The builder didn’t get the chance to watch either the football game or the announcement from NASA on his seventy-thousand dollar plasma screen television. Instead he sat next to his wife in the shabby trailer-office of one of the local bail bondsmen. A show called America’s Enemies was playing on a tiny box set in the corner.
Myrah sighed. “I can’t believe that Kinkaid assaulted a government official.” She spat flipping violently back and forth through magazine that she was holding.
“I’m not sure that man was even a government official.” Markoff replied. “I think he’s a professor from out in Austin or something.”
“They’re charging him with assault on a government official.”
“It was just a wedgie.” The builder shrugged. “He’ll probably end up having to pay some fines. I don’t think he’ll go to jail if the judge has any sense of humor.”
The television showed a series of young Arab men praying, ducking in and out of burned out buildings, shooting rifles into bales of hay and listening intently as their leader spoke. The narrator said: “There is much pressure to conform and it is considered an honor in this society to die for the cause.” On the other end of the room the bondsman sat at a chipped and weathered desk completely oblivious to the chatter as he filled out their paperwork.
Markoff pointed to the screen. “I wonder if he would mind if I change this over to the game?”
Myrah turned to glare at him. “You need to just sit there and shut up.” She said angrily. “You were lucky that you weren’t hauled in too.”
“I didn’t do nothing wrong.”
“You were in the front yard.” She snapped.
“I was stringing Christmas lights.”
Myrah flipped the magazine again. “It’s just a damned fortunate thing that I’m not bailing two stupid men out of jail tonight.” She said shaking her head.
Markoff looked at his watch. It was 7:48pm. He could at least get the score.
With a grunt he rose from of the torn leather couch using the arm to push himself into a standing position. The ceiling of the trailer was low making him feel cramped and claustrophobic. “You mind if I change this?” He called across the office to the man at the desk.
The bondsman looked up, blinking. He wasn’t what one would expect to see in a man who’d made his living among thugs, convicts and law enforcement officials. He was small, balding and pale. “Is that America’s Enemies that’s on?” He asked.
Markoff looked over at the set. A woman was folding towels in a commercial for laundry detergent. “Yeah.” He said.
The man shook his head. “That’s my favorite program.”
“But you’re not even watching it right now.”
“I can hear it.”
“You didn’t even know that it was on.”
The man blinked a few times. “It’s on every night at 7:30.” He answered. Something in the tone of his voice made it sound as if he couldn’t believe that everyone didn’t watch the show.
Markoff cocked his head. “Every night?” He asked.
“Seven days a week.” The man answered.
“Well how many enemies does America have?” The builder asked dubiously. “Surely you’ve seen whatever they’re talking about before.”
The bondsman sighed. “Look,” He said running a hand through his thinning hair. “I could watch that show twenty-four hours a day and never see the same thing twice. America has more enemies than you could imagine.”
“Well my enemy is Iowa State and I want to check the game.”
“You got money on it?”
“Because gambling is illegal.”
“I don’t have any money on it.” Markoff said again growing more and more frustrated. “I just want to know if the Longhorns are ahead or not. It’s a Bowl game.”
The bondsman shook his head. “I hate the Longhorns.” He quipped. “I’m more of a Tech fan myself. They’ve got a good basketball team this year.”
“I’m glad.” Markoff replied. “I like the Longhorns and I’d really like to see them win this game.”
The man blinked again. “Did you know that American forces were attacked in Afghanistan just this morning?” He said suddenly.
“They’re attacked there all the time.” Markoff said with a shrug.
“Three days ago a suicide bomber went into a market in Saudi Arabia and detonated a device killing three American tourist.”
“That stuff happens.”
“Just last month, special forces were ambushed in a raid at the home of a high level terrorist in Jordan.” The bondsman said evenly. “Six of them were killed and one was sent home with serious injuries.”
“That’s just the world that we live in.” Markoff shrugged again.
“These people are watching us.” The man continued. “They know our every move. You can turn the Bowl game on when this is over but until then, I have to keep an eye on the bad guys.”
Markoff fell back into his seat with a heavy sigh.
Myrah glared at him. “Listen to me.” She frowned. “You’re not going to turn on the Bowl game do you understand?”
The builder shot his wife a wounded look.
“You’re just going to sit here with me and you’re keep your damned stupid mouth shut until we’re out of here.”
“But I didn’t do anything.” He protested.
“I don’t care.” His wife growled. “You were there and you didn’t do anything to stop him. The sooner we can get this the hell over with the happier I’ll be.”
The builder sat on the couch in silence, his arms folded across his chest as he ruefully watched the final ten minutes of America’s Enemies. The show was not about any one person or group of people but rather the entire collection of the world’s population that might have had reason to hold anti-American sentiments. Markoff had never realized that the land where he built his shopping centers and raised his family was so hated. The program closed with the host warning everyone to stay alert and never relax.
There was a pregnant pause in the room as the credits rolled. The bondsman looked up, blinking. “Are you going to switch it over to the game?” He asked.
Markoff shook his head.
“It’s okay now.” He encouraged.
The fluorescent lights hanging overhead caused the room to have an uncomfortable yellow glow. The carpet was threadbare and stained. There was a half eaten bowl of popcorn sitting on top of a two drawer filing cabinet beside the door. It looked like it had been there for a month.
The builder and his wife watched as the television suddenly cut to a conference room somewhere in the Johnson Space Center. Tired looking men and women stood on either side of the podium. A NASA logo loomed large on a blue curtain behind them. From the side of the stage an important looking man came out in a dark suit and tapped the microphone. The first words he spoke were: “Please, do not panic.”
“As many of you aware, we launched a tactical rocket into space five years ago to deliver a nuclear payload onto the surface of a known astral body the was considered to be headed on a trajectory that would threaten our planet.” He said gravely. “That spacecraft and its armaments came into contact with the asteroid this summer around the orbit of Mars where it delivered both of its warheads successfully and without complications. It was heralded as a triumph of human engineering and considered to be a validation of our Spacewatch program which monitors thousands of similar objects within our solar system.”
Markoff sighed. “Why can’t these dorks speak in terms that people can understand?” He said angrily.
Myrah shushed him.
The man at the podium took a breath. “The impact of the missiles with the mass of the asteroid created a carefully planned explosion which rendered the object into two separate parts as well as many smaller breakaway meteorites.” He said, his eyes shifting from side to side. “Since August, we have continued to track the pieces of this space rock from several different observation points spread throughout the world. The object which fell to earth in a remote region of the Kangra Valley this October was determined to be a part of the ejectorate that was produced from the space probes blast. It had eluded our instruments prior to its penetration of the atmosphere.”
The bondsman looked from his paperwork. “If it would have hit just a little bit further southwest of there, we could have gotten rid of a bunch of bad guys.” He said, blinking.
“Would you just be quiet and finish up.” Myrah chided.
The man on TV continued. “Following the meteors impact, we have been studying its mass on location in India as well as scanning areas of the sky that we hadn’t considered as possible threat locations before.” He said glancing down at his notes. “The mass is harder and less susceptible to being vaporized by the thermal frictions inherent in our planets protective atmosphere than anything that we’ve ever seen before.”
“I knew it.” Markoff smiled. “This is just some chance for them to brag about some new crap that they’ve found.”
Myrah shot him a look.
As if in response to the builder’s words the man held out a hand. “This is not new material.” He said with a perceptible sense of gravity. “It is a granite-quartz composite which is considered to be fairly common on earth but rarely found in asteroids. This rock does not fragment easily and the energy required for it to be burned-up in the atmosphere is roughly twice that of the nickel-iron meteorites that our planet usually comes in contact with.”
A brief pause.
“As of late afternoon Monday I was informed by the ground observatory in Bareket, Israel that they had detected a new and wider field of similar breakaway meteors that were likely to intercept with earths orbit over the course of many months next year. Observations in Nanjing, China and Bulent Parkes, Australia have confirmed this.”
The bondsman rose from his desk. “Finished.” He said straightening a stack of papers on its surface.
On the television: “These asteroids are dispersed over space as an irregular and chaotic mass. They are too close to the earth and too widely distributed to make it feasible to send another probe out into their position of the solar system for eliminating them. Most of the rocks in this group will likely disintegrate as they pass through our atmosphere. Many will not.”
More cameras clicked.
“Do not panic.” The man from NASA repeated. “As of today, the number of meteors in this collection is still unknown. It is likely that our planet will only undergo a series of minor strikes that will disrupt life for a few unfortunate people. We do not expect the worst case scenario.”
A man from the gallery shot up his hand. “What would the worst case scenario be?” He asked without waiting to be called on.
“The worst case scenario is that the earth will be continuously struck over the entire duration of the next year, hundreds of times a month.” The man answered with a frown. “This would cause dust to rise in the atmosphere blotting out the sun and plunging the planet into a new ice age that would likely either eliminate the human species or stall advancement indefinitely. Some of the larger ones could disrupt the orbit of the earth or reverse it’s rotation as well as the tilt of its axis. Tidal waves could swell up from impacts hitting the oceans and saturate coastal areas of the globe drowning millions of people. They could bring with them alien plagues that would wipe out all life. Radiation from their mass might provoke mutations in wildlife. The meek deer could be transformed into a monster and elephants would shrink down to the size of dogs. We do not know.”
“Please do not panic.”