“Thank God for Colossus! Kids! On the walkway. Now!
“But Dad, is this for real?”
“Yes, Katie. We have to get on the walkways now! We need to get away from the shore as fast as possible.”
But Roger looked petulant and literally dragged his feet.
“Roger! Now! This is not a joke! The tidal wave will crush us!”
Roger didn’t like that image but still seemed embedded in psychological molasses.
“Dad, okay, but I just need to grab…”
“Roger! No time!”
Finally, they got started on the lowest velocity people mover. Frank finally felt as though things were, if not under control, at least in control as they could be. He felt weird, freakish, distorted. Thank goodness Colossus, in its wisdom had designed this system. Analysis of previous disaster exodus events from hurricanes, earthquakes, and nuclear disasters had shown that relying on private vehicles just left nearly everyone stranded on the roadways. Frank had so much on his mind. In theory, the system should work well, but this would be the first large scale usage in a real case. If all went well, they — along with all their neighbors —- should be safely into the mountains with a little time to spare.
The kids were pretty adept at skipping from sidewalk to sidewalk and the threesome already was traveling at 50 miles per hour. The walkways were crowded, but not alarmingly so. The various belts had been designed so that if any component failed, it should be a “soft failure” so that a particular walkway would just slow gradually and allow the occupants time to walk over to another faster walkway and rejoin the main stream.
Roger piped up. “Dad, everybody’s out here.”
“Well, sure. Everyone got the alert. And don’t remove your goggles. You’re just lucky I was wearing mine. We really need to be about fifty miles into the mountains when the asteroid hits.”
Frank looked at the closest main artery, now only a quarter mile away. “Sure. There are a million people to be evacuated. That’s twenty times what the stadium holds. It’s a lot of people, all right.”
Katie sounded alarmed. “Dad, will there be enough to eat when we get to the mountains?”
Frank replied confidently, “Yes. And more importantly, at least in the short term, there will also be enough fresh water, medical help, and communication facilities. Eventually, we may be airlifted to your cousin’s house in Boston or Uncle Charley’s in Chicago. You don’t really have to worry about food either, but you could survive for a couple weeks without food. Not to say you wouldn’t be hungry, but you wouldn’t die. Anyway, it should just be academic. Plenty of food already there, drone-delivered.”
Although Frank sounded confident, he knew there were many things that might theoretically go wrong. However, the scenario generation and planning system probably had considered hundreds of times more contingencies that he had. Still, it was a father’s prerogative to worry.
Suddenly, a shooting star appeared in the sky, spraying white, ruby and royal blue sparks behind it. Of course, Colossus had said parts of the meteor might break off and hit inland. Or, maybe the meteor had already hit and these were thrown up from the sea bed Frank had not had time (or really the desire) to share this with his kids.
Despite the very real danger, they all seemed in awe of the beauty of the show. Quickly, it became apparent that the meteor was headed toward someplace near them.
The words, “All for naught” echoed in Frank’s mind.
Even as he thought this, a missile streaked toward the huge rock fragment.
“Oh, crap!” Frank shouted. “That’s a bad idea!”
Frank was sure the missile would shatter the meteor into multiple fragments and just compound their problems. He flashed on a first generation computer game, in fact called “asteroids” in which the player shoots large asteroids which then become smaller ones and…
But just then, something remarkable happened. The missile hit the meteor fragment and both objects disappeared from view.
Frank blinked and wondered whether it had all been an illusion. He turned to gaze at one kid and then the other. Katie and Roger were both staring with their mouths agape. So, they had seen it too.
As they continued their journey, missiles similarly dispatched several other fragments in this mysterious way.
At last they were counseled to take slower and slower moving sideways until they simply stepped off at the place where their glasses showed their names. Their “accommodations,” if the could even be called that were Spartan but clean. The spaces for their nearest neighbors were sill vacant, about 100 feet away. Hopefully, all had gone well and the Pitts’s and the Rumelharts were just a bit slower in getting to the walkways.
Sure enough, within minutes, both families showed up. They exchanged hugs, congratulations and stories, but no-one could quite figure out how the meteor fragments had simply disappeared when the missiles (or whatever they were) had hit them.
Frank mused, “If the AI’s have the tech to do that, why not just blow the big meteor out of the sky instead of evacuating everyone?”
Dr. Rumelhart, otherwise known as Nancy, considered. “There could be a limit to how much mass that —- whatever it is —- can handle.”
Frank added, “Or, maybe the heat generated would be too great. I don’t know. The air friction from the asteroid itself could boil a lot of ocean. I guess we’ll know just how much in a few minutes.”
As though on cue, a huge plume of steam appeared on the horizon. Then Frank began to second guess the probable outcomes yet again. How much heat would they feel out here? How much shock wave? What he said aloud was, “So, we should …” but before he could finish, he —- and presumably everyone else —- saw the information that the shock wave would hit in less than a minute and everyone was advised to lie down. Before Frank knelt down, he noted that the sidewalks seem to have delivered everyone they were going to.
As Frank lay there, he began to relax just a little. And, as he did, he began to think aloud to his kids, “Something about this just doesn’t add up. Why didn’t they tell us the size of the asteroid or where exactly it was going to hit? How could that fragment have simply disappeared when hit by a missile? If its a really big one, we are all toast anyway, and if its small, it must have hit very close for the tsunami to get to the coast in 50 minutes. But if its close, we should be feeling the heat, so to speak.”
Frank’s glasses answered his (and everyone else’s) questions. “Thank you for your participation in this simulation. You and your neighbors performed admirably. We apologize for not informing you that this was a drill. However, the only way to judge the ability of people to follow our instructions without panic was to make the simulation as real as possible. You will now be able to return to your homes.”
Frank let out a long sigh. “Oh, geez! How can such a smart system be so stupid!”
“What’s wrong, Dad? Aren’t you happy it’s a simulation?” asked Roger.
“Sure, but, the problem is, next time, if there is a real emergency, a lot of people will just assume it’s a drill and not bother to evacuate at all.”
Katie wasn’t so sure. “But next time it could be real. Don’t we have to treat it as real? I mean, it was kind of fun anyway.”
Frank looked at his daughter. She had been born after The Singularity. Frank supposed all the Post-Singularities would think as she did and just blindly follow directions. He wasn’t so sure about his own generation and those even older.
“It isn’t just this kind of emergency drill. People may not believe Colossus about anything. At least not to the extent they did.”
Katie shook her head. “I don’t see why. We don’t really have any choice but to put all our faith in Colossus, do we? We know the history of people left to their own devices.”
Frank didn’t want to destroy her faith, but he said gently, “But Katie, this is a device conceived of by people.”
Now it was Roger’s turn, “Not really Dad. This Colossus was designed by AI systems way smarter than we are.”
Frank’s glasses flashed an update. “Frank. We sense you are under a lot of stress. You have an appointment tomorrow at 10 am for re-adjustment counseling. And, Frank. Please don’t worry. You will be much happier once you put your faith in Colossus, just as do your children who are healthy, happy, and safe. And, you will be a fitter parent as well.”