January 17th 2029 was a day like any other. All over the Earth, human beings were doing what human beings always do: working to improve their social status, trying to find additional opportunities to fornicate, eating, drinking, defecating, sleeping, squandering their lives gawping at mindless entertainments on a myriad of shining screens large and small, grumbling about their discontents, and generally sleepwalking through existence.
For well over fifteen years, things had been getting progressively worse as the corrosive effects of populism elevated morons and blowhards into the highest offices of each nation and those morons and blowhards had then inevitably done more to destroy their countries than any enemy could have hoped to achieve. Jobs were shredded, food supplies were undermined, economies were crippled. Instead of recognizing their own culpability, the morons and blowhards blamed everyone else instead, and the legions of empty-heads who voted for them also blamed everyone else instead because they didn’t understand anything about anything, ever.
As usual, wars were being waged over totally pointless pretexts so that a few cynical power-hungry tyrants could temporarily feel slightly better about their own tiny lives. People were babbling to their various gods and adamantly refusing to see how implausible their mythologies were. A few were falling in love; many more were falling out of it. Babies were being born and old people were dying. Mostly, people were just getting sicker and sicker by eating more and more junk peddled to them by enormous corporations that regarded consumers as nothing more than living garbage pails into which a never-ending stream of slop could profitably be poured.
Thanks to the fact that, from an intellectual perspective, everyone was living in the gutter, no one noticed the approach of an extremely faint object coming in past the orbit of Neptune. No one except for Daisy Fletcher, an amateur astronomer living just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. An insomniac, it had been her habit for several years to watch the night sky through her 14-inch telescope and record it with a high-definition digital camera. She enjoyed being among the first to spot a new comet or meteor. When she saw the very faint smudge a centimeter from Neptune she naturally assumed…