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Life As the World Knows It
New York, Early October...
[fade to Marti Nunciata]
From the middle segment of the seven o'clock Cable News Network
"Excitement continues to build as astronomers around the world prepare to record the impact of the rogue planet Millennium on the far side of Jupiter in late November. The rogue planet was dubbed Millennium because when discovered by the Kin Peak National Observatory in Arizona, it was originally estimated to strike Jupiter early in the year 2000. Now, however, astronomers estimate the impact will occur on November twenty-sixth, the Friday after Thanksgiving. This is what Professor Frank Gelasias had to say when asked about the more than one month discrepancy between the originally projected date of impact and when scientists now believe the rogue planet will actually strike the gas giant."
[cut to window and expand to fill, Professor Frank Gelasias]
"There are many factors which can affect the date we calculate that a body in space will strike another one, or pass close by, so much changing information on an object of this size and speed, that exact projections early on are chancy at best. But we're fairly certain that this one will strike the day after Thanksgiving, and when it does, the impact on Jupiter will dwarf what Shoemaker-Levy did to the planet in 1994. Millennium is huge by comparison, and the resulting damage to Jupiter's atmosphere could change the way we see the planet--its gas atmosphere--for decades."
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"Yvonne Navarro's work is an intricate, delicate tapestry of bizarre images and intriguing characters."
--Poppy Z. Brite
"The voice of horror has a new cutting edge. Yvonne Navarro places a fresh blood-wet shine on tarnished and familiar themes. Things still go bump in the night, and there just may be a monster under the bed after all..."
--Kevin J. Anderson
"Can we turn on the television?"
Lamont looked up in surprise. Gena was standing at the bottom of the steps leading into the family room, one hand clutching the banister to give herself a sense of location within the oversized room. She preferred the formal living room and hardly ever came downstairs; the family room was too spacious, its furnishings too spread out to let her make her way down its length with any ease. "Sure," he said as he rose. "Any particular channel?"
"I..." Gena hesitated, then shrugged. "CNN is as good as any, I suppose. Something that shows...everything." Above a pale rose-colored sweater he'd bought her, her reddish skin looked dusky and soft, her hair startlingly black. Her face was carefully expressionless.
Lamont raised an eyebrow as he selected the channels from the remote control, then went over to take Gena's hand. Her skin was cold and clean, slightly damp; he knew she'd been upstairs washing the dishes from yesterday's Thanksgiving meal--their first with each other--and this morning's breakfast. He'd wanted to help but she'd insisted on doing it by herself, although she'd allowed him to run a sinkful of water and soak the mess overnight. Skipping the annoyance of the usual morning alarm clock routine they'd slept late, then made love. Hunger had finally driven them to the kitchen and an odd meal of seasoned potato pancakes made from last night's leftovers.
Settled on the couch now, Lamont found the right channel, then handed the remote to Gena. Her hearing was more sensitive than his and he tended to have the volume too loud for no reason. The broadcaster was already talking about Millennium and Gena was listening with rapt attention. "What are you listening for, Gena?" Lamont asked softly. "You already know what's going to happen."
She turned her head slightly in his direction. "Hope, I suppose."
"That something's changed what's coming, or maybe that something will change it. I don't know."
Lamont watched her in silence for a moment, then slipped his arm around her shoulders. She leaned against him willingly, then let her head drop back against his shoulder, as though she were tired of all the weight she carried around in her mind. He couldn't blame her. "The scientists say the asteroid's going to hit Jupiter."
Gena's head lifted and she turned her face back toward the television, the moving lights from its image flickering on the lenses of the dark glasses she still insisted on wearing all the time. "I know what they said," Gena said quietly, "but they're wrong. I don't know why their calculations won't hold up or what's throwing them off, but this thing wasn't meant for Jupiter, Lamont. It was meant for Earth, and it's going to get here one way or another."
"Then why bother listening?" Lamont asked pointedly. "You always say that no one believes you, now you seem to be showing that same disbelief in yourself."
Gena was silent for a few moments while in the background some mindless television star nattered on about deodorants. "I have to hear it, I suppose. This time it's so...so awful that even I have to confirm it."
And so they watched and listened to the special broadcast, something called "Fire on the Gas Giant," and followed along with the excited astronomers and scientists as they counted down the time to impact and waited for the satellites to send back images that they thought would dwarf those born from the Shoemaker-Levy comet of 1994.
An hour passed, then two, and Lamont remembered a program from more than a decade earlier, where a Chicago talk show host named Geraldo Rivera had assembled a huge press conference to film a construction crew breaking through a concrete wall below a downtown Chicago hotel, entering what he'd claimed was an undiscovered hideaway of the legendary Al Capone. Several hours and thousands of pounds of concrete rubble later, Rivera and his viewers had nothing but empty basement rooms and a warning from the city engineers that further drilling could break through the retaining wall and into the Chicago River. Tonight, as the computers were programmed with new information, the viewers waited, and the newscasters demanded answers, the scientists began pointing out how difficult it was to make accurate calculations regarding an object of this size and speed when it was traveling around the far side of Jupiter. Then the tone changed again, and the feverish undercurrent returned as the people on the screen began to talk about something unexpected and exciting, an area around the planet that most people never knew about called the Roche limit.
"Roche limit?" Lamont said. "Sounds familiar. What is it?"
"An area of gravitational pull around a planet--in this case, Jupiter," Gena said.
Gena must have felt his surprise because it was the first time he'd seen a ghost of a smile from her all day. "I've been listening to a lot of the specials they've been putting together."
Lamont frowned. "You've been doing this all along? But--"
"If we can't hope, then we have nothing left."
Whatever Lamont was going to say about Gena not immersing herself in what was coming dropped out of his mind. She was right, of course. What was left if you could only look to the past? Aloud he asked, "So what does this Roche limit have to do with anything?"
"Depending on the size and strength of this object and its distance from the planet, something that passes through it could break apart because of the gravitational pull. All the planets have a Roche limit." She hesitated. "It's sort of like undersea diving--the pressure would kill a person without the proper equipment, but a metal diving suit could easily take the same depth. I don't understand it well enough myself to explain it any better."
"Well, that's pretty clear." And when he thought about it, a favorable thing. "That's good, then. No more rogue planet, right?"
"Wrong." Gena's voice was low, a strained whisper that brought darkness to the deceptively cheerful afternoon sunlight streaming through the high French windows of the family room. "It means that instead of one moon-sized planet headed our way, there are several hundred smaller ones."
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Book Description Bantam, 1997. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0553563602