(Note: This story was done on assignment for the spiritual science-fiction anthology The Testament of Lael. The assignment was to write a sequel to the book of Revelation.)
I am Johanna, granddaughter of a Wise One, an Astronomer, who in the Great Dome revealed to me the mysteries of the night. I chisel these words into the granite at the base of the Shrine of the Sky to tell future generations about the end of the old world.
When I was a girl fifty years ago, a brilliant new star-like object appeared in the sky. This object, a Comet, grew brighter every night as it fell toward us from its frigid perch on the edge of the solar system.
My grandfather taught me the secrets of the Comet. He said it was "a 'dirty snowball' composed of dust, stone, ice, and frozen gases." As it neared the sun the frozen gases in the solid nucleus boiled away. The cloud of dust and ionized vapor formed a cloud or "coma" that glowed in the sunlight. The pressure of the sunlight on the rarefied coma caused it to stream away in the distinctive tail.
The coma grew to be ten thousand miles across, and the wispy tail stretched over a million miles long. The dense nucleus, a comparatively tiny 12 miles across, was, nevertheless, the largest comet nucleus Astronomers had ever observed. This cosmic iceberg 12 miles in diameter, moreover, was falling out of the sky. A trillion tons of ice and rock, traveling at 50,000 miles per hour, was on a collision course with earth.
The Wise Ones said a huge comet had struck the earth 65 million years ago. In that planet-wide catastrophe, the dinosaurs, who had ruled the earth for millions of years, had died. Our Comet was twice the size of that Cretaceous' killer.
Since ancient times people had thought comets heralded disasters. Many times false prophets linked comets with the end of the world, but they had always been wrong before. This time the prophecies finally came true.
When news traveled around the world about the impending destruction, many panicked and many prayed. Religious revivals swept the globe. "Repent!" the preachers cried. "The Day of the Lord is coming. God is swinging his starry scythe to reap your souls. Save your souls while there is time."
Some tried to save our bodies in addition to our souls. Missiles, once pointed at other humans, were pointed at the threat from the sky. The missiles streaked upward to intercept the Comet, but because they had not been designed for the task, they were only partly successful. The resulting explosions deflected the Comet slightly from its path, but it was not enough to spare the earth.
The detonations, however, fragmented the Comet into smaller pieces. Multiple comas and tails filled the night sky as the Comet storm hurtled toward our planet. The largest segment of the Comet missed, but Comet splinters bombarded the earth with a hailstorm of fire. As the icy stones slammed into the atmosphere, the high-speed shock compressed and heated them. They blazed through the atmosphere like stars diving out of the sky toward the earth.
Many of the smaller fiery fragments exploded in the air. Although such air bursts left no large craters, they still flattened life beneath them.
Larger incandescent chunks, some the size of mountains, turned the night sky into day. They punched through the crust of the earth, melting the very elements in the resulting explosions. Shock waves smashed everything within thousands of square miles. Mushroom clouds of dust and soot boiled up into the sky.
The planet shuddered from the multiple shock waves. Fault lines slipped, adding earthquakes to the devastation. The geological stresses caused dormant volcanoes to erupt, blasting ash into the sky and searing the land with molten lava.
Dust from the explosions and volcanic eruptions blotted out the sun. Carpets of darkness unrolled across the blue sky.
Many fragments hit the oceans. The titanic splashes became tidal waves thousands of feet high, sloshing back and forth against the continents and destroying every coastal city in the world. Even cities along inland rivers were washed away in floods as the angry waters roared up the channels.
The explosive ocean impacts made millions of tons of water flash into steam, and the resultant glowing underwater craters boiled sea water like giant kettles. High in the atmosphere the steam cooled, combined with dust, and rained down black mud. The oceanic and atmospheric disruptions spawned dozens of hurricanes and hundreds of tornadoes that raked the continents and seas.
An especially vicious double twister killed my parents and brother as it flattened our town. The capricious whirlwind left me with only minor bruises and an awful ache in my heart. My great loss, however, was but an infinitesimal fraction of the devastation that still defies my full comprehension.
Billions of people died in those days. Untold numbers of plants and animals perished. The bones of modern civilization lay scattered by the fire and wind and water.
The Doomsday Comet, however, only finished the job we had already started. We had polluted the world's water, air, and land with toxins and wastes. We had depleted the ozone layer that shielded against deadly ultraviolet radiation. We had destroyed the rain forests that breathed new oxygen into the air. We had abused the earth's resources until there was too little left to sustain six billion needy humans. The ills of overpopulation were only countered by the evils of wars, famines, and plagues. We humans had become like doomed dinosaurs. The Comet only hastened our near extinction.
Small groups, nevertheless, survived the dark times. Some hid in caves and old fallout shelters. Many envied those who had perished immediately. Some hoped their refuges would crumble and bury them to end their misery.
Others fled to the mountains. The mountains contained many of the Observatories. My grandfather, the Astronomer who first sighted this Comet, rescued me and brought me to this mountain.
In ancient times mountains were considered holy, a place of refuge and revelation. Upon this mountain, the Great and Terrible Comet was first sighted. Upon this mountain we survived the storms of fire, wind, and water. Upon this mountain my grandfather taught me Astronomy in the Shrine of the Sky. Upon this mountain a small cluster of broken families began anew.
Half a century has now passed since the Comet Cataclysm purged our planet. Like a giant wounded organism that heals itself with time, the earth has recovered its balance. The rains have cleansed the atmosphere. New vegetation has sprung up on the scarred land.
We now have a new earth--no more smog, toxic wastes, ozone depletion, or rain forest destruction. We survivors renounced the old ways of destructive technology and blind greed that had poisoned our planet.
We also have a new heaven. One Comet chunk, slowed by the rockets' explosions, lost more speed as it caromed between the earth's and moon's gravity wells. As if it were guided by the earth's lost mission control center, the fragment's unusual trajectory caused it to be captured by the earth's gravity. The Child of the Comet circles the earth in a high orbit to this day. Its tail sweeps across the night sky like a beautiful celestial rainbow.
Some say the Rainbow Comet--like the original rainbow in the story of Genesis--is a sign of a renewed covenant between God and the earth. Some say the beautiful but deadly Mother Comet was an avenging angel sent to fulfill ancient prophecies of the old earth being destroyed by fire.
Some say such things, but I can only say, "Perhaps." I confess ignorance of God's purposes, but I feel profound awe as I study the scintillating stars in the velvet sky.
Life and death come from the heavens. Without the warm light of the sun, a quite ordinary and commonplace star, no life would ever have sprung from our planet. The stars give life and sometimes take it away.
If God hurled the stars out in the Big Bang fifteen billion years ago, perhaps the Creator aimed this Comet too. Our community has given me the career of looking up into the heavens to discern God's further signs written in the heavens.
We survivors call ourselves the elect for we--by God, by destiny, or by happenstance--were chosen to endure and to thrive. Sixty-five million years ago a comet destroyed the dinosaurs and gave mammals their chance to gain ascendancy. Now this Comet gave us a chance to begin again on a new earth under a new heaven.
Go to the Cinema, Spirituality, and Science Fiction Home page, or to the Cinema page, or to the Spirituality page, or to the Science Fiction page.