The Sixth Extinction

    Washington D.C. was abuzz. The President was going to make an important announcement from inside of Cheyenne Mountain this evening.  Special arrangements had been made for the western states’ representatives.  Due to the meteor and volcanoes, they had been unable to return to their constituencies.  Places of honor were set up for representatives of Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State.   Only a few of the representatives from the other states had taken advantage of the short travel window to return to their homes.  Most of them had come back to D.C. immediately after checking in with their districts.

      Challenges for this announcement and broadcast were much greater than usual.  The maintenance engineers had been hard at work securing a dust-free environment for the joint session.  Everyone knew that this would be a very important speech.  No self-respecting Congressperson wanted to be left out of the occasion. Coordinators were expecting just-shy of a full house.
      The city of Washington had taken quite a hit.  Almost all communication lines had suffered after the multiple calamities.  As a result, polling was unreliable.  They had to return to the old-style politics of trusting your gut.  No-one raised in the high tech world of instantaneous results was quite comfortable with old fashioned politicking so legislation had essentially ground to a halt.  Of course, they had wasted no time in declaring emergencies and approving emergency spending bills, but with the world in such complete and utter chaos, not a single Senator or Congressman would dare to stand out in front with bold legislative initiatives for anything other than emergency aid.

     The world was watching as well.  All the world’s leaders were attempting to contact the President on a daily basis, trying to decipher what the Americans would do with this impossible situation.  Since they couldn’t get hold of the President himself, they had to make do with the off-the-cuff advice of multiple staffers who were just doing their best to keep up with the hopeless nature of the circumstances.
     Relief was the watchword for tonight’s speech.  Relief that the President of the United States was taking strong and positive action.  Relief that he would chart a course to get America and the world moving in a positive and forward direction.  Mostly though, it was relief that the burden of having to make decisions and set policy was being lifted from their shoulders and placed, rightly, on those of the President.
     This tension was not limited to the capitol city, however.  Anxiety had been building for some time within the mountain.  People had been hearing bits and snatches of conversation and were trying to put together a picture of what the President would announce that night.  Rumors, again, abounded.  Everyone close to the leaders tried to pry out any information they could at every available opportunity.  As Dennis had been heavily involved in the technical aspects of the speech, he found himself something of a local celebrity.  People would bring him a cup of coffee unasked for while he sat in the galley.  Some would initiate conversations as he passed them in the halls, as though they were old friends meeting again after a long separation.  The fact was that the generals were both very busy men with important jobs to do and the President; well he was the President!  So Dennis found himself being actively sought out for more conversational opportunities than he’d had in the previous six years.  Eventually he found it easier to sit and wait in a small room, alone and with the door closed.
     The President was to speak from the Combat Operations Center where they had set up several cameras.  Every available seat in that room was filled.  The anticipatory buzz reached a crescendo when he walked into the room and then a hush settled over the crowd.  The President took a deep breath and then began.
     “Fellow Americans:” he said, “Fellow residents of the planet Earth:” he adjusted his reading glasses.  “Eight days ago a terrible calamity befell the citizens of Calgary, Canada.  In the space of a few short seconds a previously unidentified asteroid, approximately three miles across, slammed into their city and destroyed it completely.  The President of the United States was in Spokane, Washington at the time.  He, along with a number of his staff, was killed in the aftermath of that horrible explosion.  As you know, the meteor caused a tsunami throughout the Pacific, claiming many more lives.  The next few days were inconceivably difficult for all of us. But the fallout from this disaster, it is my sad duty to inform you, is not finished yet.
     “I am told by the finest minds in the scientific community that there was not a more unfortunate place on the planet for this asteroid to have hit.  The waves of destruction radiated outward, shattering the Earth’s crust as they propagated.  These fractures led directly to the west coast of the U.S. and Canada.  As a result of this fracturing, previously stable structures of the crust were shattered and long-dormant volcanoes sprung back to life.  East and south of the impact the single largest super volcano on the planet, Yellowstone, exploded with a fury never witnessed by the eyes of modern man.”  He paused for a breath.

     “Had the meteor struck in virtually any other location on Earth, we would have had weeks--perhaps years—of fallout.  But it did not and it is my unfortunate task to tell you that we will not.  We will not have years of fallout.  Neither will we have decades.  Our best estimates are that we are in for centuries of recovery.  Already we are seeing temperatures plummeting worldwide.  This trend will continue for many months.  Our planet will soon lose an average of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, despite where you might live.”  He shifted his attention back and forth from his notes to the camera pointed at him.
     “After a period of many months the ash and dust now clogging our air will fall to the ground and settle.  The air will clear and the planet will begin warming once more.  The warming will continue unabated and soon the Earth will become too hot for any living thing to survive.  Water supplies will be contaminated by acid from the volcanic sulfides.  Our home planet will be frozen, then baked and poisoned.  The prospects for any life on Earth are grim and the prospects for human life are” he slowed as he said the next words, “almost non-existent.”  The audience in the room began to murmur again.  “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow human beings: Our species is on the verge of extinction.”
     Off his notes now, he took off his glasses and looked steadily into the camera.  “This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to say in my life.”  He tilted his head slightly and said, as if this was the first time it had occurred to him, “I realize that this is the most difficult thing any of you have ever had to hear.”  He let his notes fall flat on the table before him and clasped his hands together.  “The reign of man on this planet has come to an end.”  He shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his hands folded in front of him.  Then, back up at the camera. “A small number of people are with me in this mountain.  It is here, protected from the ravages of nature, that a single tribe of humanity will make an attempt at long-term survival.  At the survival of our species.  No-one in this place was chosen.  We all ended up here rather by accident.  It is by this natural lottery that this community will become humanity’s best hope for survival.  I have ordered the door sealed-- no-one will leave, no-one will enter for a period of at least two years.”

     He looked down again and when he looked at the camera this time his eyes were full of tears; his voice thick with emotion.  “I was made President of the United States by a freakish cosmic accident.”  He choked slightly and looked again at his clenched hands.  After a moment he said, “I would not have chosen this path by myself.  I would not have chosen to be with these people, in this mountain.  If I were free to choose, I would be at home with my family.  But it was my job which required my presence here and it is a second cosmic accident that is keeping me here even against my will.”  He shifted in his chair, his body tense and rigid.
     “Libbie, my beautiful wife, we have had 31 of the most glorious years together.  I don’t think it possible that any man has ever loved a woman the way that I have loved you.  My being trapped in this enclave while you are at home in Washington is the most unacceptable situation I’ve ever encountered.”  Tears were flowing freely down his face now.  “Libbie, may the end be swift and merciful for you.  May God almighty hold you closely and protect you with his love.” choking on emotion, he went on.

     “Chloe, my firstborn, my beautiful daughter:  You were right to pursue your own destiny.   I love you so much yet I can’t use words to express my feelings.   Stay with Francis and the children now.  Be certain to tell them all how much I love them.”
     Addressing his son he said, “Steven, I am proud of you.  You have grown to be the man I’ve always hoped you’d be.  Go home to your mother. She’ll need your strength.  All of you... go home to the ones you love.  Tell them how much you love them.  Be with them in your final hours.  In the final hours of mankind.  And may the merciful and loving God gather you all unto his breast and welcome you into his kingdom.”
     He looked again at his clasped hands resting on the desk and, without looking at the camera, he ended.
     “Goodbye.”