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The Essay
Show #438
Slybersonic Tromosome
David Gunn

It was the oddest astronomical anomaly anyone had ever heard of, let alone seen. In October of a year in the recent past--which, for reasons of national insecurity, must remain secret--the planetoid Dactylus, one of the Amor asteroids whose orbits intersect that of Mars, suddenly abandoned its billennia-old trajectory and set a course for Earth. It traveled slowly, leisurely, stopping every so often to visit other space flotsam it encountered en route. Because Dactylus is relatively small--only a mile and a half in diameter, compared to some asteroids that tip the width scale in excess of a hundred kilomiles--it wasn't noticed until it passed in front of the moon. The shadow it made as it lingered over the Mare Imbrium executing slow-motion loop d'loops was spotted by hundreds of startled lunarologists at the National Aeronautics and Crawl Space Administration, who immediately launched a probe to determine its origin. But the probe's navigation system, rushed into production after only eleven years of product testing, promptly steered the craft into the sun. Fortunately, an amateur moonophile in Shaker Heights, Ohio had designed and built a long-range scanner modeled after those aboard the Starship Enterprise. After training it on the mysterious object, he learned that (a) it was not of Earth origin, (b) if it was a life form, it was neither carbon- nor protactinium-based, and (c) a small flag protruded from the object's southern pole. This prompted the National Enquirer to direct its long-range paparazzi camera on the object. The resulting photograph of the flag revealed the signatures of John Fabian and Richard Covey. Fabian and Covey were astronauts whose mission to the asteroid belt in 1990 landed them on Dactylus. So, it was an asteroid, and a measly one at that. There was no imminent danger! Reluctantly, the Office of Homemaker Security canceled its Red Day Alert and returned a handful of constitutional rights to the public.

A week passed during which Dactylus continued to nose around the moon. Homemaker Security, amateur moonophiles, even the National Enquirer lost interest. Then, with no apparent regard for the Fourth Law Pluperfect of Thermodynamics ("Any object in motion in a vacuum will not cease its motion unless the bag hasn't been lately emptied."), it abruptly resumed its course towards Earth.

Aside from the sudden popularity of the rock band Asteroidium Destrugere, a robust oceanic tide that swept away the miniature golf course on the lower level of the Santa Monica Pier, and the declaration by Homemaker Security officials of marshal law in all states that voted Democratic in the last election, things remained pretty much status quo during the next two weeks as the planetoid moseyed through the 238,000 there-to-here space miles at an average in-no-hurry speed of 472 miles per hour, not much faster than commuter traffic on the Bonneville Salt Flats. At its present trajectory--which, given the asteroid's penchant for meandering, was dubious at best--triangulationists predicted it would collide with the Earth at the intersection of Broadway and Barclay Street in New York City: the F.W. Woolworth Building.

From 1914 to 1929, the "cathedral of commerce" as it was called was the world's tallest building. (For four of those years, it was the world's two tallest buildings, thanks to a clever anamorphic stunt pulled off by master illusionist Lark A. Clobberworm.) Then in 1933, en route to the Empire State Building, a ham-handed King Kong knocked off the top floor of the Woolworth Building. In deference to the popular movie star, the roof was never replaced, and it soon became a fashionable open-air observatory.

It was from this observation point that a hundred or so unconcerned New Yorkers calmly watched Dactylus as it cruised into the iono- and mesospheres, poked a hole in and squeezed through the ozone layer to the stratosphere, then sailed nonchalantly down into the troposphere. Only when the consequences of a mile-and-a-half wide object slamming into their personal space became apparent did the Manhattanites put their cool on hold and race higgledy-piggledy for the exits. Naturally, by then it was too late. Or would have been, except for one thing.

Materializing amidst the burgeoning hysteria on that top floor was a young man, at least in geologic terms, who wielded an apparatus that looked like a combination trombone, phase shifter and analog synthesizer. Positioning himself away from the worst of the hullabaloo, he aimed it at the rapidly looming asteroid, switched a knob from "off" to "asteroidium destrugere," and squeezed its trigger.

Louder even than the squeals of the edgy New Yorkers, more relentless than the thud of metastasizing aspartame was the sound that emanated from the device. Musical pundits would later characterize it as "phrase and gesture across the electroacoustic divide." But whatever it was--and again for reasons of national insecurity, that, too, must remain a secret--it stopped the speeding spaceball in its tracks. For eighteen days, while the instrument sang its protective song, Dactylus assumed a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 813 feet, a stone's throw from the top of the Woolworth Building. Then, as abruptly as it came, the planetoid packed up and left, and was last seen heading back to its traditional home among the Amor asteroids.

Office of Homemaker Security officials immediately confiscated the young man's device and forbade that he either reproduce it or even talk about it, under penalty of ... well, even that piece of information remains shrouded in secrecy. However, their puerile threats mean nothing to Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. Not only we will reveal the source of the sound on this 438th episode, but we'll also play it. It was, it is the sound of Tom Hamilton's Slybersonic Tromosome. There. I said it. And here to say it again, consequences be darned, is Kalvos.