The students hunched over their laptops, furiously typing to match Mr. P’s incessant droning. He was a hologram that hovered before a green screen. His tone and expression rarely changed. With a too short tie and slightly unkempt beard, he was modeled after a twentieth century high school teacher. Every kid in every corner of the world received their instruction from this avatar. He spoke hundreds of languages. He never called in sick. He needed no pension.
I didn’t bother taking notes on the lecture. Instead I sent an emoji of an exploding head to B1334 and G6872 behind me. For a moment, in the reflection of my screen, I thought I’d maybe seen their lips curl before the electric shock from my seat nearly paralyzed me. I gasped in pain.
Mr. P didn’t miss a beat.
“Please read the account on module 1433 of how humanity survived the Great Asteroid of 2036, then answer the discussion questions below the passage.”
Groans and mumbling all around, followed by the shrill ring of the electric bell. G6872 shook her head and whispered “Not funny,” as she whisked by. I fell to my knees and vomited.
I waited until after midnight to log on. There were still roving blackouts due to problems with the grid. Our species still hadn’t been able to solve the energy equation. My screen flickered, and the text appeared....
“Once the situation was made public, the human race was gripped by an unprecedented panic. Buildings were ransacked, schools were burned, and the stock market shut down minutes after the fateful news was disclosed. For such a proud civilization, the descent to chaos was embarrassingly swift. All it took was proof of an impending asteroid and people began to gorge enough to feed a small town in a single sitting.
Global hysteria was at its peak when world leaders announced the Species Survival Plan, an effort to salvage humanity with the use of a pre-constructed escape ship on standby for a similar circumstance. Technology aboard the Homo Sapien was advanced, allowing for a higher capacity than any previously designed machine. However, the Sapien was built to preserve the species, not protect it. Only ten thousand of Earth’s eight billion inhabitants were permitted onboard the ship alongside a plethora of selected organisms. The ship was large, but not large enough.
The leaders decided on a lottery to calculate the distribution of the ten thousand spots. Age, race, and gender were all disregarded. Everyone had an equal chance of earning survival upon the Sapien, and a great deal of the earlier panic transformed into hope. Many considered the eventual outcome as a work of fate and believed their own destiny was to board the craft.
Dreams became delusions when the lottery numbers were posted for the world to see. The list of survivors included a number of politicians and celebrities. In fact, out of the lucky ten thousand, not a single person could be considered middle class or below. The lottery was a sham devised to quell the delirium by offering everyone an equal chance.
Protests quickly mounted on line, but the asteroid was set to arrive mere hours after the passengers were chosen, and the populace was far too fragmented to piece together a rally against the rich.
The chosen entered the Sapien with little time to spare. Underneath their clothes they hid family heirlooms and gold, artifacts and luxury goods. Not only had the chosen deviously maneuvered themselves onto the spaceship, they also felt the need to haul their belongings.
Eyewitness accounts claimed the moment the Homo Sapien left Earth was excruciating. It was the last event to be televised and ran on every station. As the ship rose and faded from the reach of the camera lens, many tears were shed on the ground.
However, due to the excessive amount of personal items smuggled aboard by the passengers, the Sapien took flight several tons above its weight limit. The captain and crew, in a hurry, never performed the final safety check.
The Sapien had already implemented its final propulsion stage when the craft shifted off course as a consequence of the extra weight. And this slight alteration in trajectory led to the most unexpected moment in history to date.
The lottery had been rigged, but the Homo Sapien’s veering into the asteroid was fortuitous indeed. She was traveling at a high enough velocity to terminate the danger completely, allowing for the rocky debris to fall harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean.
Though it was not as originally intended, the Species Survival Plan had been a success, and humanity continued to exist on Earth. Thus, ten thousand people, the societal elites, saved billions.”
I blinked and logged off. Sirens in the dark, stifling night. Gunshots. So much for the survival of the species. A century later, I could smell the decay. Twenty billion share the planet now, I thought. What really had been saved?
The next day, Mr P popped and flashed before us. Same tie, same beige pants.
“.....After the incident, visitation to various religious establishments reached a high only seen during the Middle Ages,” he dolefully explained. “Many believed the Sapien’s demise to be the work of God, and used their remaining lives to worship the higher power as thanks.”
My mind drifted. He was right. My great grandfather had become a monk after surviving the Great Asteroid, firmly believing that God saved the Earth-dwellers in a rare act of benevolence.
I wished I believed. I wished I believed in the goodness and beneficence of my fellow Man.
But now the sky darkens and sirens scream, and everyone is pushing to get through the single door. Someone is underfoot, motionless amongst the stampede. The glass shatters and Mr P vaporizes.
I fall backwards, eyes toward the pitiless sky.