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"Mom, it’s the end of the world!” Gilbert charged into the house, slamming doors behind him, shedding books, backpack, papers, and electronics in his wake from his day of college classes.
His mother looked up at her teenage son from the oven where she just pulled out a sheet of baked French fries. “Of course it is.”
“No, I mean for real! It’s all over the news.”
“Uh-huh.” His mother nodded moving the fries to a serving platter. “Would you like a cheeseburger or hamburger?”
“Why is that even a question?” Gilbert put his hands on the back of a kitchen charge, shaking in his urgency. “A meteor is about to hit Earth!”
“Correction, the meteor will hit Earth in a little over nine months.” His mother tsk’ed. “Please do not exaggerate.”
Blinking at the calm his mother produced, entirely at odds from the explosion of opinions on campus when the news was released a couple hours ago, Gilbert shook his head before whining, “But the world is going to end.”
“But not today or tomorrow, and I am assuming you are hungry now.” His mother nodded to the sizzling burgers. “So tell me, cheese or no cheese.”
“Cheese, please.” Gilbert muttered weakly, pulling out the chair before sitting down. He planted his elbows on the table and buried his head in his hands.
After placing Swiss cheese slices on the ground meat patties and returning the cheese to the refrigerator, Heather brought over fries platter and ketchup. “Where is my kiss?”
Dropping his hands to the table, Gilbert kissed the cheek his mother presented.
“Much better. Now make yourself useful and get out the drinks.” Heather returned to the stove. “I’m your mother, not your waitress.”
“Yes mom.” Gilbert got up again and started setting the table for dinner. “I just don’t understand why you aren’t bothered. The news says there will be anarchy, looting, lawlessness.”
“Well it’s not going to happen in this house.” Heather said firmly. “People who do that are the stupid ones, and you and your sister are not stupid.”
Gilbert’s bushy eyebrows met in a frown while putting the glasses out. “I … what?”
“Oh, for the love of goodness.” Heather pulled the toasted buns from the oven and placed them on the table beside the lettuce leaves, onion slices, and tomatoes. “Anyone who goes the panicked mob route is just asking to die. The president already declared marshal law, and the National Guard has been deployed. She promised to bring on-line the draft for both men and women, and veterans should call in to the nearest post according to their last name.” Sliding the cheeseburger patties on a heated plate, Heather joined her son at the dinner table. “I got to call in at the gadawful hour of three a.m.”
Heather bowed her head and her son followed suit. “Dear Lord, during this time of trouble, please give our leadership the strength and wisdom they need. Give us the endurance and intelligence to be able to help them. Always remind us to look first to you for guidance.” Gilbert winced at the very pointed comment. “And bless this food unto our bodies. In your name, Amen.”
“Amen.” Gilbert echoed before grabbing a warmed bun. “So you are getting called up again?”
“What else did you expect?” Heather squirted some ketchup on her bottom bun, leaving the top of the bun on the serving platter since carbs were her biggest enemies in her ongoing battle of the bulge. “Though it’s likely only for the initial check-ins since hospitals will be a priority staffing issue.” His mother’s nursing career spanned three deployments overseas and half a decade stateside since she quit the army to raise her children after her civilian husband died of cardiac arrest.
“So I don’t even get to see you before it all ends.”
Heather pointed The Finger at her son. “Okay, stop that negativity right there. I raised you better than that. Heck, your father, bless his black heart, raised you better than that. What are the solutions?”
In the middle of biting into the burger when the question was asked, with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, and meat juices dripping onto the plate, Gilbert chewed and swallowed before answering. He wasn't going to risk his ears getting boxed for talking with his mouth full. “The meteor is going to hit the Earth. It’s too big to move. The news says it’s nearly eight kilometers.”
“Try again, that is not a solution.” The military officer grilled her son.
“Whatever.” Gilbert picked up a fry and considered it, slipping into programming mode. “Okay, there are three states to this equation. First we do nothing and continue as we are.”
His mother nodded. “With the minor change of controlling the anarchy and any idiots who use disruption to become petty dictators.”
“Scat, Dad would have loved this.” Gilbert’s dad taught high school history and ran the debate team most of his life, in between serving local political offices and as an adviser for state and military offices wherever they had been stationed.
“All right, so option two is we try to move the rock and option three is we dig in and make an ark.” Everyone at the college figured the politicians didn’t release the news until they had the ark option all set up for their families and are already hiding underground.
“That is my conclusion as well.” After scooping some more onto her plate, his mother offered her son a half-filled platter. “More fries?”
Gilbert dumped the rest on his plate before smothering them in mayonnaise and ketchup. At nineteen, his appetite still hadn’t found a level between his track and his soccer scholarships and his continuing growth. Six foot would be in the rear view mirror in a few months, if he lived through the end of the world.
Heather steepled her fingers. “So the first step is control the lunacy and the second step is to direct our energies to humanity’s survival. Which option do you prefer?”
“I don’t see how we are going to move that rock, so I guess the ark is the best bet.”
“Hide instead of act.” Heather shook her head. “Well, half of humanity is conservative and half is action, which is how we survived so far. Diana takes more after me and you take more after your dad.”
Gilbert protested. “When action will accomplish nothing, using your brain is the best option. In fact it is always the best option - use the brain before acting. And in this case, the brain says a conservative reaction is best.”
Shaking her hand side to side, Heather responded. “Yes and no.”
“Right. So your turn.” Gilbert started on his second burger.
“Well, first we need to get everyone concentrating on the rock instead of panicking. We can go back to our petty bickering later, just like Africa did once Europe left. I think the U.N. is already working on that, though I expect some of the extremist groups to respond poorly.” Heather’s face hardened. “I also expect the kid gloves will come off and we will stop pussy-footing around with what is ‘humane’ and ‘civilized’ during this time.”
Gilbert smirked a moment, then took great delight and saying a word his mom constantly used on him for the last five years since she returned from overseas. “Focus.”
Heather's brown eyes sparkled and a wry grin crossed her face before she started speaking again. “The problem with the ark solution is the limited amount of what can be saved. Therefore moving that stupid rock into the sun or at least off orbit is the better option.”
“I realize most of humanity will still die, but that is the trade-off for the ark. It is the more viable solution.” Gilbert tucked the last of the burger in his mouth.
Heather stood up and began to pick up the empty dishes. “There will be no more cheeseburgers.”
“I know that mom, but it’s okay; I’m full.” Gilbert stood up to help her load the dishwasher.
“No, Gilly, what I mean is there will be no more cheeseburgers after the ark. The cows won’t fit.”
Gilbert froze, glass in hand. “No more cheeseburgers?”
“Yeah, even if you get chosen for the ark because of your brains, brawn, genes, and youth, and don’t get all big-head on me, but you would be a prime choice, but cows take up too much landscape to raise so there will be no more cheeseburgers or steak.”
“Well, fuck that. We need to move that rock.”
His mom smiled evilly. “Why don’t you get on internet and get your friends on it. SpaceX has a rocket going up in two days and needs number crunchers to figure out density programs for their sensors. They advertised the crowd sourcing just before you came home.”
(Words 1,478; first published 7/17/2016)