“The world will end today.”
Azre broadcast Tuesday's dismal forecast for the KTVU “News at Two” spot. A renowned expert on such things, he did not feel particularly anxious about today’s news. The world had not ended yesterday, but he did seem to remember reporting an apocalypse sometime last week. And then there was that week last month when the world ended every single day, sometimes more than once. Azre continued his forecast, reading the teleprompter with the composed and articulate manner that had won his news team three FCC broadcasting awards for best daytime scientific reporting. After finishing, he returned to his seat in the Metatronic Broadcasting Systems, Inc. newsroom, made a joke about the Oakland Raiders dismal performance this season, and remained on camera silently until the program finished taping.
Today, the world will end approximately between seven and nine thirty p.m. PST, most likely due to a westerly system of volcanoes rapidly surfacing along an oblique meridian around the globe and erupting 1500°C picritic magma onto nearly every inch of the earth’s crust. Azre knew this because his cymatic analysis of the occasus waves entering the earth’s atmosphere throughout the day elucidated that today’s waves fall in a well-known class of modal phenomena that typically correspond with some kind of volcanic destruction.
Azre left the newsroom a little after three p.m., reasoning that he had several hours left to enjoy the unseasonably pleasant day before he had to endure the agony and chaos of magma melting all life on the planet into a homogenous glob of denatured proteins and their charred antecedents. He grabbed a burrito at his favorite truck, then headed down to the estuary to take an afternoon stroll. As he walked, he gazed at the various boats and kayaks floating by. As other Oakland residents began to get off of work, Azre found himself getting caught in the hustle and bustle of people rushing to find meaning in their day before the impending apocalypse he reported to them just a few hours earlier.
Sensing the sun beginning to dip, Azre picked up his gait as he passed through Jack London Square, hoping to avoid the fatalists loitering around. Every day their group seemed a bit larger and a bit more threatening, he thought to himself. As he passed by, some fatalists jumped up and offered flyers to parties, flashing their giddy grins while they waited for the twilight to blush enough for revelry beneath its glow to become simply irresistible to everyone in the street. Some fatalists offered drugs, while others asked for money to buy them. Many held up their slogan, “Live every day as if it’s your last!” on hand-painted signs and posters, incorporating the message into complex and sometimes almost-beautiful art pieces. Yeah, I will live every day as if it is my last, Azre told himself, when I can afford the luxury.
In spite of his modest hurry, Azre noticed that a female fatalist had begun walking several paces behind him. She wore the typical fatalist fashion, or lack-there-of, sporting an unkempt hairdo, baggy pants and a black tank top. Instinctually, Azre crossed the street and increased his pace. The woman stayed on her side of the street, but also walked faster, keeping up with Azre. He tried to maintain his esteemed calamity, but he knew the dismal truth that if there was an incident, the chances where quite slim that any of the city’s already sparse volunteer police would be on patrol right now. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Azre assured himself, it’s just a silly fatalist chick.
As he reached the corner of the street, he abruptly pivoted and headed to the right, only to discover a handful of other fatalists down the street glaring at him. His light panic began to escalate, and Azre started to fear the worst. He crossed the street again in a futile attempt to avoid the burgeoning gang, but the fatalists began to aggressively close in on him. Abondoning his cool altogether, he broke into a run, only to find himself outnumbered. With no open options, he surrendered to the fatalists surrounding him, blocking his escape.
“What do you want? Leave me alone!” Azre pleaded to no one in particular in the group. The mob murmured amongst one-another but did not address Azre directly to answer his question. As he stood there trying to figure out his next move, the female fatalist originally following him stepped through the crowd and approached him.
“Dr. Azre B. Tyche, I presume?” Azre nodded. “We mean you no harm.”
Azre couldn't help but roll his eyes. This was not the first time he had been approached by strangers who recognized his face from the news. He did not intend for it to be his last. “What can I do for you? I would like to be on my way, but your... associates appear to be blocking my path.”
“We are interested in the cymatics research you recently published about piconewton resolution lock-in amplification of occasus waves.” She sounded confident. Azre was impressed the girl could say the title of his paper in one breath. “Have you read the recent census report?” she asked. The girl’s tone was respectful enough for the apocalypse scientist, and his tension about the coercive undertones of the fatalist confrontation relaxed a bit.
“Yes, I read the report, but I did not find it very surprising,” Azre replied. “We already knew that the world’s population is dropping. The census report, in spite of the public’s obsession with it, provides quite unsurprising statistics if you consider the state of the world. Besides, I’m sure members of your... ‘group’ have had a significant impact on those numbers anyway, with all your recreational dying and suicide opt-ins. What does any of this have to do with my research?” Azre’s patience was wearing thin. He hoped that whatever they wanted to get out of him could be extracted quickly so he could go and enjoy what was left of the day.
“In your hands is evidence that some people are simply not coming back after the world ends.”
“What? Are you serious?” Azre demanded in astonishment. He rapidly leafed through the documents, skimming the figures and the structure of the proofs. How could this be possible? The details of the frequent end of the world were not entirely worked out, but so far no respectable research had ever suggested that there were any lasting consequences of the global apocalypses. Even if these figures were legitimate, how have I overlooked them? Before getting too worked up, Azre reminded himself of his expertise to avoid letting humility cloud his judgement. There was no reason to assume that this girl—or her group of wackos—had any better data. Yet Azre found himself less skeptical than he expected. “Even if your data are accurate,” he began carefully, “what does this have to do with me?”
As the conversation began to move in a technical direction, the group of fatalists eased their aggressive stance enclosing him, apparently out of impatience. Some of drifted off, probably more interested in preparing for this evening’s end-of-the-world party, while other’s more loyal to the issue stayed to observe the dialogue. No longer feeling threatened, Azre let the fatalist speak with him for a few more minutes.
“I have read your research into diagnostic apocalypsology. I would like you to help us use your expertise about occasus cymatic forecasting to discover why those people were lost during the banal apocalypses. I want to help them. Don’t you?”
Azre looked around at the small crowd of fatalists still watching the conversation, compulsively sucking their cigarettes in silence. All around them the usual pre-apocalypse evening activities began to take shape. Tonight would be the first nighttime end of the world in over a month, and many of the revelers chose to have extra special celebrations to mark the occasion. The late afternoon shadows had begun to elongate, and as the sun became lower in the sky, the unusually clear air allowed a crisp view of San Francisco’s buildings shimmering across the bay. This is far too keen an evening for me to waste anymore time, Azre realized. “No thank you,” he replied to the woman, and began to walk past her towards the crowd of fatalists on the street.
Before he got to the crowd, he turned around. “I don't think I caught your name,” Azre asked. “It’s Kephlar,” she replied. “It was an honor to meet you.”
Kephlar and the other fatalists allowed him to pass, but as he walked away, she called to him, “What if these people are suffering, Azre? If your knowledge could help them, wouldn’t you want to find out?”
Poor do-gooders, Azre reflected. Poor, and pathetic. At least the normal fatalists had accepted that the dismal state of the world was not worth investing effort into correcting. But this strange woman and her followers still actually believed that they could make a difference!
Heading home, Azre felt pensive. He turned onto Uraniborg Street to avoid another confrontation with the gathering crowds on the main drag. Kephlar’s offer had been interesting, he had to admit. But long ago Azre resigned himself to the notion that looking for raw answers was futile. He doubted anyone would ever discover why those people were missing, or why the world was ending so frequently in the first place. His job isn't to discover those answers, only to analyze and calculate.
An hour later, Azre was still trying to forget about his encounter with the fatalists while he enjoyed a smoke and a coffee with his wife on the roof of their apartment complex, watching the sunset. “Why is the sky so beautiful?” his wife mused as he nuzzled his head on her chest.
Azre looked at the horizon igniting into vibrant pinks and reds across the sky and thought about how the Rayleigh scattering of light radiation creates the appearance of the pleasurable colors. He knew that using simple cymatics, the elegant mechanisms of the beauty in a sunset could be calculated, and the behavior of almost every single particle in the atmosphere could be characterized with the punch of a few buttons. He could predict the ellipsoidal orbit of any planet, the appearance of any organism, any plant, any infant, all through the careful analysis of waves. It was all connected, all just governed by a handful of properties exhibited by these strange disturbances in space-time. But long ago, Azre quit bothering himself with the particulars of why it worked the way it did.
“It is beautiful because you love it,” he responded coyly, “and you love it because it is beautiful.”
“Is that a Catch-22?” she asked playfully, and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek.
“I think I want to quit working at MBS” Azre blurted out loud to himself as much as to his wife. “Our ratings are going down anyway. People just don’t seem as interested in knowing the forecast these days.”
“I suppose it doesn’t change anything, anyway,” she replied. “Knowing the forecast, that is.” Azre smiled at her, then returned his gaze to the sunset. Both he and his wife felt the temperature gradually begin to rise over the past several minutes, and now Azre felt a line of sweat forming on his brow. Suddenly, the building began to shake and in the distance he heard the screams, cries, and giddiness of people reveling in the streets. The shaking and heat intensified, and Azre and his wife watched the San Francisco skyline begin to crumble down from the tremendous tectonic shifts occurring along the San Andreas Fault line. The heat continued to increase, and much of the giddy laughter transformed into screams of agony as molten magma oozed through cracks in the street and burned the flesh and bones of the Oakland revelers from their feet up. The sound became deafening as the cacophony of buildings crashing and metal bending played a counterpoint to the visual destruction. It was all waves, Azre thought one last time. Seismic waves through the ground, resonant frequencies of buildings, the sonic cries of citizens of the street, even the graph of his heart rate beginning to border on tachycardia.
As the heat became nearly unbearable, Azre grabbed his wife’s hand, closed his eyes, and listened to the opus for the next eight seconds.
Published on February 24, 2013