Two Great Thinkers Discuss the End of the World

David McGillveray

Illustration by Martin Hanford

This is, like, literally the apocalypse. It’s Friday afternoon and the TV’s decided to go on the fritz and we won’t be able to get anyone over to fix it til at least Tuesday. The weekend’s totally ruined. Even worse, it’s stuck on the bloody news channel and it’s an endless cycle of unbelievable shit. It’s no wonder we never watch it. It’s entertainment Armageddon.

I stubbed my ciggy out and gave the TV another bash. It didn’t help. ‘Bastard thing!’

No MTV, no BoobTube, no Celebrity Sex Cruise, nothing worth watching at all. Jon’s particularly cut up about that last one, it’s the human drama he loves. He’s hit the beers already and seems to have sunk into some sort of hypnotic state. Not that that’s anything new. I’ve joined him, to be fair.

We’ve sat through three news cycles already since the TV started playing up. The Chinese navy is in Taiwan. The English army’s in Ireland again and the Scots don’t like it. There are Russian tanks in all sorts of places I haven’t even heard of. Radiation from that nuclear accident near Tehran has blown into the city. And America’s even more totally batshit than the last time I looked.

I huffed and went to the window and wiped away enough of the accumulated grime to see through. It was getting dark and people were putting their lights on in the other tower blocks across the way. I could see the flicker of TVs reflected on their walls, watching Not-The-News, the lucky bastards. It looked like rain.

‘So we going to go out or something?’ I suggested, looking at my smeared reflection in the glass. I needed to sort myself out.

‘Nah. Can’t afford, Phil,’ Jon said, stirring from his trance. ‘Diane’s taken me to the cleaners this month.’ He crushed an empty can of lager and dropped it between his trainers and opened a new one.

‘Fair enough. I’m skint myself. I’m down to three days a week at the warehouse.’

‘Yeah? How come?’

‘Can’t be arsed.’ I sat back down and lit another ciggy. ‘I saw Diane the other day, actually, coming out of the Oak. She’s got bigger.’

‘Yeah, and I’m paying for it. She’s an Uber Eats Platinum Customer!’ He dragged his eyes away from the screen. ‘She with anyone?’

I winced. ‘Some bloke.’

He muttered something into his beer. Poor geezer hasn’t seen his kids in weeks. Diane’s been really off with him, to be fair. It’s been ages since that last incident outside the school and he’s really sorry about it.

On the TV, California’s leaving America, China’s leaving the UN and one of the Kardashians is leaving her millionth husband.

‘You still hear from them aliens, then?’ I asked to change the subject.

He picked up his pack of fags from the plastic box we use as a coffee table and turned it round between his finger and thumb. ‘Nah, ghosted them. They turned all needy. ‘You must tell your leaders’ this, ‘you must inform the president’ that. I mean, how am I supposed to do that? I’m from Bermondsey.’

‘I can’t stand it when people put pressure on you like that. It’s bad for your mental health.’ I slurped some Stella and belched politely. ‘Probably.’

‘Yeah. Anyway, I’m on to this new lot now,’ Jon said. ‘They reckon they’re, like, from the future. They’ve got their own app and everything.’

‘Yeah? Let’s have a look.’ I craned my neck over and fished a beer from beside Jon’s seat.

Jon tapped at a gold infinity icon with a black background on his phone and the screen blossomed outwards, projecting a 3D image in the air the size of a beachball. It was the Earth, rotating in space. I could see little storms and clouds passing over the oceans. Jon stabbed at a floating green button and the world was surrounded by a hundred bright points of light. Amber lines joined up all the points and then the colour spread until the Earth was wrapped in a golden envelope.

‘Cool, right? They call it a Nuclear Suppression Umbrella. I think those dots are satellites, but I haven’t worked it all out yet. They’ve sent me the instructions of how to make one of the satellites, but I just don’t have the time, you know what I mean?’ The image had expanded again to fill the space between us and the telly. ‘Looks nice, though, doesn’t it?’

‘Sweet,’ I said. ‘Have we got any eats?’

I went into the kitchenette where dirty plates were making a break from the sink and had a rummage in the store cupboard. There wasn’t much in there. ‘I thought we had Doritos,’ I shouted over.

‘I might have had those for lunch.’ So annoying. I had a look in the fridge instead. ‘Here, there’s a couple of them Oreo ice cream wheels in the freezer bit. You fancy one?’ I straightened up and waved the packet at him.

He patted the expanding belly beneath his tracky top. ‘Nah, I’m trying to watch my figure,’ he said.

‘Seriously?’ This from a man who thinks Red Bull is an acceptable breakfast drink. I settled for a couple more beers.

I sank back into my armchair. ‘What else they been sending you?’

‘I reckon it’s some sort of game instructions. Listen to this.’ He tapped at his screen.

A voice with a funny accent I hadn’t heard before came from the phone. ‘You can find the raw materials you need in any household. The correct keys will disassemble and rearrange the matter into smart dust that can be released on the winds. Just blow them out your window, preferably somewhere high up.’

‘Well, we’re sorted there,’ I interrupted. ‘We’re on the twentieth floor.’

‘—The dust will drift until the correct signatures are detected. They will then converge and act to devolve the isotopes present in all weapons grade fissionable material until it is neutralised. If enough are manufactured and set free in time they can work on a global basis. This will set our time, your future, free from the mistakes of our past, your present.’

I took a long swallow on my lager. Jon looked confused. I wondered if this app was doing him any good. There are all sorts of nutters online. ‘Sounds like bollocks to me,’ I said.

‘They could be from the future, though, right?’ He looked at me hopefully. ‘Like Star Trek or some shit.’

‘Uh, yeah?’ I replied. ‘So are you going to do anything about all this?’

He shrugged. ‘Me? Nah. I just like the pictures. They must be sending this stuff to other people, right? Thousands. Someone will be doing something with it.’

‘Yeah, someone else will sort it out.’

Rain started to patter against the window, running in rivulets down the glass so that it distorted the light from the estate. I went over and looked out again. Everything was blurry.

‘That the rain on?’ John said unnecessarily, his eyes drawn back to the carnage on the TV.

‘Cats and dogs, mate.’ Outside, dark clouds were gathering over the city. ∎

David McGillveray was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in London. After a long period of silence, lockdown inspired (if that’s the right word) him to start writing again. His fiction has previously appeared in Space & Time, Wyldblood, Kaleidotrope, StarShipSofa, and the recent Canadian anthology Strange Wars. This story, ‘Two Great Thinkers Discuss the End of the World’, is the sequel to ‘Two Great Thinkers Discuss the Future of Humanity’, and the Two Great Thinkers will return…

Martin Hanford lives in Ledbury and has been an illustrator for over 25 years, mainly sci-fi and fantasy, although he was once asked to draw a cow! As well as illustrations, Martin has produced numerous album covers and novel covers, and doesn’t get mistaken for the Where’s Wally guy too often.

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