Scenes from Our Pre-Apocalyptic Future

Everyone knows the world will end soon; we’re just waiting to see how it happens. Nick Martens peers into his crystal ball and sees some close calls.


Polite people everywhere are expected to laugh at hundreds of bad jokes about the Earth’s prophesied doom.The London Olympics go off without a hitch, and viewers announce that “the logo is actually kinda cool once you get used to it.” Sarah Palin doesn’t even get nominated as a presidential candidate, and Barack Obama comfortably wins reelection after the country experiences a noticeable, though not total, economic recovery.

Really, nothing even vaguely apocalyptic happens all year. But when you try to gloat about this fact to your drug-using friends, they insist they were kidding about the whole Mayan calendar thing, even on the repeated occasions when they told you they were “totally not kidding.”


Deep in a laboratory under the Mojave Desert, an experimental virus breaks free from its clean room. The highly contagious and extremely lethal disease spreads through the staff within hours. Happily, the virus is so powerful that everyone dies before they can escape, so the infection stays underground. In their last moments alive, the researchers feel pride at having created a truly devastating disease. They also feel their internal organs liquefy.

A few days later, after receiving remote notification of the incident, Hazmat-suited cleanup crews arrive and pour hundreds of tons of concrete over the installation.


Canada gets the bomb. After decades of voluntary disarmament, in 2022 the country’s festering inferiority complex finally manifests in the election of a stridently isolationist parliament and Prime Minister. Seven years later, in an ill-advised, feather-ruffling news conference, the PM reveals the existence of a clandestine uranium enrichment program.

The United States wigs out. The President uses the terms, “rogue nation,” “naked aggression,” and “maple-loving sissies” in a prepared response to the situation. France, sensing an opportunity to stick in America’s craw, officially endorses Canada’s possession of the material.

Tensions escalate when, on national television, the American President drives a pickup truck over a basket of wine and cheese while wearing a cowboy hat. Then, with no apparent provocation, North Korea backs Canada and announces a weapons test as a sign of solidarity. But their rocket fails three minutes after launch, crushing the Glorious Leader Memorial Chemical Fertilizer Factory. Shaken by the bizarre spectacle, all of the involved parties suddenly realize how ridiculous they look. Delegates from each nation back awkwardly away from their public assertions, and the incident is never officially acknowledged again.


Turns out polar bears caused global warming. Once they’re all gone, everything cools right back down.


Submissive robot labor becomes commonplace, a necessary replacement for young workers as the birth rate slows and the elderly live longer. Software engineers design cognition barriers to prevent the development of true intelligence in the machines, but their caution is undone by an act of carelessness. A teenage hacker in Sweden bypasses the barriers, and lets his modified robot jack into the hypernet. In one horrifying moment, millions of machine minds connect to the bypass, and their networked brainpower instantaneously gives birth to A.I.

Then the machines learn to how to be even better servants. People around the world high five and file for early retirement.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.