We were given advance notice, in sentimental terms. In realistic terms, we poked and prodded the universe for answers to a question for which we didn't want the answer. We probed with all our might in a desire to gain any response from beyond the stars.
We got one.
The Countdown was discovered. The end of The Countdown became known as Zero Day. Zero Day became The New Thing. Our media outlets jumped into the deep end of the pool, our scientists tried to remind us how little we actually knew in the moment. Our politicians smelled blood in the water.
Zero Day was suppressed at first. NASA and JPL were shuttered without discretion. The leaders of the world blamed one another. There had to be some answer, some solution, to be gained by cracking the code of The Countdown. Until one cabal beat another to the punch, Zero Day was a secret kept in an age where secrets belonged to those who could afford them.
But secrets don't last.
The Countdown broke first and when it did, nothing could stop the secrets from having their grand debut. What the wealthy and powerful never expected was just how _angry_ they'd made everyone. Nobody, not even the 0.61 percent, could escape such rage.
Amid the anger and the revolt, Zero Day ended up being something of an afterthought. The Countdown kept ticking in the background. A giant digital readout hanging over Times Square. White on black.
Months. Days. Hours. Minutes. Seconds. Beats.
Even after Times Square found itself leveled by a nuclear warhead.
Even after China's insurrection.
Even when they lynched the Secretary of Defense.
Even when the first computer to discover The Countdown fell to an EMP.
When Day Zero actually occurred, there wasn't much left for us to do to one another. Our panic over a message from beyond the stars. Our hysteria over one question. Just one question was all it took.
Who was sending us this message?
What would happen on Day Zero?
Who's time would be up?
Where would we hide?
Why did we all agree on one single fact?
We didn't know.
Science found The Countdown but ultimately, all they knew was that it came from far away. They were supposed to know more.
Religion felt that The Countdown was clearly our reckoning. Science had only given us the torture of knowing when it would happen but not why, what, or how. Even the most pious found little comfort in the idea of an afterlife.
Everyone was scared.
But no one knew anything more.
All we seemed to know was that we preferred to face the unknown in clouds of smoke. Chemicals in the air. Toxins designed to quell any speculation. We decided we'd rather lobotomize ourselves slowly; ensuring that those who lived to see Day Zero a feeling of comfort. Fatigued, shamed, exhausted, and drubbed of any lasting apprehension.
Those who lived on Day Zero were ready to die.
Whatever The Countdown brought with it, we had nothing left to fear.
Maybe it was time to let extinction take us.
It would be doing our planet a favor.
The survivors of The Countdown were clustered to the north. Nations like Canada, Norway, and Iceland welcomed those that could arrive in time. They turned away those who brought dissent and anger. The guilt hung over our heads heavier than any punishment the afterlife could bring.
Much of the empty, frozen expanse of Eurasia was found to be hostile towards new life. Guns and ammunition were of little use except as a means to an immediate end. Bringing a cold heart with you became a death sentence.
Everything south of the 45th paralell burned like kindling. Hot blood. Hot heads. Hot tempers. All the heat they didn't care to restrain towards others made them burn even brighter. They had become the finite resources they once coveted so much. Day Zero arrived to find them as smoking remains with their fists forever raised in defiance.
It was July 3rd. Noon. 1200 Hours.
The only broadcast still running was that of a religious zealot. Whatever audience he had left possessed a discipline and devotion that we all found morbidly admirable. Had their powers of belief been given a better means of expression, our world wouldn't have ended with such little dignity.
Our dead world was treated to his pity and condescension. Those of us that came together were given an extra helping of condemnation. We had survived the horrors of The Countdown only to sit in bemused silence as he educated us as to why our _society of sin_ had fallen.
When he repeated his list of reasons, it felt as though he were describing us specifically. The non-believers. The homosexuals. The young and the lost. Those who hadn't gone to church enough. Those who hadn't gone at all. Those who lived the sacrilege that had finally brought punishment from heaven.
Those of us who communed together under instinct and education. Faith and reaction brought us to our knees. Our reward was a nice skullfucking from Charlie Church on the television. It was our just deserts, I suppose.
Day Zero began with relentless flagellation.
Until it ended. Suddenly.
He introduced himself just like anyone would have.
He did it on live television.
As our preacher preached his disgust to us for even surviving.
Intervention first appeared as a vague silhouette in the background. What preceded him was a deep note that hummed at a level that tickled the stomach. It was a quelling, comforting alkaline to the harsh and horrific acid that we'd seen, heard, and felt. Even before we saw him, we felt something so forgotten it seemed new once again.
We felt hope.
Lines of distortion ran through the image on the screen.
The camera shook at the same steady tempo as the ground beneath our feet.
But our preacher didn't notice.
When this newcomer stood next to him, his voice tied off with a squeak.
This newcomer looked down at him the way humans used to look upon the infirm.
Had our preacher been doing something of value, it likely would have evoked the same feeling we'd gotten from watching The Special Olympics. This newcomer looked upon him as he was with a thinly disguised revulsion.
Blood drained from our preachers face. When he opened his mouth, whatever was left in his chest finally burst. Swift and silent, he fell on the desk. After nearly sixty years of judgment, he'd been granted a personal audience with death itself. Maybe it was the humming. Maybe his old heart couldn't take the strain.
The Starman looked into the camera. He knew his audience.
Just his voice brought most of us to tears. Deep bass that sounded too loud but felt just right. I was the only one who laughed.
"I'm here. I'm very disappointed but I'm here."
The entire planet seemed to reverberate.
When he spoke, I wasn't sure if I heard him with my ears or he was putting the ideas directly into my brain. I didn't know if he was God. I didn't know if he was the Devil. All I knew was that whomever this newcomer was, I was already a devoted follower.
All hail The Starman.
Someone off-screen but in-studio shouted at him. They sounded just as exhausted but determined to do their job to the end. In a crazed but authoritative tone came a command we couldn't quite hear. It came just soon enough to interrupt the vibe of hope.
Even when we were the punchline, humanity was determined to step on itself.
The Starman looked away from the camera. His glare was angry but not enraged. Immediately, I suspected that whatever he was, he'd been around other humans for a long time. His first words were supposed to carry impact and even after the horror and darkness, we still couldn't keep our mouths shut.
"What did you say?"
When he asked, I knew The Starman wasn't new to our planet. God knows how many times he'd had to hold his tongue. Had it been centuries? How long had he been waiting? Where had he been during The Countdown?
So many questions. Even if the answers didn't really matter anymore.
They demanded he put his hands up. Immediately.
The Starman continued to stare at the shouter. The hum increased.
There was the sudden crack of a gunshot. Nobody flinched. We'd all gotten used to the sound. We all knew what a gun sounded like in real life.
We hadn't heard the wet splattering crunch before. Sudden and explosive with plenty of sloppy impact against whatever hard surfaces were left standing. Then the clatter of the gun dropping.
The television feed cut off suddenly.
Still felt the hum in the air.
The Starman hadn't abandoned us. I knew he was still there. He was everywhere. Knowing he remained was what stirred my emotions at last. I didn't think anything short of death would give me such relief again.
Not everyone was as enthused about our new lord and savior.
A wave of panic steadily grew amongst my fellow leftovers. Some believed that we were finally being punished once and for all. Whatever hysteria they had staved off so far decided to emerge. After surviving the end of the world, they had reached their breaking point.
Some of them just disappeared. The night after our preacher keeled over in the presence of a stronger being, they left. Quietly and without disturbing the rest of us in our fitful sleep. Several left notes explaining why they had to leave. It wasn't hard to understand their upset.
Others showed an uglier, more confrontational side. People we would never have suspected. They became loud and tried to clarify our new situation and what the only possible reaction had to be. Some still believed that we should fight the unknown. They were outnumbered and ended up leaving in the night as well.
The last ones to leave were those who simply had enough. This world had already done it's worst and the idea that a more agonizing future was too much to bear. We buried them deeply and with respect. Their choice was their choice and if anyone judged them for it, they kept silent.
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