What If? (1986)

Even without a gravitational wave detector, it was obvious that the star system had undergone a great change. The orbits of two planets were now drastically different. A small body, 2,160 miles across, was passing the heliopause at solar escape velocity and one of the planets was missing.

The destruction had been rapid and total. The fragments, no larger than a mile across, orbited around, making a new asteroid belt. Not much remained. Bricks and other building materials along with metal and glass fragments were the only proof that a civilization had once existed. Near one of these “clouds” of fragments floated a piece of steel. It was blackened and pitted, but still recognizable as a silhouette of a man with a sword. Behind this pathetic monument to a planet now gone was a grade book surrounded by an “atmosphere” of papers.

Through some unknown twist of fate, this lone grade book and the flotsam of ungraded assignments had survived almost unscathed. On a closer inspection, however, it could be seen that the book was partially burned and its contents unreadable. Most of the papers were in the same condition except one. Somehow it had survived the intense heat and shock caused by an exploding planet with a portion of its writing still legible. It read:

Essay for Variations: What If?

What if the Earth was suddenly destroyed by cosmic forces unknown to man?

The rest had been burned into anonymity, but it didn’t really matter. No one would be reading it now. The tattered sheet of typing paper spun erratically as it joined the other remains of Earth.


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