This is the first scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.
JPL – Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, USA
“Eight minutes to impact.” Astrophysicist Dipesh Patel, member of the Near Earth Object team, read aloud the data on the wall-mounted display – telemetry of three nuclear missiles headed for asteroid Hachiman.
NEO team members, scientists, engineers, and technicians from other departments huddled around the display, all of them disheveled, haggard, and unshaven. Dipesh savored the electrifying excitement that still lingered even after thirty-six hours of sleepless anticipation. It had the feel of an all-night movie marathon. Their lab was dark and crowded and smelled of stale deep-dish pizza. Dipesh liked it that way. The darkness cut down on monitor glare, the closeness taught them to conserve space, and the pizza, well, it would have to do. If he focused on his data long enough, it gave him the feeling of being in a space capsule, which is what he had dreamed of doing since childhood. A fear of flying crushed any hopes of that so he contented himself with the next best thing.
“Come on, Hachiman,” he said. “Stay real still.”
Dr. Irene Clemmons, the matriarch of the NEO team, patted him on the back. “The laws of physics won’t change if we don’t watch it.”
“Asteroid finder and astronomer Dr. Irene Clemmons of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, has been named to the Women in Science and Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame, an award that honors women in science and technology worldwide.” ~ JPL Media Relations Office Press Release
“Not if it’s quantum physics,” Dipesh said, turning and winking at her. With her frizzled gray hair, piercing blue-gray eyes, and intense features, Irene reminded him of Jane Goodall, the scientist famous for her pioneering study of wild chimpanzees. Irene had nurtured the NEO program since its infancy, and had inspired others to postpone their academic careers and join the ranks of asteroid hunters.
Dipesh pointed to an alarm on the display computer. He felt the rush of adrenaline flow anew in his veins when he read the data. “Hachiman’s changing course.”
Meteor expert John Eastman pocketed his yo-yo, and camera engineer David Rhodes leaned over to get a better look. “What?”
“See for yourself.” Dipesh pointed to the telemetry.
“A Hiccup?” John asked.
Dipesh nodded. Dipesh turned and answered, ignoring the words on John’s tee shirt: I killed Schrödinger’s cat. “This isn’t a comet … but there must have been some form of out-gassing that changed its vector.”
They watched as two missiles missed Hachiman entirely. They could not be turned around for another try. The mood in the lab shifted from careful, watchful speculation to tense anticipation as the third missile neared its objective. There was total silence in the lab, words being strictly unnecessary. When the numbers showing distance reached zero, Dipesh breathed again for the first time in what seemed like an hour.
The lab erupted in a cheer of relief. Their elation lasted only a minute.
“Oh, no,” John said looking at his monitor. “Hachiman fragmented.” The numbers showed five fragments, several spinning off on a ballistic path but still bound to enter the earth’s atmosphere at another longitude.
“The missile should have deflected it, nothing more,” Dipesh said jumping up, defending himself before an audience of peers. “The numbers were perfect.” He felt a twinge of guilt because he helped NASA and U.S. Air Force engineers determine the missile’s explosive yield. How could I have been so wrong about the asteroid’s composition? It was carbonaceous — containing organic matter, water soluble salts, magnetite, and clay — or at least he thought so.
“Asteroid composition can only be determined by Earth-based or satellite observation and this limits the astronomer to spectral and gravimetric analysis. Some are piles of rubble, held together my microgravity. They appear to contain metals, water, carbon-based molecules, or even traces of amino acids and other organic compounds. In a word, we just don’t know what most asteroids are made of.” ~Doctoral Thesis, Dipesh Chandwadkar
They all watched the monitors for projections of fragment impact sites. Except for the whir of the equipment fans, silence again ruled the lab. Dipesh pulled up his spreadsheets and double-checked some numbers. How could I have been so far off? They were based on NASA’s figures. Did they give me bad data?
“Here we go,” Irene said reading the monitor. “Looks like four fragments. None of them big enough to be global busters or tsunami makers, but may be large enough to make impact. Their vectors take them to the Pacific Ocean near Santa Monica Beach, northern Russia, the Gobi Desert, and one in the middle of the Pacific. Only one still headed for the Atlantic.” The screen displayed the specific coordinates.
“Thank God none of them is heavily populated,” Dipesh said. “There’s not much in the Gobi.”
Lupe asked, “Why would some fragments take a ballistic path and hit the other side of the Earth?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Irene said, “but it looks like their initial vector may have been away from the earth, but pulled back because of the earth’s gravity.”
“The explosion would have given it escape velocity,” Lupe said.
Dipesh jumped up and grabbed his tool kit, which included an infrared thermometer and Geiger counter.
“Where are you going?” Irene asked.
“Santa Monica Beach. I want to get samples of these rocks before any of the locals do.” And find out if I was really wrong about its composition.
John reached for his tablet computer. “I’m coming with you.”
“Good,” Irene said. “Don’t forget your cell phones. I’ll contact the other impact sites and conference you in.”
Continued in Scene 2The entire text is currently discounted: Free. If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme. For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others. Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme