Probably you heard something about that group in Russia that holed up in a bunker last October, waiting for the end of the world. I remember reading about Russian officials negotiating with them. Maybe the officials just want to find out if they're right. It's not hard to suppose the world is going to end soon, what with the current crisis in manganese, assuming there is one. I'm guessing, but manganese seems like it would have lots of crises. Anyway the manganese crisis will do until some specific problem comes along.
I was surprised Russia apparently has an office for handling groups holed up anticipating the end of the world. I wouldn't think there'd be many of those groups to deal with. Maybe they also work with groups who believe other things are about to end, like Thursdays, or baked goods, or ironic detachment. I'm glad I don't work in that office.
My imagination fails me, as it almost always does, in guessing what the negotiations are like. The group figures the world's about to end and they want to spend their remaining time hiding; the officials figure the world's not ending and they should come out. There doesn't seem much to say after they've said that to each other. Of course they probably take some time off from talking, and just sit together, watching the stars. Still, I can't imagine what I'd negotiate about if I were one of these officials.
``Come on out,'' I suppose I'd say, ``The world's not coming to an end anytime soon.'' I'd have to trust that someone in the group understands English. I already pointed out I don't know what to negotiate about, so they're going to have to be understanding if there's to be any understanding what I say to create an understanding -- this sentence isn't working, but I think you understand -- there it goes again -- you know what I wanted to say, and I'll thank anyone who does say it instead.
But back to the gully. ``No,'' they'd probably say, ``The world is coming to an end very soon, and we're going to hide.''
``What can you get by hiding?'' I bet I'd ask. ``Did anything else you didn't like ever go away by hiding? Did school go away by hiding?''
The answer comes. ``I never hid from school. I liked it, except for this algebra teacher in eighth grade.'' I don't think they have eighth grade in Russia -- they go from seventh to ninth with a stop at Lexington Avenue -- but I'm pretending for your convenience.
``You too?'' then I'd say. ``I didn't understand a word my algebra teacher that year said. The only things I learned were the two weeks we had a substitute.''
That brings recognition. ``This little tic-tac-toe board, for factoring quadratic polynomials? Kind of a weird magic square with two diagonal bubbles?''
``Precisely!'' and I'd be insufferably proud. In almost no time we're practically friends for life. But it hasn't done anything to talking them out, or me in.
Yet if the officials work anything like this, they've got to have run through all their school experiences by now, and probably gone into past jobs and even the novels they wrote three chapters of before getting too busy with life to finish. Maybe they play board games, but by now have probably reached unhealthy mutations like Passive-Aggressive Scrabble. That's much like ordinary Scrabble, with more sighing and eye-rolling when an opponent makes a good move. (``Sciolistic? Do you think that makes you look smart?'') But you can't keep up that sort of game without a brawl erupting.
About half the group has come out, because of cave-ins and because the world doesn't seem to be ending. The other half is staying, and I understand that. After all, suppose they came out, but were right all along. Then they'd have spent nearly half a year holed up, waiting for the end of the world, only to give up, and then have the world end almost right away. Could you live through being humiliated like that in the world's last moments? Easier to hole up and hide from it.
Trivia: The early shutdown of two J-2 engines on the second stage of Apollo 6 was initially speculated to have been caused by the wires carrying cut-off commands to the two being interchanged. It was later determined to most likely be ruptures in small-diameter fuel lines to the engine igniters. Source: Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations, Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty. NASA SP-4204.
Currently Reading: Venus Inc, C M Kornbluth, Fred Pohl.