Earth had not stood a chance. Careful tracking of the known asteroids and comets had accurately predicted some close calls from sizeable rocks over the past several decades, and yielded some spectacular natural fireworks alongside some notable devastation at least twice in recent memory over the skies of modern Russia and of the former Soviet Union from lesser meteors that, without ever striking the ground, still managed to make their presence known as they exploded in the atmosphere, releasing energy equivalent to hundreds of Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs. But none of the earlier devastation wreaked on a defenseless planet by sizeable asteroids in the past, including the one that erased the dinosaurs from the Earth and paved the way for the eventual ascent of homo sapiens, could compare to the 113-mile diameter spherical asteroid that struck the Earth on Sunday, July 19, 2026 in Tierra del Fuego, at the Southern-most tip of South America. The resulting devastation was complete. Within weeks, nearly all life on the planet was extinguished by the force of the primary explosion that made Tierra del Fuego live up to its literal name of “land of the fire,” and by the dozens of smaller impact zones from fragments of the asteroid that broke apart from the heat of entry. These secondary strikes ranged over a wide swath of the globe as far as Australia, while many fragments exploded in the atmosphere before ever touching the ground. Within weeks of the impact, the devastation wrought by out of control fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the sudden melting of a sizable portion of the South Pole’s icecap foretold of the eventual extinction of all life on Earth.
There had been notice, of course—666 days of it, to be precise, a number that fueled an endless stream of debate, devotion, and gave birth to more than a few doomsday cults. Armageddon was duly delivered on time by a massive asteroid carrying the number of the beast. Pluto may have been demoted to a planetoid, but the ancient god of the underworld got the last laugh and the benefit of the bargain as he received more than seven billion new souls from a once-verdant world bludgeoned by an errant rock.
The nearly two years of warning were insufficient to avert disaster. Earth simply did not have the technology to destroy or deflect a 113-mile-wide planetoid moving towards it at an orbital velocity of 20 kilometers per second on a previously undiscovered elliptical orbit around the sun that took it into the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune’s orbit. It might have been kinder had humanity been spared the precise date and modality of its demise. But there was no way to hide the truth once it became apparent, and no way to spare the aftermath of that truth. Lawlessness resulted from the communal despair of people given a death sentence without hope of reprieve. Suffice it to say that humanity’s last two years were not on balance proud ones for a species performing its swan song. If this was, as some claimed, God’s wrath visited upon an unrepentant creation that had learned little from the lessons of its expulsion from paradise, Sodom and Gomorrah or the great flood, humanity certainly gave little evidence of being undeserving of the punishment in the months leading to the end.
When it became apparent that disaster could not be avoided and that long-term survival on Earth after the impact would be untenable, both private and public efforts were undertaken in every country to prepare for the end and to ensure that humanity’s seed would not be extinguished. Governments mobilized to expand underground bunkers in an effort to extend life for at least the chosen few, as well as retain a record of human kind’s collective history and samples of its art, science, and literature. Hardened bunkers built to withstand nuclear strikes might survive the impact for the former players in the deadly game of mutual assured destruction, at least for a while. Existing facilities were expanded to the extent possible in the available time, and stocked with sufficient food, water, and oxygen to allow the chosen few to live underground for up to five years. Technology developed for space and for use in submarines, including air and water reclamation processes, hydroponics gardens housing genetically altered strains of fast-growing wheat and other grains, and small nuclear generators capable of providing the necessary energy to run the equipment that made a self-contained closed environment possible were used and implemented with all due haste.
In the United States, military bunkers from the cold war era were reclaimed and new ones built with a total capacity to house approximately 250,000 people. No attempt was made to make the selection process of the chosen few democratic or fair. There was not even the pretense of a lottery system that might buy the chance to cheat death for a lucky few. In the end, the survival of the species was of paramount importance and the decisions made were based on the criteria set by a civilian government backed by martial law.
Other countries made similar preparations and, even in the poorest countries, some effort was made to provide the chance for survival to a lucky few. All of these efforts would largely prove futile on the day of the impact, but they represented a courageous attempt to avoid defeatism and despair. Although the record must show that in the final days anarchy ruled the world, perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that humanity did not surrender to its fate or walk quietly into the night like sheep to the slaughter but met its fate fighting to the end for life.
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