Helmut Muller, retired farmer, aged 67, sopped up the last of the yolk from his plate with his last triangle of toast, just as he had done every morning since his retirement, rinsed his dirty dishes, set them in the rack, poured himself a cup of coffee, then joined his wife, Edna, at the picnic table on the rear patio. A dry, cool breeze was blowing in from the west; high, thin cloud streaked the pale blue sky, giving it a greyish cast. The hay fields surrounding the old farmhouse undulated in the wild, untamed wind like green ocean waves. It was as typical and usual a day as could be imagined.

At the end of the picnic table, the portable twelve-inch television-set blared. Edna, who was quite deaf, leaned toward the set in rapt attention, caught up in the trite, contrived doings of soap-opera actors pretending they weren't bored to tears with the tired drivel that passed for a script. Helmut read his morning paper, oblivious, but paused now and then to sip his coffee, or pat the head of his old yellow dog with gruff affection.

When asked about it later, he claimed that it was either the whine of his dog or his wife fidgeting with the television that first caught his attention- he couldn't remember which.

'What is it, boy? What's buggin' ya? Eh?'

He winced as Edna slapped the plastic box of the television, hard. He had told her many times that smacking the set would not help with bad reception. If anything, it would serve only to knock something in its electronic innards loose.

'Damned thing always picks the worst time to go all cockamamy,' Edna griped. 'See if you can fix this thing, will you . . .' the expression on her husband's face stopped her. Both he and the dog were staring skyward. To the south of them, high in the sky, was a brilliant fireball, from which emanated a deep rumbling. Edna stared, trying to make sense of what she saw. 'Is that a plane in trouble, d'you think? You don't think it'll hit the house, do you?' Then, after a few moments, 'I think it's coming this way. D'you think it's coming this way? Maybe we should get in the car . . .'

'I think maybe you're right,' Helmut said, getting to his feet. 'You go and get in the car. Take Tippy with you.'

'Where're you going?'

For an elderly man, he was still very spry, attesting to the years of labour he'd put into the family farm. 'Can't drive without keys,' he said matter-of-factly. 'Nor without the cat.'

As he entered the dimness of the house, he was struck by an ominous feeling. There was no sign of the cat. It took him a moment to realise what the ominous feeling was- the moment he went back outside, the reason for it seemed everywhere. The low rumbling had become a prolonged peal of thunder. The air shook. The ground shook. The portable television set fell onto the concrete patio with a dull crash, followed by his coffee cup. Everything was beginning to look peculiar. It was then that he noticed that he had two shadows, one from the sun, one from . . .

'Dear God Almighty!'

The falling object was now become a blinding ball of light that seemed to fill the lower southern sky. Fighting panic, he fumbled his way to the driveway and got in the car. He wife was watching him, wide-eyed. The dog was hunkered down on the floor, whining, trembling with fear.

He put the key in the ignition, turned it-


He turned the key back and forth a few times, watching the dials on the dash. They didn't move. He switched on the radio. Again, nothing.

The noise outside had risen to a deafening, ear-splitting crescendo. The light was now so bright that they could feel their exposed skin burning.

And then, something massive passed between them and the sun, something impossibly huge that seemed to plunge to earth, just over their heads, though the illusion of proximity was wrought by the incredible size of the thing. At the same instant there came a new sound, like that of ten thousand jet engines screaming.

The elderly couple gaped as the object seemed to slow just before it hit. Abruptly, a black cloud erupted from the earth, followed by a heart-stopping concussion as the blast-wave reached them. And then, but for the black cloud, there was silence, and only one sun once more.