98 Asteroid

November 15, 2029, United Nations Headquarters, Geneva


“Greetings. Seventy-two hours ago, Space Force, in conjunction with NASA and Russia’s Space Authority, launched four unmanned rockets to intercept Asteroid Apophis. Each rocket is carrying two of Earth’s most powerful nuclear weapons—Tsar Boba RDS-220 Hydrogen bombs. These anti-asteroid weapons were originally designed by the former Soviet Union and are currently owned by the nation of Russia. The RDS-220 hydrogen bombs each carry two-ton nuclear warheads. The spacecraft carrying the warheads arrived just hours ago. They are tracking alongside Apophis. The asteroid is not an immediate threat to our planet, and up until last month, wasn’t expected to be a threat at all. However, on October 11, Apophis collided in open space with an unanticipated asteroid and was knocked off its original course.

“Though it was only a small nudge, Apophis is taking a new orbit around the Sun. In the year 2036, Apophis will finish its orbit of the Sun and head back in our direction. The newly-altered course Apophis is on will put it directly in the path of Planet Earth. Our astrophysicists from around the world say if we do nothing, Apophis will make a direct hit in the continent of North America on April 13, 2036. A direct hit with an asteroid of this size could do incredible damage to our planet, possibly kill millions of people, and cause several species of animals to go extinct.

“The fallout of Apophis could do a massive amount of damage to our environment, vegetation, and water supplies. The last time a meteorite of this magnitude hit Earth in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Earth was pushed into the Ice Age, and dinosaurs went extinct. A hit of this magnitude is not something that the continent of North America can absorb. We have a plan and are putting it in action tonight. Our hydrogen bombs are going to be detonated on the surface of Apophis this very hour. This plan gives us a better than ninety-five percent chance of altering Apophis’ course to a less threatening one.” Dr. Matteson turns to display some scenes across the stage behind her.

“Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.” Seiko is upset about Dr. Matteson’s comments. “Scientists really have no idea what will happen if we hit asteroids with nuclear warheads—we are still guessing what asteroids of this magnitude are made of. This whole thing is a guessing game. This action does tell me that Apophis is a real threat. I can’t believe they kept this imminent threat so secretive. Did I hear Dr. Matteson correctly, that they are detonating the warheads this hour while she’s broadcasting? If so, this is sensationalism at its worst. I hope parents aren’t letting children watch this. If I had a nuclear fallout room, I would be in it with my family right now and the streaming would stop. That’s for sure.”

Dr. Matteson begins again. “The four unmanned spacecraft we sent to space each have two parts. The first part will conduct a kinetic orbital strike and create a deep crater in the surface of the asteroid. We are bombarding the asteroid from four directions simultaneously. We are creating craters on each side. Once the four craters are prepared, the second part of the spacecraft—the RDS-220 Hydrogen Bombs—will be directed into the newly-created craters. Implanting the warheads deeply within the asteroid will give us a better result when they detonate. Planet Earth should be unaffected by the explosions, and it’s highly unlikely there will be any nuclear fallout. The one uncontrollable unknown is the direction the fragments might take after the explosions.”

A member of the U.N.’s security team walks to stage and hands Dr. Matteson a note. “Good news. I have just been informed the kinetic orbital strikes have been successful. We have four flawless craters within which we will bury our Hydrogen Bombs.

“This means the warheads are scheduled to deploy in three minutes and hit the surface of Apophis in eight minutes. We will watch this together on our live satellite stream. Citizens who are tuning in via the internet will be able to see this as well. Our tech team has just added the countdown to the bottom of all screens. We have five minutes until detonation. As you watch the countdown, I’ll give you some stats on the operation.

“The cost of this mission is just over one billion dollars. The expense will be shared by all nations of the U.N. This is the first operation of its kind. Asteroids hit our planet all the time, but Apophis is the first one that has presented any real threat to civilization in centuries. This is not to say other asteroids of this magnitude are not on a collision path with our planet. I can say no data exists on other near Earth NEO’s at this time. Sometimes, these things present in more threatening way than we anticipated. Though scientists have been studying Apophis for thirty years, we were off on our estimate of her size. After tonight’s actions, we will know how to better deal with the fragments of Apophis that will be coming back towards us in 2036.” Dr. Matteson stops speaking to the audience and touches a finger to her right ear.

“Well, that’s unnerving. It appears as if she’s being messaged from someone on her earpiece. That’s odd. Her last message was delivered on paper.” Sterling’s observation sets us all on the edge of our seats.

Without thinking, Dr. Matteson steps down from the platform and walks off stage while still in conversation. The Secretary-Director steps back to the podium to watch the countdown as it drops to one minute. “I don’t know quite what to say right now. Maybe there are no words for this. So, let’s watch together.”

In the silence that ensues, the audience is startled by a scream from offstage. Dr. Matteson has forgotten she is wearing a Bluetooth microphone. She is transmitting to the audience as she speaks on her cell phone. “What do you mean head number two is not responding to detonation? Why did you deploy it if the crater was not opened? I was told all four craters were open. Is the bomb exposed on the surface? What’s the percentage of exposure to the surface of Earth? Are the other three implanted? Brace yourself. We will be lucky if can finish this conversation.” The audience is in shock as they watch the counter hit .01.

When the counter ticks off, the screens burst with radiating light. Small clouds of nuclear fallout forming their familiar mushroom-shaped clouds near the surface of the asteroid. There are only three clouds. As everyone now knows, the fourth nuclear warhead has not yet detonated. The massive black rock begins to crack. Pieces are breaking off and violently shooting off into space in all directions. The asteroid begins to glow like a charcoal cube on a barbeque pit. The edges are bright orange, yellow, and white. Everything is silent, but there’s a feeling in the air something big is about to happen.

“It looks like an egg ready to hatch with a baby chick.” Sterling walks towards the screen. “I’m guessing what we’re about to see isn’t going to be that precious.”

In the silence, a massive explosion blooms on the Space Force feed. Pieces of the asteroid go hurtling through space. The largest piece is pushed so far out a separate satellite must pick up its image. Once it is back in focus, the large piece can be seen twisting and turning as if it has been hurled into space by an angry god. What the world watches next sends panic across the planet. The bulk of Apophis slams into the surface of the moon, causing the final hydrogen bomb to explode.

In the quiet that follows, the world has nothing to do but stare at the screens. The horror and hopelessness have nowhere to go. They hear Dr. Matteson continue her uncensored call with Space Force. “The moon has been moved from its natural orbit? By how much? Prepare all nations to move to Red Alert. The Earth may receive substantial radiation over the next seventy-two hours. Alert NASA and Russia we are closing the shield in four hours. Tell them to move their satellites or lose them. Also, alert weather watchers that earthquakes and irregular tides are likely. Put them on Code Orange until the moon reestablishes an orbit. I’m on my way in. Matteson, out.”


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Triple Digit TOC by K.M. Sheridan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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