Electrical storms brewed on opposite sides of the equator. Lightning blazed and thunder cracked as the twins cackled simultaneously in antipodean symmetry about two thousand kilometres from each other. Each had white and grey streaky hair, thick black glasses and stereotypical lab coats on. The lightning and shadows flickered across their faces as they laughed maniacally, the whole mad scientist routine. Imagine a talented Ed Wood directing the scene, if you can.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab came up with this. Pretty cool, no?
The rock in question was nothing special, but had been blessed, or cursed, with its cool sci-fi name because it was the twenty-fourth of twenty-six small lumps of iron orbiting around the medium-sized star. Some genius in a crazed fit of inventiveness had decided they could, should and would all be named after letters of the alphabet. His wife eventually forgave him for not naming the prettiest and skinniest of the planets after her after he argued they were mostly uninspiring round lumps, and redeemed himself by naming a star for her which, like the marriage, ended five years later in a fiery explosion.
Planet X became, briefly, a tourist destination for science fiction freaks, and was the location of numerous tacky movies and comic book conventions before everyone realised it was just about the most boring planet in the galaxy. Cold and boring, even the microbes who called it home led tedious lives.
Thaddeus, centre right in the photo if not politically, surrounded by his family and close friends last Christmas.
As an example of just how jaw-droppingly, stupefyingly banal the planet was, here are the edited highlights of one of the more exciting happenings on Planet X: Thaddeus was a microbe who had risen to the rank of premier of his bacterial colony. In the morning he showered, shaved, and dressed for a day of political intrigue, drama and controversy. Yes, it was the day of the big vote about whether cells under the age of eighteen hours should be allowed to undergo mitosis. Of course, none of them were able to vote on the issue, so Thaddeus expected the idea to be rejected by the masses. Being bacteria, their idea of a mass rally was to gather together in a little clump and wiggle ever so slightly. Being the premier of the colony meant rather more paperwork than political point scoring, so by 5.40pm he was home, undoing his tie and asking his other half how his day was. (The two had been part of the one cell before their mitosis some three weeks ago, Thaddeus having made the decision essentially to keep up with the ironing. This was the cause of much friction in the family, with one of the Thaddeuses complaining of being relegated to a second-class citizen, the other constantly tired from the stress of work and bickering at home. Even single-celled organisms can find it hard to live with themselves.)
But more about the microbes later. Suffice to say, Planet X was boring. Until the twins turned up.
As mad scientists go, Zooka and Kazoo were up there with the maddest. Mirror images of each other, they parted their on opposite sides and each wrote with a different hand. They also shared an appetite for destruction. On this day they were hell-bent on destroying Planet X and were standing in purpose-built evil genius laboratories on opposite sides of the planet to fulfil their mission, hoping to harness gravity and storms and electromagnetic energies in ways neither I nor they could fully understand. But you get the picture, I’m sure. If all went well, all would go boom. The chance they may blow themselves up in the process was of secondary importance.
Zooka, the lefthander who was on the part of the planet about to go into dawn, twisted some giant dials on a panel and looked up at the flickering black and white screen. Kazoo, looking distracted, smiled a wicked smile at his brother just as his side of the planet was entering nightfall.
“Five minutes to go, my brother, and if my calculations are correct we will be known and feared throughout the universe from this day forward,” Zooka grinned.
“Indeed, and if my calculations are correct, we will survive this explosion and take our invention across the galaxy, spreading fear and reaping rewards,” Kazoo chortled.
“Indeed. The gyroscope is aligned with the flux inverter to sustain a consistent flow of electrons between our locations. If my calculations are correct.”
“Indeed they are brother. And if my calculations are correct, this will begin a chain reaction inside the core of this dead rock.”
“And then,” Zooka’s smile widened. “If our calculations are correct…”
“Yes, our calculations are correct.”
“Then we will rule the galaxy!”
They laughed maniacally as the lightning bolted outside, splashing flashes across their faces as if they were clones of Bela Lugosi’s zombie, revelling in their evil plot. While they boasted to each other about their calculations, in truth the idea was a one borrowed from a dozen movies and a thousand pulpy paperbacks. A rare syzygy would soon occur, and with all twenty-six of the bite-sized planets in alignment the gravity would drag an unusually intense amount of radiation their way. Because a solar flare was also predicted, you see, as the system’s star resembled a teenager with a giant pus-filled pimple on the tip of his nose. This of course was set to burst at the same time, the universe being designed this way. The radiation, combined with the planetary electrical storms the twins had created, would be channelled to the core of the planet. Explosions ensue, yadda yadda. Quite how Kazoo and Zooka would use this technique to extort other planets the geniuses in question had not yet shared with the world, even after a revealing and provocative Annie Leibovitz photo shoot that accompanied their Reddit AMA.
For this particular morning and evening, the twins needed to be at opposite sides of the planet, with equal exposure to the sun. So, while Zooka was about to experience dawn, Kazoo was watching the sunset.
“One minute to syzygy!” Kazoo yelped. “Prepare the gyro-gravitonium device!”
“Gyro-gravitonium device hooked up and spinning,” Zooka reported. “Fifty seconds. Initiating decompression of anti-compression molecules.”
“Molecules anti-decompartmentalised. Hydro-electro thingy generator ready.”
“And I’m pressing record on the VCR. Thirty seconds.”
They grinned at each other insanely on their respective view screens. It was all ready, their meticulous plan. And sure enough, twenty-nine point eight seconds later the planets fell into alignment. But something strange happened, something unforeseen. Instead of the gravities combining to pop the pimple of the solar flare, there was a gravitational reverberation, like feedback through an amplifier, and all twenty-six of the planets faltered in their orbits. And like derailed trains, there was no getting them back on track.
With only point two of a second to realise, there was no time for the twins to stop their project. The lightning surged down both devices on time, but without the impact of the radiation it did little but charge the iron ore, making it a magnet for the nearby planets W and Y. Knocked from their orbits, they were soon attracted to Planet X, like two divorced middle-aged men chasing a young single mother. Thanks to the syzygy they were as close as possible, and both slammed into the side of Planet X at the same time.
“Kazoo, our calculations were not correct,” Zooka said. “Suggest we escape.”
“Yes, if my calculations are correct we have achieved minus 100 per cent of our goal in that the planet will be destroyed but replaced by one double in size. Initiating escape pod procedure alpha one.”
The two shot to safety as Planet X became the pickle in the hamburger, the third wheel on a date, the loner at an orgy, squeezed out by and crushed in a faulty Newton’s cradle that left behind the hybrid Planet WY. All of this took a lot longer than the Hollywood adaptation made it seem, and for a planetary destruction it was fairly tame crunching of rocks with no one in any real mortal danger. The population of the planet was just two, after all, plus the microbes. For Thaddeus it was a very bad day, after a four-hour meeting he was thrown out of office and shunned by his entire colony. Apparently he was supposed to have seen it coming. His other half, who had divided again so someone could help with the cleaning, wasn’t thrilled about him being out of a job with an extra mouth to feed. Life, it seemed, was getting too complex.
A version of this first appeared in Apocalypse: the trilogy in a million pieces, available now on Amazon for those who dare. There is also a Kindle version, which is shorter, cheaper and called Apocalypse Revisited.