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The Last Discovery
--INTERGALACTIC STELLAR ALLIANCE REPORT--
TO: President Kokkurio Yasch’kalli of the ISA
FROM: Captain Schriik Yallan of System 37
RE: System 48-A
I am pleased to report that my squad’s analysis on the newly discovered System 48-A has reached completion. We have found little of interest on eight of the system’s nine planets, other than some primitive species of marine life on a few of a certain gas giant’s moons. On a small blue planet, however, we have found strong evidence suggesting past residence of a primitive, but nevertheless somewhat sentient, bipedal species. I would rate them as a Class-0 civilization at best. The research facility my team explored lacked even the most basic installments, such as large-scale quark diffusers, electron resonators, even a mass-energy converter. It is anyone’s guess how this primitive species even managed to land on their planet’s small moon without blowing themselves up.
One of my cadets found this journal amidst the wreckage of the facility. I think you will find it quite informative as to how this strange species came to an end.
Friday, April 13
Made a most startling discovery. While tracking the paths of various stellar bodies I happened upon something very large. You can imagine my surprise when my calculations revealed that this remarkably large object was following a trajectory straight towards Earth—an asteroid, estimated at perhaps 15 kilometers in diameter. Needless to say, if such a large body were to collide with the planet, it would result in the largest ecodisaster since the extinction of the dinosaurs.
I decided to inform my colleagues immediately. Mr. Darnoc worked in the office adjacent to mine, and I figured he was as good a place to start as any. He was rather overly self-assured, confident man and tended to dismiss any idea not his own, but he was also a man of above-average intelligence. I was sure he would be able to help me should he decide to.
Upon my presentation, however, Mr. Darnoc shook his head. “That’s a comet, Grimms, not an asteroid. Nothing to worry about.”
I squinted at the charts on his computer screen, checking them again for a possible error. “It’s an asteroid, Darnoc. Look at that mass spectrum, there’s no mistaking it.”
Mr. Darnoc shook his head again. “Comets and asteroids have very similar mass spectra. That there is a comet, Mr. Grimms. Here, I’ll show you…”
I frowned. “Even if it is indeed a comet, why on Earth should that mean it’s nothing to worry about?”
“See, if we double-check your mass spectra data, analyze the trajectory this thing has taken…” He was pointing out random digits on the computer screen, still trying to convince me of the celestial body’s true identity.
“I said, if it’s a comet, why does that mean we have nothing to worry about? The thing’s 15 kilometers wide!”
“Oh! Well, a comet’s got considerable amounts of iron deposits. Much higher density than an asteroid as well, asteroids have all sorts of canyons and caves in them… So your comet will take more of a path this way—” He traced a path with the cursor—“I’d say it won’t get within about 500 kilometers away from the atmosphere, at most…”
“Don’t you think it would be best to take a few precautions, just to make sure…?”
“Sorry, Grimms, you can waste time on that if you’d like, but I really have to get back to what I was doing… Good luck, though!”
“Hmph,” I said.
Later, same day
I triple-checked my figures, with the same result. The body was indeed an asteroid (I still wasn’t convinced it made any difference) and was indeed following a trajectory that would bring it dangerously close to the planet in less than two weeks. It was certainly necessary to consult with management to organize some sort of project to alter its course or smash it into smaller pieces, but I felt it necessary to get at least one of my colleagues to back me up.
My next choice was Mr. Biggs, who worked in rocket science. Asteroid-spotting was not, strictly speaking, part of his field, but he would no doubt prove to be invaluable in engineering a proper mission to hinder the asteroid’s progress. More importantly, he was vice-president of his department and carried with him a certain credibility; a degree of authority I could never replace myself. His office was the stuff of dreams: A pristine walnut desk, an ornate landscape on the wall, a large window (a window!) opening up to the nearby coastline, and a shiny state-of-the-art piano-black computer—- no doubt containing something like 12 gigabytes of memory and an 8-core processor capable of trillions of calculations per second—-on which Mr. Biggs was currently playing “Solitaire”.
“Can I help you, Grimms?” Mr. Biggs hastily closed out of his game and spun his chair to face me. He had been alerted of my presence by my reflection in the glimmering black computer case.
“I was wondering if you weren’t too busy, Mr. Biggs,” I said, “I have made a most startling discovery and I simply must take action. Mind if I pull it up on your machine?”
Mr. Biggs frowned. His eyebrows were black and bushy. “Try to keep it short. I’m running a bit behind schedule; the Dunhil Report is due in three days.”
If Mr. Biggs was behind schedule, it was likely because of his playing Solitaire, and nothing to do with my barging into his office, but I kept the thought to myself. Not bothering to explain that my discovery was sure to be of much more importance than the Dunhil Report, I pulled up my charts on his computer and presented them to Mr. Biggs.
He frowned. “This isn’t my department. What happened to Darnoc? I thought he worked in astronomy.”
“Well, yes,” I said, “I talked to him but he seemed to think it was nothing to worry about… something about a higher density than I had calculated… You know how Darnoc is, Mr. Biggs, it was all a load of waffle, really… Anyway, he refused to help me.”
Biggs winced. “And you want me to help you now…? I’m really sorry, Grimms, but I must finish my report. Good luck, though, I’m sure you can do something…”
I took a deep breath. “With all due respect, Biggs, I think an asteroid headed towards Earth is of a bit more importance than your report.”
“And it is indeed headed towards Earth?”
“Yes; if I am correct we can expect a full impact in about twelve days, Mr. Biggs.”
He frowned, scratching his head. “The entire company is depending on me to finish this report, Grimms. You know how it is—this is the report that gets us our millions of dollars in federal funding. If I don’t get it done there’s a good possibility the entire company will go bankrupt.”
“Surely you can postpone it for something as important as the survival of the human race.”
“Well… I really am much too busy, Grimms, but when you put it like that… Tell you what. You’ll need authorization to begin a project like this anyway; let me refer you to the President of my department, Mr. Waters. You may be able to schedule a meeting next week.”
It was better than nothing, so I thanked Biggs and left his office. As it was getting quite late I left the building and drove home. Throughout the trip I wondered whether I would be able to convince anyone of my discovery’s importance. I wondered what I would do if I could not. I wondered what my wife had cooked for dinner and I wondered why every last driver behind me was mercilessly honking his horn. I then noticed I had taken my foot off the gas and was cruising along at a steady ten miles per hour. Quickly corrected this and drove the rest of the way.
It would help my credibility a great deal, I thought, if I were to come up with a formal plan. As I was not particularly knowledgeable in the ways of rocket science, this would prove to be difficult, but really all I needed was something to convince this Mr. Waters that I had at least some idea of what I was doing. After a delicious dinner of steak and potatoes I formally wrote up my calculations to show at management, along with a rough outline of my proposed solution. Took me nearly until midnight. Planned to arrange a meeting first thing the next day.
Damn you, Oswald Mortimer Grimms, today is Saturday! Won’t be back at work ‘till Monday! In my excitement the day before I had forgotten entirely. Thought it would be in poor spirit to go to work on a Saturday, so I played a few rounds of golf with a friend and forgot about the whole issue.
Monday, April 16
Oh, Monday, how I curse you. How I hate and despise you with the utmost contempt. May you drown in a vast ocean filled with piranhas. May you be publicly hanged in the nude by a great length of barbed wire. May you be tarred and feathered and thrown into the fiery depths of Mount Doom. May you meet any sort of painful, untimely demise, really; I don’t care at all how. Didn’t get to sleep until nearly midnight last night; in my fatigued state I nearly rear-ended a pristine, freshly-waxed Porsche Carrera on the way to work. Damn you, Oswald Mortimer Grimms, the insurance surely wouldn’t have paid for that, now would it? Luckily a loud, thrashing metal song playing on the radio woke me. I changed the channel but arrived at work shortly thereafter.
Immediately sought an audience with the President of the rocket science department to present my proposed solution to him, but found that he was unavailable until after lunch. Something about an extremely important meeting involving the head of advertisement. I didn’t know we had a head of advertisement. Worked for a few hours on nothing in particular, and after a quick pastrami sandwich walked over to Mr. Waters’ office. He sat at a large table with a few of his colleagues, hands folded in front of him.
“Take a seat, Mr. Grimms,” he said from behind a pair of spectacles and a large, bushy walrus moustache. I did.
“Mr. Waters,” I said, “Mr. Smith, Mr. Johns, Mr…?”
I nodded to Mr. Edwards. “Gentlemen.” Adjusted my tie. “I regret to inform you of such troublesome news, but I quite unfortunately have discovered a celestial object of considerable mass following a trajectory which, if not diverted, will take said object straight into the path of Earth’s orbit in a matter of less than two weeks.”
“An asteroid, Mr. Waters. If my calculations are correct, it should collide with Earth.”
Waters scratched his nearly bald head, but said nothing.
“Look here, I have my calculations, somewhere…” I dug them out of a folder. “If you and your colleagues would be so kind as to look them over…” I handed them to Mr. Smith, who examined them.
Waters, however, frowned again.
“You... You see, Mr. Waters,” I said, adjusting my tie yet again, “If this asteroid were to collide with Earth, it would likely be the demise of the human race.”
Mr. Waters coughed. “I just don’t get,”—- he adjusted his spectacles—- “what I’m supposed to do about all this. What does this all have to do with my department?”
“Mr. Waters, with all due respect, the survival of the human race is everyone’s department.”
“I’ll have you know, Mr. Grimms, that I am extraordinarily busy this week; I have a meeting with the Department of Research and Technology tomorrow—”
“The Department of Research and Technology can wait, Mr. Waters! Look, as for what this has to do with your department, I have a proposed solution outlined here—”
“Mr. Grimms! If I ever hear that sort of disrespect again you are fired, you hear?”
“Yes, yes, dreadfully sorry…” Mr. Waters couldn’t actually fire me, of course. I wasn’t in his department. I held my tongue.
“Now if you must, tell us of your proposed solution.”
“Well, Mr. Waters, what I have outlined briefly in this handout here,” I passed him several sheets of paper, “is a sort of rocket designed to intercept the asteroid’s trajectory and send a lander down to its surface prepared with explosives which, when ignited, would break the asteroid into smaller chunks, none of which should have sufficient momentum to cause serious damage to Earth… You must realize I am no rocket scientist and the outline is a crude one, but I was hoping your department could give me authorization.”
Mr. Waters frowned. This would be awfully expensive, Mr. Grimms. You would need to file for a grant.”
I winced. I hated filing for grants. “Isn’t there some way we could… I don’t know! But we must act quickly, Mr. Waters! Don’t you see, we could all be dead in less than two weeks!”
“I understand the direness of the situation, Grimms. And I may be able to give you my support, but as for authorization… I don’t have the authority to give you that sort of authorization. You’ll need to speak with someone from the Department of Research and Technology.”
I groaned. The DRT was the company that ran our research facility. “Not the DRT! Mr. Biggs referred me to you!”
“Did he?” Waters gave an amused huff. “I’m afraid he’s mistaken. That young man… head in the clouds all the time… It’s anyone’s guess how he became vice-president. I am quite sorry,” Waters adjusted his glasses again, though he did not look at all sorry, “but we are not allowed to go through with this until we receive authorization. And as this little project is your idea, I think you should be the one to obtain it.”
“Little project”! The nerve! I gritted my teeth as Mr. Waters and his colleagues returned my papers and asked me to leave, as the meeting was now concluded. As I did so, however, Mr. Waters called back to me.
“One more thing, Grimms!” I turned round to see Waters shuffling through a briefcase and producing several more papers. If we kept consuming papers at this rate, I thought, we would clean out the Amazon by mid-afternoon next week, never mind the asteroid. “It would help a great deal if you filled out this form before meeting with the DRT. To help you get authorization.”
I sighed. “I suppose it would.”
“Of course it would! Now, if you please, Grimms, I am really quite busy.”
I nodded and left the office.
Tuesday, April 17
Filing for an opportunity to speak with a Mr. Forrest at the DRT exec building downtown. You’d think it was a top-security government intelligence agency; it was so difficult to make an appointment. Big business these days!
Monday, April 23
It took six days to get an appointment! Six days! The situation, now, was dire. Just how was I to convince Mr. Forrest to authorize a barely thought-through project? That was, I reflected, precisely why I had asked for Waters’ support in the first place! With my asteroid due the day after tomorrow, I figured Humanity’s fate lay in the hands of the DRT. Wondered if it would be a good idea to tell them this, or if it would just lead to getting thrown out of the office.
The exec building was an impressive affair, nearly twenty stories high and seemingly made completely out of glass. Did not stop to admire it, as I was running on a tight schedule. But if the building was impressive, that did not even begin to describe the pristine beauty of Mr. Forrest’s office. After twenty minutes and thirty-one seconds of waiting in the anteroom (I kept careful note of the time) I was invited in. I took a breath and swallowed; hoping that this meeting would be more productive than the last.
Half an hour later
“A rocket?” I had just outlined my plan to Mr. Forrest, but he did not seem particularly impressed. “Hmm… Well, we are currently, of course, very busy, but I think we can get your request filed and if all goes well we can give you the go-ahead in, oh, four or five days, Mr. Grimms.”
I stared. “You’re kidding.”
Forrest shook his head. “You must be patient, Mr. Grimms. In a large corporation such as this, you should be thankful it will only take that long! Why—”
“Mr. Forrest! My asteroid will be here in two days! Why, if we were to start right now we would be hard-pressed to finish in time! Do you have any idea of the gravity of the situation?”
Mr. Forrest stood up. “I do not tolerate shouting in my office!” he shouted. “You scientists! You’re all alike! You know nothing about the real world, all caught up in your theories and equations! You have no idea what it takes to run a business! Now—”
“Mr. Forrest, what in God’s Name could be concerned more with the real world than an asteroid about to destroy it? For God’s sake, shut up and help me out here! Help us all out here!”
“—and if that wasn’t enough, you scientists can’t seem to shut up when someone is talking! Get out of my office, do you hear?”
Wednesday, April 25
It is useless to continue to describe my shouting match with Mr. Forrest. It was, I think, the least productive shouting match I have ever had the displeasure of suffering.
Three hours and counting until impact. After that horrible meeting I had tried halfheartedly to talk to a few more people, but as time was so short my attempts were all in vain. Is this to be the last record of Humanity? Is She to be Her own doom? Curse you, Oswald Mortimer Grimms. You did your best, but curse you. It is a dark day when the people of Earth render themselves unable to work together to escape a danger even as dire, as mutually desperate, as their own total demise. Too caught up in their own personal affairs to even glance at a young scientist’s calculations.
How ironic that the last discovery of Humanity should be the discovery of Her own incompetence!
This ends Mr. Oswald Mortimer Grimms’ journal. It took our top cryptographers nearly three weeks to translate it from the native Earth language, but I believe, as I hope you do as well, Mr. President, that it was time well-spent. The report gives us a great deal of insight about these creatures’ technological achievements at the time of their extinction. The computer Grimms mentions on page two, for instance, seems to make use of a primitive form of binary computing, rather than the quantum method we are familiar with. I imagine it used a silicon-based processor as well.
The fact that an asteroid a mere fifteen kilometers in diameter could wipe out their entire civilization is quite surprising considering this species’ technological standing. It is strange they had not even thought to set up so much as an antimatter screen to protect themselves from such bodies; though they easily could have, as they have achieved travel to their small moon.
That being said, Mr. President, I believe that in merely a few years’ time this planet will be fit to support life once more. If all goes well, we should have a full-scale amusement park and several condominiums installed within the decade.