Why Not You? 2nd Place Winner - John Robinson IV



THE WORLD AT TWO ENDS


BY JOHN ROBINSON IV



June 14, 2037 19:37

“Look at us, Geoff. Just two brothas chillin’ at the end of the world.”


Geoff and Gary smoked a blunt as they stared at the molten orange horizon. The latter continued, “Shit… I always thought it’d be the aliens but…”


“Nah… you lose that bet, brotha.” Geoff said. “It’s the rock that’s gonna get us.”


Gary peered at Geoff through the slits of his eyes. “Put five on it.”


Geoff retrieved his phone. “Hey Google, when’s the world gonna end?”


The affable, feminine AI responded. “The Earth was projected to end when the sun swelled into a red giant some 6 billion years from now, however, with the discovery of the Cyrus Asteroid in 2034- ranging between 36 and 40 Kilometers in size and traveling at a velocity of roughly 54,000km/s with a 97% chance of earth impact- all life on the planet is expected to end in roughly 7 minutes and 28 seconds. Would you like to know more?” The phone chimed pleasantly, awaiting confirmation.


“Nah,” Geoff said.


“The military out there fighting them clickin’ aliens, though."


“I don’t get why. We win, rock still hits us anyway,” Geoff said.


Gary shrugged. “So? Wouldn’t you rather go out fightin’?”

Geoff chuckled. “Then why ain’t you join up then?”


“Hell, I’da joined if you did.”


“Maybe if I had somethin’ worth dying for,” Geoff said. A moment later, he asked, “Gary, you ever think about the one that got away?”


That familiar, arrhythmic alien clicking began.


"Met mine during college at the library.”

Cl-Click… Click… click cl-click.


“Gorgeous complexion. Brown skin. Almond eyes…”


Click, click, clickclickclickclick… click.


“When I tried to make a move, my dumbass tripped.”


The sky brightened substantially.


“Dropped my books right next to her.”


A countdown timer appeared on Geoff’s phone.


“She helped me up and everything.”


Click.


Geoff looked up to see a trio of the long-legged, alien metal monstrosities standing in his yard.


“And I ain’t say shit."

One of the metal beings hefted a spear tipped with a blue energy and tossed it at Geoff. The sky flared a holy-light yellow.


“I just picked up my books, and kept it movin’."



October 2, 2004 19:22


“Hey uh… I’m Geoff.”


Tanya Chanel had to admit that she was more than a little surprised when the guy who had just faceplanted in front of her moments ago, had circled back to sit at her study table.


She tapped her pencil on her lip. “Aren’t you in one of my classes?”


“Biology 101”


“Really? I never see you there.”


Geoff ran a hand over his hair. “I’ve maybe missed a couple of days…”


“You’ve missed a lot of days.”


“Debatable, but look… I was wondering…"


Tanya held a hand up. “Let me stop you there. Not interested.”


Geoff cringed. “Not even a little?”


Tanya motioned to her books, sprawled on the table. “I study here daily. You can’t even make it to class. You think our paths are really meant to cross?”


“Point taken. But you can’t actually expect me to give up that easy, right?”


Tanya leaned forward. “And what do you think you can say to convince me?”


Geoff gathered his wits and took a deep breath. “I’ve been trying to summon the courage to talk to you for weeks.”


A look of genuine surprise crossed Tanya’s face. “Really?”


“And I feel like, if don’t try now, despite the fact you think I’m some nobody, going nowhere, that we’re both going to miss out on something real.”


A smirk crossed Tanya’s face. “And what about me, has you so smitten, Geoff?”


“I don’t know…” he said. “Maybe I think you’re something worth dying for.”


Tanya leaned back in her seat, face twisting into confusion. “What?”



January 11, 2030 14:14


The sounds of rifle fire, alien mechanical clicking, and energy explosions tore through the air as First Sergeant Geoffrey Baudry of the 94th Infantry crawled on blasted earth towards the target location. His unit had a mission to rally and make a final push against the enemy.


He glanced back and saw his soldiers. Sore. Exhausted. Desperate. Like him, they saw the destination. But he also saw that foolhardy look in their eyes. It only took one of them to say it.


"To the Rally!"

The soldiers responded with a resounding war cry as they bolted upright into a sprint towards the rendezvous, all caution tossed to the wind.


"No! Stay down!" Geoff commanded. But it was too late. Soldiers fell one by one, the cadence-less clicking an errant score to their deaths. One fell only feet from Geoff. He crawled to him, driven by his duty to leave no man behind. Grabbing him beneath the arms, he began dragging him towards the rally.


A deafening boom sounded. When he looked down, Geoff wasn’t surprised to find the shrapnel impaling him through the chest. He was a soldier. This was war. Physically, he was numb. But the thought that he wouldn’t hold his daughter or wife again? That’s where the pain hit.


First Sergeant Geoffrey Baudry the 94th Infantry Division, collapsed and succumbed to his injuries on the desecrated soil of Fort Lee, Virginia.


November 4, 2013 19:49


“Daddy? How do you save the world?”

Geoff’s hand hovered over the bedroom light switch. “Whatdoya mean, baby girl?”


Kayla Baudry sat up under her fluffy Frozen blanket. “The TV says soldiers are heroes, and heroes save the world, right? So, how do you do it?”


Geoff chuckled and sat on the bed, wrapping an arm around her, “Well… you do it a little at a time. Make yourself is strong as you can… here.” He poked her in the head.


Kayla giggled. “And here.” He poked her chest. “Then you do your best to help as many people as you can, however you can.”


“Okay,” Kayla said definitively. “Then that’s what I’ll do when I grow up. I’ll be a hero. Just like Daddy.”


August 16, 2021 09:52


“What do you mean, my daughter hasn’t been accepted into the program?”


Tanya Baudry’s voice was icy. There was heavy apology in the voice of the woman that sat behind the desk, reviewing the list of names. “I mean that the last approved student that we have in our STEM program is Elizabeth Broughton. There are only limited slots per semester.”


Tanya looked behind her to see the little blond girl that must have been Elizabeth, staring at her from the waiting area. Next to her was her mother, who seemed to be engrossed in whatever she was typing on her phone.


Tanya looked down at her daughter, Kayla. Kayla looked back up at her with sad eyes before casting them down towards her feet. Tanya then glared at the admissions representative. “We came all the way from Sacramento because I was informed that my daughter had been chosen from the top 5 percentile of her class to attend Brightstar’s STEM program. I am aware that there are limited slots, but I did not receive an approval letter and drive all the way up here just so you can tell me that she can’t attend.”


The woman raised her hands in surrender. “Ma’am, I don’t know what you want me to say. Perhaps there was some sort of system error, but I apologizewe’ve already processed the other students. We simply don’t have room.”


Tanya stared at the woman another few hard moments before taking Kayla’s hand. “C’mon baby,” She said as she started for the door. “If they don’t want you, then that’s their loss.”


January 11, 2030 14:15


"To the Rally!"


First Sergeant Gary Barnett of Bravo Company of the 94th Infantry ordered his soldiers to move, and they complied without hesitation. Many fell, but enemy fire or not, they would arrive.


Or so they thought. A mechanoid appeared in Barnett’s path with an angry arrhythmic clicking. Before he could react, it grasped him, it’s long appendages too swift to dodge. When it slammed him on the blasted earth, the air was forced harshly from his lungs.


"No..." Gary cried, eyes wide in horror as the enemy raised its blue-tipped spear. "No, no, no!" The alien impaled Gary Barnett of the 94th Infantry in the chest. The clicking was the last sound he heard.



May 11, 2025 21:59


“That girl is 16-years-old, Geoff, you can’t make these kinds of decisions for her.”


Kayla sat at the top of the stairs watching her parents’ debate.


Geoff paced in the living room. “It’s dangerous, Tanya! Kayla’s smart. She got into Brightstar Academy and then earned scholarships to colleges that we could never afford! Why would you let her throw all that away for the military?”


“You think I want to send her off to war? Of course not. But it’s not our decision to make. She’s following in your footsteps. You should be proud,”


“I am proud. But the wars? the fighting? It’s non-stop Tanya. I don’t want that for her.”


“It’s okay, Daddy,” Kayla said, coming down the stairs. She wore a warm smile. “I don’t have to join. Like you said, Brightstar was a blessing.”


“Baby…” Tanya reached an arm out for her.


Kayla made her way to them and accepted her mother’s offer of embrace. “It’s okay, really. You’re right. I should go to school.”



September 30, 2029 17:04


"Geoff, listen. I- I need your help," First Sergeant Barnett said, as he closed First Sergeant Baudry’s office door behind him.


Geoff’s brows knit together in concern. "Whoa man, What's wrong?"


Gary’s eyes flicked to the door and back. "Orders are about to come down... sometime in the next few weeks. I dunno when, but what I do know is combat is involved. Fort Lee."


Geoff shook his head, confused. "Gary, you ain’t scared of no combat. We’ve deployed together a billion times.”


Gary grabbed Geoff's shoulder; eyes intense. "No, this is different, Geoff. I can feel it… somethin’ ain’t right.”


"Barnett, orders haven't come down yet, you can't possibly know-" "I know it in my bones, Geoff.” He gripped Geoff’s collar. “It’s like… it’s like I was there already."


Geoff held his gaze for a few seconds before glancing away. "Okay Barnett what do you want me to do?"


"I checked the operational status in Fort Lee. They don't need many First Sergeants. Only one position from our unit to be filled." Gary leaned in. “Request it, Geoff. The Army loves a willing soldier. Request it before orders come down. Go do what I can't."


Geoff stared back at Gary for a long moment before letting out a deep, exasperated sigh.


January 15, 2030 12:15


A trumpeter played the ceremonial procession of “Taps” as a host of soldiers clad in Class A Uniforms saluted.


Kayla wiped a tear from her eye as she watched the flag-covered coffin descend into ground. “I’m joining.”


Next to her, her mother spoke through a tremulous voice. “Baby, you don’t have to do that, your father-”


“I know he didn’t want me to join,” Kayla said, never taking her eyes from the coffin. “But I went to school. I got my degree. And now that he’s gone… I can’t T h e W o r l d a t T w o E n d s P a g e | 8 John Robinson IV turn away from what he stood for. I want to serve. With my education I won’t have to go enlisted. I can be an officer. Make real change."


“If you feel that’s your calling…” Tanya placed a hand on Kayla’s shoulder, “Then, you go be a hero, baby.”



June 14, 2037 19:34


Cyrus Asteroid was coming, but that wasn’t the concern of Major Elizabeth Broughton of the Air Force. But the alien mothership that was powering up for a world-ending attack, 503 kilometers above Earth, was. Her battle station was a terminal hooked up to the QTS Datacenter, the largest server farm ever constructed, and she was using all of its processing power to counteract their attack. Ironic considering the imminent impact of the Cyprus Asteroid. But even if they all died tonight, Eliza would die fighting.


The enemy’s clicks were not just random noises. They were not code like morse or tap. There was no standardized cryptography that guided its arrhythmic continuum. But their system was a language, and it could be translated. Eliza had done that herself… actually no… she’d only been able to do so with the bright mind of Tech Sergeant Kayla Baudry who even now was doing physical battle with the enemy alongside the other enlisted, serving as the officer’s last defense.


Eliza adjusted the values of the algorithm to match the nuanced shifts in the enemy’s code. She could hear gunfire around her, but she could not stop. The linguistics of the clicking transformed from disorganized to pure chaos. The farm struggled to keep up. CPU at 99.97% utilization. The clicking expedited. She adjusted the values.


And then it all stopped.


No more clicking.


On her screen, at the bottom of her terminal, there was one word - “Success.”


She looked up to find one of the metallic monstrosities, frozen like a statue with its spear raised to strike. But the light had left its eyes. Inactive. Above, the mothership had halted its assault, systems now controlled by the military.


Cheers went up. But Eliza was not cheering. Her eyes were fixed to her screen. Now that she had control, the algorithm had fully decrypted the enemy’s language. She understood everything. “No… that can’t be…” Eliza looked up in time to see the mech come alive once again. “We were wrong all along.”


The spear came down and struck her in the chest.


Cyprus Asteroid destroyed the Earth.



August 16, 2021 09:54



“I did not receive an approval letter and drive all the way up here just so you can tell me that she can’t attend.”


Eliza awoke in her 12-year-old body sitting in Brightstar Academy watching a woman speak sternly to the admissions rep. Next to her was a young Kayla Baudry, head bowed, tears dripping from her eyes.


Eliza scoured the room frantically, her heart pounded in her chest. “Second chance…” she said aloud to herself.


Her mother tilted her head. “What was that, Elizabeth? You know I do not have time for your antics today, young lady.”


Eliza leaped from her seat and shouted. “We have a second chance!”


The admissions rep eyed them with concern. “Excuse me Ms. Broughton. Is your daughter okay?”


Eliza’s mother flashed pearly whites and lies. “Yes, she’s fine sh-she just-”


“I don’t wanna go here!”


Her mother whipped her head around to her. “Elizabeth!”


“I DON’T. WANNA. GO!” Eliza screamed.


The Rep stood to her feet. “Alright, that’s enough, Ms. Broughton. You and your daughter may let yourselves out through the front door.”


Eliza’s mother grew red. “No! My daughter belongs here!”


As Eliza’s mother and the rep argued, Eliza found Kayla’s eyes and spoke with a calm knowing. “You can’t hack it, Kayla. If you don’t remember anything else in the world, just remember… You. Can’t. Hack it.”


Kayla stared back with wide, confused eyes. And then Elizabeth and her mother left.


The admissions rep took a deep breath. “Well, Mrs. Baudry. It seems a slot in the STEM program just opened up for your daughter."


June 14, 2037 19:34


Lieutenant Colonel Kayla Baudry of the Air Force had constructed a genius, unprecedented algorithm that could decrypt an alien language and thus, their systems. Using it and the combined power of the QTS Server Farm, she was flawlessly counteracting their mothership’s world-ending attack.


But even as she did, something itched at the back of her head. That same something compelled her to glance at Major Elizabeth Broughton. Her best friend of nearly two decades. The girl who gave her spot at Brightstar Academy. The school that would pave the way for a scholarship to John Hopkins University. The University that she earned a degree from to join the Air Force as a commissioned officer.


Eliza just smiled that same knowing smile she always seemed to have. “You understand it already don’t you, Kayla? I was too late… but you… you wrote the algorithm. Which means… you already know.”


Kayla’s eyes widened in realization as she whispered, “I can’t hack it.”


Eliza shrugged. “So, don’t.”


Kayla removed her hands from the keyboard.


The errant clicking grew more chaotic.


The enemy’s weapon reached maximum power.


Cyrus was going to hit.


The weapon fired.


The clicking paused.


And then it started again.


Click.


Heat.


Click.


Light.


Click.


Oblivion?


Click.


Serenity.


Like a clock in perfect rhythm, it all clicked.



Epilogue



“The world lays silent but intact after yesterday’s bizarre event that should have resulted in the destruction of all human life on the planet. Scientists are baffled, but near unanimous in confirming that the Cyprus Asteroid quote ‘phased through’ us instead of making impact. Even as we speak there are hundreds of thousands of reports coming in that similar experiences of a sudden, serene pause that seemed to overtake the world at the moment of expected impact. Many are reporting the moment as lasting for minutes while others say that it felt like days. In either case, it seems that the entire world had the time to truly pause and reflect on itself in quiet, introspective meditation. I know I did. This is Dave Schwartz reporting with NPR News.”


“I think we did it. We saved the world.”


“We did.”


“Wow.” “Do you remember them?”


“I do. Doesn’t seem like the rest of the world does though.”


“But how is that possible?”


“Seemed like they knew a thing or two about time-space and the astral plane.”


“Then why do we remember them?”


“Probably because we saw the truth, I think.”


“And what’s that?”


“That maybe everything… or everybody isn’t the enemy. That maybe we should look deeper. And maybe… we should try to get it right, the first time, all the time.”

“Yeah… and maybe then it’ll all just…”


Click.



THE END.

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