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June 24, 2024

The Comet Within

By Kevin Landis

Aaron Warrick bit his lip and stared at the monitor. His sandy-blonde hair hung down low, restricting his vision. A similarly colored stubble covered his square jaw, the only evidence that he was in his mid thirties and not late teens.

"That can't be right." he said, taking a moment to nurse a Pepsi and then return to study his video monitor.

The small flickering monitor showed him a picture from one of the most powerful land-based telescopes in the world. A hazy blue dot caught his interest.

A plethora of comets sliced in and out of our solar system every year, most without notice. People, it seems, have lost all interest in space. Your average comet entering the solar system was lucky to make it on the late news. The ones headed for earth tended to generate the most attention.

Aaron hit some keys, increasing the magnification.

"Good morning sweetheart." He said, to what could only be a very sizable comet.

Aaron was in an empty building surrounded by humming computers, disturbed only occasionally by a passing security guard, and tired beyond belief. His job, however, was no 9 to 5. The sky had to be black for him to work.

It was one a.m. at NASA headquarters Aaron was working late, like always, scanning the skies for rocks. The video monitors he was viewing were direct line feeds from the headquarters of the LINEAR (Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research) project. Their ground-based robotic telescopes are some of the most powerful on earth.

Aaron was one of the twelve people responsible for detecting a meteor, comet, stray asteroid or chunk of moon before it struck earth

So far his work has never paid off, no far off disaster had been averted and no warning had been sounded. Yet.

Now with all 45 of the high power telescopes he commanded pointed at one spot, he was disturbed. Not because he had sighted a comet that was previously unknown, he did that about twice a month. The comet's path was the disturbing thing.

Aaron picked up the phone and dialed his boss.

"Hello?" Said a tired and slightly angry voice on the other line.

"Hey Doug, you won't believe what I've spotted in the sky, it's huge and seems to be composed of a very dense form of iron-ferrite, it-" Doug cut him off.

"If you woke me up at one A.M. to talk about some rock I swear I'll-"

"It will strike earth in about one month." Aaron interjected.

"Pardon?" Doug asked, sounding more confused than annoyed now.

"Closer to 28 days if my calculations are correct." Aaron replied.

"How large is it?" Doug asked, now fully awake.

"127 and a half miles wide give or take a foot. It is awfully far away."

"Are you sure?" Doug asked.

"Quite." Aaron said.

"We must alert the president, and we've got to keep this quiet," Aaron continued, "If this gets leaked to the media..."

Aaron heard Doug sigh.

"Call everyone in, I'll call the president." Doug said.

Aaron slammed the phone down and then picked it back up. This was going to be a long day.

Doug ran to his car, cell-phone in hand.

"I don't care, I know he is sleeping, put him on the phone now." There was a pause and then Doug heard a click as his phone was being transferred.

"Yes?" The president said, obviously disturbed at his being awakened at the early hour.

"Mister president," Doug said, "My name is Doug Shivers, director of NASA operations. I have some very disturbing news"

***

27 days and 12 hours later in a room full of tired scientists a man stood up.

"Why not just fire every nuclear weapon we have at it, surely that would help."

Everyone laughed, nervous laughter.

"Sure would make me feel better" the man said, sliding back into his chair.

Doug was astonished; he looked around the room.

"So that's it?" He said, "We're officially giving up." There was no response; everyone was slumped in their chairs. The stench of defeat was so strong you could smell it a mile away.

"Go home to your families." Doug said rising from his chair and leaving the room. After him one, and then another of the scientists walked out, heads down, dejected, beaten. Aaron was not among them.

Where was Aaron? Doug wondered. He had discovered this thing. He had also been the first to suggest a plausible solution to the comet's approach.

Aaron believed that a nuclear blast, of some forty warheads, beside the comet would change its trajectory enough for it to miss earth. Most everyone agreed with him. So his plan was the first put into action, about one week after the comet was found, the missiles launched had detonated near the rock and it hadn't changed it's path by a foot. Aaron had never recovered. Some people just couldn't accept defeat. He hadn't been very talkative since, he just sat at his desk and punched numbers.

Doug wandered over to Aaron's desk. Aaron was typing madly at his computer; he looked up as Doug approached.

"Doug," he said, "I'm glad you're here, I've noticed some weird things about the comet."

"Like?" Doug asked.

"Well, first off, My plan had no effect on it." Aaron said.

Doug sighed.

"Aaron, it isn't your fault, we all thought the blast would work. Some things are just inevitable, this comet cannot be stopped." Doug said.

"It isn't the fact that the blast didn't work that bothers me." Aaron said, "We were all prepared for the possibility that we wouldn't change the comet's course enough to make a difference. The thing that bothers me is that the blast had absolutely no effect whatsoever.

"We fired 40 nuclear warheads at the load of rock and not so much as a piece of gravel broke away from it, and it didn't slide off course by a meter. And there are some other things that are trouble me too."

"What other things?" Doug asked, sitting down next to Aaron.

"Not one thing caught in its gravity, It weighs thirty tons and has nothing caught by it's gravity.

"Comets are mostly ice," Aaron continued, "The infrared maps we have of the comet show it is warm. Why?"

"Equipment malfunction?" Doug said, shrugging.

"Maybe, but I have another theory." Aaron said.

"Okay." Doug said.

"I don't believe that there is a comet headed toward earth at all." Aaron let the effect of his statement sink all the way in. Then he continued. "If you were an alien species trying to invade earth, how would you do it?"

Doug replied with a blank look. "I think you need some sleep." he finally said.

"Look at what has happened since word leaked out about the comet that would kill earth," Aaron flipped through the newspaper on his desk, "500,000 people have committed suicide, another 20,000 have been killed in murders, society has broken down, marshal law has been declared, religious hysteria has ensued. The military is busy keeping the peace. All this prior to the announcement that we are powerless to destroy it. All this because a rock is coming, and the closer it gets the worse the situation down here gets. There are estimates that over a billion people will die before it even arrives, that is one-sixth the world population."

The blank look on Doug's face morphed into a look of intrigue.

Aaron continued.

"They make us think we will all die, drive us crazy, turn our world upside down and leave us completely vulnerable to invasion. They let fear, hate, and lack of hope take over. They would rather fight us in a disorganized state. If they can strike fear into us then we are finished." Aaron leaned back in his chair and put his arms behind his head. "A ship as large as theirs wouldn't go unnoticed by us, so they disguise it and destroy our already fragile social system. They kill two birds with one big chunk of imaginary comet."

Doug cracked a smile.

"You think I'm crazy." Aaron said.

"No, not crazy. I see the logic in it. Why take on earth at its best when you can take it on at its worst, eh?" Doug replied.

"Their plan is brilliant," Aaron said, "it exploits our biggest weakness. Humans are the greatest danger to themselves. The human race is six billion strong, what ship could hope to take out that many in an invasion. No, they are smarter than that."

Doug nodded in recognition.

"But you would also want to place an agent on earth to make sure everything went as planned, you wouldn't want any one messing up your carefully laid plans." Doug replied.

"Definitely," Aaron said, "And I've done some research and I'm still not sure who it is." Aaron paused, he leaned in close to Doug and whispered "He would have to be here, at NASA, That way he could be sure the rock was discovered. Remember how we could never figure out how the press found out about the comet."

Doug nodded.

"Someone alerted the media, without sensationalistic coverage chaos wouldn't have developed."

"I think you know who it is." Doug said.

"I really can't figure who other than you could have..." Aaron trailed off. His eyes met Doug's cold stare.

Doug laughed and reached into his coat. He removed a small ray gun and leveled it at Aaron.

"Looks like we found out a little too late that the most dangerous thing to humans is not headed for them, but already inside them." he smiled and pulled the trigger.
Article © Kevin Landis. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-08-22
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