Apocalypse and Pandora
Alan stared at his former colleague's shrivelled corpse for a few minutes. All the time he had been in the future, he had never wondered once what had become of his old friends and acquaintances he had left behind in the 21st century. For an instant, he flashed back to the downed balloon they had discovered, thinking that Drake might have time-jumped like they had, but then realised it couldn’t be; his colleague’s body looked ancient, indicating that he had been down here for a long time, the dry, airtight environment of the facility having slowed down decomposition. So, if he had died sometime back in the 21st century, then perhaps he had known what had caused the end of mankind? Maybe the answer to this mystery was hidden down here with him?
Turning to the station where Drake had been working at the moment of his death, they saw it was the base Commander’s video log, where key personnel recorded daily entries, which were stored into the facility’s database. This log might reveal everything that had happened here…maybe. Wiping one of the big central screens clear of dust and typing in some rapid commands on a keyboard, the computer brought up a command menu:
Jackpot! Even with the people long gone, the contents of the database would tell them everything they wanted to know with the pressing of a single key. But when Alan tried accessing the log, he got nothing but a disappointing message popping up on screen:
NO DATA FOUND
The log entry list was completely empty; likewise, the databank had nothing to show but some naked binary code. It appeared someone, for some reason, had purged the database clean, erasing everything, perhaps in a desperate effort to destroy information...about what? Why would anyone do such a thing? Then, he turned to the sealed metal case still lying on the floor. You don’t suppose...?
He tried to pry the cover open with his knife, but it held firm. Then, picking up the dead man’s dog-tags, he saw a small key strung on the chain alongside the tags. Inserting it in the lock on the key hole, the lock clicked and the case opened easily. Inside was an assortment of documents, photographs, a world atlas, laboratory ledgers, and a journal with Drake's handwriting on its pages. Last but not least, there was some kind of data cartridge resembling a USB with the words HAB-01 DATA RECOVERY written on it, which was stained with bloody handprints, probably Drake's. It seemed his colleague, on the brink of death, had downloaded a copy of the missing files and sealed it in his armoured case, before erasing the database.
What kind of secrets could be on this thing, worth dying over? Who could have mauled Drake to death, and why? Only one way to find out. Hooking it up to a nearby connection port, Alan saw a list of files pop up on screen, which they saw were entries from the video log, marked by dates.
"What are you doing?" asked Pipkin, staring in amazement at all the dancing graphics on the screen, as Alan continued tapping the dusty keys on the keyboard, trying to figure out how this futuristic software worked.
"This database contains a video log the base commander kept – remember the ‘moving and talking pictures’ we humans use to tell stories I told you about?" he asked, over Pipkin’s blank expression. No doubt the term ‘video log’ had no more meaning to his rabbit friend than the electricity that made this ‘magical’ place they were standing in come alive. “Well, now you’ll get to see one for yourself.”
The contents of the database were, by rule, classified military property and encrypted, so it took some trial and error at the password entry prompt, until it dawned on Alan to use Drake’s dog-tag serial number to access the files. Although many of them were corrupted and unreadable, with only approximately one in ten still playable, it would suffice. Alan hit the execute key and the playback started, revealing a distorted, yet viewable recording, interrupted by the occasional gap of naked binary code, every time the player encountered a glitch in the file.
The first entry appeared to be archive footage from an old news broadcast, dating sometime in 2026. A man, apparently a futuristic Prime Minister they had never known, stood on a stand in the Houses of Parliament in London, making a speech. With Derek recording everything being played on the big screen with his cell phone camera, in case they might need to refer to it later, they all quietened down to watch.
“...It is my grave duty to make this announcement to you today. I beg you all to listen carefully, for this is a matter of life or death - your lives, the lives of every individual of every nation on Earth… Two new heavenly bodies travelling in a trajectory that will eventually bring them into direct contact with our planet… One is an uncharted rogue planet about the size of the Earth; the other it’s orbiting satellite with a diameter of about eleven miles… I repeat, the Earth might be facing destruction…”
“...The first asteroid, named Apocalypse, is expected to make a close pass; its gravitational pull will influence the tides and tectonic plates, causing mass destruction. Oceans will be torn from their depths and sweep hundreds of miles inland, washing away everything in their paths… There will be catastrophic earthquakes and massive volcanic eruptions…”
“...Unfortunately, the passing of the first asteroid will only be the beginning of the end; shortly thereafter, the smaller body, Pandora will slingshot around the sun and finally come into direct collision with the Earth, unleashing an extinction level event… Martial law is being declared worldwide... Plans are being made with the joint cooperation of all governments…"
With that the recording ended. A shaken Alan turned to look in horror at his companions, all of whom wore similarly horrified expressions. Even the rabbits, although ignorant of all the scientific terms described, still grasped the magnitude of the peril that had befallen mankind. Turning back to the log, Alan activated the next entry, this time revealing an unknown scientist, probably consulting for the government. As Alan had expected, things weren’t good.
"The trajectories on Apocalypse and Pandora have been carefully analysed: The effect of the passing of the first body will be felt at precisely 11:49am Greenwich time, on January 14th 2028, as it passes the Earth at a distance of 300,000 miles. This rogue planet will then head off back into space, in an unknown new orbit… The satellite Pandora, having since left its orbit around Apocalypse, will strike the northern hemisphere on its next passing 19 months later, on August 12th 2029. Therefore, it is only prudent that we now take cautionary steps to ensure the continuation of our species…”
“...For the past few months, engineers and scientists have been constructing a number of immense underground facilities called the HABs, which will serve as our new Noah's Ark. These fallout shelters can house approximately 2000 people underground for 10 years, along with stockpiles of seedlings and livestock, enough to start over… All the national art will also be shipped to the HAB's element-controlled vaults for safekeeping...”
More pieces of the puzzle clicked into place: with the human race facing extinction, humanity had taken precautionary steps to preserve the continuation of its species. This abandoned underground shelter they were standing in right now was, or rather meant to be, the place of rebirth of civilisation, containing all necessary resources to start over. So why hadn’t things gone according to plan? And how did their rabbit friends come into the picture? He activated the next recording from 2027. The futuristic Prime Minister reappeared.
"A year has passed since the prediction of doomsday. Governments continue to pour all resources into the HABs… Stock markets continue to crash... Law and social order collapsing... Refugees are being evacuated to shelters in mountain locations. Other agencies continue to work on initiating proposed asteroid migration strategies... We have every confidence the TITAN missile strike will deflect Pandora and spare the world from the final impact... Meanwhile, Apocalypse is getting closer…”
The next clip from January 16th 2028, two days after the predicted passing of the first asteroid, opened with random footage of ruinous and deserted cities worldwide: London, Paris, New York, Athens, Washington DC, Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney and the rest of the world’s once proud and powerful metropolises were all gone. Then the face of an unknown figure in uniform appeared on screen, which, they figured, was the HAB’s Base Commander, finally taking up his post as leader of the last surviving remnants of the British people. The unidentified Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen, probably having perished in the catastrophe.
"My name is Lt General Mark Cooper, Base Commander of HAB-One – the last of three such places of refuge left on the British Isles... All major cities around the globe are now deserted and in ruins... The passing of Apocalypse came and went, leaving behind mass destruction, worse than any other catastrophe on record... Continents split apart, tsunamis levelled all coastal regions, volcanic eruptions, seismic activity and super storms wreaked havoc worldwide... Satellite images reveal significant changes to the geography of the planet… All telecommunications have gone off the air, and any overseas travel is now impossible. We’re on our own…”
“Despite all precautions taken, over 6 billion lives - nearly three quarters of the Earth's population - have been lost… However, to our good fortune, most of the HABs have survived and are finally operational... Groups of survivors are being rounded up... All hope for humanity isn’t lost yet…"
So this was it; civilisation had finally collapsed. But the worst was still to come... Curious to see the outcome of all these efforts, he activated the next entry from sometime in 2029, only a few months before the final impact. The face of Lt General Cooper reappeared.
“Pandora is on its final trajectory: our calculations show it will strike the northern hemisphere, somewhere in southeastern Siberia. The impact will be nothing less than an extinction level event... The aftermath will be lethal fallout of toxic stardust that will engulf the whole atmosphere, turning the sky dark, and causing photosynthesis in vegetation to cease. Within a few months, all plant and animal life will be gone and the Earth will be a cold, barren, inhospitable wasteland…”
“Unfortunately, although the HABs can sustain us, they can only accommodate 2-3,000 people each... And there are more than 3 billion people left on the Earth… With the exception of the scientists and officials already preselected, the rest of the evacuees, currently sheltered in refugee camps around the country, will be randomly chosen by lottery, shortly before the final impact…”
By now, Alan was completely pale, the contents of his stomach about to spill. The mystery behind humanity’s collapse had finally been unravelled: it had been an asteroid impact that had wiped out human civilisation from the face of the Earth. Just like it had happened with the dinosaurs millions of years ago, this naturally-occurring Armageddon had eliminated the old world entirely, paving the path for a new one to rise from the ashes. But how? One part of the mystery had been solved; but what about the other half, involving the rise of intelligent rabbits? Shaky and clammy, he activated the next clip from 2029, to see the end of the old world.
“The final countdown has started. The time has come to select the few fortunate enough to have a chance of living to see our world reborn… A government computer will randomly select 10,000 British civilians, whose names will be posted to the commanders of every refugee camp. Unfortunately, little help can be provided to the rest, including senior citizens, the handicapped or prison inmates, whose names won't be included in the lottery... Those selected will be taken to the HABs, to join the 500 pre-selected scientists, soldiers, doctors, teachers, artists, officials and even the Royal Family who have already been chosen…”
“The National Guard continues its efforts to construct more shelters in secure buildings, abandoned mineshafts or caves, and distributing supplies to other survivors, minimum as their chances might be… Meanwhile, military forces continue repelling looters and thugs... The beginning of the end has started…"
Alan felt nauseas, picturing the millions of people who had lost the lottery and left behind to die. In the next video entry, Commander Cooper reappeared, looking pale and downcast; doomsday was finally upon the world.
"The impact of Pandora is imminent. The missile strike has failed; although the TITANs intercepted Pandora, they only succeeded in breaking massive chunks off its surface which will add to the devastation, as they strike the Earth in random locations. The biggest fragment will still impact Siberia in just under 24 hours from now, unleashing a gigantic pyroclastic cloud that will blot out the sun, plunging the Earth in darkness for the next ten years. The solar winter will follow soon after...”
“Meanwhile, the area around the HAB has become a war zone with millions of rioters driven to insanity with fear and despair. The 2500 people selected for HAB-One are being moved underground, while soldiers continue struggling to keep the rioters at bay. Meanwhile, above our heads, the dark shadow of Pandora is growing larger as it nears the Earth, to deliver the final blow. This is the final broadcast that will ever be on the air for the next ten years, until the atmosphere has cleared and civilisation can recommence. We now embark on our new mission: survival. God's speed to us all..."
With that, Cooper’s final broadcast ended. The mystery of what had happened to the world was finally solved: a violent act of nature had destroyed civilisation centuries ago; a handful of survivors, including Drake, had escaped down here, hoping to wait it out and then rebuild. However, it didn't look like that had ever come to pass, since there were no other humans around in this future age, save for the primitive humanoids they had encountered at Cowslip's warren. And another piece of the puzzle still remained missing.
So far there had been no explanation as to how their rabbit friends had originated in the first place, or the ultimate fate of the human race following the apocalypse. Perhaps Drake had known the answer to that as well? Maybe he had been a part of it all?