Just a bit of whimsy for the end of the Mayan calendar. A free downloadable version for your ereader of choice is available on Smashwords.
Evening, December 19, 2012:
Jackie adjusted her telescope. She’d only agreed to come on this Apocalypse Party Cruise with her boyfriend for the good viewing out here away from the lights of the shore. She didn’t have a chance at getting closer to a really powerful telescope since Professor Banks had labeled her a “cryptoastronomer” as if she was just like some cryptozoologist out beating the woods for signs of Big Foot.
Studying ancient texts was a perfectly valid line of research, whatever the closed-minded old blowhard might think. It had worked in other disciplines, after all. Or how else did Heinrich Schliemann find Troy and Mycenae? The Mayans really had known a great deal about astronomy, including some things that modern science wouldn’t discover for hundreds of years. So the question of what else they might have known was a valid one. It wasn’t as if she really expected the day after tomorrow to be the end of the world. Just a very interesting day for observations with some unusual alignments.
No matter what she found, though, the label of cryptoastronomer was going to stick. Her chances of ever getting a legitimate research opportunity now were nil. She might even have to change her major and start over. Jackie had a solid minor in archaeology, but all the ancient texts had already been thoroughly mined in that discipline.
The loss of time required to start over was even more frustrating. When Matt left for Hawaii next year to study volcanoes, she’d hoped to have a chance at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy telescope array. That way they’d be able to stay together. That looked like a lost cause now, though.
So, they’d be separated for at least a year–more likely two. And Matt would find someone else. In Hawaii? Of course he would. She half suspected Matt had suggested this cruise as a kind of goodbye. And all because of one reactionary professor who wouldn’t even listen to new ideas.
With a sigh of frustration, Jackie set the telescope’s camera to take a photograph every fifteen minutes and download it to her laptop. All those bigger, more powerful telescopes would be pointing in the wrong direction tonight. All looking at the boring galactic alignment. Jackie’s research had convinced her that another quadrant of space would be more interesting.
She’d be able to go through the photos in detail tomorrow. Now, as long as she was on this cruise, she might as well join the party and have some fun. Matt would know how to get her to forget about her problems and enjoy the party.
At least neither of them had to lecture tonight. They’d gotten their cabin for free, and a place to set up her equipment, in exchange for giving talks to the passengers about the Mayan calendar and astronomy from her, and geology and volcanoes from Matt.
Morning, December 20, 2012:
Jackie woke late with a splitting headache. She wasn’t much of a drinker. Matt had talked her into trying something that looked like jell-o, but wasn’t. Everything after that was fuzzy, but it certainly had helped her to relax for a while.
She had to scroll through the photographs three times before she could convince herself of what she was really seeing. Almost dead center of each photograph was a light that shouldn’t be there. Jackie had to scroll through twice more before she believed the rest of it. Not only was there a “star” where there shouldn’t be. It was getting bigger–or coming nearer.
Holding her breath, Jackie ran the last few photos through her enhancement software. Some blurring was inevitable, due to the motion of the ship. She fiddled with the settings and drummed her fingers on the bed while she waited for the results. She sat back in surprise when it finally came up. That image made no sense at all. Much too perfectly circular to be an asteroid or anything else that might be moving out there. Even planets tended to be a little out of round, thicker around the middle, due to gravitational forces. It was hard to tell, even on the enhancement, but it looked like it wasn’t solid, either. She thought she could glimpse stars through some of those large black areas. What was it?
Matt came out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist. Ordinarily, Jackie would look up to enjoy the view. His rock climbing hobby really did make him worth looking at, especially half naked, but right now she was too absorbed in last night’s photos.
Looking slightly disappointed, Matt came to sit next to her. “What have you got?”
Jackie tilted the laptop to show him, pointing to the object. “That.”
“What? A star?”
“It’s not a star.” With a couple of clicks, she brought up the star map she’d studied for weeks in preparation for this trip. “See? There shouldn’t be anything that large or bright in that position.” She switched back to her photos and quickly scrolled through them. “And it’s moving this way.”
Matt’s eyes narrowed. “Doesn’t some theory or other say that everything in the universe should be moving away?”
Jackie smiled at that. Geologists. So planet centered. “You mean The Big Bang? Yes, the current theory is that the universe is expanding. Not everything is moving away, of course. Asteroids, comets, and meteors, for example.” She switched to her enhanced photos. “But this is much too regular to be any of those.”
Jackie fumbled for her cell phone. No signal. “Damn. Someone with a much more powerful telescope really ought to be looking at this. I’m going to have to go up to the bridge. Their equipment will be powerful enough to reach the mainland.”
Evening, December 20, 2012:
Jackie stood up to stretch. She wasn’t making any pretense of going to the party tonight. This was far more exciting.
Only when she concentrated on the phenomenon, whatever it was, could she shake off the exasperation of the afternoon. She’d called every astronomer she knew and some she didn’t, trying to get someone to take her seriously. Even the photographs hadn’t helped. Professor Banks had gone so far as to accuse Jackie of doctoring the photos. Well, they were all fools. She was front and center for the greatest discovery of the millennium.
She looked in the direction her telescope pointed and blinked. She sat back down and sighted through the telescope again, then drew back to look at the sky. No mistake. There it was, visible to the naked eye now, if only as another star where no star should be.
Jackie groped for her laptop and some scrap paper. Without knowing size or distance, her calculations could only be rough but she had to make at least a guess at how fast the object was traveling. She blinked again when she got her answer. That shouldn’t be possible, at least not according to Einstein. If it kept up at this rate, it wouldn’t be long before those stiff-necked professors had to admit she was right.
Over the hours, Jackie watched as the “star” resolved into a central sphere and two concentric rings that moved together without seeming to have any physical connection. Between her observations, she searched her e-reader. There was something, somewhere about that configuration. She knew she’d read it, but she couldn’t place it. If she only had access to the internet here, maybe she could find it. Even so, she had several references downloaded.
The only thing she could find that even remotely fit, though, was Plato’s description of Atlantis, left over from an old philosophy class. Well, that was no help. She’d never done any in-depth work on Atlantis. Why bother? It was pretty well established that Plato’s Atlantis was really Thera, modern day Santorini. Not much opportunity for new research in that.
The telescope was jolted from its alignment as the ship’s engines roared to full and the ship started a tight turn. Jackie looked up. The object, whatever it was, had grown large enough in the sky that it was probably spooking the ship’s crew. She stood up to go talk to them and sat back down again. There was no reason to think that they’d listen to her any more than her professors had.
Those professors had to have noticed it by now, too. Each of them was probably scrambling to take credit for the discovery and none of them would even think of mentioning her contribution. Not that it was likely to matter for very long. Not once that thing hit Earth, anyway.
As the incoming object had passed planets of known size she’d been able to make a calculation of its dimensions. Even assuming that it was possible to accurately predict the point of impact–and there was going to be an impact–there was no way this ungainly cruise ship was fast enough to get out of the way. This disaster wouldn’t just affect the immediate vicinity. It could just be the end of the world after all. The only real hope was her last few calculations which seemed to indicate that the object had started to decelerate.
Apparently, the news of the object was spreading. Other passengers gathered on the deck, looking up.
Matt appeared at her elbow. “How far away is it?”
“Not far. It passed Jupiter a few minutes ago.”
He sighed in evident relief. “That’s pretty far.”
“Not in astronomical terms it’s not.”
Matt gripped Jackie’s arm. “Do you think it’s going to hit us?”
“It’s going to hit somewhere. I don’t have the tools to calculate where. And at that speed, wherever it hits, it’s not going to be good.”
Matt turned her to face him. “I haven’t wanted to add any pressure for you this year, with things going so badly for you, but . . . you know I love you, don’t you?”
Jackie folded herself into his arms.
Morning, December 21, 2012:
The ship rocked violently in the displacement wave. The object–Jackie still shied away from calling it a space ship despite the evidence of her eyes–actually settled on the water quite gently considering its size. Jackie was impressed with the control. The cruise ship was neatly bracketed by the outer two rings, completely undamaged.
The cruise ship’s engines started up again. As the object had descended on them, everyone had been able to see the large break in the outer ring. It only made sense that the crew would make for that opening and escape to open water. Jackie wasn’t so eager to get away. She wanted to know more about this unprecedented phenomenon.
The rings rode low and steady in the water, almost as if they were a group of islands that had always been there. As they cruised past, Jackie noticed the shiny metallic sides of the rings becoming translucent and then transparent until finally they disappeared altogether. Inside the outer ring, to starboard, she glimpsed what looked like very ordinary fields, with recognizable vegetables growing in rows.
She looked to port at the inner ring. Rows of buildings that seemed to be a mix of modern and classical styles climbed a slight slope. Beyond, where the center sphere would be, was a conical shape very reminiscent of a volcano.
Jackie whirled in place looking from one side to the other. “I’ll be–”
“What is it?” Matt asked.
“It was Plato all along.” Jackie grinned. “They were wrong. It’s not Thera. It was never Thera.”
“What are you babbling about?”
“This. This is Atlantis. And this is what the Mayans predicted.” Jackie grabbed up her laptop and bundled-up telescope. She dashed to one of the long boats, stowed her gear, and started to winch it overboard.
“What are you doing?” Matt asked.
Jackie turned to him and took his hands. “Matt, I can’t miss this opportunity. This is the greatest discovery in history and I’m right on top of it. Those stuffed shirts aren’t going to take this one away from me.”
Matt reached up to push a stray lock of hair behind her ear, caressing her cheek. “Go get our bags.” He took the winch from her. “I’ll get this launched.”
“You’ve followed me on enough hair-brained expeditions. It’s my turn. Besides, just look at that mountain. Good thing I brought my climbing gear.”