Authors: Andrew C. Broderick
The Extinction Switch
Andrew C. Broderick
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The Extinction Switch
Dedicated to Theresa Broderick
Props go to every author I’ve ever read, for
feeding the “idea soup” in my mind.
The Hammer Blow
Kassandra Sana Nishimura was sipping cocktails in the casino of a Monte Carlo hotel as the last seconds of civilization ticked away. The eighteen-year-old’s long, straight black hair, an artifact of her part-Japanese heritage, was tucked over the front of the right shoulder of her white jewel-studded half-jacket. One wall, opposite Kassandra and her two friends, became a video display. “A situation almost beyond words is developing,” the frightened-looking male newscaster said. “The continent of South America appears to have suffered an unimaginable catastrophe. Pictures and videos from surveillance cameras from Argentina to Ecuador show people convulsing and spitting up blood. Many have already died, and those who are sick will follow within minutes. The deaths already number in the billions…” At that, he broke down. Tears flowed freely, soaking his white shirt.
The camera switched to a brunette female anchor, with a glazed expression. She snapped to. “Uhh… our affiliate stations in South America are offline. Attempts to contact anybody on that continent are failing…” She appeared to space out again, and said no more. The display switched to a black screen with white words: “TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. PLEASE STAND BY.”
“What the…?” Kassandra said, wide-eyed.
Slightly pudgier blonde Annabelle, sitting to Zara’s left on the long leather bench seat, was ghost-white. She turned to Kassandra and opened her mouth, but no words came out. Eventually, she managed, “What if it happens here? What could cause this to happen?”
Tall, Italian Antonio shook his head. “I’ve never heard of such a thing! I’m too young and healthy to be affected anyway, probably…”
The girls looked at him in utter disbelief. “How the hell do you even know what it is?!” Annabelle said. “I bet a lot of the people who are dying are young as well!”
“Um…possibly…” Antonio looked down and became silent.
The newscaster resumed. “Some people are still alive in South America, but their numbers are dwindling rapidly…” The blackjack dealer, a Spanish woman, fainted. The stunned silence among the other patrons suddenly broke. They grabbed their belongings and rushed for the door in a panicked babble of confusion. A small table tipped over, sending some drinks crashing to the floor.
“I’m a universal citizen,” Kassandra said, firmly. “So, I’m not sticking around.”
“Uh...yeah, I need to get back to Paris,” Annabelle said. “My mother and sister are there.”
“My granddad’s company has ships and facilities all over the Solar System, and beyond,” Kassandra said. “Anywhere is better than Earth now. The shuttle I came in is at Lyon, and my charter plane’s at Nice. You guys are welcome to come too, of course. It may be the only way to survive.”
“I’m going home, I think,” Antonio said, “All three of us need to get to Nice airport though, whatever we’re doing.” The girls grabbed their purses, and headed out into the hallway. A mob of agitated people stood around the small elevator doors.
“Oh, my God!”
“This is the end!”
“Why’s this thing taking so long?”
“This is ridiculous!” they said.
“Let’s take the stairs,” Kassandra said. “Heels be damned!” She took them off and stuffed the tiny shoes in her purse.
Antonio shrugged. “Wingtips will do nicely.” His black footwear matched his all-black outfit. They encountered others as they descended the four floors to ground level. The friends pushed their way out of the hotel’s crowded lobby, into the balmy summer evening. The sky to the right showed the last orange glow of sunset. Stars were visible overhead. The small, intimate, palm-fringed garden and frontage of the hotel were rapidly filling with frantic vacationers clutching bags and suitcases by Vuitton and Versace. One woman nearby cried, “Maman! Maman!”
“There’s a long line to get a taxi,” Annabelle said, looking towards the road that passed the front of the hotel. Those nearest to it waved madly at any passing vehicle. Expensive cars filed out of the parking garage, to their left, and out of the gate. Most of them turned right, towards France. One automatic taxi came to a halt at the curb. A dozen people rushed for it simultaneously. Angry tones were exchanged, before seven people—three more than it was meant to hold—boarded it. The oval machine bounced with the weight being packed into it. A stream of vee-tols, bean-shaped chrome and glass flying machines that could hold roughly ten people, passed 150 meters above. Their navigation lights shone like bright stars against the dusk. Their signature sound of rushing air could just be heard above the babble. The machines headed west along the coast, away from the tiny, wealthy enclave of Monaco. Their numbers grew even as the friends watched.
Kassandra closed her eyes, and shook her head. “Why? Why?” she cried. “What if this is the end?!”
Annabelle hugged her. “I don’t know…hard to believe it’s even happening…”
Antonio appeared to have been stunned, as he looked ahead, down the hill of ultra-expensive properties and palms to the harbor. It contained yachts of sweeping form, some trimmed in real gold. “I’ll go to the vee-tol port and try and get us an air taxi,” he said, snapping out of his trance. “You two should keep trying to get a ground one. Whoever gets one first picks up the others.” With that, he began the 200-meter walk through Monte Carlo’s narrow, ancient streets. Upon arriving, Antonio found a line of anxious people. “How long is the wait?” Antonio asked a finely-dressed middle aged lady in front of him, who had a fur boa draped around her neck.
“There are none to be had,” she said shortly, in a German accent, above the hubbub. “We’re all trying to call them.” Tears glistened in the light of the street lamps. She looked up at the stars. “God, please don’t let it happen here! I’ll do everything you wanted me to. I’ll break it off with Bartolo! Just take this away!” Someone else opened a display the size of a computer monitor, projected in mid-air from a silver device about the size of a cigar tube. It was showing a news broadcast. The top half, in red with white lettering, read: “CATACLYSM.” Below that were pictures of corpse-strewn streets and plazas taken from drones, gradually moving as the drone’s position changed. A ticker ran across the bottom with updates. People crowded around to watch.
“What on earth could have happened?” a woman said in an Austrian accent. Antonio took in the surreal scene. A vee-tol descended towards the landing pad, with a whooshing of air. A name was displayed in glowing red letters on its side: M & M Herbert. As the machine came to rest on the pad, an old man near the front of the crowd shouted: “Get back! It’s mine! I am Herbert!” His slightly-hunchbacked wife hung onto his left arm. The craft’s gullwing doors opened, revealing the entry steps. People stampeded into the transport, trampling the couple underfoot. It was packed, with faces pressed up against the glass. Its outside display changed to read WEIGHT LIMIT EXCEEDED. Antonio’s eyes widened as he watched the struggle. “Get off!” someone shouted from within the machine. At that he tried to shove others out. They all clung onto anything they could to stay on board. Fists soon began to fly. Antonio shook his head. “Unreal,” he muttered. “Call Kassandra.” His neural implants swung into action.
“Any luck?” Kassandra said.
“No. I take it you didn’t get a taxi yet?”
“No, there are hardly any coming by. The ones that do are full,” she said. “People are starting to get angry.”
“Yeah. A fight just broke out over a vee-tol over here.”
Silence reigned for a long moment, and then Annabelle said: “If the uber-rich are already behaving like this, there’s no hope for the rest of us.”
In the crowd in front of the hotel, a man next to Annabelle was watching a midair display that showed the news. “This station and many others received a video moments ago, which appears to be a ransom demand, holding all of Earth hostage,” the anchor said. His face shrank into an inset box in the corner of the screen, and the video played. It showed a balding Asian man, wearing an all-black robe, sitting on a glass throne. He began to speak.
“One hundred and five years ago, the world of Entara, belonging to the Yi Dynasty, was destroyed. Tens of millions of lives were lost. However, I, Seung Yi, and one hundred acolytes, lived. It is time to restore to us what was lost. We demand the entire planet Mars, with all its cities and industry left intact. We will then occupy it, and peacefully coexist with the rest of humanity. This is more than you deserve.
“Thirty years ago, a nanovirus was delivered to Earth by stealth ships. It then multiplied, completely undetected, billions of times, and has unwittingly been breathed in and ingested by every man, woman and child. It answers only to us. Entara can activate it remotely, at will, in any geographic area we choose. We have already demonstrated its capabilities, as you can see. If necessary, we can activate it planet-wide, and all human life will be wiped out. I call it the Extinction Switch. My finger is on the button. You have six months to completely vacate Mars.”
Over a billion kilometers from Earth, Saturn’s moon Titan continued its course around the vast planet. High above the satellite’s mottled brown surface, a white spacecraft orbited. She was roughly the size and shape of a large cruise ship. In place of an oceangoing ship’s bridge, however, was a thick circle, 200 meters across. Its exterior was featureless, save for one word in thick black letters: REVENANT. Her owner was Kato Sasake-Robbins, Kassandra’s grandfather.
was his personal ship. However, he regularly took his family and a cadre of rich, prominent guests on tours of the Solar System.
Kassandra’s mother, Zara Nishimura, screamed as she watched Seung Yi’s ransom demand. “This can’t be! He’s supposed to be dead! August 17th, 2357! We all saw the explosion, and he was wiped out! There wasn’t a shred left of Ceres, and nobody’s heard a peep from them in a hundred and five years!” The long-haired, part-Japanese woman stood with her Japanese husband Akio and her father Kato in the lounge of the first class lounge. The large, opulent area had gently curved walls, which showed a gradually undulating pattern of blue hues——except for one, which showed a news broadcast. Full gravity was available, as the room was mounted in a large centrifuge that occupied the circular section of the ship.
“It’s impossible…” Kato said. The tan-skinned man shook his head slowly while looking at the news unfolding on the wall display. “I mean, how…? They all died, every last one of them!” He ran his fingers through his black hair, and exhaled. “Umm… right. Well, what to do? Call Hans.” Kato’s neural implant connected him with the ship’s captain. “Have you seen the news?” Kato said, on hearing Hans answer.