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The Astronomer's Day Off
The alarm clock on Mark’s nightstand beeped once, waking him immediately. It wasn’t a loud beep, but it didn’t need to be because it was at a particular frequency that, not coincidentally, was the exact frequency that is ideal for waking a sleeping person. Sensing his consciousness, the alarm clock informed him in its monotonous voice of the date and time: the 7th of January, 2072, 6:20 a.m. With a heavy sigh, Mark rose from his bed, got dressed, and headed downstairs to prepare for work.
Today was to be an important day at the scientific outpost near Mt. Ngauruhoe, the largest mountain in his country of residence, New Zealand, where he worked in the astronomy department. Today he was scheduled to evaluate the plausibility of the existence of a black hole in an adjacent arm of the Milky Way, just past Swigrion and just a few light-years from the Lewaryn star cluster. Such an important confirmation could quite possibly lead to a promotion.
Today feels like a special day, thought Mark with a thoughtful grin. With this in mind he began preparing a breakfast of good old-fashioned bacon and eggs, non-genetically modified. Of course you could never really be sure with eggs these days; it was almost likely that they had been changed somewhere along the way.
Mark ate, anxiously. Had he not been eating such an exquisite meal, he might have found that the anxiety prevented him.
Then his cell phone rang, emitting Too Squared’s smash hit, Through the Acid Rain for You, one of his favorite rock songs of all-time. When he saw his boss’s, Clyde Marcum’s, photo projected from the face of the phone, his heart rate seemed to double. What if he’s changed his mind and decided to have Crosby do the eval instead?, he wondered with horror. With as much calm as he could muster, he flicked his index finger through a spherical projection near the edge of the screen, taking the call. In his most professional voice, he answered, “Hello, Mr. Marcum.”
“Hey, Mark,” Marcum replied in an easy, seemingly relaxed voice. Unfortunately, anyone who knew him knew of his peculiar habit of speaking informally when he was delivering bad news. Mark gulped and braced himself. “I’ve got just a teensy bit of, um, negative news,” Marcum continued in a likewise easy-going voice. Well, don’t beat around the bush now! If you’re making the switch, just like last time and the time before that, just tell me already! “It seems that the smog is just a bit too thick to be safe without an Ayerkleer-mask, which would be very cumbersome to wear while in the laboratory, so…have a nice day off, I guess. See ya.”
Mark’s jaw dropped in disbelief. A day off!? He’d been working for the company for 14 years, and never once had he had a day off. Then he realized that Marcum’s news must have been very bad indeed for him to have exhibited his strange habit. With considerable reluctance, Mark slowly turned to face the kitchen window overlooking his synthetic grass lawn…and and his jaw dropped for the second time in as many minutes.
No…Noo! His mind frantically tried to disprove what his eyes were telling him, but could not.
It was just like he’d seen on TV and in photos of other cities around the globe. In place of the typically thin layer of dust and gas that usually hovered in the air just above the rooftops of the city’s posadas, was what resembled a purplish, almost-ground-level cumulonimbus cloud. Below the cloud of smog was a thin layer of grayish dust, and below that the air shimmered slightly and colors seen through it were intensified and distorted by methane.
He knew what would come next. Maybe this cloud of smog would be gone tomorrow, but then it would be back the next day, or the day after that until it was always there. Then the city would have to be evacuated, permanently, and they would be forced to find somewhere even more remote, until that city was invaded by the smog and eventually the whole planet was ruined and they would all have to join the colonies on Mars, or Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. They’re native planet would be dead. They would have no home, not really.
Mark’s gaze fell to his now-cold bacon and eggs breakfast. “Way to ruin my day off,” he grumbled, depressed.