THE END OF THE WORLD
They were right all along.
December 21st. The end of the world, as all the Facebook messages proclaimed. The end of the Mayan End Count, increasingly hostile weather, the Republican Party eating itself again: all signs pointing to the apocalypse. Of course, there's another layer to people's willingness to proclaim the end being nigh; to bear witness to the end of the world would give your humdrum life some much-needed meaning, otherwise all those hours sat in front of the computer stuffing Pringles into your face would be just as futile as they felt.
And the end of the world did happen that day. We just didn't notice it at first.
The news came over the websites: automated drones flying the wrong direction and attacking their own base, cargo ships disobeying their GPS systems and veering off-course, flocks of birds squawking loudly and flying in erratic patterns. NASA released a statement on the morning of the 22nd: it was all a result of a Total Magnetic Reversal: the magnetic polarity of the Earth's core had flipped. What once was North was now South.
And life carried on. A quick fix to the navigation programs, a mass-production of new magnets for explorers and the only people left worrying were the bird-watchers. Life settled back into the familiar rhythms, and the disaster-preachers slinked back into the shadows to begin their Christmas shopping.
But they were right all along. A shame that they never knew it.
It was a whole week before the eruptions started. The magnetic reversal had triggered a massive shockwave, from the core of the planet, slowly spreading outwards through the mantle. When it reached the surface, it caused all the planet's tectonic plates to pop apart for a few seconds, making all the volcanoes erupt and all the earthquake faults tear themselves apart.
And that was all it took. Every country in the world was affected, so they all naturally tried to take care of their own messes first. Demand for aid far outstripped what the broken remains of society could provide. We watched helpless as people started hoarding, then looting. They formed into communities for survival, and fought with other communities. One of them had the stupid fortune to find a nuclear warhead, which after a brief struggle was accidentally detonated. The old cold-war Nuke Response systems, which had enough redundancy built into them that they were still mostly operational, noticed the explosion and launched their own weapons in retaliation. Of course, their guidance systems hadn't yet been upgraded to the new magnetic reality, and detonated thousands of miles away from their intended targets. Which only triggered more nukes.
According to our on-board computer, it's now June 21st. Earth is a smouldering ball of irradiated lava. There's been no signs of life anywhere in over two months. Food here ran out four days ago. Luckily for us, Jenkins finally found the gun the Russians had stashed in their module. There were seven of us left on the space station. There were six bullets. We drew straws.
Phil Walters, December 2012.