first germ to mix with the water and form the first cell of life.”

“No,” said Tank Arnold. He shook his head. “Too much left to chance?”

“How do you know it’s too much?”

”Because, each one would be one in a million, maybe. That’s too many million for me to buy into,” said Tank Arnold.

“If millions of years isn’t too long, then millions of chances isn’t too many,” replied Owens. “Think of it this way, one thing the universe has lots of, is lots and lots of time. What’s the rush? This construction time-thing that we want to understand is just our conceit.”

“Well, all the people selling out must not agree--with you. They’re getting their money and clearing out.”

“To where? There’s no place to hide. There’s no place on this planet to run to that is immune if this asteroid hits. And it is so big, so huge, that it just has to graze us to wipe us all out in a little longer than, perhaps--the way we’d want to go--a direct hit”--he punched his fist into his hand--”pretty much dooms us all in about of two seconds. We’re like Adam and Eve with no place to hide. We’re doomed I tell you, doomed!”

“This is not funny, you drunk,” said Tank. “Life on this planet might just end in three years time. That’s serious stuff. Think of what you could do if you lived for another 40 years...”


“...and where we could be in helping people...”

“...we haven’t started yet, so why worry...”

“You just don’t care!” said Tank.

“I do care! I care a lot!” Owens gulped down the rest of the Scotch. He prepared to pour himself another one. “I’m also very afraid.”

“Of what?”


“But in the end, we’re all dead,” Arnold’s voice had a pleading rise to it. “I don’t understand what you’re telling me. You seem resigned to your fate but cynical about everyone else’s sudden interest in their mortality. Why?”

“I don’t know. You’re right, it’s too...short. It’s too definite. Just to die of old age is almost a reward. To die in an accident--at least you don’t have time to ponder it. But to kind of know that on such and such a day you are about to be toast--literally--is, well, spooky. It’s like some kind of countdown to a blastoff.”

“Yeah, except we’re about to get blasted on.”

“Did we do something to deserve this,” asked Brownie Owens.

“Of course not,” said Tank. “I won’t say we should have done some of the things in this world we did but somehow I don’t see this as the wrath of God.”

“Maybe we’ll send robots to these other planets and maybe those robots will announce that we’re a civilization and help plant seeds of thought and intelligence,” said Brownie Owens. “Gotta have some there life first?”

“I ‘spose,” said Owens. He paused. “And if the robots landed on some planet before any of our germs got there? Then what? Maybe we should send robots instead of humans to the planets except when the human dies at least his germs can cultivate life.”

“Are you trying convince me that’s how got started,” said Tank Arnold. “Huh? That we are really just leftover germs? I guess they’d just have to wait. What’s time to a robot? Besides, we don’t really know the right chemistry for life. We have ours, and, well, that’s it! Those same science guys that predict the end of the world keep talking about finding life because of finding water but who says what the chemistry was cough up that first germ? Couldn’t have been poop in the water or some dead bug or garbage or contamination. Little things swimming the water? Where’d they come from and how many false starts did that go through? Are we going to send some of our life-stuff to one of the interior planets? Is our only hope the small blue planet can someday support life?"

They both paused, mentally exhausting their thoughts and knowing the futileness of their exchange. Only Scotch could settle these souls.

“So,” said Tank Arnold, “are going you to sell and leave?”

“Don’t have a place to go.”

“You don’t have to have a destination. Just, well, go!”

“But I can not just leave--my house, my neighbors. This is my home. Asteroid or no asteroid. Besides, like I said, what if the margin of error lands the asteroid right where I’ve moved to?”

“Too bad, I guess. Tough luck? Fate?”

“Don’t get me started on fate. I might just as well stay here and take my chances. I probably should have bought more Scotch.”

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