A Secret Service officer escorts Janet and Benjamin to the Roosevelt Room. The popular meeting room is in the West Wing of the White House, just a few steps from the Oval Office. Though the flowers are plentiful and the art collection impressive along the show trail, Janet is sure both are better on the campus of the United Nations.
Benjamin steps in front of Janet to enter the room first. His protective nature kicks in when they enter uncharted territory together. He has protected her in some third-world locations that were not secure and continues his protective habit stateside.
Once he motions that things are clear, Janet steps into the familiar meeting room. She has been here several times to give updates on her Peace Corps programs. Even so, President Cohen is the first president she has met, and even that didn’t happen until he interviewed her to be the ambassador to the U.N.
Janet likes President Cohen. She voted for him—the first Republican to get her vote. They align on humanitarian and environmental issues, and share Jewish heritage and a concern for the children of the world. Even so, after they push through this meeting on threats to the planet, their first conflict may begin. They cannot go another week without a discussion on the Thirteen Mandates for a United World that his daughter, Anna, helped draft and deliver to the General Assembly.
Benjamin points out Janet’s nameplate on the large walnut conference table. She is to be seated directly to the President’s left. Once she sits, Benjamin gets on one knee and begins his customary history lesson. “This room was first called the ‘Fish Room’ because Franklin D. Roosevelt mounted several fish on the wall and put an aquarium in the back. It was Richard Nixon who officially named it the Roosevelt Room. It was named after both Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore was the one who added the room to the West Wing, and Franklin was the one who expanded its size years later. Here is the most fun fact: As you can see, paintings of the fifth-cousins hang on the walls. When the seated President is a Republican, the painting of Theodore Roosevelt hangs on the front wall over the fireplace, and Franklin’s painting hangs in the back. When the seated President is a Democrat, the paintings are reversed.”
Janet smiles at Benjamin, beaming with childlike enthusiasm. “Wow! Benjamin, you’re a walking encyclopedia. That was great—thank you for sharing.” Janet is immediately aware for the first time ever, she spoke to Benjamin without using wit or sarcasm. It felt nice, but also uncomfortable.
She can tell he is equally taken back.
“You’re welcome. You will knock ‘em dead today.” Benjamin pats her hand and walks to the back of the room to take a seat along the wall. This is the standard seating arrangement for executive assistants whose security clearance allows them to attend meetings in the White House.
Being the first committee member to arrive, Janet uses the spare minutes to read the top page of each of the two issues being addressed today. After ten minutes of silence, a White House staff member steps in the room and announces the arrival of the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Walter Waters and Secretary of Defense, Rutherford Smith.
Both men walk over to greet the Ambassador. Over the next ten minutes, the room fills in with the invited scientists and dignitaries. They come in too quickly for Janet to greet them individually. She smiles and waves to those she cannot greet personally. Last to enter before the President is Belle Brooke, the Vice President of the United States. All the attendees rise from their seats. She thanks them for their respect and invites them to be seated.
The Vice President heads to Janet first. She stands to greet her. Belle is a gregarious, proper New Englander who exudes a genuine interest when greeting others. “It’s great to see you again, Madam Ambassador. I wish it were under better circumstances, but I was looking forward to thanking you in person for setting a fine example at the United Nations. You made quite the impression with your opening address. The understated credibility you gave to the two outlandish topics we dropped upon you at the last minute made us look quite capable. I’m sure you were wondering what we were up to. Today is proof we weren’t just trying to make your first day difficult. You handled the situation perfectly, Thank you for trusting us.”
“Thank you, Madam Vice President. It looks to be a very important year for the world. I’m pleased to be part of the leadership team.” The Vice President acknowledges her remark and moves on to greet Walter Waters and Rutherford Smith. She waves to the others and takes her chair to the right of the President.
A staff member of the White House steps inside with two members of the Secret Service who take their stations on either side of the entry door. He asks that everyone stand as he introduces the President of the United States. When President Cohen steps into the room, he waves to all in attendance, and asks them to take their seats immediately after he sits down himself.
“Hello and welcome. It’s an honor to share a room with the world’s finest scientific minds, as well as some very fine governmental officials. I hope each of you will take time to get to know the others in the room with you today. There is a list of names along with credentials and contact information in the packet in front of you. The Vice President and I have assembled this committee to address some issues facing the world this coming decade. We are grateful to those of you who have traveled from France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, California, Massachusetts, and Texas. As we go forward, additional meetings of this committee will likely be held in your cities and countries. Certainly, this is a global issue and we will treat it as such.
“I understand from my staff that everyone present is fluent in English. I want to acknowledge those of you who took your career seriously enough to learn foreign languages. I hope you will forgive this American for not being literate in any of yours. It may be a little too late to teach this old dog a new language.” The group chuckles at the President’s self-effacing remark.
“I am going to turn this meeting over the Administrator of NASA, Sean Bradley. In addition to heading NASA since 2018 and serving as an advisor to the U.S. Space Force, he’s also a friend. Sean, the floor is yours.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. If you will open Confidential Envelope #1 in your packet, you will find the first of two topics to be addressed here today. I am aware each of you has seen this information. Most of you have had individual conversations with me regarding this data and have sent me some incredible research and theory. The collective summaries represent a great effort by everyone involved. You’ve exhibited a universal commitment to work together against two very formidable threats to our planet.
“To help us stay on-point with the latest technology, I’ve uploaded a Prezi into the individual computer stations in front of you. Our entire workspace today is resting on top of a fine walnut table from the Roosevelt era. Once again, it appears technology has topped tradition.” A few of the younger attendees laugh. “Each of you can split your screen to both follow my Prezi and to freely examine links at the same time.
“Though the tabletop viewing is impressive, technology did not win out when I requested to have a screen put over Theodore Roosevelt’s painting to provide us with group viewing today. I was immediately scorned and labeled a Democrat.” The chuckles come from the older guests this time.
“Let’s walk through Section I in your packet entitled, Geometric Pole Reversal – Where are we? I want to begin by saying that a Geomagnetic Reversal may or may not be of grave concern. In a short explanation for the civilians in the room, the Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. The protective field extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from auroras to power grids.
“This field, which is very important to our planet, weakened fifteen percent between 1814 and 2014. That’s a very short two hundred years in scientific terms. It has weakened another five percent in the last fifteen years. This represents significant acceleration. Some of the scientists sitting at this table believe this is clear proof that the Earth’s magnetic poles are about to flip.
“The European Space Agency began studying such a possibility in 2014. They have a trio of satellites tracking changes within the Earth’s core where the magnetic field is generated. Their data reveals both molten iron and nickel are draining out of the Earth’s core. This kind of restless activity also seems to support the poles preparing to flip.
“The United States Space Force put up three satellites last year to keep a close eye on the region where the magnetic field is weakest. Most of you know this area stretches from Chile to Zimbabwe and is known as the South American Anomaly. This area is also showing some significant activity; the region has been eroding three-to-five percent annually since 2025.
“Though no one in this room has lived through one of these flips, the scientific community says the planet has survived many of them. Though we cannot pinpoint a date for the next reversal, we have identified a pattern of time between flips. In 2014, the scientific community published its prediction a Geomagnetic Reversal will likely occur between the years of 2017 and 2032. We are sitting here in the middle of 2029 and seeing undeniable proof that Mother Earth is speeding towards something.
“Let’s go into Section II in your packet entitled, “What would happen?’ This is not to be confused with Hillary Clinton’s book following her failed election bid, What Happened?”
The laughs help break up the tension in the room and seem to be well received by the serious careers represented. “From animal migrations to human communications, a reversal of Earth’s magnetic poles could seriously change life as we know it—or not. I am not trying to be cryptic with you when I say this. We are pondering timing today, not questioning many facets of our lives that depend on the Earth’s magnetic field.
“Should a reversal occur this year, the most obvious change will be the needle on a compass aimed at Antarctica rather than the Arctic. This change would be a simple adjustment for humans. There would be no anticipated loss of life.
“Another small change would be that animals which use Earth’s magnetic field for navigation— including birds, salmon, and sea turtles—could get lost during their routine journeys. They would figure it out within two years. Again, no human casualties would be expected.
“Some of the greater consequences could be realized if the magnetic field gets substantially weaker and stays that way for an appreciable amount of time preceding a reversal. Earth would be less protected from the high energy particles constantly flying around space. This could mean everything on the planet would be exposed to higher levels of radiation. Over time, this could produce an increase in diseases like cancer.
“It is also possible that weaker magnetic fields could also allow winds to punch holes into the Earth’s ozone layer, changing weather patterns. This is probably the first time you’ve heard changing weather patterns within this conversation. New data sent to us yesterday from Space Force suggests we need to be talking about this as well. Copies of their findings are in your packets. The possibility of loss of human life due to changes in weather patterns cannot be measured at this time.
“One valid concern is the possible failure of Earth’s power grids. This one does have the potential of loss of life. If the grids are partially or entirely shut down, some areas of the planet could be rendered uninhabitable within twenty-four hours.
“There’s also the question of the amount of time it would take for a Geomagnetic Reversal to happen. It isn’t likely it would be instantaneous. The most recent flip of the magnetic poles took a total of eighteen months.” Sean moves his fingers quickly over the touch screen. He looks uneasy, Janet thinks. She makes a record of the spot within his presentation where his uncomfortableness occurred.
“Though many nations have been denying that aviation system malfunctions and satellite breakdowns are a possibility with a reversal, we are putting both back on the table. Our reasoning is based upon new information sent to us yesterday from the Space Force. A copy of what we received is in your folder.
“So where does this leave us? My predecessor at NASA used to say, ‘Always offer a solution to any problem you present—and right quick if you know what’s best for you,’ so I’ll be doing that now.”
There is a light laughter at Sean’s comment. Janet uses the break in the tension to scan the room. Most attendees are reading through their folders or scanning the electronic version available to them on the tabletop computers. Everyone seems to be taking the issue very seriously. Her first impression that this was being touted exclusively for its worldwide panic appeal seems to have been wrong.
“If you move to the next page or screen, you will see some potential solutions on the drawing board:
1. Require all satellites launched from Earth from this day forward to be equipped with programming that can self-direct the satellites if communication is interrupted with Earth’s Command Centers. If we act now, we might have enough time to equip the satellites currently orbiting as well. If not, we might have some heavy space junk coming down as a result of a geomagnetic flip.
2. At the first sign of a pole reversal, good planning could move all orbiting satellites into position over the seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface that is water. This could lessen the possibility of injury and property loss on the ground. We cannot say the same for our deep space craft. We might lose some of our more delicate spacecraft that left Earth decades ago. Either way, we see zero loss of human life.
“Our President has been clear with us on his four objectives for this committee. I want to share those now: The first goal is to tighten the projected timeline of a Geomagnetic Reversal. The second objective is to improve the preparedness of the nations to divert, prevent, and/or lessen the damage of a reversal. The third objective is to prepare for the aftermath of a reversal and the establishment of survival support. A fourth objective is to decide when this information should be released to the public. The President has asked me to set some assignments to be completed before our next meeting in four weeks. He is asking us to meet monthly until the committee is dissolved. Here are the President’s objectives for this first month:
Objective One: Provide to this committee anything you have that can help us pinpoint the date of a reversal. Bring us data even if it doesn’t appear to be related to a reversal, but is showing measurable change for no apparent reason. Our universe seems to be very scientifically and mathematically designed. We don’t want to overlook any anomalies just because they don’t seem to be related at first glance.
Objective Two: The President is asking any satellite launched into the Earth’s atmosphere be programmed to continue its role and orbit in the face of a reversal and/or loss of communication. We ask that NASA be allowed to inspect every satellite launched to confirm it meets these specifications. Other nations are welcome to inspect our satellites as well.
Objective Three: Every nation represented in the room is asked to make available its top three engineers who can participate in a laboratory intensive on the prevention of an international power grid failure. The planet’s grids are tightly interconnected. As it stands, a failure in one part could cascade across the planet. We want to investigate the option of creating “walls” between the sections of the grid to preserve partial power where possible. We can reroute power immediately after a damage assessment if we have reliable walls.
Objective Four: Public awareness. We ask that no one leak information on this committee, its purpose, or the probability of a Geomagnetic Reversal until such time that this committee believes it is in the best interest of the citizens to be informed.
“This is all we have for this part of the agenda. The President has requested I add one more statement. The United States intends to continue with its classified operation known as Project 66. The satellite part of Project 66 will not be offered up for inspection. This project was approved by the United Nations Security Council in December 2028. It includes the launching and strategic placement of sixty-six satellites that will be evenly spaced around the planet.
“These satellites are capable of communicating with each other in their own language and are equipped with lasers that connect to create an energy shield around Earth. This shield can potentially protect the planet from small space debris and asteroids. These satellites are also carrying fifty drones capable of nudging small asteroids and space debris out of threatening orbits—and moving them to ones that are more favorable for our planet. The shielding can also offer protection from the sun’s solar flares and the infiltration of radiation that might come from the geomagnetic reverse. No further information will be publicized on Project 66. We feel it’s important that every nation represented here today fully understands that any contributions made to the Geomagnetic Reversal Project do not earn access to any part of Project 66.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Bradley, but I am going to call ‘foul’ on this one. Russia is not here to play any of your games. As we understand it, Mandate #6 put forth at the United Nations Assembly this week demands all space exploration, spacecraft, and satellites be shared by all nations. If voted into policy next month, how will you justify us not being able to use your Project 66, whatever it might be?”
“Project 66 is not filed under space exploration with the U.N. Security Council. It is filed under weapons. Mandate #3 absolves us from needing to discuss any weapon systems with other nations. The President requests you direct any further questions to me in private. My contact information is included in your packet.” In the uncomfortable silence that follows, Sean Bradley collects his notes and takes his seat. The staff member who introduced the President walks to the front of the room and addresses the committee.
“Thank you, Mr. Bradley. President Cohen requests your attention move from the Geomagnetic Pole Reversal to the asteroid approaching Earth. The presenter for this topic is Dr. Cadey Matteson. Dr. Matteson was an Air Force pilot during the Iraqi war and has since earned a doctoral degree in physics from Cornell University. She was appointed to be the first Director of the U.S. Space Force—America’s fifth branch of the military established in 2018 by President Trump.”
The staff member walks to the back of the room, and Dr. Matteson stands at her seat to address the group. Janet is intrigued by the only other female member of the committee besides Vice President Brooke. She has followed Dr. Matteson’s career since she became a sizable donor to the Peace Corps education efforts Janet introduced. Physically, she is Janet’s opposite. Her long blonde hair hangs in a neatly gathered band. Her black suit is very feminine with its curve-hugging tucks and pearl buttons. Her beige blouse wraps around her neck and tucks in neatly like a silk scarf. Dr. Matteson’s reputation has preceded her. Initially, she was nicknamed, “Space Barbie” by a disgruntled Air Marshal, Victor Mitchell, while they both were campaigning for the position. She was granted the appointment and quickly shed the nickname. He went on to be a U.S. Senator representing the state of Idaho.
Dr. Matteson is known for her unflappable focus and for ignoring comments on her looks and dress. Her only response to her opponent was given to the Press in writing, “I want to be clear that I will not make gender an issue in this appointment. I am not going to exploit, for career purposes, my opponent’s inability to look hot in a skirt.” On the tenth anniversary of her post to head the fastest growing branch of the U.S. military, information of her 179 IQ score and precision attack flight missions were released. Overnight, she went from being the average guy’s dream date to the average girl’s dream role-model.
“Hello. I may not know everyone in the room yet, but I look forward to working with you to keep our planet and its inhabitants safe. Please open Confidential Envelope #3 in your packet, entitled Asteroid.
“As I open the conversation on a potential threat of a Near Earth Object, or NEO, I want to credit the European Space Agency, the Herschel Space Observatory, and the Planetary Defense Coordination Administers for assisting us at Space Force with your observations and data collection on the approaching asteroid. I have a feeling we are going to lean on each other by the time we face down the two challenges presented here today.
“Here is one of the greatest threats to our civilization: though we are fairly efficient in identifying and tracking NEOs, we are still in the infantile stage of being able to protect our planet from a NEO larger than the average automobile.
“I’m not certain why this scenario was never played out in the laboratories of our scientists or in the headquarters of our militaries. It may be that those who came before us did not believe we were in danger of NEOs. It may be they decided there was little anyone could do to stop a large asteroid, so why offer it any attention. The reasons are inconsequential at this point.
“What does matter is that we cannot hide from this any longer. There is a very slight possibility that Asteroid Apophis will impact Planet Earth later this year. To be specific, calculations say that the greatest risk is on November 15, as Apophis passes between us and our moon. Currently, the Asteroid is not in position for a hit, but the small wobble it is demonstrating and the proximity of the pass-by are reasons enough to open a conversation. A greater threat of an impact exists as Apophis makes its return orbit on April 13, 2036. If the orbit path remains unchanged, a direct hit is a very real possibility.
“This is what we know as of one hour ago: Apophis is much larger than we thought when it was discovered in 2004. In fact, it is seventy-five percent larger. It appears to be 10-15 kilometers in diameter. This is the size of the meteorite that hit off the coast of Yucatan, Mexico and started a series of events that eventually led to the extinction of many of Earth’s species, including the dinosaurs. Should it impact Earth in the seventy-one percent of our planet that is covered with water, it would threaten sea life and the shore lines of every continent that borders the body of water. If it should happen to hit the twenty-nine percent of our planet that consists of land mass, the number of casualties will depend upon the population of the area.
“Before we sound an alarm, it’s important to remember that meteorites hit Earth every day. Since they are small and usually land in our oceans, they aren’t reported to the masses. The largest meteorite in recent history dropped into Lake Michigan on February 6, 2017. Though we have no fragments to work from, we estimate this one weighed about four tons, and hit Earth with a speed of one-hundred miles per hour. If it had hit the city of Detroit, the devastation is untold and absorbing the losses could have taken decades.
“We, at Space Force, have stopped hoping for a near miss with Apophis, and started planning for a direct hit. Our Project 66 can offer some assistance with its lasers if we get them up in time. It is possible that hitting Apophis with every laser carried by our satellites, we could nudge the asteroid off its orbit by just enough to give us some breathing room on the first pass.
This action comes with a risk: By hitting Apophis, rather than destroying it, we take the chance of intensifying the asteroid’s wobble which could worsen our situation on the return pass.
“We are also examining the possibility of planting nuclear warheads on the asteroid’s surface. In this scenario, we would drop the warheads into prepared ‘deep bedding’ and detonate them on Apophis’s first pass in November. The danger here is the mystery of what we will be facing when the asteroid and/or its pieces reappear from the backside of the sun. It’s like playing Russian roulette—no offense to our Russian representative.” She nods politely to the Russian scientist.
“So, here’s what we need from this committee—every idea and unexamined option you and your scientists can provide. Mostly, we need full cooperation and secrecy. We do not need a world-wide panic. Some of our planet’s curious stargazers are beginning to see this thing coming our way and are calling our satellite centers asking for information. Should you have one, we could use a good ‘diversion story’ to keep these people from blurting out their predictions to tabloids or the evening news programs.
Most importantly, every nation must lay down its weapons and puts its wars on hold to support these planetary matters. If we don’t, there may not be an Earth to fight over. It’s unfortunate that we waited until our planet was threatened to realize we’ve always been on the same team. But, we have, and we must proceed accordingly. Are there any questions?”
“Excuse me, Dr. Matteson, but Russia takes exception with this—the action plan, not the flippant remark about a suicide game.”
“You are laying out the possibility of the annihilation of humans and animals, yet you are continuing to prepare this Project 66. If I am reading this correctly, you feel positive enough that we will survive this asteroid to keep your mystery project going. No one in this room believes you to be the empty-headed optimist as they did before your appointment. We are all familiar with your war-like approach to claim all of space for the United States. Before we cooperate, we will need full disclosure on Project 66.”
Dr. Matteson shifts her eyes momentarily to President Cohen and Vice President Brooke. Since neither one looks up from their papers, she gathers her notes together, and closes her notebook. “I will take your request into consideration. There are no plans to discuss Project 66. We have generously offered it up as part of the strategy to thwart the approaching asteroid.
“It can play an even greater role when the fragments of Apophis complete their journey around the sun and head back in our direction. Clearly, we will have to proceed with this difference of opinion with Russia. At this point, I am closing the meeting. You will receive a copy of the minutes and the time and date of the next meeting by the end of the week. My contact information is also included in your packet. Meeting adjourned.”
Benjamin waits behind Janet until she says her goodbyes. He takes her by the elbow and leads her down the hallway going away from the exit. “Though I have much to say about what happened in there, I can’t address it yet. The President has asked I escort you to the Oval Office.”