Thursday, November 5, 2015

4 - Boomtown


              The meteors changed everything.

That might seem like a stupidly obvious thing to say, but most human infrastructure was not built to deal with the scenario that the universe starts hucking a non-stop barrage of rocks at us.

Before the meteors, there were legions of satellites orbiting the planet, enabling our entire data-driven culture. GPS, TV, telecom, weather forecasting, military intelligence, astronomy, cartography, disaster relief – all built on a robust, highly redundant system of orbital machinery that punctured, cracked, and collapsed entirely in a matter of weeks. The airline industry collapsed. The shipping industry collapsed. Solar energy, which had been thisclose to becoming a viable worldwide savior, was suddenly a complete boondoggle, with thousands of flat, brittle acres of solar panel becoming so much high-tech swiss cheese.

There was a rush on oil, a rush on coal, a rush on cash, rushes on food, on water, on medicine. There were riots. Panic. Cults. Mass suicides. Mass murders. Societal and economic collapses and rebounds and recollapses. And this was all in the first three months.

But then, somehow, equilibrium. Starting with, of course, the British.

As the rest of the world panicked, the Brits went to the print shop. They reclaimed a piece of their history from the garbage bin of pop culture.




Those red posters popped up everywhere. Not ironically, not as a meme, not to sell vodka, but as an honest to god bridge back to the past, a reminder that for the Brits, death from above was just another day at the office.

The French could hardly let the British out-poise them. And the Germans couldn’t let the French show more resolve. World War II nostalgia swept the continent, and Europe collectively dusted itself off, stood up, and sneered skyward.

Russia opened a bottle and shrugged forward, cynicism intact. China rallied gloriously, Japan started working the problem. These were the struts that helped prop the rest of the world to its feet.

The Americans took a different approach.

Within days of the first meteor impacts on US soil, Congress called for an immediate and dramatic increase in defense spending. The goal: to create a national umbrella that would detect, intercept, and eliminate all incoming space debris and make America safe again, by God.

NASA was quickly absorbed into the effort, all funding and personnel placed under the discretion of the Department of Defense, and the country’s top minds and biggest guns set to work creating completely insane, unbelievably expensive systems to try to stop a literally unending barrage of rocky debris travelling toward Earth at around seventy times the speed of sound. Most of the plans involved lasers.

While the government assured the American people that a space defense system was just around the corner, the people themselves took matter into their own hands, mostly through prayer and social media. Millions of people changed their Facebook picture to Bruce Willis, specifically to his character from Armageddon, as a sign that they would not be intimidated by a bunch of lousy space boulders. Prayer groups formed nationwide, sincerely requesting that God take a break from hucking rocks at them.

While the rest of the world adjusted, and adapted, America clung firmly to the idea that This Should Not Be Happening.

But it was happening, and it did happen. Dust was the norm; people got up in the morning and cleared the grit from their cars before driving into work. And as the months stretched on, more and more people were claimed by chunks, which were loosely defined as fist-sized rocks. An entire vocabulary was evolving around what had essentially become a new, everyday form of precipitation. Dust stopped meaning dust, and grit stopped meaning grit, in their respective traditional senses. Chunks were chunks (in fact, “Chunks Happen,” became a popular bumper-sticker slogan, as chunks seemed to have an almost supernatural tendency to hit cars). Hunks were bigger than chunks. Smashers would take out a house. Anything above a smasher was usually a major event. Buildings went down. Towns got wiped out. If you heard a newscaster say “There’s been a major event in Des Moises, Iowa, then Des Moines, Iowa was probably not there anymore.”

There were also cataclysmic events. In theory, anyhow. Those were the ones the agency formerly known as NASA were worried about, those were the ones big enough to see coming. Those were the ones that would knock Earth on its collective ass. Earth had dodged the cataclysmic event so far, and maybe it would forever. Or maybe not.

But as the rocks fell, and fell, and fell, the world collected data. It sorted numbers, compiled results, fed vast tracts of facts and figures to its best silicon minds, and a pattern emerged. Or a whole in the pattern, anyway: one town in central New York, a little dot on the map called Owego, had never been hit. By anything. Not a single grain of grit, not a single speck of dust. Ten miles to the east, ten miles to the west – fair game. You could literally walk to the edge of the township, take a single step forward, and immediately feel a pelting of debris. Take a step back, and nothing.

There was nothing else like it on Earth. The impacts petered off a bit at the poles, but even there they were inescapable. No other country, no other continent had a spot like Owego, a spot literally untouched by the cosmic rockfall that had forced its way into everyday reality for the rest of the globe.

America rallied back to life. It might have been just a few square miles, and it might have been just a few thousand people, but the one safe town on Earth was on American soil, and thus followed one indisputable fact: somehow, someway, America itself was exceptional.

 Suddenly, a little town in central New York became the most important spot on Earth. And everybody wanted a piece of it.