“Death Star On Collision Course With Earth” was the headline for the weekend edition of The National Exaggerator.

The ensuing article cited a paper published in a “scientific journal” by one Goeff Manfred.

Since the policy of this publication was to not burden enquiring minds with details, the names of the article and journal were not given.

***

On the following Wednesday evening, the smile that had graced a thousand toothpaste commercials lit up TV sets in much of the developed world.

“Good evening, this is Barbra DenOuden with The Story Behind the Story.” Her face was a credit to what good genes, professional makeup and the occasional facelift could do.

The camera pulled back from the tight face shot to reveal a bust-line that usually distracted viewers. It was a deliberate move to divert attention from the fact that the dynamic smile didn’t include her eyes. They were the blue of a mountain lake; blue pools of cold calculation. The camera continued pulling back to reveal a striking blonde woman seated in a comfortable chair.

Tonight, she wasn’t doing a toothpaste commercial. That had ended years ago. This evening was her first anniversary as an anchor woman. “Bulldog Babs” had worked her way up by honing an interview technique considered by many to be the verbal equivalent of an inquisitor’s bag of tricks: the rack, the thumbscrew, boiling oil, etc. She didn’t have anything against the people she interviewed, she just wanted good ratings. That meant delivering what people wanted to see. And, people wanted to see the guest get a good skewering.

“Tonight, we will be talking with Dr. Geoff Manfred, director of the Baylor Astrophysical Observatory,” she continued.

The camera pulled back to include the man seated in the other chair. 

“Good evening, Dr. Manfred and welcome to The Story Behind the Story.”

“Good evening, Barbra, it is a pleasure to be here,” answered a lanky figure who lounged comfortably. In contrast to the host’s well-orchestrated appearance, his could only be described as ish ish. His hair was neatly combed but longish. His glasses, while not coke bottle bottoms, were thickish. The choice of shirt and tie, while not geeky, were nerdish. The suit and shoes were the only items that made a statement. They were upscale men’s store stuff. They bespoke taste and the means to indulge it—not what one expects from an academic. The bulldog had been troubled by them as soon as her guest walked onto the set. If those damn research people have missed something, they’ll be swinging from the yardarm by dawn, she thought.

“Well, Dr. Manfred, tell us about this ‘Death Star’,” the bulldog said, still smiling.

Manfred’s manner became tutorial. “The ‘Death Star’ hypothesis proposed that the sun has a dark companion star in a highly elliptical orbit which brings it close to the sun every few million years causing disruptions to the inner planets. No evidence for such an object has ever been found.”

The Bulldog’s smile faded. “Dr. Manfred, you know that I’m not referring to that hypothesis.”

Manfred grinned. “Yes, I do, but I’m trying to make a point. We call the object to which you are referring ‘Dark 1’. Calling it the death star is nothing but exploiting people’s natural fears in order to sell newspapers.”

“But, isn’t it headed directly toward us?”

“That is only one explanation for what we are seeing. There are many other possibilities.”

“Look, doctor, if you are looking at something, it is pretty obvious whether it is headed at you or not.”

“Please call me Geoff. You are absolutely correct. If we could see this thing well, if we could get detailed pictures of it, we could measure what it is doing, and know where it is headed.”

“Ok, ‘Geoff’ why can’t you see it?”

“Because it doesn’t reflect much light.”

“What?”

“This object, which we have called ‘Dark 1’, neither emits nor reflects light.”

“So, how do you know that it is there?”

“Because it hid a star. Not quite a year ago, it was noticed—quite by accident, I might add—that a star might be missing.”

“Might!” Barbra interjected. “I’d think that a star would either be there or it wouldn’t.”

“It was noticed,” Geoff continued patiently, “that, on a particular photographic plate, a star—one of a hundred or so that should have been on that plate—was missing. A search of older plates was done and the most recent plate showing that star was almost six months old. A couple of months ago, the star reappeared. This tells us that something passed between us and that star.

“But, the article in Exaggerator states that a reputable scientist says that it is headed straight toward us.”

“Mine was the only name given in that article and I certainly made no such statement. All we know is that the occultation ended very slowly.”

“What does this have to do with the occult?”

“The primary meaning of the word ‘occult’ is to hide. Dictionaries rank various meanings of a single word according to the frequency with which they are used. “To hide” ranks as number one in Webster. Relating to mystic practices ranks as number four. Astronomers say that when one object hides another, an occultation has occurred, as fits the most common use of the word.”

The bulldog seethed inwardly. She’d fallen into the trap of letting her guest give her an English lesson. She smiled as she said, “Thank you, Goeff, for explaining the terminology. Please continue.” Now, she could see a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. It had been deliberate. The guy was quick. She hated him.

“Numerous instruments were trained on the area when the occultation ended. It took sixty eight hours for the star to fully reappear. It is true that this could mean that Dark 1 is heading almost directly down our line of sight to that star. Whether it is or not depends upon numerous other factors such as how far away it is, how big it is and so forth.”

“You don’t know how far away it is? I thought we paid you people to know such things.”

Goeff’s voice became hard as he said, “You don’t pay me anything. My area of interest is the study of earth crossing asteroids. This subject area is badly underfunded. We can’t get enough money to purchase proper equipment much less pay salaries. I support myself by writing. The fifty or so hours I put in at Baylor each week are gratis.”

Barbra felt her face lose color. He’d scored a serious point at her expense, but she couldn’t retaliate. Viewer sympathy would be with him on this one. She adopted a concerned expression and a conciliatory tone. “My goodness, I didn’t know that. I’d think people would want to know about objects that cross the earth’s path.” (She’d been briefed on the subject of earth crossing asteroids.)

“My position exactly,” Goeff replied. “I will have to say, though, since it became apparent that one explanation for what we are observing about Dark 1 is that it is headed for us, funding has opened up.”

“Has this new funding helped you unravel the mystery of Dark 1?” she asked, trying to steer the discussion back to the sensational track.

“I said that funding has opened up. That means the people who control the purse strings have expressed a willingness to consider projects. No grants have yet been issued.”

“Now that we understand the difficulties involved in studying Dark 1, let’s recap what we know about it, other than the fact that it may be headed straight for us,” the Bulldog said, trying to strengthen the possibility of danger.

Geoff settled back into the chair. “Well, the length of time for which the star was hidden indicates that Dark 1 is big. How big depends upon how far away it is. If it is quite far, then it is huge. If it is not very big, then, it is very close.”

“What does ‘not very big’ mean, in terms we can relate to?”

“Oh, maybe as big as the moon.”

The bulldog began to feel a slight sense of unease. She recrossed her legs and adjusted her skirt. “Suppose that Dark 1 is about the size of the moon and is headed toward us, how long would it take it to get here?”

Goeff frowned. “Please Barbra, each of those ideas is but one of a myriad of possibilities. Speculation about extrapolating their convergence is meaningless.”

“Doctor, spare me the big words and answer my question.”

Goeff took a deep breath, looked around for a few seconds and then brought his eyes around to meet hers. In a flat voice, he said, “That time would be measured in months.”

“What could we do in that time?”

“Again, I’d ask you not to pursue this line of questioning…it’s pointless.”

“Again, I’d ask you to answer my question.”

“The answer, then, is nothing.”

“What about using our nuclear arsenal to blow it up?”

“If something the size of the moon were headed our way—or something a tenth as big for that matter—we couldn’t do anything about it. We couldn’t send Clint Eastwood or Bruce Willis to destroy it. All of the nuclear weapons in the world wouldn’t do anything but put a few pock marks in it. And, that is assuming we could deliver them. Which, in itself, is doubtful.”

“Dr. Manfred,” the bulldog snarled, “I don’t appreciate your levity. You don’t seem to be taking this matter seriously. Thank God there are people who do.”

Goeff made a nonplussed gesture. “Who might that be?”

Babs began to look like a quarterback who had just thrown a touchdown pass. “The people at Hughes Aerospace!” An article from the National Exaggerator filled the screen.

Hughes Aerospace Offers Vehicles To Escape Asteroid

“Engineers and scientists at Hughes Aerospace (supplier of the living modules for the space station) have stated that the technology exists to transport persons away from an asteroid / earth collision.

According to the proposal, biospheres would be launched into a solar orbit which would be somewhat slower than that of the earth. By the time the asteroid collides with the earth, the biosphere(s) would be trailing the earth at a safe distance. The earth would catch up with the biospheres in about ten years. At that time, measurements would be taken to determine whether or not it would be safe to return to earth. Since the biospheres would be solar powered self-sustaining ecosystems, they could remain in orbit for the multiple generations it might take for the earth to again become hospitable. Hughes officials claim that present manufacturing facilities could begin producing the biosphere within weeks at a cost of one point five billion per unit.”

The screen switched back to a view of Babs. “There. The people at Hughes Aerospace are making preparations. I call that serious.”

The camera switched to Goeff as he stretched his neck. “Please Babs, the paper to which that article refers was not a proposal of any sort. And, it is not a response to our discovery of Dark 1. It was an intellectual exercise done several years ago. I was part of that effort.”

The screen went to commercial as Babs went pale. She clenched her teeth. In the control room, the Producer looked darkly at the Director as he said, “Come morning, blood shall flow around here nigh unto the door handles of a Beemer.” 

*** 

On Friday, Goeff sat in his office at Baylor paging through the Globe and Mail. An article on page three arrested him.

Televangelist Claims God Told Him How To Avoid Asteroid’s Destruction

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,

Well known televangelist Bosephus Swinehurst announced today that he has had a special audience with The Almighty regarding how mankind can avoid destruction by the approaching asteroid. Quoting God, the Rev. Swinehurst gave lack of prayer and failure to attend to the needs of the poor as reasons for the impending judgment. Repentence and correcting these failures were given as prerequisites for avoiding God’s wrath.

Accordingly, rev. Swinehurst has committed himself, his family and the top functionaries of his organization to an ongoing twenty-four hour prayer vigil. But, says Swinehurst, “This is only a small beginning; tens of thousands of supplicants will be needed.” He has offered the resources of his organization to care for the needs of those who will give themselves to full time prayer.

Further, Rev. Swinehurst has offered to coordinate the various compassionate acts that God has required before He deflects the asteroid.

The Swinehurst organization has estimated that the cost of maintaining those engaged in ongoing supplication of the almighty and of launching the various charitable efforts will be around one and a half billion dollars. Persons who cannot personally participate in either the prayer vigil or the acts of charity are encouraged to support them financially. A special website and media spots will track progress toward the monetary goal.

 Goeff stood with the paper in hand and walked out of the office. He stopped at a desk where three seventeen-inch monitors hid the occupant. As he looked over the center monitor, a young woman with long brown hair and huge horn-rimmed glasses looked up. Goeff waved the paper. “Have you seen this tripe?”

Lips without lipstick replied, “If you mean that bit about that Rev. Swine . . . Swine . . . whatever, yes.”

Geoff looked puzzled. “Amazing. I didn’t think anyone would give that interview a second thought.”

“It’s not the only response your interview with that DenOuden person has generated.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, I found that bit while trolling the news feeds last night. There are others.”

“Could you send me some links?”

“Will do.” 

***

On the following Monday, Goeff regarded his monitor with disbelief. When asking his assistant for links, he’d expected a few, but there were dozens. He sighed and clicked on the first one.

Sunday edition of the Grassland Post:

Who is God Punishing?

By Potter Pigeon, Religion Editor

Today, the Shiite Muslims declared that the asteroid is Allah’s judgment upon the Sunni Muslims because they do not recognize that the leader of Islam should be a natural descendent of Mohammed. Yesterday, the Sunni Muslims announced that the asteroid is Allah’s judgment upon Shiite Muslims because they fail to recognize that Mohammed directed that his successor should be elected. Immediately after the discovery of the asteroid, Al-Queda announced that the imminent destruction is Allah’s judgment upon Muslims who fail to pursue the jihad with sufficient fervor.

When questioned, spokespersons for all three factions said that the decadent behavior of non-Muslims was a minor contributor to Allah’s wrath.

Each group was asked how they felt about sharing the judgment with the apostates (their term). All three objected to the term “sharing.” To each, the event will be a “blessed ushering into paradise” for them while the apostates will suffer damnation. The Al-Queda spokesperson added that it will be a welcome resolution of the “nubile virgin problem.” According to doctrine, a good Muslim man will be awarded a bevy of nubile virgins for his eternal pleasure upon entering paradise. The number of holy warriors currently being sent to their reward has caused concern in some quarters regarding whether or not the supply of nubile virgins will continue to be sufficient.

Goeff shook his head and clicked on the next link.

Letter to the editor, Grasslands Post

I’m writing to tell you how simply marvelous it is, the way that good Christian people are responding to the noble work being done by the dear Rev. Bosephus.

I faithfully watch (and contribute to, mind you) his ministry, so I saw the very first announcement of the conversation he had with God about this awful asteroid business.

The very next day, as soon as the chores were done, I called his headquarters and offered to become one of the prayer warriors down there. The sweetest little lady told me that the response had been so overwhelming that the number of prayer persons specified by the almighty had already been filled. She thanked me for my interest and financial support and suggested that I stay where I am and consider my ministry to be filling the financial goal of one and a half billion dollars.

I certainly intend to do just that as soon as I cash in a few bonds, but the main thing is to tell you how quickly good Christian people responded in our time of need. It really restores a person’s faith in people, doesn’t it?

Irmguard Thacker, Flatbush Sask. 

The last did nothing to restore Goeff’s faith in people. Stifling the urge to gag, He clicked on the next link.

The Lunatic Fringe Weighs In

By Boliver Shagnasty, Science Editor, Grassland Post

The Immanuel Velikovisky memorial society has announced that the impending collision between an asteroid and the earth represents the final vindication of their hero’s theory of cataclysmic evolution. That theory, published in Velikovisky’s “Worlds In Collision” posits that Biblical stories such as the flood, the parting of the Red Sea and the sun standing still (while the Israelites completed an important battle) were reports of actual events caused by close encounters between the earth and planets in errant orbits, comets, or other heavenly bodies. Their argument may be summed thusly: We now have proof that an asteroid impact is imminent. So, this must have happened before. Therefore, Mr. Velikovisky’s conclusions must be correct. To this writer, the argument simply proves that these folk are worthy heirs to the man who still holds the indoor record for conclusion jumping.

The Werner VonDakken memorial society announced that “Dark 1” is most surely an asteroid that will cause total destruction of the world as we know it. This, they say is obvious from the fact that the Aztec calendar appears to end in 2012. In his book, “Chariots of the Gods” VonDakken makes a case for the Aztecs having contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Since this very advanced civilization had apparently mastered intergalactic travel, the society argues, they probably knew when this asteroid would hit, so the Aztecs didn’t bother to extend their method of reckoning time beyond that point. The Aztec calendar to which they refer uses a very complex method of compensating for things like the earth taking 365 ¼ days to complete an orbit instead of a tidy 365. The Aztec calendar has accurately predicted the occurrences of solstices for thousands of years. The scientific community is still in the process of deciphering it, so the end date of 2012 is not conclusive.

On a lighter note, the Flat Earth Society proposes a solution to the dilemma. The FES is a London based group that meets annually to read papers supporting the idea that the earth is a disk and that the appearance of roundness is generated by malicious use of mirrors and other forms of trickery. The group, which characterizes itself as a “Tongue In Cheek Think Tank” seems to have a membership spectrum that extends from true believers to those who view the gathering as an excuse to get together for a pint of stout. Their proposal involves taking all of the ICBMs in the world’s arsenals, removing the warheads, placing them at one location on the edge of the disk and firing them at once. This, they say should tip the disk so that the asteroid will pass harmlessly under it. 

Goeff smiled. At least somebody is having fun with this brouhaha.

As Goeff tidied papers on his desk in preparation for addressing more serious matters, she of the huge glasses popped her head around the corner. “Doc, I just sent the link for a bit from Scripps that you might want to look at right away.”

Goeff looked up. “Scripps saying something about the interview?”

“See for yourself,” she replied and disappeared.

Goeff found the link and clicked on it.

Where Have the Cetaceans Gone?

By Reginald Flutweisel, Scripps Oceanic

While the report that dolphins have suddenly disappeared from the oceans is correct, it is only part of this incredible event. Dolphins belong to the family Cetacea which includes whales. All of the latest data indicate that the entirety of cetacean population has disappeared!

Questions regarding the intelligence of these creatures have fueled debates for years.  Their disappearance might put the question to rest.

To begin with, consider that cetaceans are descended from a land-dwelling creature much like a large pig.  This creature sustained itself by rooting about along river banks for vegetable roots.  Over the eons, this animal returned to the sea.  With hind legs evolving into flukes and front legs becoming fins, it’s body style became that which we see in cetaceans today. Currently, dolphins spend a large amount of their time playing – much of their activity has nothing to do with obtaining food, it is done just for fun.  This is true of Cetaceans in general.

Now, ask yourself, who doesn’t enjoy a good swim?  Isn’t swimming more fun than working (rooting)?  Did the evolution of cetaceans just happen, or did the species somehow “decide” that life cavorting about in the sea would be preferable to rooting along the banks of rivers?  If that is the case, it suggests that they are not only as intelligent as we, but that some aspects of their intelligence transcends ours.

Their disappearance from this world—which some assure us is about to be struck by a large asteroid—might answer the question of who is really intelligent with finality.

Goeff sat back in his chair, folded his hands behind his head, and took a deep breath. The analysis of Dark 1 took on a new urgency.