My neighbours think I’m crazy. Not dangerous crazy, at least not dangerous enough for them to avoid, or attempt to humour, but crazy enough. They don’t say anything, not to my face or anywhere it might get back to me, but I can see it in their eyes. It’s a kind of pity, similar to the way they used to look at Mr. Jones from down the road when everyone knew that his cancer was terminal. They feel sorry for me, probably tell each other about how I used to be normal when they’re done gossiping about everyone else, or to amuse staying friends and relatives.
“We gotta tell you about Mike,” they’ll say over wine and food. “He’s gone nuts since his daughter left. It’s sad, you know, he’s a good guy. Used to be a marine.”
“Is he dangerous?” the guests will look concerned, there’s been too many ex-soldiers recently opening fire in malls and public buildings. “Does he have any guns?”
“Couldn’t say—you never see him out hunting or at the range. There’s never any shots from his place. He’s harmless, just a crazy old guy looking for something to fill his life, signals in the stars. His wife died young, broke him up.”
It would make me angry, maybe angry enough to take my guns into town and teach them to laugh at me, but I feel sorry for them. They’re the ones who’re crazy, living in a bubble they think can’t be burst. I’d try to warn them, if I could. They aren’t bad people, mostly, but there isn’t any point. They wouldn’t listen and I’d end up trapped in some prison cell or nuthouse, unable to defend myself or my daughter. People don’t want to listen, don’t want to hear the truth. At least, not the kind of people I want anything to do with—when the time comes I know I’m going to be on my own, if I don’t get to Sharon quickly enough.
It’s been over a year since she left, leaving me a note in the middle of the night and taking off to New York. We haven’t spoken since then, even though it breaks my heart to know she’s out there in the world with no one to look after her. I tried, in the month or so after she left, to convince her to come back, to show her that she needs to trust me the way she used to, but she threatened to call the feds, to tell them about everything I have in the shelter under the back garden—the one no one knows anything about. I can’t risk that, we’ll need the supplies and weapons down there when the day comes, so I’ve had to let her have her way. She’s over twenty-one now, I can’t force her to come home.
I know where she is, though, almost every second of every day. The government aren’t the only ones who can keep track of people, particularly when they’re as careless with their privacy as she is. I’m disappointed she’s decided to throw away everything I taught her, almost as much as I am by the life she’s chosen to lead, but I know sometimes you have to let children go out into the world, make their own mistakes and learn what’s really going on. I know it isn’t the same, that I’m using a popular misunderstanding, but I can’t help thinking of her as being on a kind of Rumspringa—that I’m allowing her some freedom in her youth so she can learn the value of what we have here, at home. So long as she stays in New York, I’ll never be more than four or five hours away. I can only hope that she doesn’t decide to move somewhere else, moving everything I have here would be almost impossible.
I can’t blame her for losing faith, I only have myself to blame. I was the one who got the calculations wrong, too caught up in the hysteria about the Mayan calender to realise it. For years I told her that Planet X would pass through our solar system on December 21st 2012, that it would bring the end of the world. We trained for it. I neglected her education so she would be able to shoot straight and live off the wild with me, and without me. Then, when the time came, we spent days in the shelter, hidden in a serial killer’s den below our lawn, and a few more driving around the country, seeking signs of the apocalypse. It was only natural for her to doubt me after nothing happened, to become angry that I kept her from the world. In the note she left me, she claimed that I stole her childhood. She loved me, she said, but I had to stay away or she’d snitch.
I wasn’t wrong about Planet X. I’m still not wrong about it. It is out there, getting nearer with every single breath all of us take. When it reaches us, it will bring the end of the world—there will be chaos and anarchy and only the ones prepared, the ones who are ready for it, will survive. I know it with a certainty that no religious faith can match. All the fools waiting for The Rapture, the Jihadists rushing for a fake paradise, are blind to the real threat, to the truth. There is no god, no faith, that can protect us against the inevitable. I’ve heard the secret transmissions, I’ve decoded them.
When we returned from our mission, just after Christmas 2012, I tried to redress the failings I had made with my daughter’s education—for all I knew in those early days she had a full life ahead of her, and her children had theirs as well. I stopped teaching her at home, allowed her to enrol in high school and start to mix with the world. For a while, it was even good. She did far better than I could ever have hoped, even making me ashamed that I had once thought of her as simple. She led a normal life, a deluded life, and I was happy and proud. I have the picture of her on graduation day on my desk, copies hang on the walls of nearly every other room in the house.
I wish now that I hadn’t. I wish that I had kept her at home, kept her safe. I can tell myself that it was an honest mistake, that I didn’t know how close the Mayans had come to getting it right, that I couldn’t have known. I can tell myself that it was only natural for a father to want his daughter to be happy, to want to believe that she could live out her life in a world safe from danger. I allowed myself to listen to the doubt in my heart. The belief I’d held since I found those burned scraps of secret documents on the base in Kuwait back in ’91 had been shaken. I wish I’d been stronger, but it isn’t too late.
I can still save my daughter.
After I realised that the Mayans had been wrong I returned to the charts and almanacs. I have a library, in one of the old guest rooms, that would be the envy of any astronomer—another that is the envy of any astrologer. Truth can only be found in the cracks between systems, none of them are blessed with absolute knowledge.
In the years Sharon spent—as she puts it in her blog – ‘joining the world’ I went through the historical records. I tracked the stars the Mayans followed, spent thousands on hardware and software to track them for me when the task became too complex (my basement is a tech geek’s wet dream). I didn’t know what I was looking for, no more precisely than the name—Planet X—but I knew it could be found. I signed up for all the amateur astronomer schemes, the ones the professionals use to get enthusiasts to look for asteroids and supernovae. I found nothing, allowing Sharon to attend her graduation prom only because, in a slough of despair, I thought that, perhaps, I had been wrong.
I don’t know now if it was chance or fate that led me to the solution, to the terrible truth I alone know. I had known for years, anyone with any interest in the field knows, that pulsars—the frantic remains of supernovae—were discovered by chance through radio astronomy. One despondent afternoon I was reading about them, distracting my mind with things I knew in favour of sitting and staring at the wall, waiting for Sharon to come home. I had my digital radio playing in the background, the silence of the house oppressive when I knew I was alone, and there was a break in the signal, the rapid staccato fart of modern interference.
I thought at first that it was a fault in the radio, I even swore about it. As I reached to turn the damn thing off and off again, believing like the rest of the world that digital signals are infallible and impervious, that only the hardware could be at fault, I caught the message. It was faint, so faint that I know only I could have spotted it. There were no others looking for it, the few allies I had found in the lead up to December 2012 had all faded away, choosing to scorn me and my continued faith. My old allies were busy debating which of the beheading videos were CIA plots, they didn’t deserve my time.
I listened to the signal for a moment, the chirps seemingly random, but then I was sure. There was too much regularity, too great an intent, in the noises for it to be a fault in my equipment or the transmission. I remember how my mouth went dry and my stomach twisted as I hunted through the drawers and shelves of my office for the old-fashioned Dictaphone I’ll never throw away—it was an impulse present from my wife before she died, a sop to my fascination with gadgets. I didn’t have any other way to capture the signal and, even if I had been listening to the radio through my desktop PC or laptop I wouldn’t have risked losing the signal by trying to record with the same device that was receiving.
It was in Morse code, I knew that immediately, but not the standard form—if it had been then every conspiracy nut and dilettante on the planet would have spotted it as well. The signal was in code, muffled by static—like the secrets broadcast from Bletchley Park for the resistance to hear during World War Two. Only those with the skill to understand, and the awareness to listen, could have hoped to pick it up, could have heard anything meaningful in it even if they did. I was not meant to hear it, I know that, and if they had known that I was here, that I was looking for them, I am certain they would have taken more care to hide it.
Ever since I found the remnants of those documents I had been convinced that Planet X was a natural phenomenon, some kind of wandering star—like the one that passed through the Oort cloud seventy thousand years ago—or a micro black hole. I’d even considered that it might be a visitation from God, a twenty-first century version of The Flood, or a manifestation of Satan, come to claim his due. It hadn’t mattered, not against the need to keep my daughter alive—I’ll fight against everyone and everything to keep her alive until my last atom is rent apart.
To my shame, like so many other things, I never thought that Planet X could be artificial, driven by sentient minds. I believed in aliens—in a universe fourteen billion years old and expanding so fast in every direction we can’t be sure the fifty billion light years we can see is everything, they have to exist—but I never thought that they could have the ability to threaten us. I believed the scientists when they said interstellar travel is so difficult as to be impossible.
As I get older, I am getting better at admitting that I am a fool and forgiving myself, but realising I had discounted the obvious without proper consideration is one thing that I cannot absolve myself off—my daughter is in danger because of my complacence. I knew that an hour after I finally decoded the signal I stumbled across, a month after she left. I’ll do my penance later, after Sharon is safe.
It has been eighteen months now since I first discovered the signal, a year since Sharon left me. It will be Christmas soon and then it will be 2019, the year that destruction will find us. The Mayans weren’t so far out, considering the tools they had to work with. I do not know exactly when the invaders will arrive, except that I am certain it will be before June—I am still decoding the details, learning more every day. The work is hard and slow, made worse because I am forced to work alone. Sharing my discovery with the world isn’t an option, not even with the secret sites and channels I monitor on the internet. The authorities are aware of the invasion, they have been for decades—that is the secret I found in the charred remains of the Kuwait documents. They have already surrendered the planet, did so long ago, and I have to keep the secret long enough to rescue my daughter, ensure that she is by my side when I start the resistance.
I can’t wait to learn more—I must go to her now, bring her back to the safety of her home.
There has been heavy snow the last few days and it is slow work driving from Echo Falls to New York, but I will get there. I am driving the van I bought last summer and I have the weapons and tools I need. Sharon doesn’t understand, isn’t going to come with me willingly, and her boyfriend is a marine like I am. He is younger than me, but green—he’ll not anticipate the bullet I have for his head when he opens the door.
Sharon will come quietly after that. I am her father and she is a good girl.


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