An accident on a space station results in several deadly comets heading toward Earth.
|In the year 3123 the Blubbler telescope, located high above the moon's terraformed atmosphere, happened to be pointed at the asteroid belt. The Blubbler was on automatic scanning, sweeping the sky while helping astronomers and searching for signs of alien invaders. It was part of the Earth's Universal First Warning System, a two-hundred-billion dollar segment of the "Belt of Peace" and sported a 300mm "Happiness" rocket launcher below and alongside its 200inch mirror.
Since no such invasion -- or even possible invaders -- had ever been spotted, the two astronomer-gunners aboard were sitting with drinks in hand, watching retouched "I love Lucy" episodes on a large holograph screen. At that moment, Lucy and Fred had finished killing a gaggle of French terrorists and just settled down to a sexual session where Fred, wearing a gorilla suit whilst hanging from a skyhook, prepared to thru....
Sirens wailed, jolting Jim Jimson's hand from his lap and shriveling another appendage. He jumped up to run to a nearby computer terminal where red lights flashed, along with the burp-farting of Belly Bells.
"Aliens. Aliens. Warn the Earth and President 'Teddy'," he screamed to his companion, a cyborg named Fred. Jim, hand on the triggering device of the cannon, peered through a telescope lens, trying to identify any eminent threats.
Fred -- being part machine -- was more levelheaded, which is why he was there in the first place. He rolled over to a computer terminal and plugged himself in. "Asteroid SV784 changed course, Jim," he said, turning off both warning lights and farts. "I set the computer to track its new trajectory."
"Oh," whispered Jim. Then a thought struck him. "A space alien must have done it. Right?"
"Fraid not. We never have found any of those things."
"You mean I can't shoot the gun. Is that what you're really saying? I done been here eight years, an ain't shot it yet. Darn it. Darned missing Aliens."
"I dunno, Jim. I suppose, if you need to, the taxpayers can spare a few million."
"Yippeeeeee! What should I shoot at? You got any ideas? Maybe old SV784?"
"I don't think that's a good idea. At least not until we have time to compute its new course. We can't have those things zipping around at random, you know? Right now, those asteroids are pretty stable."
"I wanna." Before Fred could intervene, Jim launched two missiles at the errant asteroid, old SV784, then stepped back to the screen to watch. An hour later, the "Happiness" missiles hit, sending the asteroid careening into several others. They, in turn, hit a dozen of their fellows, which resulted in changing numerous orbits. It took weeks to escalate, asteroid bouncing off asteroid, slowly changing the paths of thousands more. The computer couldn't keep track of all their paths, but could report one thing. Some were headed toward earth, at least four too large and massive to be deterred by Happiness, Perpetual Peace, or even Screwit missiles.
"Uh, Fred .... can't we keep this our secret? Huh."
Despite his pleas, Fred radioed the information back to earth.
Theodora "Teddy" Rose Velt grew livid when she heard the news. Besides being the first black Jewish female to be appointed to the Presidency by the news media, Teddy happened to be the first Neo-Conservative holding that position in over one-hundred years. Her first thoughts were about the best, slowest, and most efficient way to kill Jim Jimson.
"That's what you get for appointing brother-in-laws to important positions," Vice President Richard "The Dick" Chenoy told her. "Tell that rummy Secretary of Defensive Deathsquads to send a few divisions up there and set things right for Democracy."
"Can't. They don't have enough defensive armament. You know, like clothes that keep empty space out."
"You mean air in, not space out."
"I'm President. I know what I mean, and you know darned well that I intend to mean when I know what I mean. Understand?"
"Uh ... yeah. Anyway, they ain't got enough of those things."
It's about time we Democroziesed those rocks up there. They terrorize me, so they must be terrorist rocks."
"Democroziesed isn't a valid word."
"I'm the President. If I say it, it's a word."
The Dick hurried to inform various think tanks around the country. Until a solution was reached, it was thought best to hide facts from commoners, though big businesses were told. A hit by even one asteroid would affect their bottom lines.
Since Congress couldn't be trusted, contacting them was up to the discretion of various CEOs. Only the heads of the news media were told, even that in secret. Following tradition, they agreed to downplay any leaks of information.
It was felt that, in the interests of national defense, panic would not be a very good thing. Also, if foreign countries learned the US had doomed the entire planet, the country might be blamed.
At all costs, a financial panic with a resultant drop in real estate values worldwide was to be avoided -- with emphasis on the impact areas. Who would buy real property, or even a high-value item, if they knew it would soon be incinerated?
The only positive act of Teddy's was to order her brother-in-law to pack a lunch and walk out to survey the damage he'd caused. Fred helped Jimson pack and shoved him out a airlock.
That's where I come in. I'm in my living room, a drink beside me and watching "Gunstroke" on a holograph screen as I write a love letter to my sweetie, Olive Oliver. She's threatened to leave me for a one-eyed sailor.
I was a general during the French Canadian Conflagration, the first war we won in many years. We had the Mexican army on our side, which made all the difference.
After the war, during which my regiment captured the Canadian dictator, Colonel Pauline Bunion -- knocking her off her ox -- I somehow ended up as ambassador to China. After that, being a war hero, I entered American politics with an appointment as Chief of Spacial Relations. It's an honorary position, which is all a Democrat can expect in a Republican Neo-Conservative administration. A token Dem, or simply Dem Dem, they call me.
Since I can order myself to work at home and still get paid for it, I don't mind a bit. The position comes with a mansion in Florida and I can charge my expenses to the government.
It's a boring though happy life ... until The Dick calls me.
"Charlie. We need your help. We ... we got a problem." He explains it to me, "So, we've decided to evacuate Earth before one of those things bounces off our heads. The experts in our think tanks gave us that advice, as well as threatened to blow the whistle if they're not included."
"That means very large spaceships will be needed for all those swelled heads," I tell him.
"It's all right. Since they threatened us, we arrested them as terrorists and shipped them to secret prisons in occupied France. Don't worry about those guys.
"We, Teddy and myself, want you to be in charge of the exodus. Get us enough ships and make up a list of qualified passengers. My wife says to make certain her hairdresser is included."
"And who all knows about this project?"
"Teddy, myself, and the news media. That's all. There's no way it can leak out to the public."
"What about that idiot that started it? We can't let him blab."
"He's out for a one-way walk. I don't expect him back."
"I have to be in complete charge. Right? And why me?"
"Sure. I wouldn't touch it and neither will Teddy. With a Democrat in charge, a war vet, nobody will think it's important. If a Neo-Con were in charge, there might be riots."
"Speaking of riots, we have to tell the public."
"You're shitting me. Aren't you?"
"Dick. Think about it. Sooner or later they'll find out. It's better if we tell them something."
"Something they can understand. We'll say we can take ten-billion of them as passengers. Then start building 100,000 spaceships out of cardboard and driftwood, maybe powered by 'clean' coal. With the press on our side, they'll believe it. We'll hold a lottery, the winners to be saved."
"I'm not riding in any of those things."
"We'll also build real spaceships, enough for the important people. Maybe about 50,000, all together."
"And families, and staff, and I'll want to take my Rolls Royce with me. Better make that 100,000 real ones, plus supplies."
"That's a lot harder, and expensive," I remind him. "I don't think we have either the materials or the skilled workers to do it in time."
"Teddy says she'll need a ship for herself. Don't forget that."
"Leave it to me. I'll work out something."
I finish my drink, turn off the holograph, and get busy scribbling plans.
The next morning, I hire a staff of experts, making the excuse that we're going to need the spaceships to invade IO, up in the Jupiter area. Population there being minus-zero, I don't think the Iowans will complain.
It being a Neo-Conservative administration, that's conceivable. Neo-Cons don't need any reason to go to war. One good thing is that Teddy agrees to save money for the project by declaring victory and shutting down the four wars we're presently engaged in, meaning no wars at all. That money is needed to build space craft. The decision has an added bonus of improving our popularity with the rest of the world.
Although against normal policy, the news media goes along with the project, telling the truth for a change. The population of the world is shocked, at first, then hurries to buy tickets for the lottery. Leaders of countries are placated by being assured of room on vessels being built all over the world by American workers.
On State inspections, few notice piles of coal, empty non-recyclable soda bottles and cardboard rather than metal panels being used in their construction. Those that do are ignored by news reporters.
"Charlie." A staff astronomer runs into my office. "Charlie. Fred on Blubbler has identified two asteroids barrel-assing right at the earth. They'll strike in another eight months."
"Tell Tim to order more coal and cardboard," I tell him. "We don't have much time."
I've also assembled lists made of prospective passengers for the real spacecraft. Although including the President, Vice President and the entire White House staff, the rest of the passengers are to be craftsmen needed to work on a new colony.
Since Venus has already been terraformed into a livable environment, I'm using our few available spacecraft to ferry goods and needed personnel to that planet. Those older ships can carry, at most, fifty or so passengers at a time. It's a matter of oxygen and water for the trip. Adding passengers means less vital cargo. At least we'll have a head start before the new ships are built and get there.
Almost immediately, we have problems. Despite the upbeat drift of the news media, there are a few riots. The first attacks are against politicians having precedence over common people. To placate the mobs, President Teddy Rose Velt disallows automatic preference for the politicians of the world -- a secret provision exempting the US. She tries the same with our Supreme Court, who declare their own exclusion as unconstitutional.
Then we get to the pork. Each time I look at a list of necessary working passengers, I find more and more of them replaced by actors, actresses, friends and mistresses -- few of which have skills necessary to a new colony. When I see those lists, I have to go over them again, changing back to the originals.
I find you can't reason with a Neo-Con. Reason and logic mean nothing to them. I suppose if their toilet at a new home on Venus gets plugged up they'll call for a hairdresser or tailor. Finally, since I'm too busy to check them every day, I give it up. The last time I looked, we had one plumber and two carpenters left on the list, both being Neo-Con relatives.
Meanwhile, not being completely naive about politics, I make my own plans and keep my own lists. Among them is a crash mail-order course in carpentry for my girlfriend, Olive.
The politicians take a new tack. Almost unanimously, if a spaceship is being built in their state, they insist they're included or we move the construction somewhere else. That results in all of the real ships being built in my state of Florida, which suits me just fine. Both senators and the governor here are high on legal pot and don't give a damn.
With the real spaceships almost built, I call The Dick at the White House.
"Dick," I say, "I've set a date. I'll tell the world to hold their final lotteries just before Christmas, with the results given out on New Year's Day. The ships will be loaded during the month of January, takeoff on the third of February."
"And when do we load the real ships?"
"On Christmas Day, while the parades are going on. Everyone will be used to the activity and in a good mood. They might not notice a few thousand people loading near them and taking off. If they do, it will be too late to stop us.
"I'll send the construction workers to the real vessels for a final check a week before Christmas, on the Sunday before. Since their work has already been gone over three times, I don't expect any problems. However, it's better to be safe. They'll bring their families and have parties at and on the craft. Then I'll still have a week to clean up for us real passengers."
"I'll spread the word," Dickie said. "See you on Venus."
It's a nice day in the middle of December, clear and not too cold. I'm at a party on SS809, spending my time kissing babies and talking to construction workers. We're all in good moods, our work finished. Although drinks are available for us men, the women are busy strapping in children. My girl, Olive, working as a carpenter, is helping the wives.
On the drive over, I saw a news report showing the White House, reporters noticing most of its lights on, although it was almost midnight there. I suppose Teddy and the rest of the Neo-Cons are busy with last-minute packing.'' After all, so they think, they have another week, until Christmas day, to pack and load. I can't help laughing.
When I arrived, I sent my driver home. He won't be needed tonight. In an hour or so, we're going to take off for Venus, along with the older ships on their last flight from earth.
The ships will be filled with real workers and their families. A certain one-eyed sailor won't be with us. Let them damned Neo-Cons and other world leaders piss up a rope or try the cardboard spaceships. We'll have no problem doing without them pricks.