I belong to a rather large club with a rather small following. It’s a Meetup event. If this is available in your area, I would suggest all of you give the site a try. Here in Columbus, OH, we have a Meetup called The Scribes of Columbus. The club has 1,540 members, but only a few of us actually get together on a regular basis. The most I can recall at a gathering is perhaps 12, and the least being myself and the group organizer.
Still, we do have fun, meeting a few times a month and discussing our writing needs and desires. Some of the Meetups are a challenge to our talent, where a prompt is selected and posted for everyone to come up with a related story, short, approx. 1,000 words, nothing overly tedious. The last prompt was “LEO, Low Earth Orbit,” for which I submitted and won the coveted prize of a $5 gift card for Half-Priced Books.
Since the idea for this pearl actually originated in me here, at The Habitable Zone many eons ago, when I was still moderator, I shall share the winner here with you exalted few.
Super Bowl Weekend — who’d’a thunk it…?
The Best Laid Plans…
Cornell mathematician and astronomer, American astronaut Wylie Thompson gave the expected chuckle for the antics of retired American football quarterback and sports personality Boomer Esiason’s stab at humor, when the screen gave the expected flicker, then dropped to a silent dark. Wylie had been watching the Super Bowl pregame show, where the announcers had just broadcast that the game would be starting right after a quick commercial break, but that was now history. He had been one of the many predictors of this calamity. The game was still on, of course, but all the airways were now dead to the world.
Wylie was really not one who would ever say I told ya so … but he knew that he had.
The evacuation of the International Space Station (ISS), the pride of all educated humanity, had been performed with efficiency, where only Wylie remained aboard. There had been quite a to-do at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Houston regarding the scientist’s refusal to depart, but his argument had been sound, as was his unerring mathematics on the subject. There was absolutely no danger of collision with the approaching Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA).
Without satellites and the game now off the air, likely for the next several days. He quietly drifted over to one of the Earth-view portals, looking down at the pass of Antarctica. A few thin clouds and, as it was nearly mid-January and the middle of the southern hemisphere’s summer, the view was blindingly white. All the cameras set at the bow of the ISS were on and running, the station server set to record the timely event. It would be the first NEA ever recorded by the ISS, expected to cross its path in the next few seconds.
Okay, approaching right along the Earth’s orbit, and having already taken out the Western World’s communications satellites, the asteroid should be crossing the equator and the ISS’s trajectory right about … now, he thought. …And, with no Super Bowl this year, maybe the world will take the threat of an imminent impactor more seriously, he earnestly mused. The big one’s coming … just a matter of time. Been coming since the Big Bang. Wylie brought the viewer online, focusing on the forward vista, and there it was. Get some serious work done on our neglected NEA detectors and set up a viable defense plan. He regarded the image on the screen. A complete alien world. Monstrous. A planet killer.
And at the same time, so glorious to behold. It looked to be about five miles long, but traveling at approximately 10,000 mph, it was hard to tell. It was on the day-side of the planet, so not very visible from the ground, but clearly visible for Wylie, up above the refractive bluing of the Earth’s atmosphere. Quickly, the man adjusted the starboard camera array, wanting to get all the data for this passing he could. He grabbed his small Canon EOS Rebel and pushed to the view port.
“The first NEA … ever photographed … by hand,” he murmured, already focusing on the passing event.
He then shoved from the window and brought up the spectroscope, firing off eight quick surface analysis scans.
“Standard stuff,” he muttered. “Same regolith as the moon.” He leaned in close to the display. “That’s odd. Almost … copper. Huh.”
Coming up on the equator, he zoomed the scene on the stern cameras to the departing asteroid.
“…Beautiful … beautiful…”
There was a sudden motion to his left, and he looked to the forward monitor. There was nothing there, but a serious look of concern came over him. Another rock shot by.
The formula had been perfect for this meeting, but he suddenly realized he had forgotten one critical point. He pulled himself closer to the screen, staring closely, and there it was.
Asteroids may pass close to other bodies, other gravity wells, which would cause them to break apart, sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. The one constant was that all those bits would be destined to continue along the initial trajectory, albeit slightly slower.
“No, no, no.”
It was barely 25 meters across, flying end over end in a slow tumble. 10,000 mph, but in a slow tumble.
“Oh, n …”