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New – 20 August 2005

A Glancing Blow



George reread the last equation on the computer monitor. His mind roamed free, trying to see it from a different light. He evaluated each algebraic symbol and considered the physical aspect of reality that it represented. Putting his fingers to his right temple, he pressed, as if to encourage his mind to concentrate. Presently he decided the equation was correct. The derivation had been flawless. Casually he noted Ryker's great ability to describe the university with mathematics and to do so without the most minute error. It was simply real and correct.

Hardly thinking, he scrolled down only to find the end of the file. He had finished the derivation. Leaning back he lifted his arms and stretched. He felt his muscles remind him of the lack of exercise that he had afforded them of late. But the equations had to be checked and rechecked. And this he had done. By painstakingly going over each step, referring to references and original literature citings, noting every assumption made for each and every step, in this way he and others had reviewed the work of Ryker and Scott.

Briefly he wondered what Scott's contribution had been. He knew John Ryker's work but Scott was only a vague feeling, their specialties in astronomy never having brought them together on a single project. He liked Scott, knew that Smith did not, but their paths of interest had never brought them together on a single project. As if to answer any lingering questions, he looked over to where Scott sat in a chair.

Scott had a print out of some of the material developed in the last few days in his hands. Only the paper was rolled and somewhat crumpled. Scott sat with eyes staring straight ahead, his hands gently wringing out the physical and mathematical facts on the papers he held. He, too, was still searching for flaws. From his expression it seemed he found none.

Rather than disturb him, Voulers looked away. After a moment he pivoted slowly in his chair and rested his left arm on his desk. Jon Trippe, a civil engineer of considerable practicality, sat at the table at the far end of the room. He seemed quite industriously to be making notes. Occasionally he would look up, stare at the ceiling, and, as if he had received the answer he sought, go back to his writing.

Voulers had never met Trippe before yesterday. He was Griffith's friend and, while Voulers had great confidence in the physicist's judgement, he nevertheless felt a sense of uneasiness. He knew Trippe not at all and, importantly, could not guess his reactions to the events of the past few days. This lack of a feel for how Trippe might react in the coming days disturbed Voulers. He felt that he had less and less of the essential control over what might come out of these meetings. If things developed in the way he thought they might, Vourlers realized that they must be extremely careful of what they did next. He was convinced that their lives depended upon it. The comet was incidental; what was important was how they prepared for it.

His thoughts were then interrupted by a cursory knock on the door and then Griffith entering. Everyone looked up quickly, including Ryker, who had been half dozing at another table. Then each of them relaxed again, Tom was not the one for whose arrival they were waiting. With the lack of response, Tom glanced about the room, realized that there was no news, and came over in the direction of Voulers where he took the straight chair next to the desk. As he sat down, he asked, "Where is Smith?"

"I think he left early for the day."

Tom glanced only for a moment at Voulers, he had never suspected the old man had ever developed a sense of humor. He had always seemed old and stodgy; but suddenly there was new life in the senior astronomer. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself during these last few days. Finally Tom tried a retort, "Maybe he had an early golf date."

George laughed quietly but obviously as he leaned back in his chair and moved away from the desk slightly. Only the presence of others had prevented a loud guffaw from the astronomer.

Tom watched him. It was amazing. George Voulers was the renowned, overpowering and autocratic supervisory professor who ate graduate students for lunch, and here he was chuckling to himself in the presence of the end of the world. Tom had always known that Voulers had never been one to concern himself with social amenities. As the university's senior astronomer, he had long since risen above the minor courtesies and diplomacies that plagued lesser human beings. Being tenured, he was no longer required to actively consider the feelings of any other people with whom he came into contact, and consequently seldom made the effort. For similar reasons he had acquired a persistent distrust of politicians and administrators, who seemed to make special efforts just to get along.

Tom smiled slightly as he recalled the time that George had learned that Tom had accepted the administrative position of Chairman of the Physics Department. Voulers had been amazed and thunderstruck and seemed to think he had been betrayed. Tom had had to make a special effort to maintain his relations with Voulers just as they had been before his appointment. And, after a time, Voulers had decided that Tom was the same person and made him the exception to the senior astronomer's rule of never associating with administrators.

Then Voulers interrupted his thoughts, "I trust you've found no major flaw in our theoretical framework?”

"Not even a minor one. I'm afraid we'll have to accept whatever answer we get this time.” Tom had spent his time in developing and checking the work as well. "I take it Fred is at the observatory?”

“I imagine. He wanted to be absolutely sure of the integrity of the data we've been using in our computations."

"I suppose that integrity is often the key to any truth."

Voulers looked at Tom with a bit of surprise. Tom was not known for philosophical rumblings. Tom felt a slight surprise himself. With the two men staring at each other with a hint of renewed interest, the door opened, this time without a knock.

Fred Smith fairly burst into the room. His typically neat, conservative suit now resting on his body casually, his carefully groomed light brown hair slightly mussed, and his necktie actually missing! With grandeur in his voice, he announced with a wry smile on his face, “Well, gentlemen, here it is! And unless someone is going to tell me the theory has a flaw…” He glanced around the room, daring someone to speak.

"Cut out the crap, Fred. What've you got?" Voulers seemed unlikely to bear Fred out. Smith's whole attitude seemed hopeful, but George wanted it clear cut and spoken aloud.

Fred took a second and looked directly at George, a smile increasing on his face. Finally he said, "lt seems we're about to be side swiped, but not hit directly! It looks as if God has taken a pass on wiping out the human race."

The whole room gave an audible mixture of sighs; there was a chance! Tom smiled broadly and looked around the room, gauging the reaction of his colleagues. Only then did he notice Evan Hendricks, who had followed Fred into the room. He stood smiling, his arms swinging along each side. Behind Evan Tom noticed Kirk, who had just shoved the door closed. But then Tom realized that Kirk was not smiling. In fact, he looked unnerved and not particularly pleased. The hint of doubt dampened Tom's smile.

Fred began laying a computer-generated drawing out on one table. Like iron filings to a magnet, they clustered about the clean white paper with the geometric markings which implied their future... or the lack thereof.

"Ketuohok comes in almost asymptotically to our orbit, but then is deflected out by the Earth's EM field. It takes a wide arc and swings back into us in a long, slow movement. Swinging in from spaceward, it runs into more of the EM field and apparently keeps its distance a bit better. After the second pass, it is slung back into space."

"What's the scale? What distances are we talking about?"

“On the first pass, it gets in close to six hundred thousand miles. On the second pass it's no closer than seven hundred fifty thousand.”

"That's about double the moon's orbit.”

"Speaking of the moon, it's pretty well on the far side of the Earth at the time of the first pass. But on the second time around, the comet fairly well chases the moon. In fact, it looks like a good bet that Luna could be ripped from orbit.”

"Not in this case, Fred,” Hendricks interrupted, laying down a second printout. It stays with Earth, but in a very elliptical orbit. Should result in some extraordinary tides."

“Right! Several of the cases, though, do predict its becoming a runaway moon.”

"Several cases?” Scott looked perplexed. Ryker answered matter-of-factly, “The actual strength of the EM field about the Earth and particularly about the comet are not known that well. Consequently, I suggested that Fred make several runs with varying magnitudes.” Then, to Fred, “Which case is this?”

“This is the minimum field. When we increase the EM field strengths, the collision is even less exciting. Here's a plot of one of the others." He handed Ryker the rolled paper.

Voulers reached for Fred's arm and made sure. “Then this is the worst case? A loop around Earth and that's all?”

“That's right, George,” Fred smiled. “A glancing blow... or two, and then back off into deep space.”

“Hot damn!” Scott cried. Turning abruptly, he grasped Ryker by the shoulders as if to kiss him. Ryker laughed aloud as Scott continued his jubilation, "Ryker, you old son of a bitch, you hit it right on!”

With Scott's signal, the room burst into jubilant celebration -- jubilant in the sense of a small group of practical, mature and experienced scientists congratulating themselves on a successful project. But what a success! The salvation of a world! If they credited themselves too much, it seemed justified.

They shook hands, embraced and grabbed each other with gusto. As if by common agreement, they milled about the room to insure that each man personally congratulated every other man. Only Kirk seemed to remain still, but he joined in the celebration and only momentarily seemed to have doubts.

Then Griffith held up his hands and took charge. “Okay. We've done the first step!” Jubilantly they agreed. “Now for the next step. What can we expect? And more importantly, how does one prepare for it?” He looked at Ryker expectantly.

But Trippe interrupted. “I've been thinking about that and if we use Velikovsky's description of what it was like before…” He trailed off, looking questioningly at Voulers. “It's a reasonable assumption, right?"

Voulers agreed, albeit a trifle reluctantly. “We'II make the assumption then. Now what does that entail?"

Ryker then offered, "Essentially, worldwide earthquakes, enough to blow the Richter Scale into oblivion. Tidal waves, even across continental areas. Hurricane winds like you've never seen before. Volcanic eruptions to make Krakatoa look pitiful. Quite literally, Earth in Upheaval.”

“But how can we figure to survive on anything but random chance? Pray a lot?” Smith suddenly began to look worried again.

But Trippe was still smiling. "That's just what I've been making notes on. Here, let me try a few ideas on you." When everyone seemed to agree, he continued, "First, you find a site which is as geologically stable as possible. Preferably on top of a salt dome or some such. Also you try to locate at a fair altitude, like two thousand feet or more.”

"Like Colorado?"

“Yeah, but probably eastern Colorado. You don't want to get into a potential mountain building region. Then, basically, once you're on a site which, hopefully, will not become a mountain range or, for that matter, an inland sea, you build a shell around yourself. If you expect floods, you build a dam or a boat or maybe both.”

“How about a space ship? Just stand off and watch."

"No," Tom interjected, "There's no way to lift off even a meager portion of civilization. The technology is just not there to get us clear, then bring us back. Landing and ground control facilities will be in rather short supply. Besides, what makes you think you'd get to go? After NASA takes six months to buy the idea, then choose a crew and actually get something aloft, we'd all be losers. The only survivors would be pilots, not scientists. No. We've to weather this one out on good old terra firma – even if it won't be too firma.”

“And we can hardly bury out heads in the sand,” Ryker added. “The earth will be moving about a trifle too much.”

As everyone laughed slightly, Fred said quietly, “Whatever we do, it's got to be a feasible solution for a large bulk of the population. There's no other way.”

Hardly anyone heard Fred, although Kirk seemed to turn his ear.

Jon Trippe returned to outlining his thoughts. “The key is flexibility. If you're in a hurricane, it's standard procedure to leave some windows open to allow for rapid pressure changes. Otherwise you blow the window out, or for that matter, blow off the roof. The point in any case being that you have to be able to bend with the wind. So obviously, while we have to build something strong, it has to be relatively flexible. As a matter of fact, one helluva lot more flexible than we're accustomed to. Besides wind and water, we'll get earth tremors and quakes; maybe even some volcanic action. So we'll need something with good structural strength and something that can roll with the punch.”

"Roll?" Griffith asked. "You mean a sphere?"

"Yeah, that would work. Come to think of it, a sphere is the strongest structural shape. All your deep diving submarines use spherical shapes. Of course, their spheres are to counteract the extreme pressure differentials, but, besides being strong, a sphere will roll; through wind, earthquake, and most anything. We could take a page out of Buckminister Fuller's notebook and design geodesic spheres. Spherical enclaves!"


"Why not?" Trippe smiled. "An enclave is something you build whenever the Earth is colliding with another world." As the other laughed, he added, "You can think of it as enclosing a bit of civilization in what will become a totally alien environment.”

“Which means that we'll have to carry everything with us, in the enclaves."

"Exactly. A complete list of necessities. Not just medicine and food, but things like cloth, seeds, some sort of power generating equipment, bows and arrows.”

"Not guns?"

Tom answered quietly, "Guns require ammunition, whereas arrows can be used again. Arrows can also be made more easily."

Trippe added, his voice a bit lower, "We may initially need some guns for security purposes prior to the actual collision, if only to protect our enclaves.” As he spoke, Kirk jerked his head up and Smith seemed to frown. The others seemed to acknowledge the thought as well. "Once the impending catastrophe becomes common knowledge, other people without a place to go may decide they want to appropriate our enclaves.”

After a brief silence, Voulers said, "We'll need to take our own library, particularly 'how to' and 'do-it-yourself' books."

"We could download the Internet."

"But not to the point where we would be totally dependent upon our computers coming through the collision. They're not exactly 'hardened' for combat, and I wouldn't want to eliminate having some written documents."

Tom quickly acknowledged, "I agree with you there. But it seems the most important question would be power. What do we use? Solar cells, gasoline engines?"

Trippe grumbled, "If we're going to believe Velikovsky, we may have to expect naphtha and other petroleum products raining from the skies. There may be a constant series of gas or oil explosions and fires throughout the atmosphere. A gasoline engine would probably blow itself up, and us as well, the first time we lit if off."

"And, if that's not enough," Ryker added, "You again have the problem of fueling the engines,”

“So we're left with solar energy."

"Not directly," Jon answered. "Solar cells, while easy to pack and carry along, may be next to useless for years. Remember when Krakatoa exploded? The dust and volcanic ash it threw into the atmosphere caused some of the worst winters on record. With what we're dealing with, we can expect a blackened sky for years. Volcanic activity may help to keep the Earth warm, but we'll likely go without seeing the sun for quite a while.”

“So what does that leave us?”

Very simply Jon answered, "Windmills."

Voulers smiled at Jon. "Of course. Some well-engineered windmills and maybe batteries for electrical storage." Then, to the others, "So damned obvious!"

Trippe smiled as Tom interjected, "We'll need some communications. I would expect to build several of these spherical enclaves; no sense in putting all our eggs in one basket. Besides, survivors from one enclave might be able to help another group.

Scott interrupted, "And we could use some sort of bicycle set up to charge the batteries until we could set up the windmills.” Then, as if no one had accepted the idea, he added, “The air may be so foul that we'll have to stay within the enclaves for some time."

Voulers then answered, “Good idea. And I agree that communications are important. But what do we use? Wires? Shortwave?"

Ryker noted, "Tom knows more about communications than I do, but we had better expect the upper atmosphere to be a mass of static."

Tom agreed. "You're probably right. We can hardly expect anything other than short range, line-of-sight communications at first. We may want to carry a fair amount of wire along if we have to fall back on landlines.”

Then Hendricks spoke for the first time. “We'll need water. I suggest in small tanks on the shell of the sphere to help absorb any major blows. Maybe in the form of small cylinders.”

Trippe smiled in agreement, recognizing that everyone was optimistic. They could build enclaves that would go through anything. It would entail some engineering challenges, and they might have to buy off a steel manufacturer with a place in the enclaves, but they damned well could do it.!

Voulers, frowning slightly, was only just beginning to realize the multitude of ‘trivia' that they would have to carry with them in order to survive – at least survive with some evidence of their continuing to be civilized men. “And we'll need soap, toothpaste, shampoo.”

“And Kotex,” someone quipped.

“None for me, thanks,” Voulers returned. Then, questioningly, as he rubbed his chin, “Do we take razor blades?”

“Yes, but don't plan to use them too often. The social whirl won't be much afterwards and you won't be meeting new people every day."

Suddenly there was an uneasy silence. The last remark had come too close to a subject no one was yet ready to face. Except possibly Kirk Masters. He had not joined the preparations discussion. Rather, he had been watching the proceedings with a casual, yet cynical questioning air. Then quietly he broached his thoughts. "What's the point? Even if we're not in for a direct hit, does the Earth really have a chance?”

Voulers look to his student. “Survival is the point. Even if it clobbers the Earth like nothing's ever been clobbered before, we've still got to try. Our chances may be infinitesimal, but we can damn well make the attempt.”

“You'd better believe it,” Trippe added. “We've survived before. And with our spherical enclaves scattered about, we've got a damn good chance of making it this time. We'd be idiots not to grab at the chance.

“You forget one thing," Kirk challenged. "There is no way that we can hope to make enough... enclaves! " Kirk almost spit the last word out. "Not in eight months. There are just too many people."

Perhaps too bluntly, Trippe answered, “Those without will just have to trust to luck, or chance, or just come up with their own ideas and implement them. Those who can prepare just improve their odds. Call it 'survival of the fittest.' That's all there is to it."

Kirk suddenly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. "But what about the rest of the world? What about the people, the millions sitting by, not even knowing they have to get ready? What about them? What happened to the Golden Rule -- doing unto others as you would have them do unto you? How do we tell all the others that there won't be enough enclaves, that they'll just have to take their chances? Do you want to tell them?"

Griffith watched Kirk, realizing that the junior astronomer had verbalized a fundamental problem that many had felt but had not dared to recognize. He glanced at Voulers and realized that George was thinking the same thing.

But Trippe seemed unaware of the depth of Kirk's concern. Very practically he answered, "Everyone doesn't survive. Those who can plan will improve their odds. The others will just have to get lucky."

"Good God!" Kirk screamed. And who the hell decides who gets lucky and who doesn't? You?"

The last scream finally reached Trippe, who was dumbfounded and trying to backtrack on his thinking when Tom stepped in. “Settle down a minute, Kirk! We won't get anywhere with screaming.” Griffith's careful calm stopped Kirk for a moment. Kirk had never managed to develop a habit of standing up to a superior, and Griffith was definitely not someone with whom to trifle. Still, Kirk was able to take courage from the fact his cause was right and, more importantly, he was apparently its sole proponent.

But he held his tongue as Tom continued. “Kirk has broached an extremely important point. We're discussing the survival of a world, not just a small group of friends. We have duty to our race as well as to ourselves." Tom paused a moment, trying to gauge how he was being received.

Voulers was watching Tom intently. He had been encouraged when Tom had stepped in as mediator. He had counted on Tom as the natural leader of the group and had hoped Tom would automatically assume the role. Voulers felt that he could trust Tom's judgement more than anyone else. Still, he listened very carefully, not yet ready to sign his life's proxy over to Griffith until he knew him better. All of the previous knowledge of Tom did Voulers no good in these totally unique circumstances.

Tom continued, "Obviously, our prime duty is to warn the people. On the other hand, we can't hope to save everyone by ourselves by making millions of enclaves. We can share our ideas with others, but only the governments have the resources to truly make a difference. Our duty is to sound the warning and, simultaneously, take whatever actions we can in order to save ourselves." Then, to Kirk specifically, “Do you agree?"

Kirk's mind struggled with the simple question. He knew that Tom had him on the defensive and might be setting him up. But he could see no way to avoid the rationality of a 'yes' answer. Then, looking particularly stern, he acknowledged, "I agree we have to tell everyone, yes.”

"In other words," Tom pressed his advantage, "We tell the world of the impending collision and the potential consequences. Agreed?” He then looked at each one of the scientists in the room. He pressed home the question, “Agreed?”

There was a brief silence, as if to imply consent. Then Voulers said, “You really haven't said anything yet. What do you mean, 'we'll tell the world'? Announce it on television, take an ad in the paper? What?”

Fred Smith, knowing the senior astronomer well, knew that there were other motives in Voulers' question. "What are you driving at, George?”

Voulers glanced at him then looked away at the others. It seemed that he would have to let them have it with both barrels. “A couple of days ago, I figured that I had seven and a half months to live. Seven and a half months in a world that would slowly go mad. I didn't like the idea. I thought about the possibilities for a long time. And the more I thought about it, the less I liked it.

“Then John Ryker came in here with a thread of hope. That has now blossomed into a finite probability that I can survive this cosmic holocaust. That possibility is the only essential ingredient that my life now requires. I can now try for the brass ring.”

“We all can, George,” Fred answered, “That's the reason for our celebration a few minutes ago. So why are you concerned about giving the rest of the world the same opportunity for hope?"

Voulers stared at Smith for an instant then answered, “Because I don't want to eliminate that hope through a stupid act."

"Oh, quit talking in riddles, George. Out with it."

“Okay.” Turning from Smith to Griffith , Voulers asked, “Tom, who do we tell? How do we make the grand announcement?"

Tom, his arms folded across his chest, studied Voulers. Then, "The government. There will have to be preparations made before the collision can become public knowledge."

If they believe you and if they have the guts to act..." Voulers looked cynical. "I figure that there are only two possibilities. One, they'll believe you but figure they have to lock you up so as to prevent a panic. The other possibility is that they'll figure you to be crazy and lock you up because you're crazy. The common denominator, the thing that happens in either case, is that you get locked up. And, if you're locked up, you won't be in any position to get ready. You'll have to get very lucky." He glanced at Trippe only briefly.

The silence that followed did not last long. Fred Smith straightened up from the desk he had been leaning against. “George, you're paranoid. There are government agencies that have scientists, men who can digest and understand scientific facts. They're not all self-serving bureaucrats.”

"Hell," Voulers countered, "Many are so hide-bound by religion that they will be unable to believe anything we say."

"Voulers has a point, Fred," Scott said. "We're living in a near-theocracy, and a comet coming in like the wrath of God is not going to play too well with people whose religion doesn't allow for such things. And at this point this means the government! "

Fred took personal afront. "Faith in God does not constitute a 'near-theocracy'. Faith is not a bad word, Mr. Scott."

"Yeah," Trippe said, his chin supported by an elbow on the table. "Faith is a five letter word."

For a second the tension seemed relieved. There was even a chuckle. The respite was quickly broken by Kirk. "When do we tell everyone what's happening?” His voice carried that unconquerable sense of righteousness. And, with Fred Smith apparently in his corner, his confidence had returned in force.

Tom looked at Kirk and saw the determination engraved on his face. Then, quietly, he said, “There may indeed be a concern of credibility.”

Kirk scoffed at Tom's remark. "We've got the data! It's right; it's been checked a dozen times.”

“I believe you, Kirk. But if we suddenly announce to the world our conclusions, we are very likely not going to be believed. There will always be some scientists or astronomers who will deny the implications. And, what's more, given a choice, people will believe what they want, what even they desperately require. And I guarantee you, that under these circumstances, most will believe it to be a hoax. They will simply be unable to fit it into their paradigm. That's why the government is so critical."

"Perhaps I have a better opinion of people than you."

“I'm not degrading anyone. Had I not known each of you when I first got into this, I seriously doubt I would have even bothered to look at your material." Kirk suddenly looked dumbfounded at Tom's totally unscientific viewpoint. "Good God, Kirk," cried Tom, to answer the amazement on Kirk's face, "If I investigated every idea that comes across my desk, I'd have to work 200 hours a day. There are enough cranks, nuts and charlatans out there, each predicting the end of the world, the end of hope, or the coming depression, that I have to ignore them!"

Kirk looked painfully displeased. “It just seems that statements by a group of reputable scientists of a major university should carry more weight.”

"Why? Don't forget we're only individuals. If you want the university's stamp of approval, it could take months, and that's no exaggeration! Our statements about a collision are only as good as our reputations. People who know John Ryker will take it seriously, but only because they know John and respect his work.”

Kirk was now very concerned. "Then what the hell do we do?"

"One, John Ryker will leave immediately for Washington, in order to set up some meetings with key people. Then others will follow within a few days with the data and present our case. In the interim, those of us here will pull our act together and get the data into a digestible form. But, Kirk, you must be prepared for considerable skepticism. I doubt that very many people will believe us.”

“But we have proof, scientific proof.”

“But the government is not all scientists. There are a lot of politicians and lawyers. The science may not be sufficient to overcome the natural resistance to change and the unexpected. Don't forget, Kirk, that you are telling the world that it is about to be destroyed, that millions are about to die, violently.”

Kirk thought a moment. “But what you're still saying is that it'll be three or four days or maybe even longer before the rest of the world learns about Keotuohok?”

Tom turned slightly away, his hands on his hips. Smith stepped forward slightly. “Kirk, our responsibility is to notify the government of our findings and encourage the dissemination of the information. It is not our decision as to how and when the public is made aware. The vast majority of people are not scientists, and they must of necessity trust those in authority to do what is best for them. Not everyone can be expected to be an island unto themselves.”

Kirk swallowed hard, but the point would not be digested. Stunned, he asked, “You mean to tell me that the people might not be told?”

“Perhaps not right away. It may be better to make some extensive preparations, and then announce both the predictions about Ketuohok and the preparations. That way the government can announce the problem and the proposed solution at the same time. In this way, they thus avoid as much wholesale panic as possible.”

The others let the silence force an answer from Kirk. Finally, straining, it came, “Okay, I guess that makes some sense.”

“The key is that we must move cautiously as we go about informing the government.”

Voulers returned slowly from the window. His measured pace gained everyone's attention as he asked, "Who's we?" The question had a very casual air.

Only no one answered. The momentary silence became uncomfortable to some but beat unmercifully loud in Kirk's mind. "What the hell?" he yelled. "Is everyone afraid?"

Voulers looked at his student for a moment. Then, quietly, "Are you ready to accept the consequences of telling the world it's going to be smashed, that civilization as we know it is about to end? Frankly, I'm not ready to risk it."

“Risk what?"

Voulers glanced back at Kirk, then turned away. It seemed pointless to answer. Since there was no answer, Kirk decided to volunteer. "I don't understand you people at all. But if you're afraid of something, that's fine. I'll tell the authorities. I'll…” and he laughed, “I'll risk it.” His face flickered a slight smile and a hint of pride.

No one challenged the volunteer. Tom glanced about the room to see if anyone wished to voice an opinion. Then he said, “While we may be loathe to admit it, Kirk is probably right.” Even Kirk was surprised. But no one interrupted. "I doubt that the response of the government will be, in any respect, good. But the fact remains that we have to notify the world as quickly as possible. We have no right to withhold this sort of information. It would be too much like playing God, and I doubt that we're up to that yet."

"Amen," Fred said with heavy authority.

Kirk smiled broadly and victoriously. Such unexpected allies were indeed gratifying. It was natural now to follow this good fortune with new conquests. "Then you'll go with me to Washington?"

Tom lifted his eyes to Kirk. After a moment, "Not exactly. I don't share your optimism, nor do I expect a cordial welcome. But I do know that John feels rather strongly about this as well. Together you can take all the data, computer print-outs, and anything else you may need. John should have the meetings set up by the time you get to Washington. You can both go to the National Science Foundation with all the data. From there you will just have to convince a lot of skeptics to buy the story."

Kirk was slightly disappointed. "Okay. We'll go it alone.”

Voulers then turned back to the conversation. "Alone is the operative word. I don't want my name mentioned or anyone else in this group. As far as you're concerned, you and Ryker are the original discoverers. Is that understood?"

"Certainly, Professor Voulers.” Kirk's manner no longer condescended to his supervisory professor. He was no longer the common, ordinary graduate student.

But Voulers was not entirely satisfied. He frowned heavily. "What kind of assurance do we have that you won't blab everything about our own plans?"

Before Kirk could make assurances, which he was only too glad to make, Fred Smith stood up and said, "I'll go with them, as well. I'll make it a point to look after things.”

Voulers coughed suddenly and looked at Fred with amazement. He would never have believed Fred to be willing to join Masters on something like this. But Voulers' respect for his colleague was too long established to change much with this new revelation. It merely saddened him. Then, bluntly, he asked, "Why? I mean, what's the point? The government has no desire to start a national panic. And this is a sure fire way to start one.”

Smith's answer was calm. "Come on, George. Is it really feasible that this secret will keep?"

"Probably not," Tom agreed. "The truth may become all too apparent, all too soon."

"Fine!” Voulers answered. “And it's probably inevitable that some group or other will discover the facts and notify some government. It's just that I don't want to tell them. Or have anyone that is associated with me tell them. I don't trust them and I'm not about to put my chances for survival on the line with some damn neo-conservative politicians who wrap a Bible and flag around themselves in order to commit every crime imaginable. They'd sell their own mother for an election. What I find incredible is that you're willing to."

Fred shoved his hands into his pockets. He glanced downward, then back up. “George, it's just that I feel that this has to be done and I can't let someone else do my dirty work."

Voulers watched his friend for several moments. Acknowledging the weight of Fred's argument, he quietly insisted, "All I want is that the rest of us will not be involved."

"Of course, George. I fully understand your concern."

"It's fine with me, too." Kirk smiled. But no one really cared about that. Neither Voulers nor Smith heard the young scientist. They were oblivious to Kirk's smile.

Only Tom seemed to appreciate that a major decision had been made. Thinking ahead, he said, "Fine. Remember, we'll have to be as precise and careful as possible. Meanwhile, Jon can begin work on the enclaves' design and start thinking about the necessary hardware. We'll have to get some more help on that, but I don't think that it will be a problem. Scott, you can search out some site possibilities and buy some land. I'll try to coordinate the activities and John Ryker can start on his initial contacts in Washington. In addition, we'll have to find some more people to join our group. We want those who are survival-oriented and who can help in the design and building of the enclaves.”

And who can be of value after the collision,” Scott added, with considerable emphasis.

Tom agreed. "But we must be very selective in our choices. No relatives, other than immediate families – unless you have a darn good reason for telling a particularly talented relative. Plus we probably should have at least two of us agree on any candidate. Okay?"

"For security purposes," Scott added, "We might want to refrain from cell phones and the internet. Anything that might clue someone else into our plans can simply not become subject to electronic eavesdropping. That includes calls to or from Washington on our progress here or there. We should not even give a hint of our activities in any kind of long distance communications"

"In fact," Voulers answered, "Any one telling others of the impending disastor cannot even talk to the rest of us. With such important matters, we have to assume that any contacts made would appear to a wire-tapper to be of significance, such that we would be put at risk merely from receiving a phone call from one of you.

"It seems to be just a matter of a more secure land-line circuit," Smith replied. "I think we can handle that. We can also keep conversations with families, and let the family member here relay messages to the rest of you."

There was a slow but clear acknowledgement by everyone in the room. In some respects, there was the subtle appeal of spy novel activities. In other cases, it was a matter of very genuine concern that cell phones and the like be severly limited to prevent extensive damage to their preparations.


Moments later, when Tom had left the building with Scott, he began to think aloud, "We may have to drop out of sight on a moment's notice. We just can't count on the government to keep a lid on this. It's too big.“

"I know," Scott answered. "I've already begun working on a cover story. My dear aunt Ethel, the woman who raised me from infancy... That sort of thing." Tom smiled.

For a moment neither of the two men said anything. Finally, Scott, as if to revive the conservation in the face of an extremely uncomfortable lull said, “At any rate, they will get nearly seven months preparation time.”

"If that makes any difference,” Tom answered. "What sort of real preparations can be made on any really large, national scale? How do we come up with an enclave for everyone?:

“I guess we don't.”

“You're damned right we don't.”

"Speaking of which," Scott smiled, "What's with Voulers and Smith on religion."

"I don't know, and frankly I'd rather not know. I keep thinking of a Non-Sequitur cartoon showing a man arriving in heaven to find a sign which says, 'Welcome to Heaven. Keep your religion to yourself.' Then a bystander says, 'Ironically, that's why it's so peaceful here.'"

Scott laughed. "Sounds like good advice."

"Unfortunately," Tom answered, "It's not advice that many people will take."

Chapter One -- Incoming

Forward to:

Chapter Three -- Recruitment



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