Lex sat on the sofa and drank his tea in three long gulps. He took small bites of his sandwich and picked at the potatoes as he watched the reports from astronomers and scientists from around the world. Their predictions varied a little, but the consensus still seemed to be that The Asteroid was on a collision course with Earth. No one could say for sure if it would be a direct hit or a glancing blow, but there was little detectable optimism coming from the scientific community. He could tell that most were trying to restrain themselves from declaring doomsday.

The report switched to Washington, where President Espinosa had orchestrated a teleconference with President Jianming of China and Russian President Medvedev, all of whom had promised an unprecedented cooperative effort to work together to solve the crisis.

“Rest assured,” President Espinosa offered, “the world’s superpowers will do whatever it takes to come up with a plan to divert The Asteroid. Time is on our side, but we can’t delay. That is why the best scientific minds, and the best military leaders, will convene next week at the United Nations in New York. President Jianming, President Medvedev, and I will be there to assure that no option is left on the table and that every possibility is explored. We will find an answer. We will solve this crisis. And as we set aside our differences and come together for the most important common cause in history, we will no doubt usher in a new era of cooperation and peace.”

He put his sandwich down. The gravity of the situation couldn’t have been more dramatically illustrated. If the President sought to reassure, he did just the opposite. As far as Alexander Knight was concerned, the situation was grave. By most accounts, he had ten years to live.

The news anchor continued. “Around the world the reaction to The Asteroid has been surprisingly calm. The predictions of chaos have been, for the most part, wrong. In some of the larger cities in the United States, there were brief moments of looting, but order was quickly restored, not only by the police, but by the general populace. There was a sense of pulling together, as shop owners and neighbors helped one another defend their properties. The same was true, more or less, in all of the world’s major cities. Jim Arula in Los Angeles has more.”

Becky pushed her father into the family room and then sat down next to Lex. She put her arm around his shoulders, then caressed his back as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees.

“Anything new?” she asked.

“Not really.”

“Is Wheel on yet?” Harley asked.

“It might not be on tonight,” Becky said. “Might be special coverage.”

“Damn meteor.”

“Asteroid,” Lex corrected.

“It’s not like the world’s going to end tomorrow,” Harley said.

Lex held up a hand to Harley. “Financial report. I want to hear this.”

“As you might expect,” the anchor said, “Wall Street didn’t like today’s news. The Dow closed down almost ten percent, the largest single day loss in the history of the Dow. Raul Gupta in New York has more.”

“Dan,” Raul began, “everyone knows that if there’s one thing investors don’t like, it’s uncertainty. The news today created the biggest cloud of uncertainty that mankind has ever known. Given that, it’s no wonder that stocks around the world plunged.”

“There goes our 401k,” said Lex.

“You’re not going to need it anyway,” Harley said.

Gupta continued. “Most investors I talked to today acknowledged the uncertainty and were not surprised by the record-setting sell-off. At the same time, they stress that in the investment world, ten years is what most analysts consider mid to long-term. A lot can happen between now and then, and the smart money will stay in the market, even buying bargains once the market hits bottom. As one broker told me, it’s really a no-brainer. If The Asteroid hits, it’s not going to make any difference whether you were in the market or not. But if it misses, and you’re out of the market, you will have lost out on what he predicts will be the biggest bull market ever.”

“Thanks, Raul,” the anchor said. “In an extraordinary move, all of the major stock markets of the world announced today that they would suspend trading for the rest of the week to provide a cooling off period for investors to gain perspective.”

“What do you think, Dr. Knight?” Lex asked Becky.

“By the time we’d be in a position to make any trades our portfolio will have taken a huge hit. When the markets open again, I’ll shift some things around, but that broker’s right. If we take it out, the losses become real and permanent. If we hang in there, we’ll enjoy the ride back up.”

“Provided there’s good news.”

“I’m not sure we necessarily need good news. I mean ten years is a long time. Most people can’t just quit their jobs. The ninety-nine percent will need some income and will probably keep investing. I think in the short-term, maybe for a couple of years, the market’s going to be down. But there are opportunities in down markets.”

Lex thought for a moment. “You know when you start back up this fall, you won’t be able to teach the same investment theory you’ve always taught. The thirty-year plan will be out the window.”

Harley laughed.

“I’ll have to think about that,” Becky said. “For sure, the emphasis is likely to change. But then again, you can’t rule out the possibility that the rock misses us.”

“Asteroid,” Harley said. “Oh, good. Wheel’s on.”

“Might be the thing that finally gets that show off the air,” Lex said. He picked up his plate and headed back to the kitchen. “I’m going to call J.J. Have you talked to him today?”

“No, I thought I’d wait on you this evening,” Becky said.

He put the phone on speaker and dialed J.J.’s number. He answered on the third ring.

“Hey, J.J. Your mom and I just wanted to check on you and see how you’re doing.
Things crazy down there?”

“It’s always crazy in Houston, Dad.”

“Any looting?”

“Oh, you know how it is. Some people will try to take advantage of a crisis situation. We had some of that in parts of the city. Downtown was fine, though. I mean, there was a lot of talk and people are on edge, but so far, nothing too bad.”

“What’s your read on the oil sector?” Becky asked.

“You’re on summer break, Mom. You’re supposed to be working in your garden.”

“Seriously, J.J.”

“Are you kidding? Nothing boosts the price of oil more than the world coming to an end. Boom times, Momma.”

“For now.”

“Yeah,” J.J. said. “We’ll have to see how it plays out.”

“How’s Aisha?” Lex asked.

“She’s a rock. Nothing phases her. Surviving Hurricane Anders made her strong.”

“How’s her family doing?”

“Generally, ok. Haven’t talked to them in a week so I don’t know how their handling this news. Odds are, they’re still focused on rebuilding.”

“They’re going to stay in New Orleans?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s home. How’s Grandpa?” J.J. asked.

“Watching Wheel of Fotune,” Lex answered.

“Of course.”


copyright 2016, joseph e bird