WILLIAM BECK – 51 (24 when the comet hit). William and his wife Blythe moved to Westcliffe from Boston where he’d been a firefighter for a year. Before moving to Boston, William had studied geology in Arizona and Blythe studied infectious diseases. After graduating, neither could land a job in an economy that was shrinking fast. They left for Boston when William’s application to be a firefighter was accepted. After a year in Boston, William’s dream job became available. He was hired as a forest ranger in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. It offered William a chance to explore his love of geology, nature, and the majesty of dark night skies and a window into space. Lucas was born when William was only 19 and in his second year of college.
Now 51, William recently handed over leadership of the clan to his son Lucas. He remains the patriarch of the clan, and revered by his son, who consults with him on all major decisions. Lately, the ice has grown thicker, and the glacier unsteady because of uplifts in the ice. Fear has gripped the clan, and William remains a force of calm in the face of what most see as impending doom.
October 7… (before the comet)
Larry called this afternoon…and after what he told me, well, I had to start writing down my thoughts. I haven’t written in this journal in two years-not since Boston. I used to write a lot back then. Fighting fires stressed me out. It wasn’t my first choice in careers. Hell, I’m a geologist. I’d wanted to spend my life outdoors. Running into burning buildings scared the hell out of me. I haven’t been that scared in a long time. So, Larry scared me bad today. He told me about his latest discovery. It’s both terrifying and exciting. Exciting because he discovered a new comet. Terrifying because the comet’s trajectory brings it closer to Earth than any large object in recent history. Larry already reported the comet to JPL. He said it had a 1 in 20,000 chance of hitting Earth. I know enough about predictive models to compute the horror if it hits our planet. Especially since the United States has absolutely no defense system in place to deal with this. In fact, no country on the planet does.
I told Blythe. She’s not convinced it’s time to panic yet. We shared the news with our best friends Isaac and Christina. They promised not to tell anyone. JPL hasn’t made the news public yet.
I heard the news on NPR this morning. They quoted my pal Larry at the Harvard-Smithsonian and Mike Fleeter at JPL. They’re now calling the comet: 2009C23. The newscasters already
shortened the call name to: Comet 23.
I called Mike at JPL. He told me the odds of the comet hitting Earth are a lot more daunting than the news reported. NASA got word from the Executive Office of the President: They don’t want a panic. JPL isn’t publishing the real numbers. Not yet.
Blythe and I had a rough day. She’s starting to worry now. She wants to visit her family in Iowa — make sure they’re going to be okay if this comet hits. I told her we need to stay home and make plans for ourselves. We have to assume the comet will hit. I have some ideas. None are great. But if this comet is as big as Mike thinks? Very few people are going to survive.
Isaac and I strategized. Make bomb shelters? Find an abandoned mine? Caves? Or?
The mountains! 32 miles from my ranger station, there’s an observatory near the summit. It was built in the late 1800s – solid stone on granite. Isaac likes this idea. It’s isolated and abandoned. We’ll speak with our friend David. He’s with Peterson Air Force Base and can hook us up with solar and wind generators. We’ll need to be self sustaining. And we have to plan to do so for a minimum of 18-24 months. We’re starting to think about who should be part of our group. Skills, etc…
NASA finally published the real numbers on Comet 23. The news media is sending the world into a full blown panic. I saw a headline today: Who’s in charge of saving Earth?
Everyone in town looks like they’re lost. There’s nothing but depressing news all over the internet and television. And no plan to solve the problem! Blythe called me from the market. There’s
a run on canned food, bottled water, and medical supplies.
Isaac agreed to fund the hard costs of our survival venture. He’s a great friend and he’s really coming through. Some neighbors have been asking questions about our plans. We’re tight-lipped, and it’s getting weird. Some neighbors are getting aggressive…as if we owe them an explanation.
We added our fourth and final family to the group. Fred and Anna Hesse. They have a daughter, Veena. We’ve had to weigh every advantage before selecting these families. Their expertise, their attitude, and values. If we’re going to survive, it’s going to be as a team.
Our first full hike to the Observatory. All four families. The kids loved the hike. We’ve told them very little. Making all this an adventure. Trying to play down the fear of the comet. The physical danger of what it will do to our planet. I’m happy for them. I want to protect them from all of this as long as possible. This might be their last summer for a long time. Isaac’s son, Remy, is 15 and fully aware. He and his friends read the doomsday blogs. I imagine it’s pretty rough on him. Isaac is having trouble reining him in. We’re all hoping Remy keeps our survival plan a secret. If a single person finds out…we don’t stand a chance. We’ll have a mob up here with us…and no way to save them. It would be very, very bad.
Just back from the mountain and planning a return trip next week with solar panels. David is getting industrial batteries for back-up as well as air conditioners and air filters.
Isaac and I had a blowout over a new bill being pushed through Congress. It’s called Imminent Demise and would give the President the power to act with impunity in the event of a potential catastrophe. Isaac doesn’t want anyone deciding his fate. He still thinks there’s a chance this comet won’t hit us. I think it’s a relative certainty. But what’s pissing him off is the President’s plan to arm a rocket with a nuclear warhead and launch it at the comet. Hell, no one wants a nuke to blow up on the launch pad or before it leaves our atmosphere. Both are risks if we launch. But should we do nothing? We’re not going to agree on this…
Regardless, we’ve continued our survival plans. Because if there’s a nuclear accident, we want to be as far from the site as possible, not to mention contamination of water and food supplies from the radioactive fallout.
Thanksgiving. The four families sat together tonight. The mood was somber. Still, we have each other’s support and confidence that we can survive. That’s something to celebrate. And if the comet misses? Then we’ll never forget this experience and how it forged incredible friendships. For Isaac and me…we’ve been forced to debate our differences more directly and without worrying about offending each other. Less diplomacy…more honesty. We challenge each other.
I haven’t written in a while. We’ve been hiking to the observatory every week. The solar panels are complete and we just finished building the wind propeller. David has retrofitted a greenhouse out of the glass-walled observation room. Fred has stockpiled seeds, mineral supplements, and built a water induction system so we can grow fruits and vegetables in hydroponic tanks. We’ll never be reliant on soil.
Mike called me yesterday. JPL still has the comet striking Earth in 4 months. The odds are hovering around 1 in 500.
Business around the globe is crashing. Here in the states there’s a general sense of apathy. I see it here in town. People are giving up. They feel powerless. Crime is the only sector that’s flourishing. We have Martial Law in Denver and all the major cities across the country. The National Guard moved into Westcliffe just last week.
Anna has been having trouble getting antibiotics here in the states. She needs them in powder form so we can store them for long periods of time. David’s wife, Rita, has a connection in South American’s black market for some cutting edge viral and bacterial drugs. We’re stockpiling for any eventuality.
Larry attended a special meeting at JPL with NASA. He told me to listen for the President’s update this evening. Word out of JPL and NASA is the comet’s trajectory has changed. Jupiter’s
gravity gave it a fateful twist. Odds have decreased. The Minor Planet Center is going to confirm in an hour.
Everyone gathered at our place for the news. The President reported that Comet 23 would miss us! It was like someone lifted a ceiling of doom. Isaac wept. As did I. The collective relief was
so spontaneous and incredible. The children cheered without really knowing how narrowly we skirted disaster. I grabbed my son Lucas and hugged him. My emotions nearly got the best of
me. I had to be careful not to scare Lucas or the other children. I looked at David and Rita with their newborn son Xavier…and I saw a physical change in their stature as hope returned.
The looks between Veena and Remy were unmistakable. They were old enough to know that this was indeed a second chance…a new beginning.
All us men hiked to the observatory and began retrieving our survival gear. Remy begged us not to. He wanted to use it as a hangout with his friends. We agreed to leave the power generating
system and some supplies. But warned him that we didn’t own the observatory. The U.S. government did. And they could officiate and post it anytime. In fact, I was thinking of requesting the observatory as a new ranger station for my official posting.
I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I held a pair of binoculars up to Lucas’ eyes so he could see the massive tail of the comet as it passed above the moon. Blythe stood behind me. We all watched Comet 23 hurtle across the night sky. A tangible and immediate reminder of how close we all came to extinction.
Mike from JPL confirmed the size of the comet at 60km in diameter. Comet 23 was a monster. It would circle the sun in a month and then launch back into the far reaches of our solar system.
When I asked Mike if there was a chance it could hit us on the way back out, he paused. Which only confirmed my fears. I’m not so naïve as to think it couldn’t happen. Mike agreed
there was a chance. But he wouldn’t know for several weeks.
We were on the road to Iowa when we heard the news.
NASA reported that the comet had swept around the sun and was headed on a collision course with Earth.
We spent one night with Blythe’s parents. They had done very little planning for the comet. They had been living in denial for the better part of a year. Blythe and I had a tough decision to
make. Finish our trip or head home. Her parents insisted we head home. We had 3.5 weeks until impact.
We’ve been home for two days. The drive back was chaotic. Martial Law was in full effect. The interstate looked like a massive military operation. Check points had been established to keep looters from exiting cities. We had to show i.d. and proof of residency to get into Colorado.
Rita told us David had to report to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. He was assisting in the retrofit of two Ares rockets with nuclear warheads.
Thank you. Isaac finally abandoned his support of the worldwide movement to abort the nuclear mission. We watched in amazement as the case was heard in the Supreme Court. Imminent Demise was ruled unconstitutional on the grounds that a President didn’t have the authority to decide the fate of an entire nation. More shocking was the press conference that followed as the Chief Justice told our President to act outside the law and do what’s best for the people of the world.
The President just ordered a four rocket assault on Comet 23.
Just before bed, Lucas asked me if we’re all going to die. I looked at my five year-old son and the words came fast-as if I knew for certain it was the truth. We’ll be safe. We’re not going to die. None of us. And some day soon, we’ll return to our home and our friends. This is temporary I told him. Everything felt true…except the last part…returning home to friends. It would be a lonely world we would return to. At best.
Preparations for our final trek to the observatory. The hardest part is seeing friends and neighbors scrambling to find shelter. Some built bomb shelters. Others departed for family homes. The few that worked for the government, they were evacuated to undisclosed retreats. I was happy for them. Watching the news was tough. An unprecedented migration of people away from the coasts. Entire cities abandoned. Tens of Millions of people on the move.
We’ve waited as long as we can for David. Rita said they won’t let him leave Cape Canaveral until the rockets are launched. They promised him a transport plane to Peterson AFB in two days.
We have to leave by July 1st…and even that’s pushing it. We’ve had to blockade the street because looters are getting bold. The best armed groups are banding together and breaking into homes mid-day. The army is overwhelmed and can’t keep up with the crime and violence.
The city is in utter disarray. There is little hope left in the world.
Isaac is ready to go. He doesn’t want to wait for David. I told him we need to wait. To travel as a group. A clan. If we split up now, there’s no putting the clan back together. Everyone agreed. We wait.
Isaac wasn’t pleased with the decision. As we watched the first of two Ares rockets lift off from Cape Canaveral, I could see the concern in Isaac’s face. It was the rocket launch that was making him uneasy. He wanted to be in the observatory in case the nuclear warheads pre-detonated.
4:30AM. I’m up watching the news. NASA reported that both Ares rockets missed the comet. We still have two rockets on the way. If they miss. That’s it. David was quoted on NASA’S website. He gave the two remaining rockets a better than average chance of striking the comet, because they used a smaller nuclear payload that they now hoped would counter the top-heavy modification of the Ares.
We can’t afford to wait any longer. David will have to make the hike alone…and in half the time or he’ll be out in the open when the planet heats up and goes toxic.
We left later than we wanted yesterday morning. We’d always planned on leaving under the cover of darkness so no one would follow us. A few of our neighbors bluntly and accused us of abandoning them for a secret survival spot. They were furious that we wouldn’t share our plan with them. As if we owed it to them and we were being inhumane. Logic and preservation prevented us from doing so. They just didn’t see it that way. It didn’t help that our kids had to leave while their young friends implored them to stay.
We’re on the mountain now. We won’t have an internet or phone signal until we reach the observatory sometime late tomorrow. We all moved a bit faster than usual today. Which doesn’t surprise me, as we feel the urgency to get to safety. Lucas and Mary have endless energy. They’ve lead the entire day. Veena has been good at watching over them. She’s especially protective of Lucas.
Everyone is still asleep, and I’m watching the sun peak over the Rockies. It seems impossible that there’s anything wrong in the world. Like we have immunity from the comet. We should arrive at the observatory by midday. There will be much to do.
We just arrived at the observatory and everyone is exhausted. Strange, how the observatory is a welcoming sight, yet, oddly, a reminder of all we may have lost.
I used a wireless USB modem to go online with my laptop. Top of the news was CHILI’S VLT TELESCOPE tracking the incoming comet. Both Jupiter Launch System rockets had missed. The comet was 11 hours from impact.
The President gave a final speech from the South Lawn. It was meant to be hopeful but fell flat. It wasn’t his fault. There was just no way to sell hope now. The most unsettling part was when the camera spun around and showed that there was absolutely no one there to hear the President’s send off. The South Lawn was empty except for a few technicians. Constitution Ave was void of traffic.
A few of us gathered on the deck. The sky was clear. The latest prediction had the comet hitting somewhere in the Pacific in the early morning. And now there was nothing to do but wait.
I’m sleeping outside with Lucas. He never liked staying inside the observatory. He told me he loved being outdoors. It made him feel safe.
We woke up to the sound of the EMERGENCY BROADCAST on the computer. It played over and over again…in all the languages of the world.
The message was clear: The comet strike was imminent.
We watched the news. Satellite footage of the strike zone. Where they thought it would hit. The kids wanted to go outside. As if they might see something. We let them.
All the while we waited for the hit. It came at 4:31AM…
The satellite images were beyond anything my mind could conjure up. The impact zone was so enormous that it looked as if the entire Pacific Ocean lit up.
Then came the live cameras from the Air Force jets: racing alongside towering tsunami waves … 3,500 feet high … careening toward the coasts in all directions. Despite the terror, I felt an
unrelenting curiosity that made me watch every image and sound available until the signals all went down. First the cell phones. Then the internet. That was it. Now we are officially alone.
We registered today as DAY 1 in our journals. This is the beginning of a new era since the comet strike. We’re beginning to feel the effects of the comet. A hot wind has picked up out of the
west. When I saw the dark mass pushing towards us in the sky, I got everyone inside and sealed the windows. We wouldn’t be going outside again for a very long time.
We’ve planned to be here 18-24 months. We can go longer, but we hope not to. Once the air is clear of soot and pollutants, we’ll be on the road searching for survivors. What lies ahead, I don’t know. But what I do know is this: There will be much to do to rebuild the civilization that has been lost.
In a business known for its decidedly ephemeral nature, John Schneider has staying power. After nearly 30 years on stage, screen and studio he continues to perform regularly in all mediums.
Last fall the consummate good guy surprised audiences with his turn in F/X’s acclaimed “Nip/Tuck” as porn producer, Ram Peters, who is a mystery man from Kimber’s past. His recurring role continues. In May he also co-starred in the Hallmark mini-series “Shark Swarm” opposite F. Murray Abraham and Daryl Hannah. The eco-drama was about a small town’s battle with corporate America. He recently filmed a role in the comedy feature film “Rebound” portraying one of Catherine Zeta Jones’ loves interests.
Schneider recently wrote, directed and starred in the action-adventure film “Collier & Company” which was released theatrically in mid ’07 by his own distribution company “A Grass Roots Effort” and just released on DVD. The film about an ex-stock car driver who gets involved with an illicit side business and discovers that his wife and child are kidnapped as a result was a true labor of love. He is passionate about the art of filmmaking and was involved in every aspect of the movie. A seasoned director, he also helmed episodes of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Smallville” and the telefilm “Mary Christmas” which aired on PAX TV. He continues to direct and recently finished starring in and directing much of the new mini-series “26 Miles” which filmed on Catalina Island. John portrays a divorced father who follows his ex-wife and kids to the island where he learns to lead a more simple life. He also reconnects with his former band members so music is an integral part of this show- and the perfect showcase for him to show his musical talents.
The busy actor was a series regular for five seasons on the acclaimed drama “Smallville” as ‘Jonathan Kent’- the father of teenage ‘Clark Kent’ as well as a series regular as ‘Daniel’ the sheriff on the popular CBS television series “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.”
The consummate Renaissance Man, Schneider is also an accomplished singer, guitar player and song writer. He has released 11 solo albums (four of which he co-produced with music legend Jimmy Bowen) and has performed in numerous Broadway shows such as the award-winning musical “Grand Hotel,” The Will Rogers Follies,” “Brigadoon,” Music Man,” and “Civil War.” He continues to perform on stage and appeared last summer in “Mame” in the role of yet another smooth Southerner, ‘Beauregard,’ at the Hollywood Bowl. This past winter he starred on Broadway once again in “Chicago” as ‘Billy Flynn.’
On the big screen, Schneider has appeared in over 15 features including “Snow Day” with Chevy Chase, Garry Marshall’s “Exit to Eden” and “Eddie Macon’s Run” opposite Kirk Douglas, to name a few.
Recognizing a need for better health care for children, he co-founded the Children’s Miracle Network, an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping children by raising funds and awareness for 170 children’s hospitals throughout North America. Each year, these hospitals treat more than 17 million children. Since its inception, the Children’s Miracle Network Celebration has raised more than $3.5 billion and is the only telethon that gives 100% of the money raised directly to the beneficiary.
Schneider was born in upstate New York and began performing in local theater by the age of eight. When he was 18-years-old, he heard about a casting call for a new series called “The Dukes of Hazzard.” His agent tried to dissuade him from auditioning since they were looking for actors far older and from the South but no matter, Schneider went to the audition with a six pack of beer, a torn shirt and convinced the producers he was a twenty-four year old farmer from “Snailville” GA. Not bad for an 18-year-old from Westchester county, New York! The producers were sold on the young actor and for six seasons he starred as ‘Bo Duke’ on the hugely popular 80’s comedy-adventure series which became a part of the national zeitgeist.
To this day, Schneider has a love of cars and has an impressive collection of classic automobiles which he loves to maintain and refurbish. He likes to play poker, golf, garden and he reportedly makes a mean cappuccino!
He resides in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Elly, their three children and two dogs.