Gary Biggs burst into the upstairs theater still carrying his son. “It’s already happened.” He said breathless and full of wonder.
Kinkaid froze. He was standing before the still frame of two computer football teams that had been suspended in the act of smashing into one another on an eerily cloudless day. A quarterback was caught in mid-pass as two linebackers advanced on him from the opposite team. The line of scrimmage was unclear at this point in the play but one of the receivers had been highlighted into a target shape further down the field indicating the direction of the drive.
They were playing the Cowboys against the Texans in what appeared to be neither team’s official stadium. Biggs had the same game at home and he assumed that it was one of the downloadable custom fields. There was no roof and the lights were bulky and historic looking.
With the game stopped the older man had taken his shirt off and was apparently playing air guitar as he stood caught mid way through his riff. The sound system blared Motorhead’s thundering guitar-anthem the Ace of Spades. He would have probably kept on going had it not been for the women who entered soon afterwards.
Markoff quickly grabbed the controls, lowering the volume.
“Jesus Christ.” Myrah quipped as she entered.
“Sorry.” Her husband answered.
Kinkaid stood looking disappointed. “This is the really good part guys.” He whined as he plucked his T-shirt off a chair and began putting it back on.
The Houston franchise was up by fourteen points and it was only the second quarter. The Cowboys had the ball but they seemed to be getting driven back by the opposition’s defense. Dan still held his controller in his lap.
Tara peeked around her husband in the doorframe. “What did I miss?” She asked.
Myrah shook her head. “Kinkaid was putting on some kind of strip show.” She said turning to her friends as they filed into the room.
“It wasn’t a strip show.” He argued ducking his head through the collar of his shirt and adjusting the sleeves.
“Whatever it was, you guys really need to find a better way of entertaining yourself.” She quipped as she dropped herself into one of the huge leather chairs at the back of the room. “I’m going to have nightmares about that for the rest of the week.”
Dan Wells got up, turning to see the rest of them in with a smile. “We got bored.” He said without a trace of embarrassment.
Markoff shot Biggs a look of annoyance. “What do you mean it’s already happened?”
“It happened.” He said as he bounced his son on his hip. “The news came back from commercial just a few minutes ago and they said that NASA had launched the payload and that they were now assessing its trajectory.”
“Have they hit?”
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“Did we miss anything on television about it?”
Biggs shrugged. “They’ve been running the computer simulation a lot. The asteroid hasn’t really changed.”
Markoff pressed the remote control bringing up the sound and image of a female newscaster standing outside of the Johnson Space Center. “Scientists are still looking at all the data from the probes sensors as they await pictures that they hope will show them the space rocks destruction.” A disassembled Apollo rocket sat on its side in the background.
Slowly they all settled in, taking their seats side by side and in rows. Myrah sat in the back with Tara and Clara while Markoff, Kinkaid and Wells sat up front. Only Thom and Jill sat next to one another as a couple. Biggs sat in the center of the small three-tiered auditorium at the end with Gage cradled in his lap.
“Look at her mascara.” Jill said, turning to talk to the women behind her. “It’s clumping.”
“It’s the heat.” Clara answered. She used her pen to point up at the screen like the scientist had done earlier in the day with his model of the meteor. “Poor girl, she’s probably been stuck out there forever.”
“I wonder why they make them stand outside?”
“Different scenes help to engage people.”
“Like night and day?”
Kinkaid squirmed in his seat. “God damn this thing’s bright.” He complained. “I swear you could get seasick if you stayed in here long enough.” He leaned back to distance himself from the television in a comical manner.
Markoff nodded. “It’s a good picture.” He said using the remote control to lower the sound a little more.
“I don’t understand why they all have to wear pins.” Myrah spat. She pointed up towards a flower that was fastened to the woman’s jacket. “I never see anyone but real estate agents and newscasters wear pins. They look stupid. They shouldn’t wear them.”
“I think they use it to hide the microphone.” Clara offered thoughtfully.
“What about the real estate agents.”
“They want to be trusted. You trust newscasters so they figure that you’ll trust them if they wear a pin.”
Kinkaid swiveled around. “What about the dudes?” He asked. “They don’t wear pins.”
Clara nodded. “They hold pointers and models as props. People are too drawn to them to notice the wires. They’re also very phallic.”
“They also wear dark suits.” He said raising his eyebrows. “You can’t see wires with dark suits.”
Clara pointed up to the television. “You’re thinking of a time before high-definition pictures and screens that take up entire walls. You can see the microphone wires on her and everyone else now days.”
“So why is she wearing a pin?” Kincaid grinned.
Clara shrugged. “Old habits die hard.”
“You’re a true ball buster, you know that?.” The older man chided. “Doesn’t it ever get old pretending to know everything?”
Myrah threw a wadded up paper napkin in his direction. “Keep on dickhead!” She warned as he chuckled to himself, turning back to face the front.
The television was indeed obscenely bright and the picture horrifically detailed. It filled the room with a bluish light that made the red soundproofing curtains appear brown. It illuminated every crumb that had been ground into the carpet and every stain from a spilt drink. It shot strobe like flashes depicting entertainment and information with every blast.
Almost all of the residents of Shady Acres had a theater in their homes. It had been a standard selling point of the floor plans in the neighborhood. Each one was upstairs, sunk deep into the core of the residence. They were without windows and completely shut off from the world. Their function was both an integral and overlooked part of everyone’s daily life.
Randy Kinkaid used his theater to stage garage band concerts in, Gary Biggs used his to practice presentations to foreign sports teams, Carla Wells used hers to analyze the pulse of the nation through commercials and Thom Grey called his a study where he locked himself away. With their new 150 inch plasma the Markoff’s had elevated their theater to being the one with the biggest and the brightest screen of everyone that they knew. It amplified everything in the world back to the viewer. They never really used it.
On the screen, the newswoman put a finger to her ear, smacking her lips. “I’m being told that they are getting post impact data right now in NASA mission control.” She muttered. She blinked towards the camera as she listened.
“Her teeth are capped.” Jill pointed out to no one in particular.
“Frank?” The woman called. “What’s the scene inside?”
The display folded out to reveal a man holding a clipboard on a separate window beside her. His hand was pressed against his ear. He stood before a mass of terminals. “Yes, Jenna!” He said excitedly as he turned to face a wall length monitor. “We’ve been slowly getting data back from the probe and now, the first pictures showing the moment of contact between these highly advanced missiles and the asteroid are finally starting to come in.”
“Do you have anything that you can show us?”
An image of the asteroid filled the room. “As you can see nothing much has changed except for the proximity of the craft next to this celestial body.” The man spoke. The image began to be adjusted and magnified at different levels. “If you look closely in the area of the impact zone you can see a plume from the first rocket that was fired.”
Everyone leaned forward, looking for the blast. Red lines were drawn across the screen. Circles and arrows were made over the ancient meteor. The black and white surface was swiveled, turned and brightened as the reporter told them what they should be seeing.
“Why can’t they make these things clearer?” Markoff grumbled. He sat with his elbows on his knees and the remote control in his hands. “We pay billions of dollars for them to shoot this crap up off into space and every time they show us pictures they all look the same.”
Kinkaid shrugged. “It’s space.” He said with confidence.
“It’s NASA” Thom Grey shot back.
Biggs switched Gage over to one knee pointing up at the screen. “I see it!” He said excitedly.
Kinkaid turned, looking back at him. “Everyone can see it dumb-ass. The TV’s as big as the damned wall.”
“Well, what does it mean? Did they get it or not.”
“It’s two nuclear warheads. They got it.”
“How can we be sure?”
“Do you see that red dot right there?” Kinkaid asked pointing up at the television. “They got it.”
“Did they say they did?”
“Look at the red dots.” The older man argued. “They don’t need to say jack. It’s all up there spelled out for you.”
“How can we tell?”
“You can see for yourself.” He answered as he turned to lean back in his chair. “They sure as hell got it.”
“But how do you know?”
Markoff glared at his new television. “Is that all that they’re going to show?” He asked bitterly. “Just a black and white picture of some explosion that you can barely see? Is that what we waited around all day for? Is that really it?”
The television continued to show the same image from a million different angles.