These were the rules of cosmic carrom.
The board was a veritable ever-shifting panorama of planets, asteroids, and satellites. You homed in on any one of the passing asteroids, did your calculations, adjusted your equipment, and gently nudged its trajectory into sending it hurling into Earth’s atmosphere. It was a considerably more delicate exercise than it sounded like, and it took the combined expertise of the two teams to successfully nudge a virtual dot from hundreds of millions of miles away into hitting another virtual full-stop yet another hundreds of millions of miles away.
When the game began, points were doled out as such: a successful hit earned your team 2 points. Smaller asteroids were easier to manipulate and would have therefore been in high demand, but each building destroyed from a direct hit also earned your team 1 points. Therefore, the risks of trying to maneuver a larger asteroid and missing the Earth altogether was worth it, when one considered how many points could be raked up from the destructions wrought upon the terra firma.
However, once the complexity of the game manifested itself to the crew, it was decided that a successful hit should earn your team 20 points, and each building destroyed another 10 points. The amendment was applied retroactively, and the crew was satisfied.
In addition, what added an extra layer of complexity to the gameplay was that if your team could manage to nudge an asteroid towards one of the many orbiting satellites that the Earthmen had sent up in their atmosphere, that precision hit alone earned your team 3 points (retroactively changed to 30), with each building destroyed by the falling debris earning your team further 10 points.
The red team was currently leading the green team by 630 points to 490 points. But in the red team’s blind spot, the green team had noticed a mammoth asteroid approaching the inner solar system and getting into position from where, with minimal efforts, the green team was confident of diverting it into a direct hit in one of the more densely packed, urban-cities of Earth and racking up a thousand points easily. So they were quietly confident.
The red team found the green team’s smugness intolerable.
On Earth, in that moment, various world leaders – mostly tall, mostly male, mostly with names that were no more than three-syllables long – each alarmed by this sudden attack on his state’s communication and defense infrastructure, by a yet unknown state, ordered their defenses to ready all available tools in preparation for war. Nuclear weapons were mounted, tanks and other armored vehicles were readied, soldiers armed with guns grenades and gurkha knives[i] and the very leaders who gave the orders were hidden away in secured underground bunkers from where they broadcasted messages of great hope and bravery and valor for the benefits of those who needed hope and bravery and valor the most in that situation: the people without bunkers.
But that was not all. Do not think too lowly of Earthmen. There was indeed a group of leaders who exhibited some bravery and did not hide away in secret underground bunkers. These leaders were out in the streets, in open fields, and in every destroyed city block. They were helping, they were mourning, some were rejoicing, but mostly, they were talking. And if they were talking, chances are, they were sermonizing.
It is the end of days, they said, the hour is upon us. This is the time now, they chanted, for the promised apocalypse.
And that is just sad. Because these leaders tend to jump straight to the apocalypse-card every chance they got. And they were never demoralized by failure. And so, just like every time before, they were sure that this time, this certainly was the apocalypse. There was no mistaking it. They could not have been more wrong, obviously. Because remember, the Apocalypse Initiative had not been activated by Zara yet.
What these leaders thought to be the apocalypse was merely a game of cosmic carrom, played within the spirits of the game, in the collegiate atmosphere of a mission control room of Platoon no. 5 of the Zara fleet of decimators.
[i] Nothing was to be left to chance and if it came to it that your bullets have missed and your grenades have not detonated and then the same has happened to every member of your regiment, then one must always be ready and capable of running up to the enemy (who are themselves armed with guns, grenades, and gurkhas) and stab them: very hard and very repeatedly until desired outcome is achieved.