With our backs pressed against the cool grass, we watch the comet streaking towards Earth.
Jenn says, “Did you think it would end like this?”
I shake my head. “I was fairly confident NASA would figure it out in time and save humanity, if you want to know the truth.”
Her hand in mine, her head against my chest. Her freckled cheeks are tracked with silvery tears. I feel myself pulled towards her, as though she’s some giant magnet, and my heart’s made of iron. She whispers, “Everyone’s going to die.”
I squeeze her hand. “It looks that way.”
Darkness chews across the land, the comet looms, eclipsing the sun, a huge black disc cut from a sudden backdrop of glittering stars. In the field around us, people start to cry, mostly girls, but some of the guys are crying too.
Jenn says, “Do you think there’ll be a – you know – an after?”
I sigh, not wanting to dishearten her further, but there’s no point lying: “That thing’s going to destroy everything, Jenn. The oceans will boil, walls of fire the height of mountains will sweep the land clean of all life. The Earth will likely shift on its axis, maybe a second moon will be formed, but the only thing that’ll survive is microbial life . . . Maybe in a million, two million years, the planet will recover enough to start again.”
A blow to my shoulder. “Pessimist!”
I laugh. “Actualist!”
“If only the bombs had worked.” She’s staring up again.
I shrug. “If.”
Because, let’s face it, NASA’s standards must have slipped. They should have asked me. I’m a physicist. I could have told them it would never work. You don’t try to blow up a mountain with fireworks, so I can’t see how they expected a few nukes to destroy a rock this big . . .
Speaking of which, said rock is growing larger by the second, poised to strike. Sunlight traces its edges, revealing details, a shattered, grey landscape of rock and pock-marked craters pooling with sun. Planet Earth is about to bump-knuckles with a fist the size of Pluto.
Jenn huddles closer still, clasping my forearm with trembling fingers. I enclose them with my own, stroke softly back and forth. She’s my girl, I’m so glad she’s with me to see this.
Abruptly the sky brightens – the comet has entered the outer edges of the atmosphere. Friction claws the surface, chunks the size of aircraft carriers break apart and incandesce. This happens in utter silence, the sound has yet to reach the surface. Stately, the gigantic hunk of rock plummets, dragging the atmosphere with it like cannon-shot plunging through cloth.
I catch Jen glancing around at the hundreds gathered here on the open, grassy plain. She’s looking for confirmation; searching for evidence she’s not the only one going through this. She wants to feel a part of it, this collective upwelling of emotion.
I say, “That glow you see is the air in front of the comet compressing. With nowhere to go, it heats up dramatically.”
Jenn nods, but she’s silenced by the majesty of that slowly burning rock.
I say, “Most of those chunks you see breaking off, they’ll just burn up in the atmosphere. The tail is mostly rock, gases, and ice, that’ll vaporise too.”
She squeezes my hand. “Stop narrating,”
I nod. “Won’t be long.”