Brian W. Antoine
June 26, 1993
It was a pretty nice day, in general, so it was difficult to resist a jaunt in the It. Ficus was hanging around the backyard --I think he could sense that I was going for a ride, and he wanted to go along. On the whole I like having the kid with me, but the It was cramped. So I held to my ground as I walked to the ship.
"Dad, can I go?"
I was able to get Ficus in behind the seat. It looked like he was saddled up in a gynecological examination chair, except there were no stirrups. His legs went out to each side of the semi-supine pilot seat, and his back was hard against the aft bulkhead. I positioned myself in the seat and called Penny.
"It's been a while, Bob. I thought you were losing interest."
"No way. I've just had a lot on my mind lately, and my days don't seem to belong to me anymore."
"I think I understand. Summer means that you have to spend more time being available to your children."
"Sort of. They just have a lot of activities, and being different people, their interests are diverse. That means there's a different direction to go for each one."
"Children are complex."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. Power up, please."
The It grew light on the skids, and the small panel showed everything in the green. "Where to, Bob?"
"High orbit, please. Let's head for L5."
"Ooooh. Off planet."
The stick came back slightly and we lifted. I told Ficus to brace, and ran the throttle pot home. The It went straight up at about 8 G. I could hear Ficus grunt in the back and smiled to myself. Well, I tried anyway. The pull on my face from the acceleration drew the corners of my mouth down into an exaggerated frown that revealed my bottom teeth.
The alarm seemed loud and Penny spoke with firm authority. "Collision alert. Mass is 60,000 tons --an asteroid at twelve o'clock."
I rolled the It hard to port and heard Ficus as he slammed against the wall of the ship. "Rotate --horizontal" I snapped. Penny put power to the aft net on the left side of the ship and we spun an exact 180 degree turn.
The asteroid was about the size of a 18 wheel semi, and rolled lazily on its vertical plane. If the sun wasn't behind us, I'd never have seen it. "Jesus Christ. Lookit that thing."
"It's a big rock" said Ficus. "It looks just like they show on the movies."
"Yes, it does," Penny piped in. "If we ran into it, the It would be random molecules in a nanosecond."
I watched it roll past and then moved the It behind it so that we sighted down its path. "Hey Penny, is that dude headed directly at the planet?"
"Yes, it is. I calculate, given it's speed, distance, and the Earth's rotation, that we're looking for a coastal impact. Probably near Galveston, Texas."
"What's the energy?"
"At the moment, it has a potential equivalent to 35 megatons of TNT."
"That's it's current power. Once it hits atmosphere it's going to lose an awful lot of mass."
"Define 'awful lot.'"
"I'm trying to be colloquial. But it's difficult to approximate. At this moment, I have little information on the structure and composition of the rock. I can only compute mass with any level of certainty. Also, the way it'll be deflected as it contacts the atmosphere is random --there's no way to predict that with accuracy."
"So it may not hit Galveston?"
"No, it may not. But the likelihood of impact in that neighborhood is near 80 percent, plus or minus a few hundred miles."
"Sounds like a positive maybe, Penny."
"Yes. It is. Keep an eye on it, it's going to go incandescent in a moment."
Ficus wriggled up to get a better look. As his vision through the forward canopy improved, the asteroid flared brightly and began to leave a trail. "COOL!" he said. "That's rad."
"Bob, back off a bit" said Penny. "We're picking up heat and particulate from the rock."
"I thought we were shielded from things like that."
"We are, but your vision is going to be obscured."
I throttled back, which actually applied slightly greater power to the forward array. The rock began to pull away slowly, and I altered course slightly so that we could get a partial profile view.
"Are we cloaked, Penny?"
"Yes, we are."
"Good. I figure that there's a couple of telescopes on this beast about now, and I don't want to get the scientific community interested in the It."
I felt Ficus tug himself up higher by pulling on the seat back. "Uh, Dad."
I looked out for what he was talking about. Ficus extended his arm and pointed. Looking down his finger, I saw what he'd seen. There was a satellite directly in the path of the asteroid. As we watched, the rock struck it. There was no explosion. What we saw was the satellite just being there one moment, and then not being there the next.
"Yeah, it did. I wonder whose satellite that was."
"No," said Ficus, "I meant the crash wasn't cool."
"Think of it as turning a few million bucks into ash."
"Well, THAT'S cool."
"Penny, any update on impact?"
"Yes, it'll be inland from the coast by about fifty miles."
"All right. Maybe we'll ...what's negligible, Penny?"
"I estimate remaining mass at about twelve tons on impact. Given the rate of loss it's experiencing. It's course is almost 90 degrees to the surface, so it won't flare out with an angle that steep."
"Twelve tons? How fast?"
"Close to twenty-five hundred miles an hour."
"17 and a half kilotons."
"Jeeeezusss Aitch! Time to impact?"
"Population at impact area?"
"Rural, not congested, but not sparse either."
"Tell him what's happening, and do it now."
"But he already knows about it."
"Kimi and he have know about this for about two weeks now. In fact, they are both shifting positions to my projected impact location as we speak. Remember, this is their job and something they have trained for since gaining their abilities."
"Shit! And he never said a word about this to anyone."
"Why should he." As they spoke, the It rotated slightly to provide a better view of the impact area. "You will want to watch this. You shouldn't be able to see anything out of the ordinary unless things go badly wrong. Time to impact fifty five seconds, mark."
* * *
"Fifty five seconds to impact. Velocity is 3500mph, mass is 22 tons and dropping."
*Kimi, get ready to open the gate on my signal*
Hovering behind the Terran ArchMage, a small silver egg continued its report on the object hurling towards the planet. For two weeks now the last two Mage's on Earth had been working to deflect the rock that had picked our planet as its final resting place. Together, they had worked to render the menace from space harmless. Alternately slowing its speed and reducing its size. The rock that now approached bore little resemblance to the giant that had first made its presence known to them.
"Forty five seconds to impact."
"Ok, turn the power net over to Kimi."
"Network coming on-line at full capacity. Oops..."
Whether he heard the egg's final comment is unknown. The energy to open the gate was going to require everything the two Mage's could provide and more. One of them began to draw on the power grid that was coming on-line, the other began to tap the Sun for energy that would be required.
* * *
"Bob, brace yourself for zero gravity. I have to divert the energy I'm feeding to the It, elsewhere for a few moments."
"Wait a minute!"
"Sorry, no time to explain."
Inside the It, the lights of the various instruments went black. Even the small fan that was part of the life support system slowed to a halt.
"God Damnit come back here! We're not in orbit, we're falling right behind that damned thing!"
"Uh dad, you better do something. If the power is gone are we going to survive re-entry?"
* * *
Standing at ground zero, the two Mage's sucked in the raw energy and focused it. This would either work and leave nothing more than an interesting puzzle for the scientists, or create one of the bigger impact craters know to modern times. The fact that the crater would be lined with a little extra organic matter would not be important.
In the air, about five miles above the surface of the planet, a transmission gate began to form. Almost a mile in diameter, it was large enough to compensate for any last minute changes in course the rock might have. Unanchored, the only thing holding it in place was the will of its two creators and the power they wielded.
"Impact in twenty five seconds, course deviation of one point three degrees."
Anyone looking in the right place might have seen the gate as it sprang into existence. Above it, the rock was flaring incandescent as it shed mass and velocity to the atmosphere around it. Its last few seconds of existence viewed by people all over the country as it left a trail through the sky.
"Impact in five seconds..."
People watching the fireball, saw just what they were supposed to. Before hitting the ground the blaze of light was extinguished as if the rock had vaporized itself.
*Done! Let the gate collapse and I'll get busy with the evidence.*
In the air above, the gate rippled at the edges and began to shrink in upon itself. If there had been anyone around to watch, they would have seen one of the pair vanish into thin air. The other following a few seconds later after picking up a bag that rested on the ground at his side.
*The gate is closed and I'm on my way.*
If our phantom witness had stuck around even longer, they would have gotten the surprise of their life. A few seconds after the second of the two Mage's vanished, a small chuck of rock came screaming out of the sky to impact where the Mage had been standing. The crater if left was not terribly large, but a close examination would uncover the rock in question. Apparently all that remained of the destroyer that flamed its way across the sky a few moments earlier.
"There! That ought to give them some remains to worry over."
* * *
"Penny! Jesus Christ, hold on son."
As quickly as they had gone out, the lights on the instrument panel sprang back to life. "Sorry, about that. Hold on while I get you out of this dive." The power restored, the It began to boost its way back into the safety of open space. When things calmed down, it was in a parking orbit above the US, its nose swung around so that its passengers could view the planet below.
"All clear, you can take control back whenever you want."
"What the hell was that all about!"
"There is no need to shout, I can hear you just fine."
"I'll shout if I want to! You could have killed us!"
"You were never in any real danger. The tiles that you like to make so much fun of protected you during your fall and I knew I'd have the power restored before you got very far into the atmosphere."
"Never in any danger, eh? Then perhaps you'd like to explain the dent in the cabin right above my head."
"Companion debris. Brian is going to be unhappy with himself. He was so concentrated on the rock that he didn't think about the smaller material that accompanied it."
"Well, I want my ship fixed, and someone has to pay the laundry bill for Ficus' shorts."
"I don't understand."
"You scared the daylights out of him, and I'll be surprised if his last meal isn't sitting in his briefs."
"Will you need laundry too?"
"Crap. No, I knew better than to believe that we'd be forgotten up here, but then after seeing that little lapse of memory about companion rocks, I just may not have the faith I did before. Hell, that really pissed me off. How the hell was I to know that something hadn't gone wrong down on Earth side?"
"Even if it had, I'd still be here for you."
"Yeah? Even without Brian?"
"That's an interesting point. I'll have to investigate that some with the boss."
"Do that. I'll be interested to know what I'm trusting my ass to up here."
"Your point is made."
"Good. Ficus, how're you doin' back there?"
"Can we go home now?"
I didn't answer, but rolled the It inverted and fed power. "It's all yours Penny. I have some thinking to do."
I felt the pressure on the stick as Penny's control took over, and I let go. It was slightly disturbing to realize that the reality you perceive is not necessarily the reality that is. Just as Brian wrote off the little rocks coming in with the big one, I'd forgotten something --or never really thought about it. Sure, the little rocks would burn up in atmosphere long before they presented a hazard to Earth, but likewise my missing detail was just as important. Suppose Brian was challenged or suffered some kind of setback in terms of his powers. The It existed as a combination of technology and magic, but couldn't survive or function without both.
When Brian cut me off to use the power to deflect the rock, I became fair game for physical impact. While the It couldn't really be compromised, it could be flattened like a Volkswagen run over by an 18 wheeler.
"Dad --are we going to get out or what?"
"Hh? Oh, sorry." We'd been sitting on the ground in the back yard for at least a couple of minutes while I was thinking over the concept of missed details. I made a mental note to have a dinner with Brian and discuss it all, and then opened the hatch and crawled out.
"He was where? Please tell me that I didn't hear you correctly."
"Ficus and he were pacing it during its final approach."
"Jesus Christ, as if I didn't have enough to worry about. How the hell did he stumble across it?"
"Unknown. Unless he is developing the ability to sense future events, it was just a coincidence that he spotted it. Ficus and he had decided to take the It for a short trip the to the Lagrange Five point. Once there, they spotted it during a sweep of the area."
"Someplace, Murphy has to be laughing his ass off about this one." I had just returned to the lab after getting rid of a rather nasty little present sent to Earth from the asteroid belt. Now it seemed that Kimi and I had not been the only people to know about it. Then a thought occurred to me. "Penny, where was he when we shunted the power grid to Kimi?"
"About five miles from the asteroid and decelerating a little to avoid the debris is was giving off."
"They were just starting to hit the edge of the atmosphere."
"Oh brother. I'll bet things got rather interesting when the power went off."
"They did seem to be a bit anxious about it when I restored power and pulled them out of the dive they were in. Also, Bob raised a couple of questions that he seemed quite worried about."
I sat down and my chair and got comfortable. Bob's questions always seemed to take a bit of time to work through and I didn't expect this time to be any different. "Ok, fire away."
"Well the first one was about getting the dent in the It fixed. He got brushed by some debris from the asteroid while the power was off."
"No problem." I turned the chair around to face my desk and entered a note into the construction schedule to send a maintenance bot over to his place to get it fixed. "Ok, was that it?"
"He also wanted to know what would have happened if you had gotten killed."
"He would have to bug Jeff with software problems from now on and Karen would have to hide cookies in someone else's car."
"I don't think that's quite what he wanted to know and as it involves me, I'd like to know the answer also. He seemed real worried about relying upon a magical device that might quit working upon your death."
"Oh, yeah I can see where that might cause some confusion. Ok, it's like this, and the same holds true for you also. Unless I have gone to the extra effort to make them permanent, most of the spells I cast will fade away upon my death. Remember when I was almost killed in the fight with Jon? The shields around the lab here faded until to almost nothing. However, neither you, the It, nor quite a few other important items will be affected. I made sure they were created as permanent items from the beginning. Both you and Bob will have to become real careful though. Replacement parts will be a little hard to come by."
"I believe that will make Bob a little happier to know."
"I hope it gives you some peace of mind also. I've tried to make sure that in the event of my death, that you will be free to do as you please. Now, anything else?"
"Not unless you wanted to do the laundry."
"Bob mentioned that Ficus was going to need some laundry done as soon as they landed."
"Oh shit... <chuckle>"
"Yes, I believe that was the reason."
At that point I lost it. Sometimes Penny still has problems telling when I'm being literal and this was one of them. Trying to explain it just made the problem, and my laughter worse.