It's a lovely day in August in the town of X; the sun is shining brightly, a pleasant breeze is blowing and an asteroid 3,280 feet in diameter is hurtling towards it at a speed of 53,000 miles per hour.
But this is not the story of the asteroid.
This is the story of that lovely day in August in the town of X.
A is sitting on a bus, sweating profusely. Not because of the heat, no—it is actually much more cooler than he expected. The cause of his unnatural perspiration is seated right next to him, C, who unbeknownst to A is suffering from the exact same predicament. Why are their apocrine glands on overload, you ask? Well, essentially, this interaction between these two clumsy teenagers is what is called in social convention as a 'date'. But as of right now, a 'date' it is but in name. Neither of them have advanced past the initial meek 'hi's and nods and thus are now sweltering in an oppressive atmosphere of absolute awkwardness which grows every passing second. C has lost her favorite 'I'm a disaster waiting to happen' keychain (which doubles up as a good luck charm) and hence her self-confidence is at its lowest ebb. She is out of the first round. The onus is now on A. Will he deliver? He decides to man up and bites the bullet.
"Uh-hmm, so, what do you, uh, what do… you..." A trails off as his overtaxed brain shuts down and bails. A damp squib. He sits there in absolute horror and shame, unable to form any coherent thoughts or words. C whimpers, her soul crying out in agony. She gathers all the little courage she has and decides to go all or nothing.
"W-what do you...l-like?" C croaks and screams internally in despair. It sounded so much better in her head. But A is past any such minor goof ups, having transcended to the highest plane of awkwardness, and is now much more calm and prepared. He is a changed man.
"I like... air." A transcends further.
"I l-like it too."
C wants to jump out of the window but its dimensions betray her. She instead resorts to pumping her leg up and down, but steps on A's foot by mistake. A yelps. C is mortified.
A, his almost non-existent thought process even more muddled by the stinging in his foot, blanks on social conventions and goes for a gamble.
C's life flashes before her eyes.
A suddenly remembers the godly advice he received from the reputable site 'thepickupguru.com', which they claimed was guaranteed to make any woman fall head-over-heels in seconds. He is unexpectedly back in the game, confidence pumping through his veins. He takes a deep breath, tries to make his voice huskier and then goes in for the kill.
"Hey babe, does it hurt? Cuz it looks like you fell from heaven."
C is in complete awe. Not because of the line itself, or the utter braindeadness of using a pickup line on a date, but because of the immeasurable courage she knew it must have taken to spout that monstrosity. She knows because she follows the same site and had discarded it as too high level for her to use. Task failed successfully, A.
C suddenly realises how embarrassing she must look with her mouth open staring at him, but all her worries are for naught. A is too busy congratulating himself for being an absolute marvel. Anyway, the ball is in her court. She has to respond, or let the damning silence reign again.
"From t-the heavens? Ha ha. Like an...asteroid? That would be a disaster...uhh..." C's soul has departed to higher worlds where it hopes to be treated much less cruelly.
A cannot believe his ears. Not because of the astronomical level of cringe, but because, contrary to expectation, this is an absolute soft ball for him. Why? The Pickup Guru to the rescue again. The site had theorized that extensive knowledge in any field is impressive and inherently attractive. It makes one look way smarter than their actual 'so-stupid-I-google-how-to-approach-other-humans' self. And what did our hero choose?
Yes, asteroids. He studied asteroids to impress his date.
And still he manages to get that one girl in the whole world who butchers social interaction so hard that she somehow brings up those very same damned asteroids in conversation. One lucky bastard he is, eh?
Now building upon his breathtaking comeback, A begins his sermon on the unlikelihood of an asteroid disaster:
"No need to worry at all, my fair child. The asteroids capable of causing a global disaster if they hit the Earth are extremely rare. They probably would need to be about a kilometer or more in diameter, that is, about 3,280 feet wide. Fear not. Such bodies impact the Earth only once every 100,000 years on average. Other objects of a similar size, such as comets, impact even less frequently, perhaps once every 500,000 years or so. Therefore, the chance that any such substantial object will hit us in any given year is roughly 1 in 300,000—nothing to lose sleep over. I profess unto thee with total certainty, my sweet child, that such a calamity won't befall in our lifetime."
C stares at him with wonder and reverence, tears in her eyes. She has just undergone a spiritual experience, and has at long last found meaning in life in the absolute faith of asteroid disaster denial. She had never thought about those pieces of rocks floating in space in her entire life, but has now been convinced by the soul-stirring sermon that her purpose lies somewhere in their non-collision with earth. She feels like a new person altogether; she will never be the same again.
She is shaken from her reverie of edification by the bus coming to a sudden halt. They have reached the town center. They both stand up in haste, bump into each other, offer thanks, step on the other's feet and fall out of the bus in a heap. But since they have gone through cringe beyond what was thought to be humanly possible, they are immunized to such minor slip ups. Rather it makes them nostalgic of a time when they were mere mortals in the field of awkwardness.
Both of them feel the deathly silence threaten to engulf them again, and thus they pull out their trump card:
"Want to get some coffee? Cause I like you a latte…"
As they say the words together, their eyes meet and they forge a connection so deep and meaningful as which cannot be expressed within the mere dingy confines of human language and expression.
As our clumsy couple wander and stumble along blindly in the treacherous minefield of dating, survivalist and conspiracy theorist S is sprawled across his tiny bed, staring intently as if trying to decipher some meaning out of the bland steel ceiling of his meteor-proof bunker. From his youth, he has had an abnormal fear of meteors; the thought of a giant boulder of space rock crashing into the earth brought to his mind uneasy comparisons of a shoe crushing a cockroach, of which incidentally he also had a fear of. His specific phobia was that of an asteroid about 3,280 feet wide, enough to flatten a city but not the whole world. The thought of it made him queasy, like crushing only a part of a cockroach and seeing the headless arthropod running around. Yes, S was a man of atypical fears.
But today seems different to him. He doesn't know exactly what it is, but for the first time in his bunkered years, he feels odd. As if he isn't where he should be. He fidgets and flails his arms around in the bed, trying to push that idea out of his mind. He is the only sane man left, he reassures himself, and the plebs above ground will only understand when the reptiles controlling the government eventually show their true colors and summon a 3,280 feet asteroid to crush X town. He gags as an image of a headless roach frolicking around surfaces in his mind.
He gets out of bed, equips himself with a lightsaber and opens the trapdoor slightly, through which a solitary ray of sunlight descends to the floor. He squints as he assesses the state of anarchy the world is in. He is disappointed again as he sees nothing dystopian or extraordinary other than two exceptionally clumsy looking teens loitering outside a cafe. He shields his eyes as he feels a magnificent aura of awkwardness emanate from them as they try to enter through the door at the same time and get stuck in the doorframe.
He looks on in awe till he is distracted by a newspaper lying closeby. It was a special edition of 'Meteoritics Daily' by the revered astronomer and meteor specialist Dr M. Even though S has a negative figure of trust in most government institutions, he holds a begrudging respect for Dr M. He is a X town legend, and the current head of the much-esteemed World Asteroid Impact Prediction Task Force (WAIPTF), fondly known as WTF.
The headline proclaims: X Town Tops List of Least Likeliest Places on Earth to be Hit By An Asteroid For 20th Straight Year. He sucks in a breath. Another sign? He looks outside once again. Was he really not meant to be where he was, down in the protective meteor-proof embrace of the earth, but rather meant to dwell like a pleb in the harsh surface realm? He takes a deep breath of fresh air with an open mind. He feels a sense of enlightenment as he decides to follow his gut feeling. The feeling which for the past decades had told him to bury himself away from the chaos and entropy of the universe, now tells him that if there was one day in the entire history and future of space-time when an 3,280 feet wide asteroid won't hit X town, it is today. And he decides to trust his gut, paying no heed to the fact that his gut is often dead wrong and the 'feeling' is most probably just acidity.
Dr M is perplexed. It is not often that the revered astronomer, meteor specialist and the current head of WTF finds himself disconcerted, hell he doesn't remember if he'd ever been, but today presents such an abnormal scene. The object of his bamboozlement is an ancient Nokia phone, and the specific part of it so vexing him is the message on the screen. It reads in big glaring letters: BATTERY LOW. Dr M was stunned when it suddenly popped up on screen while he was trying to beat his best score in Snake. He tried to click it off but there it stayed, plastered across the screen. He felt bullied and close to tears. This strange incomprehensible message brought with it a sense of betrayal and loss as he mourned the treachery of his old friend and only companion for fifteen years. But now having consulted his teenage daughter through the even more archaic contraption known as the landline telephone, he finally understands that he needs to charge it (after several unsuccessful attempts at comprehension as she told him "it's just outta juice" and that he should just "juice it up pops").
He clutches the unfamiliar device known as the charger which he didn't know existed, having never performed this procedure in the past decade and half of owning the Nokia. It apparently needs a socket. And there is only one in this room and that was occupied. To get the whole picture here, it is necessary to understand the circumstances Dr M is in. Contrary to popular belief, the World Asteroid Impact Prediction Task Force does not reside in an hyper-advanced AI enabled sprawling headquarters, but in a small hole in the ground (Dr M calls it a crypt), and it's only member is M himself. He vaguely recalls the day when he was appointed by the Agency with much fanfare and public adulation, but was subsequently completely forgotten about by them. He doesn't even know if the Agency realizes that the task force still exists, and honestly he isn't sure if they still exist anymore. Hell, the last time he received a check was fourteen years and seven months ago. But he doesn't let his work get affected by such minor trifles; for he is not just a man, but the hopes and dreams of a people.
He prides himself on winning the 'Most Trusted Person in this Godforsaken World' twenty years in a row, his reign beginning when he started writing the ever-so accurate asteroid impact predictions. The people were awed: now this was a man who, in contrast to every damn official in the world, knew what he was doing—if he says the asteroid won't strike, it just won't. To be honest that is the only thing he ever says as no asteroids seem even remotely interested in gracing Earth, and M doesn't believe he will ever get the privilege of actually issuing an asteroid warning in his lifetime.
That brings us to the issue in hand: the solitary socket is powering the only piece of asteroid detecting machinery of the WAIPTF, which is a 1989 model CRT computer running on Windows XP. Dr M mulls over the probabilities and is pleased to find that the chance of an asteroid hitting the earth today is only about as much as the chance of encountering a man in a bear costume wielding a lightsaber saying "the surface realm isn't as bad as I thought", and that is about as close to zero probability as you can get. The doctor feels a load lift off his shoulders and replaces the asteroid warning system with his Nokia phone. He waits for a few hours but the process seems to be taking too long. He stretches and decides to go out for a walk. He climbs out of the hole.
And encounters a man in a bear costume wielding a lightsaber saying "the surface realm isn't as bad as I thought".
At the same time A and C stumble out of the cafe and are bewildered upon seeing a bear wielding a lightsaber and the revered Dr M crawling out of a hole in the ground.
But their confoundment is interrupted as they spot a magnificent shooting star. Their hearts now aflutter, they close their eyes and hold hands after a few unsuccessful attempts. They both wish for the progression of their singular romance, unheeding the panicked cries of the survivalist betrayed by his acidic gut and the doctor deceived by his trusted Nokia.
And thus unbeknownst to the lovely couple, the sky above X bursts into flames as the asteroid of diameter 3,280 feet comes crashing towards them at a speed of 53,000 miles per hour, ready to flatten the whole town.
But that's a story for another day.