The End··Novl duration 8 mins
The President turned his back on them and walked calmly across to the impressive bay window in his mahogany-paneled office. He seemed to just stare dreamily at the immaculately manicured garden outside for an awkward few minutes. His two unexpected visitors sat silently and waited for him to speak.
In the left seat sat General Shaw, a four-star general in full dress uniform, and perched on the front of the other chair was the unrealistically skinny Professor Pedwar, wearing an ill-fitting and outdated, brown suit. General Shaw seemed impatient and the Professor more nervous than anything else.
Without turning back to them, the President began to speak, "So you're telling me that there's a gigantic asteroid hurtling towards us and we have less than three months to do something about it?"
"Yes, sir. That is about the size of it," replied General Shaw.
"How long have you 'experts' known about this?"
"Two days, sir," replied Professor Pedwar, straightening his tie.
"Why didn't we see this coming sooner? Don't we have an early warning system for just this sort of thing?"
Professor Pedwar looked like he was trying not to look smug as he replied. "We have been telling the government for years, decades in fact, that the early warning network is chronically underfunded. We were lucky we caught this one at all."
"Not lucky enough. So, what can we do about it?"
"Nothing, sir," said the professor surprisingly matter-of-factly.
"Nothing? We have eighty-nine days to put together a plan. Surely if we put our best brains on this we can do something clever to stop this happening?"
"Maybe if we had a couple of years, or a decade, sir, but there just isn't enough time," replied the General.
"What would happen if we hit it with a nuke, a really big one?"
"It's moving at almost 500 miles-per-second. That would be one hell of a shot, sir," laughed the General.
"And a nuclear weapon isn't really going to do much damage," added Professor Pedwar, "With a lump of rock almost three kilometres wide, the best we could do is blacken the surface a little."
"But if it's coming straight at us and we aim straight at it, a collision is highly likely? It's not like we're trying to snipe it as it flies by."
"I'm sure we can hit it, Mr President," replied the Professor, "But the problem would be hitting it hard enough to make any difference."
"Surely if we hit it with enough nukes at the same time we could break it in two?"
"Then two large objects would hit us instead of one big one," said the General.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but if we punch the asteroid hard enough to break it down the middle, wouldn't the two resulting pieces pass either side of us?" said the President excitedly. "Assuming we hit it soon enough?"
The Professor looked thoughtful for a second. "That could work. If we can get enough nuclear missiles launched to hit simultaneously, or sequentially. But the accuracy required would be impressive. And even if we succeeded in breaking it, we have no way to know how it would break."
"Would increasing the number of missiles decrease the accuracy required?"
"To some degree, yes. But I would still rate the chance of success as slim."
"If this asteroid strikes Earth as is predicted, what chance does the human race have?"
"Very little," replied the General.
"None whatsoever," added the Professor, "An impact on this scale will be safely above an extinction level event. Most life on the planet will be eradicated instantly. Of the survivors, most higher life forms will die off within days or weeks. A tsunami on a colossal scale will scour the surface of the planet then debris thrown into orbit will block out all sunlight for years."
"So anything we do might improve on that. Gentlemen? I'm not about to sit around and just let this thing hit us."
"Then we must round up all the relevant experts and get them working on this," replied the Professor.
"I can issue an executive order to authorise the launching of the entire NORAD arsenal, and we can override and launch the missiles of several other countries too. Can't we, General Shaw?"
General Shaw looked worried and remained silent for a moment.
"Shaw? Can we take control of the arsenals of countries who buy their missile systems from us?" pushed the President.
"In theory, yes, sir," he replied with obvious reluctance.
"Good," smiled the President.
"But it won't make any difference," the General added quietly.
"What? Surely it's possible to program the entire arsenal to strike the asteroid simultaneously?"
"That's the wrong approach, Mr President," interrupted the Professor, "We should have them hit individually in rapid succession. The repeated blasts would be more likely to drill their way through the asteroid and also have a braking effect. It could also buy us more time."
"None of that will make any difference, sir," said the General with a dramatic sigh.
"How can you possibly know that?" demanded the President.
"I can't talk further with anyone else in the room."
"You mean Professor Pedwar?"
"He's not cleared, sir."
"I have no problem with him hearing whatever you have to say, General."
"I'm deadly serious, sir."
"Really?" the President exhaled exasperatedly, "Sorry, Professor Pedwar, would you mind leaving the office for a few moments."
The professor looked somewhat confused, but nodded acceptingly and headed immediately for the door. The general watched him leave, waiting patiently until he heard the door's lock click shut.
"So what do you want to tell me, General?"
The General double-checked that the door was still shut, then leant forwards and spoke quietly. "I shouldn't be sharing this with you, sir, but given the circumstances, I doubt I will be court martialled for a breach."
"The world is apparently ending in less than three months, General, I don't think national secrets matter anymore."
"Your nuclear plan cannot work, sir."
"It's not even worth trying?"
"No, sir, because they don't exist."
"They don't exist?!"
"Our country has never had a nuclear arsenal, and nor do any others."
"But we've got billions of dollars of nuclear missiles!"
"No. Everyone thinks we have billions of dollars of nuclear missiles. It's a deterrent, one we never intended to use."
"The whole thing is fake?"
"We never developed that technology. The basis of the research was taken from the British during the last months of the last war, but we quickly established that perfecting it was many decades away at least. That's why we let the Russians steal the research from the British. It wouldn't be any use to them, but they wasted a fortune trying to develop it."
"What about Nagasaki and Hiroshima?"
"Two specially developed fuel-air bombs with a dirty shell. That and a spread of incendiaries and the destruction was believable."
"But the photos? I've seen the photos of the devastation!"
"Have you seen the photos of Tokyo at the end of the war? It looked just like Hiroshima."
"And no-one else has developed nuclear weapons?"
"No way. That's why we are so keen to stop anyone else working in the area. International laws, sanctions, occasional precision bombing and a few convenient regime changes and the technology remains out of reach. As soon as someone succeeds in developing the tech for real it gets hard to make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Believe me, you don't want that sort of knowledge out there. It's easier to control it if nobody has it."
"So we don't have anything we can fire at the asteroid that will have any impact at all?"
"I've requested disclosure of all black research programs, in the hope that we have something useful there."
"Let's get Professor Pedwar back in the room."
"Yes, sir. I should warn you that if you share anything from our discussion with the Professor, I will shoot him."
"Shoot him!? I will have you arrested by the secret service if you do."
"If there is even the faintest chance that civilisation will survive this asteroid, I have to ensure that the truth is kept secret. You have no idea how many people have died protecting that secret."
"What about me?" asked the President, warily eyeing the General.
"You won't tell anyone."
"You're sure of that?" he asked, instantly regretting it.
"Yes, sir. You have a family. You won't reveal anything."
"Let's get Professor Pedwar back in here."
The President pressed the button on his intercom and asked his personal secretary to send the Professor back in. As soon as he was again seated in front of the President's desk, the President returned to his own chair, facing them.
"So, unless some other technology makes itself available to us, we have to assume that this lump of rock is going to hit the planet as predicted."
"A safe assumption, sir," replied the General.
"That leaves us with planning ways for some of the population to survive the impact. My duty isn't only to my country. In this situation, my duty would appear to be trying to ensure that this event if not the end of the human race."
"I don't see what we can do," commented the General. "Our projections of the impact so far show that resulting tectonic activity would either destroy any underground bunkers or at least render them completely inaccessible. Survivors in bunkers would take months to dig themselves out, if it was even possible."
"There has to be something we can do. How about having people in aircraft at the moment of collision? That way they're safely off the surface."
"That won't work," replied the Professor, shaking his head sadly. "A supersonic shockwave will circle the planet several times. Anything in the air would be shredded, assuming it's not caught in the initial heat blast. We fully expect much of the atmosphere to be ejected during the event. Even if any aircraft survived there would most probably be nowhere for them to land."
"In orbit then?" suggested the President excitedly, "We could put as many people in orbit as possible and they could repopulate the planet when things settle down again?"
The Professor thought for a few moments then replied, "It would be hard to ensure they were on the correct side of the planet during the impact. Those on the same side as the asteroid would most likely be destroyed by the blast."
"The moon!" exclaimed the President. "It's only a couple of day's flight from here. Couldn't we ferry people and supplies there and establish a colony. Cost is no issue. We can chuck everything at this. We sent astronauts there in the 60s. Surely we can do it again?"
"Mr President," began the General, rubbing his hands over his face for a second, "I think the Professor should leave the room again."
- The End -