When the news about Apollo 1265 leaked out and was finally confirmed, the cynics said we were all so calm because we just didn’t know how to react. We’d never been told the world was going to come to an end before. Not by anyone except fundamentalists, and nobody had given their physics any credit since Galileo. Everybody expected acid rain and ozone holes and African pandemics to kill us. We were ready for slow death. But we’d never before been told we could mark it down on the calendar.
Apollo 1265 was originally a Kuiper Belt object perturbed by Jupiter into a very elongated orbit that took it out and back once every 127 years. Close approaches to Earth came once every thousand years. The last few times around it had passed too far away and nobody noticed.
This time we were going to notice.
Apollo 1265 was a naked eye object by late September. One of the cable channels set up a small telescope and camera and kept it trained on the thing as long as it was above the horizon in New York. A little clock ticked away down in the bottom right hand of the screen: Time To Go, in days, hours, minutes, seconds.
They said it would hit in the Pacific on Christmas Day. The atheists had a field day with this little detail and attacked full bore, opting for the moral high ground adversus the Divine, a position that they had really preferred to atheism all along, but had never felt entitled to until now. Turned out they liked the idea of a bad god better than no god at all.
The churches began to fill up as the day drew closer and the baleful new Bethlehem Apollo, as somebody named it, became the third brightest light in the sky. You could start to make out details on its surface with the little television scopes on cable and the net.
The Bethlehem Apollo was closing on us with the speed of a moderately fast meteor and would hit the Roche limit and break up about 5000 to 6000 miles out — about 100 seconds before impact — if our guess about its tensile strength was correct. Because it was aimed at the limb of the Earth rather than bull’s eye dead for the center, fragments would scatter out in a long, looping half orbit, some grazing the atmosphere and skipping back out into space, some slowing enough to drop back in after a bounce or two to let the other side of the planet have it. Anything between 60 degrees north latitude and the Tropic of Capricorn all the way around was going to be a hard hat area Christmas Day.
There was little cause for relief in Australia, however. Some speculated the impact of so much mass would tilt Earth on its rotational axis enough to move the Arctic and Antarctic circles down to the twentieth parallels. There was no doubt the climatic effects of the impact would finish everything off within weeks. Nobody in the Northern Hemisphere was bothering to pack.
The panic started to creep in by Hallowe’en, and that’s when the government came up with the idea that maybe they should try to get some people off to the Moon to wait until things settled down again. They started to work out the transfer orbits, and then they saw the numbers. And in that instant, everything changed.
The mood Christmas Eve was jubilant, and the world watched the collision on TV, those who didn’t live in east Asia where it happened right overhead. You could see the disk of the Bethlehem Apollo moving against the background of the brightening stars, everyone screaming and banging gongs just like they used to do when the Moon ate the Sun in an eclipse and they thought the world was coming to an end.
And then the Moon slipped into place and took the punch. When plotting the incoming path of the Bethlehem Apollo, they had forgot to figure in the path of the Moon. You wouldn’t think they would do that, but they had.
It happened the way you remember a car crash. The Bethlehem Apollo eased behind the three day old Moon, and a plume of incandescent rock began to rise back along the path of the asteroid. The surface of the Moon on the side facing us suddenly started to leap off the Moon’s surface and out into space. Shock waves traveled through the Moon, focused and refracted by the varying densities of the satellite’s core and crust, and now, regrouping and converging on the near side, they spit a shattered, 300 mile wide piece forward at about two miles per second.
Precession of the newly unstable mass swung the rotation of the Moon about, but only for a brief while, because as the satellite tried to regain rotational equilibrium, the side facing Earth started to glow with a dull red radiance, and years of academic speculation about whether the Moon’s core was solid or liquid were solved posthumously as the Bethlehem Apollo pushed the Moon’s solid, but expanding, core right through on our side, the long-pressurized, dense rock exploding through phase changes as it adjusted to the release from the deep pressure and came into the cold vacuum for the first time in four and a half billion years.
Then the meteor shower came to us.
We lost half the population of the planet in one long night when the skies screamed and burned in long, white streaks of pain like the devil’s dirty fingernails on a black, starlit chalkboard. When things stopped falling and the sky cleared two months later, the population of the earth was down to a few million, and one last shock was left.
We might have known what it was going to be even before the sky cleared, if it hadn’t been for the fact that everyone who lived near the sea had been killed during the meteor storms. The two weeks of really big ones had generated so many tsunamis that nobody survived in any place less than two hundred feet above sea level. So nobody under the shield of vast, thick, gray cloud had noticed that there were no tides anymore.
So we were shocked, one and all, when the skies cleared in February and we all looked up through the cold, smoky sky and saw The Ring.
The Ring was beautiful, of course. You looked at it and you thought, Noah’s rainbow. Only this rainbow was silver, silver set in turquoise during the day, and silver set in azure at twilight, except where it passed through the shadow of the Earth. There, directly overhead at midnight, was the dark disk of Earth’s shadow, bigger than the old Moon, but dark and reddish, as the sunlight refracting around us cast the ruddy glow of every sunrise and every sunset on Earth out to the Ring. It was all the more lovely, because we all remembered the Moon, and she had saved us, and now she was no more. But wherever we used to watch her cross the sky in the back yard, wherever we were accustomed to see her rise and fall, and where we used to watch for her return when the new Moon was due — now we saw the Ring, and the dark, garnet shadow like the last glowing ember of a sacrifice, and we remembered how we were spared.
We’ve had a good year or two since. Everybody lives like kings. Everybody owns land and everybody farms. Everybody eats well. Everyone has a piece of the Moon on a fireplace mantel.
There are still meteors, of course. There will be for years yet, as many of the grazers fall in from time to time. And the ones knocked into solar orbit — we get a pretty nasty meteor storm once a year from those every Christmas.
Earthquakes are a problem, too. The surviving geologists tell us that lunar tidal forces used to act on the ground as well as the sea, raising the surface of the earth under our feet several inches, twice a day. Now, there are no tidal forces rubbing the tension out of Earth’s round shoulders, and tiny stresses in the crust that used to get dispersed by the Moon tend to build up until it’s really bad and then they cut loose.
There were a few extinctions, of course. Lots of forests burned under the meteorites, and that meant lots of localized species didn’t make it. But the fires didn’t last long.
So we were all a little surprised when, a year after the sun came out again, we started losing species once more. Moths, migratory birds, several fish species, a couple of dozen tree species, all started dying off. They weren’t caught up in meteor damage or earthquakes. They were just dying. They needed the Moon for navigation and for timing their egg laying and so on, and she wasn’t there anymore.
Next came the songbirds, the raccoons, and the bears, and lots of other mammal species. They weren’t dying, exactly. There were just fewer and fewer of them, even after reckoning in all those that died in the meteor storm. Then we figured out what was happening, because it started to happen to us.
I remember how scientists used to make fun of those people who said the Moon governed things like murders. More murders during the full Moon, they used to say. Ask any cop. And more births — ask any nurse. Scientists laughed that one off. There’s no foundation in it, they said. Look at births. The human ovulation cycle runs 29 days. The lunar synodic period, the lunar month, is 27.3 days. There’s no connection. It’s an old wives’ tale. The dates are a coincidence, and not even a particularly close one at that.
But the lunar month wasn’t always 27.3 days. Six hundred million years ago the Moon was a lot closer to the Earth. The Earth day was 21 hours long then, and the synodic period much shorter. For that matter, human reproduction isn’t exactly clockwork, either. Maybe it was close enough at some point in the past when things like that got built into us once and for all.
There hasn’t been a murder on Earth for a couple of years now. Crime is down to nothing. That’s the good news. We have the millennium the Christians always promised us; there’s peace and plenty everywhere. The problem is, the thousand years of peace were supposed to be followed by the Day of Judgement. And now we know, sure enough, it will be, but it isn’t going to take a thousand years. About seventy more will do it.
There hasn’t been a child born for a year now. We’ve tried drugs, hormones, artificial fertilization, and so on, and so on. Nothing works. There will be no more children. We know why. We just don’t understand why.
For two years now we have lived like kings. There’s enough food and land for everyone. We have time on our hands, in one sense. We can even go down to the sea again on holidays.
But it still seems odd to me that so many people spend their nights and days down at the shore, walking with their love under the Ring and gazing up at the dark circle of the red shadow like a dying fire, or sitting under the sun and watching idly while the last men on Earth get their diapers full of sea water as they pick up pieces of the broken Moon and the shells of other dead things left behind on the shore of a tideless sea.
© 2012 by Keith Azariah-Kribbs
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