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Authors: Jeremy Bates

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BOOK: Six Bullets
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So that’s why I never blabbed about my hobby, and why I
asked Suz to keep her lips zipped. And she did. Not to appease me, I don’t
think. But because she was embarrassed that her husband was a doomsday prepper.
Even so, she ended up telling deadbeat Lucas. She had to, didn’t she? One day
her kids were gone, and in place she had a trunkful of food and water when such
commodities were more precious than gold.

Anywho, to get back to what I was saying, a week before the
impact Lucas rocked on by, wanting to leech my supplies. Long story short, I
gave the greedy bastard what he asked for. Then I waited. Three days after the
impact, with the world completely off the grid, I left my house in the dead of
night with nothing but a pair of night-vision goggles and a .357 Magnum. I
picked the lock to Lucas’s shitty house and searched it room by room. I found
your mom, Walt, I found Suz, sitting in a recliner in the living room. I
thought she was sleeping until I noticed the stains on the carpet around the
chair.

The back of her head was crushed. It looked as if it had
been smashed with a hammer. There was nothing I could do for her. I reckoned
she’d been dead for a few days by then.

Lucas was in the bedroom, sleeping on his back on the bed,
snoring. I pressed the barrel of the revolver between his eyes. He came
immediately awake. I didn’t need to ask him why he killed Suz. He wanted the
food and water for himself. Instead, I asked him whether he told anyone else
about my little secret. He said he didn’t, and I believed him. A grasshopper like
him likely had plans on killing me and taking my stockpile for himself.

I blew his brains out.

 

••••••

 

Note to myself: maybe I’ll tear out those
last couple pages. Maybe it’s best if Walter doesn’t know what happened to his
mom after all.

 

••••••

 

I’m not Nostradamus. I didn’t
foresee the end of the world as we know it (or
TEOTWAWKI to blokes like me)
. I was simply preparing myself
in case something terrible happened. I didn’t know what that “terrible thing”
might have been. A global financial meltdown? A nuclear holocaust? A zombifying
plague? A rogue asteroid? Ironically, an asteroid strike was always at the
bottom of my list.

Anyway, why am I mentioning this? Because more and more I’m
thinking you might one day get your hands on this diary, Walt, and I don’t want
you to think your old man was a nutter. I wasn’t. I just started to see things
differently than other people. Like when I went to the supermarket, for
example. I didn’t see aisles and aisles of food. I saw crops imported from all
over the world, delivered by a fossil-fueled supply chain, managed by electricity-powered
computers. When I walked down the street, or had dinner in a restaurant, I saw
people addicted to excessive consumption and waste. I saw people who didn’t
care about tomorrow as long as they were fed and pampered today.

And so I began asking myself “what if” questions? What would
I do if I could no longer buy food from the supermarket? If I couldn’t turn on
the stove, or the lights? If I couldn’t leave my home for months or years?

My answer to these queries: stop mindlessly consuming and
learn to be self-sufficient, learn to think outside the box, to create. Society
became so specialized it reached a point where no one could do anything for
themselves any longer. You needed a doctor to diagnose that you were sick, a
cook to make you food, an accountant to tell you how much money you owed the
government, a seamstress to fix your pants. Fuck it, Walt! You ask me,
specialization is for insects. People should be Jacks of All Trades. It’s
liberating. It really is. Everyone should be able to set a bone, butcher their
next meal, build a wall, fight efficiently, mend clothes, sharpen a knife.

So don’t think your old man was crazy, Walt, that’s all I’m
asking. I only wanted to be able to protect myself, as well as Sully and
yourself, if something like what happened ever happened.

     

••••••

 

The asteroid! Goddamn, it’s taking a
long time getting around to explaining what happened. I guess I have more to
say than I thought.

There was pure pandemonium in the lead up to the impact.
There was twenty-four/seven coverage on the news channels. The Russian,
Japanese, and European space agencies quickly confirmed NASA’s calculations.
The public’s response was loud and unified: develop a way to knock Asteroid
Shiva off course.

Unfortunately for us, we knew how to identify NEOs, but we
didn’t know much about changing their trajectories. We had theories. But viable
technologies to do so were still years away. According to NASA, to successfully
change the course of Shiva, they would require advance warning numbering in the
decades. If they had this, all that would be needed would be dusting the
surface of the rock with chalk or charcoal, or perhaps white glass beads, or
sending a solar-sail spacecraft that ends by collapsing its reflective sail
around the ’roid.

But we didn’t have decades. We had twenty-two days.

The G8 governments turned to the experts, demanding
solutions. But there were no solutions. There was nothing we could do.

The Chinese didn’t accept this reality. Because while most
countries would survive the initial impact (what happened after that, nobody
could say for certain), China would be wiped off the face of the planet.
Literally. There would be nothing left of their country but a crater.

So they declared they were going to go the Bruce Willis
option, repurpose a deep-space rocket to carry nuclear warheads, and detonate
an explosion in space to reroute the asteroid’s trajectory. The US immediately
vetoed this proposal, saying at best it would do nothing, and at worst it might
fragment the rock, and the consensus was that that a million Barringer-level
events could bring the world closer to mass extinction than one
Nordlinger-scale one.

Nevertheless, a defiant China launched their rocket
regardless. Before it got much off the ground, the US shot it out of the sky
with anti-satellite weapons. Under different circumstances, this action would
have ignited a Third World War. But of course China had much more immediate
problems than starting a war they couldn’t win—namely evacuating close to two
billion people in less than three weeks and counting.

 

••••••

 

It was an impossible endeavor. The
estimated cost of evacuating Europe in the case of a catastrophe had been
commissioned in the past, and the number was a staggering five trillion
dollars. Given China had five times the population of Europe, and its
infrastructure lagged decades behind, nobody was going anywhere. Still, the
average Chinese citizen tried. It was the biggest mass exodus in human history.
Highways and roads became clogged. When the traffic didn’t move, people
abandoned their cars, turning the highways and roads into congested parking lots.
A lot of folks headed for the borders on foot or bicycle, while a lot simply
gave up and accepted the inevitable.

 

••••••

 

There was an instant collapse of
house prices in China. I chuckled when I heard that on the news. I couldn’t
help it. An asteroid was barreling down on the fucking country, and when it
struck, the temperature at Ground Zero would momentarily match that of the
surface of the Sun, and some wise-guy reporter thought he had to point out that
the doomed houses were no longer worth the paper the deeds were written on.

According to the same wise guy, there was also an
unprecedented flight of capital not just from China but from the entire eastern
hemisphere.

Human nature, I suppose. Watching our dollars and cents
until the very end.

 

••••••

 

At 9:20 a.m. I was outside the house
shoring up fortifications when I heard a thunderous sonic boom in the sky. I
looked up and saw a large fiery object coming from the southeast and trailing a
long thick plume of smoke. A few moments later there was a blinding white flash,
as bright as a dozen suns, which carved the landscape into stark shadows. The
collision with the ground produced a brilliant yellow-orange explosion. The
sudden heat was intense. The shockwave seemed to last forever. It knocked me to
my ass and set off car alarms. Roofs rattled and windows shattered.

I didn’t move for a long time. I just sat there, numb with fear,
until everything became quiet again.

 

••••••

 

That wasn’t Shiva. It was one of the
thousands of car-sized rocks that began pelting Earth in the days preceding the
main event.

 

••••••

 

You might be wondering about the
difference between those show-off comets I mentioned earlier, and asteroids. I
never used to know one from the other, but I quickly become a bit of an expert
on the matter. Everyone did. Everyone wants to know the face of their killer,
so to speak.

In interplanetary space—this was how the TV guys explained
it—both comets and asteroids are large rocky bodies in orbit around the Sun.
The only difference between them is that comets are active and asteroids are
inactive. In other words, comets are covered in dirty ice, and when they
approach the Sun, their ice vaporizes, releasing the embedded dust particles,
which cause the trails you see behind them. Asteroids, on the other hand, have
exhausted their supply of ice near the surface and are nothing but barren rock.

Now if you want to take it a step farther, the dusty debris
of comets, or fragments of rock that occur when asteroids collide, are called
meteoroids. Once a meteoroid enters the atmosphere and vaporizes due to
atmospheric friction, it emits light that is called a meteor or “shooting star.”
And if the meteor makes it through the atmosphere all the way to Earth’s
surface, then it’s called a meteorite.

So the question I have is this: Was Asteroid Shiva really an
asteroid when it struck us, or was it a meteorite? Unfortunately, I doubt I’m
going to get an answer to that any time soon.

 

••••••

 

I can’t tell you how the rest of the
world reacted after Shiva struck, but I can tell you what happened in
Australia, or at least in my neck of the woods. People became animals.
Howling-in-the-night, true-to-God animals. For the first seventy-two hours all
you could hear were unholy screams, gunshots, squealing tires, breaking glass,
drunken cursing, even braying laughter—the sounds of a frightened, dying
species, I guess you could call it.

Gradually, however, much of this madness petered out. I’m
not sure why, but I reckon part of the reason is a lot of people left Broken
Hill, stupidly heading to the cities.

Why do I say stupidly?

Let me back up a minute and say Australia was probably one
of the best places to be in the world when the asteroid hit. It’s a huge swath
of land with a proportionally tiny population, which means if you don’t draw
attention to yourself, you stand a good chance of being left alone. And let me
go further by saying Broken Hill was probably one of the best places to be in
Australia, because geographically speaking, it’s in the middle of nowhere,
hundreds and hundreds of miles away from the big cities—places you don’t want
to be.

Think about it. Millions of panicked people fighting over
limited resources. Civil disobedience on an unheard of scale. Martial law so
strict you’d be shot on sight if you were caught on the streets past curfew.
Stadiums turned into concentration camps.

Nevertheless, the folks who left Broken Hill wouldn’t have
thought about that, or cared, because without food or water, they wouldn’t have
had any choice but to leave.

 

••••••

 

I’m tired and cold. My hand hurts
from writing, and my body is telling me it’s late, so I’m going to catch some
shuteye. Also, this might be my final entry for some time. I only have a couple
pencils left. They’re not going to last much longer.

 

••••••

 

Fuck me fuck me fuck me FUCK ME

 

••••••

 

Buzz is dead. He and his wife too. I
killed them both.

 

••••••

 

Buzz was a week older than me. I’d
known him since we were kids. We grew up on the same street across from Sturt
Park, and we both went to Willyama High School. He started in the mines two
years after I did because he stayed in school to get his diploma. He was one of
those sharp tacks I was talking about who never left town not because they
couldn’t, but because they didn’t want to. Suz and his wife, Jenny, didn’t get
along, but this didn’t matter much to us. We spent most of our free time at the
pubs, drinking and betting on the horses and greyhounds. We usually lost. On
good days we broke even. But the mines paid well enough, and we needed
something to spend our money on out here. We sure as hell weren’t going to
operas and celebrity-chef restaurants and paying big-city mortgages. We played
squash sometimes at the YMCA, and we were on the same lawn bowling team. Life
was good, simple, like our friendship. Then about ten years back Buzz got sick.
Doctors told him he had something called silicosis from inhaling too much rock
dust underground. The diagnosis was grim: his days in the mines were over.

He ended up driving a taxi for a few months while
moonlighting as a bouncer outside the town’s only nightclub, the Night Train,
or the “Fight Train,” as you often heard it called. When no better work
opportunities arose, he became depressed over the direction in which his life
was heading and ended up buying a thirty-thousand-hector station some forty K
north of Broken Hill, land which was once part of the original Mount Gipps
station, on which Broken Hill’s line of load was first discovered. He didn’t
want to farm merinos—they were too much hard work for too little profit—so he
started running two South African breeds, dorpers and damaras, which are better
suited to the desert climate.

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