Black screen lightens to opalescent gray. Two voices begin a dialog.
APPARITION #1, (DEEP, IMPERIOUS VOICE)
Consider an unlikely event…
APPARITION #2, (TIMID AND HALTING)
Wh-what kind of event?
APPARITION #1 (ANNOYED)
Before I bombard you with a host of mathematical musings, I’ll throw you a bone. The end of life on Earth! Do I have your attention now?
APPARITION #2 (FRIGHTENED)
APPARITION #1 (DELIVERS A SPEECH)
Good, let’s start again. No interruptions this time!
Ponder an exceedingly unlikely event. Now, multiply the potential of that “one in a million shot” by that same one in a million number. Then do it again… and ten more times. The product of this multiplication exercise is an infinitesimally small number. But the final result, however small it may be, is not zero.
While we stroll this dime-store philosophical road, imagine a moment longer that the event in question has happened. How, you may now wonder, did we progress from a vanishingly low likelihood to “this shit went down?”
To quell your wonderment, let’s cross the spectrum toward numbers not so small. Big numbers can conspire to tackle this tall task.
The planet is 4.5 billion years old; lots of moments for a thing, or series of things, to happen. Throw in billions of humans over time, tens of billions more fish and animals, quintillions of insects, a few cosmic rays, an earthquake or two, and a number of bacteria microbiologists unpretentiously quantify as “too numerous to count.” The pendulum of our hypothetical event’s inclination toward occurrence, with the inclusion of the variable of time, now moves smartly in the other direction, toward reality. Tiny numbers multiplied by huge numbers… or, put another way “no way this can happen” multiplied by a number with more zeroes than I want to type, will eventually get you to one.
APPARITION #2 (TRYING TO LIGHTEN THE MOOD)
So…you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance?
APPARITION #1 (MALEVOLENTLY; DISCORDANT MUSICAL NOTES PORTEND DREAD)
Once upon a time…
The Scrapie-infected sheep defecated on the virus-laden, dead sturgeon. By the time the gull discovered and gorged on the rotting fish the next morning, the genomic shenanigans that weaved the Scrapie protein backbone into the viral RNA code had created something heretofore unprecedented in nature.
The gull’s tapeworm added its cistronic bits to the microbial Frankenstein Nature was assembling. The rat that killed and ate the sickened gull stowed away on a ship to China and had an unfortunate encounter with a pangolin that was caught and sold in a Zhuhai wet market.
The timeline of the above is immaterial. It happened and is herein recorded. A ten million year gap here, a two billion year gap there, some sunspot-induced mutagenic radiation, and an inconceivable terminal pathogenic event becomes the end of animal life on Earth. For not only did the sheep, and sturgeon, and gulls, and rats, and pangolins, and humans die…but so too did all the bacteria and viruses that had evolved to parasitize these hosts. The ferns and trees rejoiced. Mother Nature had called a do-over.
The zucchinis in this bunch, a dozen strong, were preternaturally large, each half the length of a man. The inside-out nature of the vegetables made the sight all the more arresting. The seedy, pale, fleshy part was exposed and the vegetables thinned at either end to show a hint of a hard-green crown normally associated with workaday zucchini.
The tapered shape of the bunch was exaggerated by the way they were being strangled around the middle by the Vice President of the United States. He clenched as if holding on to them would save his life, prevent him from falling into some horrible, certain-death, abyss.
The pulpy mess of vegetables stained his charcoal gray suit. He bawled as a toddler would; innocence, undiluted fear, raw emotion. He shout-cried through his tears, pleading with us to save the world.
Nature had engineered a bastardized amalgam of prion and virus that was changing the balance of life on Earth. That destruction revealed itself in the thicket of cattle carcasses that lay between the sobbing VP and the two virologists watching the mad scene unfold.
Atop the rotting cow herd was one bovine still alive and displaying the grotesque pathology by which this microbe killed. The poor animal knew only agony. Its hindquarters had withered to nothingness, bones and tendons exposed, bloodied, and hanging freely. The midsection was emaciated to a tenth the size of a normal cow’s. These incongruous forms were dwarfed both in reality and in Bird’s and Hollister’s attention by the beast’s swollen head; a head as large as half the size of a healthy cow’s full body. Its skin, pushed stiff from internal pressure, was slit in a dozen places and oozed pus from what were once functioning ears, nostrils, and eyes. The eyes; a tortured pair of orbs, festering and leaking lymph and blood, conveyed crazed pain. The chilling sound coming from the creature’s mouth filled the scientists with horror, revulsion, and pity all at once.
The pall that had come over the Earth was fatal. These were the last two experts in the world and the Veep begged them to play the savior role. But what could they do?
6:00 AM: Alexa’s alarm moved through its gentle progression of notes. Bird stirred and her brain stayed in the dreamy hellscape an uncomfortable beat too long before she realized it was just… Monday, and life on Earth would likely continue for at least one more day.
She opened one eye and heard a rustling from the other side of the bed. Finn had been licking at Hollister’s toes before she shooed him away. Finn moved to Bird’s side of the bed.
He stood there, leash in mouth, smiling the way Golden Retrievers do. As the Alexa routine automatically switched to news headlines at the alarm’s conclusion, there was a story about the Vice-President.