Here is the beginning of the book. (It's still the first draft, so every word is subject to change!)
In the far-off reaches of space, two planets collided.
The colossal forces involved equaled that of several billion hydrogen bombs. The two planets tore one another apart, shattering continents and hurling city-sized chunks of crust and mantle in every direction. One such chunk struck the tiny third moon of the larger planet, pulverizing a quarter of the moon and sending the remainder, split into two large pieces, spinning off into space in different directions, as if in a cosmic game of billiards.
The larger piece of moon raced through the darkness for years without end, crossing the interstellar void. Transit through a solar system altered its course several times. Gravitational forces caused it to whip around planets and suns and increase its speed immensely. Two more such transits followed, millions of years apart.
Untold eons later, nearing the end of its epic journey, it skipped through the Oort Cloud of an insignificant star system near the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. A glancing blow with a huge frozen ball of methane did no real damage to the moon, merely breaking off a small mountaintop, but nudged it into a slightly different trajectory. Next, it pierced the heliopause. The solar wind streaming outward worked to slow the moon’s speed slightly and changing its path minutely. A near miss by a massive ice object, as the moon streaked through the Kuiper Belt, tweaked its course by a hair in another direction.
The seductive siren’s call of the sun’s gravity drew the moon in. It picked up speed again, little by little and subtly altered its trajectory—a fraction of a degree at first, but eventually several degrees sunward. The moon, which before would have passed through the solar system unnoticed, now would never leave.
It had found a home.
October 27, 2086 6:11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST); 2:11 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT); approaching Edwards Air Force Base, California.
“Edwards Control, this is Athena requesting landing clearance.”
“Good morning, Athena. You’re clear to land on runway Two-Two Left.”
“Morning, Jeff. Roger that. Two-Two Left it is.”
Marty Torrance clicked off his mic and turned to his copilot. “Right on time, looks like. Whaddaya say we get some breakfast when we’re done here?”
Stefi Woodruff nodded. “Sounds good. But what about Marie?”
“She won’t be up for hours. If I go straight home, I’ll just wake her up. And you know how grumpy she gets when she doesn’t get her beauty sleep.”
Stefi chuckled. “Too true.”
Marty toggled the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, please secure your belongings and take your seats. We’re about to begin our final descent. We should be landing in approximately twenty-three minutes. Thank you.”
He toggled the intercom and wished he could scratch his nose through the faceplate of his helmet. Two minutes later, he pushed the yoke forward slightly and the hyperplane dipped its nose toward the ground.
* * *
October 27, 2086 8:26 a.m. PST; Mt. Palomar, California.
“Doctor, we have a problem.”
“Eh? What’s that? Trouble with the interferometer again?” Robert Rosselli looked up at his research assistant over half-moon reading glasses. Her eyes were red and puffy, as if her best friend had just died. “Are you all right?”
Maria Lundquist shook her head. “It-it’s not me.” A few golden strands had escaped her severe bun and floated beside her left ear. “I-I’d rather you see for yourself.”
“Can it wait?” He held up a sheaf of papers. “I have to finish the budget request—”
“No, sir. It can’t.”
Rosselli sighed and removed his glasses. “Very well. Lead on.” He slid the folded readers into his shirt pocket and stood.
Lundquist led him around the curve of Palomar Observatory to her office. She handed him several photos and a stack of printouts.
“What am I looking at?” Fumbling for his readers, he sat on the corner of her desk.
“This photo was taken at 10:03 last night. The software logged the object’s location—just another Near Earth Object. The next photo was taken an hour later. As usual, the software logged its new position and calculated speed and trajectory. It triggered an email alert because the probability of impact with Earth was calculated to be twelve percent. The alert was sent to me. I saw it when I came in this morning.”
“So? Plenty of NEOs trigger alerts at first, until later observations refine the trajectory.” Noting the tremble of her pointing finger, he asked, “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine, doctor. Listen to me. The next photo, at 12:03, raised the probability to thirty-one percent. By the time I checked my email at eight this morning the equipment had taken seven more exposures and further refined the trajectory. The probability of Earth impact had increased to seventy-four percent.”
Rosselli’s eyes went wide. “Seventy-four? Is that what’s got you spooked?”
“How big is this thing?”
Rosselli’s olive skin paled. He ran a hand through his hair. “How far out is it?”
“Less than thirteen days.”
“Jesus! How come we didn’t spot it sooner?”
Lundquist shrugged. “Its albedo is extremely low. It’s nearly pitch black and coming in from above the plane of the ecliptic. We’re lucky we spotted it at all.”
“Extrasolar, then. I’d better notify the President that we have a potential Code Black.”
Lundquist nodded. “B-but you can remove the word ‘potential.’ While I was reading my email, the alert came in for the 8:03 photo.” She swallowed and pointed to the latest printout. “Th-the software now pegs the probability of impact at 98.73 percent.”
* * *
October 27, 2086 4:02 p.m. EST; Washington, D.C.: Twelve days thirteen hours until impact.
“Gentlemen, please be seated.”
Arrayed around the table before Miranda Rodriguez sat the Joint Chiefs, the President’s Science Advisor, National Security Advisor, Chief of Staff, and various other trusted staff members and assistants.
“Vice President McNamara is en route from the WHO summit in Brisbane. He’s joining us from Air Force 2. Good morning, Andrew. Sorry to wake you.”
The image of the youthful, wavy-haired veep nodded. “Good afternoon, Miranda.”
“Before we begin, does anyone have anything new to bring to the table?”
Stony silence met her words.
“Very well.” She nodded in the direction of her Science Advisor. “Many of you already know why we’re here, but for those who don’t, Jonathan will fill us in. Jonathan?”
“Thank you, Madam President.” Jonathan Clauswicz, a tall, distinguished, middle-aged man with slightly stooped shoulders and thinning brown hair, stood and swept the room with his eyes. “Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t beat around the bush. We’re about to be hit by a meteor—a big one.” He pressed the remote and the large viewscreen at the far end of the room lit up with a single image. “This one.”
The still frame seemed to show nothing at first. Then Clauswicz zoomed in on the upper-right quadrant of the image. The object was dark, barely visible against the backdrop of a dusty nebula. “It’s been designated 2086 UZ2. The name doesn’t really matter. What matters is it’s huge, it’s fast, and it’s coming right at us.”
Those already in the know heard the news again with impassive faces. The others turned pale; several gasped. Eyes went wide and fear showed on many faces.
A hand rose in the back. It was one of the junior staffers—there to take notes, not to speak.
Clauswicz nodded toward the young man. “Yes, Adam?”
“I-I’m sorry to interrupt, sir. But how big is it, where is it going to hit, and what are our chances?”
“I was just coming to that.”
“Sorry, sir.” Adam shrank back into his seat.
“Don’t worry about it, son. I’m sure those were the top questions on everyone’s mind. It’s expected to hit somewhere in Western Europe or the eastern North Atlantic. But that’s not important.”
He clicked the remote several times and another image appeared. “To put it in perspective, this is Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. It’s three-quarters of a mile across and almost 600 feet deep and it was created by a meteor only 150 feet in diameter. The meteor that presumably killed off the dinosaurs and two-thirds of all life on earth 65 million years ago was about six miles across. This one is more than a hundred miles across. Scientists are calling it a planet killer.”
The audible gulp from one staffer would have been comical under other circumstances. Then a young lady ran from the room with a hand over her mouth. She barely made it around the corner before the sound of a splash followed by retching echoed back through the closing door.
Clauswicz acknowledged the event with a tight smile. “Yes, that was pretty much my reaction when I first heard the news. To answer the obvious question, when scientists say ‘planet killer’ they don’t necessarily mean that the Earth itself will be destroyed, but that all life on Earth almost certainly will be. So, you see, it really doesn’t matter where it hits.
“This isn’t some sci-fi movie where we’re going to fly up there and blow up this rock in the nick of time. The goddamn thing is bigger than the state of New Jersey. I’ve already spoken with several renowned scientists and the Joint Chiefs individually. The consensus is that we—and by ‘we’ I don’t mean the United States, I mean the total resources of the planet—have nothing in our arsenal that can deflect or destroy this killer. ”
Clauswicz again swept the room with his eyes. “Just to be clear, our job here isn’t to try to find a way to keep the meteor from hitting Earth. It’s to find a way for the human race to survive the impact.”
He paused to take in the faces of those around the conference table. Those faces showed fear, yes, but no panic. “I know you’re all in shock and your first reaction is to scream and run home to be with your families. I wish we had that luxury, but this is more important than you and me. The survival of mankind is at stake. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d like to think that given enough time, we’d get over our petty Earthly squabbles and expand out into the universe to see and do amazing things. But before that can happen, we have to survive as a species. Those of us in this room have to resign ourselves to the fact that we are all going to die.”
He took a deep breath to give the others a moment to accept the reality of the situation. “I know that’s a scary thought. Come to grips with that and you can focus on your jobs. I know this sucks, but if we’re going to die, let’s go out doing something important—more important than anything we’ve done before.
“We have approximately 301 hours left to live. Let’s make them count.”