Words || Nikita Jones
It was a quarter to eight on a Saturday morning and the sun had almost set. The fact that none of the planets in the TRAPPIST solar system rotate at all never stopped anyone from trying to hold them accountable for the passing of time. All day and all night the sun remains frozen in its spot, hovering just a few inches above the horizon, and people continue to call it 8am when they get out of bed. Humans have always just kind of done whatever they want.
The planet Chandler is the fourth orbiting terrestrial mass of TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool dwarf star located in the Aquarius constellation. From Chandler’s surface a human being, without the help of a telescope, can see the three planets which come before it in orbital order. Lately however, humans who have bothered to look to the sky have also been able to see something else, something growing.
The ultra-cool dwarf star was renamed ‘the sun’ after poets resorted to rhyming TRAPPIST with fascist. The seven life-sustaining planets which orbit it, however, those were named half a millennium ago, via Twitter. After making the ground-breaking discovery, NASA, the single American government affiliated body responsible for space exploration at the time opened up an online naming competition. A 21st century public which stood in the shadow of Boaty McBoatface was clearly not ready for this responsibility. However, a NASA which was staring down the barrel of some pretty massive budget cuts was kind of looking for a ‘fuck you’ anyway.
All of this leads us to an almost inconceivable amount of time later, when there stood an apartment complex on McGregor Street in the suburb of Deakin in the city of Canberra in the country of Australia on the planet of Chandler ‘Fuck You’ Bing. In it, lived Australia’s best and brightest astrophysicist and her girlfriend, Kath. And now it was ten to eight, the sun, of course, hadn’t moved an inch. The approaching rock mass, however, had grown – almost imperceptibly, but it had definitely grown.
Mel was watching her new coffee machine download, her eyes following the little robot arm row by row in a half-conscious morning trance.
‘Anybody tell you staring at a 3D printer gives you cancer?’ Kath ignored the forthcoming eyeroll. “How long’s that got to go?”
Mel frowned at the three quarters of a coffee machine before her and then checked the clock. “About five or ten.”
“You’ve just been sitting here?”
“Yep.” Mel liked to pop the ‘p’. Especially in the morning, it added to her wry ‘don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee’ vibe. She shot Kath a mock withering look just to sell it a bit more.
Kath leant down to kiss the look off Mel’s face. “Your hair’s all stuck to the side of your skull,” she said, ruffling it and moving further into the kitchen to retrieve the instant coffee. She sat her little kitten mug in the microwave and stared at the numbers ticking down. “You going into work today?” she asked.
Mel had been working weekends for the past month on account of the rapidly approaching asteroid in the sky. She paused. “Yeah.”
Kath said nothing. She pulled herself up onto the table so the afternoon light from the kitchen window caught her creased expression in full.
“This will be the last weekend.” Mel said, before reflecting on the morbidity of her statement. “One way or another, I guess.”
Kath was still watching the numbers on the microwave.
Mel abandoned the 3D printer. She moved across the room to step between Kath’s legs, crowding her a little and waggling her eyebrows, “what’s your plans for the end of the world?”
Kath scoffed, bringing her hand up to Mel’s face. She tried pushing fingers through her hair but they got tangled not quite an inch of the way in. “Go have a shower.”
“Mm, good plan.” Just then, the 3D printer pinged and Mel jumped away with an excitable grin.
“You realise we don’t have any of those little pod thingies.”
Kath laughed, threw her teaspoon at her. “Go have a shower so you can save the world.”
So, Mel did. She stepped into the stream and stared at the glass. She tried not to count the days and failed. Six more days. It was going to hit them. Probably. She knew the numbers, knew the science, and it would hit them in six days. There was nothing Science could do about it. But the world, she thought pseudo-poignantly while standing naked under the hot water, is ineffable. Somehow, surely, the asteroid will miss them. In any case, she needed to clock in at 9.
The sun never rose in Rome. It hovered just below the horizon, giving off a permanent, dull, pre-dawn light – evidently enough UV for the sturdy shrubbery the pontiff had planted in his front lawn years ago, but not quite enough to warm one’s toes. The vast majority of this side of Chandler consisted of frozen tundra, but the Vatican, rich both in heavenly blessings and a decently stable economy, had planted some of those newfangled ground heaters. They weren’t perfect, some of them conked out periodically, leaving icy patches on the lawn which you had to really look out for, especially with bad hips. But they worked well enough to keep God’s green earth good and green.
God’s green Chandler? The Pope wondered, while he triggered the internal irrigation system in his shrubs. He shook his head. The nominal technicalities had been a real bitch for everyone, not the least of all for the Church. They’d had to rewrite the bible according to a new dictionary; ‘earth’ was still ‘earth’ but now ‘Earth’ had become ‘Chandler’. It had really thrown everyone for a loop. Did God make Chandler too? Did it take a week, or had he gotten it down to a bit more of an art by then? Did this world have its own chosen one or did Jesus find the time in his busy schedule to save two worlds instead of just the original? They still hadn’t truly hammered out the details. It had only been five hundred years since man touched down on this planet – just the blink of an eye in Church years. And people had bigger things to pray about now. Getting bigger by the day.
Just now, as his holiness inspected his shrubbery, he was planning an upcoming speech for the cardinals. “Dearest Holy fellows,” he would say, “we are gathered here, as you know, to discuss the matter of the great asteroid”. No matter how he phrased it in his mind, he couldn’t quite make the word ‘asteroid’ sound like it belonged in the papal office.
The meeting wasn’t actually supposed to be about what to do, like he figured was dominating most of the meetings around the world. The Pope was more concerned with what to say.
You see, his God was all seeing, all knowing, all powerful, but most importantly unknowable. This posed some issues for the Pope, who was meant to be ‘infallible’, when he was inevitably asked about the fate of the Earth. The fate of the Chandler, he amended. The Pope himself didn’t, God pardon, know shit about shit. Sure, he prayed, they were all praying. There was too much time in the day if you didn’t spend some of it praying. But the pontiff had spent his whole life pondering the great being in the sky and he certainly wasn’t under the impression that it was up to measly humans to make the big guy aware of what was going on. All knowing, you see. He (with a capital H) sure as shit knew about the giant space-rock aiming directly at all of His children. What God was going to do about it was up to God and God alone. Nothing to do for it. The Pope went inside to check on his flowers.
Half a world away, and not too much further it was almost dinner time at the White House. The morning sun shot harsh rays through the floor length windows of the oval office anyway though, because as established, good ol’ TRAPPIST-1 just doesn’t give a hot damn. The office itself was modelled exactly like its original Earth predecessor only made from cheaper, lighter materials. Such is the American way. It was twenty to seven.
The President’s not the sort who paces. The way she saw it, she’d worked hard enough to sit behind this desk, so she’d spend as much time sitting behind it as possible. Perhaps if she spent too much time walking about, people might forget she was supposed to be the president. Her staffers though, they were tearing up the crested carpet like you wouldn’t believe. Her chief strategist was sitting on the couch, eyes on his screen. As she looked over at him, his mouth twisted upwards in a fraction of a sly giggle before he quickly schooled his expression back to the same, rather contrived, grim countenance everyone else in the room bore. Anyone who saw it might have assumed the slight movement to be a grimace of pain from an uncomfortable chair, or perhaps the more hopeful observer might have seen the seed of an idea springing forward in his mind. Madam President knew it was a dog video.
She didn’t blame the man for slacking off. They’d been at this for weeks by now and anyone with an iota of intelligence (certainly the President, and certainly her chief strategist) knew that these meetings were not, nor had they ever been, about strategy. Not for the first, or even the hundredth time today, her eyes flicked up to the clock on the wall – a nice mahogany analogue thing, for authenticity. It was still not quite quarter to seven. If the room had been empty she would have groaned aloud. Instead, she began mentally breaking down the minutes left of her day. Despite the early sun streaming through the window, in fifteen minutes – just three lots of five minutes – young Mr Black will knock politely, ask her if she wants to take her dinner in the office. It was customary to give the commander in chief the option in times like these. She might take him up on it this time, for the sake of appearances. The food will taste the same either way, and the asteroid will certainly keep hurtling in its current direction, but the people in this room might allow themselves to breathe a half sigh of relief. The kind of relief that washes over a person when they think someone else is on it. It, in this case, being the burning, Chandler-sized mass of space rock hurtling towards them at a breakneck pace.
It was really just a waiting game. That’s what her frown was masking, that’s what her strategist knew, that’s what her staffers were pretending they didn’t know. The whole world was watching the clock, waiting for something to happen, for someone to do something, and the President was watching along with them. There were no crack-teams to send up in to space for whatever reason, she hadn’t managed to stumble onto a lifeboat big enough to save mankind, and all the missiles in the world won’t stop a damn asteroid. So, she waited.
She looked around the room at the identical furrowed expressions of her staff. She’ll send them away, eat dinner with her strategist. The two old friends will frown at one another over their peas, both of them too smart to give up the charade, but both of them just smart enough to know what’s going on.
The asteroid will hit, or it won’t. The scientists will figure out how to hack the universe, or somebody’s God will swoop in with some last-minute salvation, or maybe her own government will throw out the books and launch a bunch of missiles at it just to see what happens. Or they won’t. Either way, Mr Black was knocking about dinner.