It is now well known that the dinosaurs were killed off by a huge asteroid crashing into the earth. Ever since this was proven, people have feared that the same thing will happen again, and wipe out the human race. That is why the Asteroid Alert station was set up. This station is not only useful for the postponing of the eventual doomsday, but also for the destruction of smaller asteroids which could prove inconvenient to interplanetary travel. Not only that, it is also a good way of disposing of the unwanted nuclear weapons made during the cold war two centuries ago.
Though the station is unmanned, the computers controlling it will contact a human if it detects anything that is bigger than could be destroyed by a single missile. Anything smaller is automatically destroyed after the computer has made sure that the space routes are clear. The post of Asteroid Alert Contact is currently held by Sita Gandhi, an Indian woman who is a direct descendant of the Mahatma Gandhi, who was a ruler of India long ago. The Gandhis ruled India until only a few years ago, when the president (as the title now is) was shot, like so many of his ancestors.
The last time the station called Sita was not because of an unusually large asteroid, but something much worse. A new comet had been detected and was heading straight for earth.
Sita was at a dinner party when the AAC computer raised the alarm. She had been trained to know exactly what to do in this situation, but this was the first time she had actually had to use her training, and she saw no cause for alarm. She quickly explained to her host and left for the station, only a few hundred kilometers away. The journey took only ten minutes in her skybike. When she reached the station, it took only a quick glance at the computer monitors to see that this was no false alarm. If she didn't act fast, Earth would probably be destroyed in ten days. She picked up the telephone.
'Hello, this is Gandhi. Put me through to the president. There's a comet heading for earth.' she said in a panicky, out of breath voice, forgetting even to dial the number. When she got finally got through to the president she had calmed down enough to explain the situation. The president made a few telephone calls and in less than half an hour, the best mathematicians, scientists and politicians from around the world gathered in that tiny building to work out what to do. If nothing was done, the comet, they decided, would definitely wipe out all the life on earth, save maybe a few small fish and insects.
As the best minds on the planet worked out their plan of action, Sita didn't stand idle. She was a very intelligent woman and understood perfectly what was going on. Gradually, it dawned on the whole group that the only way of preventing the comet reaching earth was to make it crash into the earth's moon. The comet would pass very close to the moon on the way and although the nuclear weapons could not destroy the comet, they could deflect it out of orbit. Once it had crashed into the moon, both the comet and the moon would be smashed like a marble shot with a gun. The pieces would fly in all directions, including towards earth. These pieces would also have to be blown up.
It wasn't going to be easy, but the committee was confident that it could be done. The major problem was the inhabitants of the moon. During the early twenty-first century, many small spaceships were being made and many people sought an escape from the overpopulated areas of the earth. They looked for a new life, and found it on the moon. Now, they would have to leave it.
The population of the moon was less than a hundred thousand, but everyone would have to leave. At first, when they heard, they were horrified and some even refused. But soon they realised the scale of the situation and that even if the comet was left to hit earth, the moon would be without the food, materials and support the earth people gave them. Of course, not enough food for the whole population of the moon could be transported by spaceship. If it could, the exodus of the moon could be carried out quite easily in a few days. The under glass farms on the moon had provided the food for the majority of lunites for the last hundred years, but they still needed some from earth. Most living lunites were born on the moon and many had never even set foot on earth, so they would have a hard job learning to live with six times the gravity they were used to. The main problem, however, was transporting all those people. It was decided that if every spaceship in the solar system was to help, all the lunites could be transported within the ten days, but they wouldn't be able to carry much luggage even though nearly everything most of the lunites owned was on the moon.
Signals were sent out to all the spaceships capable of carrying passengers and they were ordered to dump their cargo and proceed immediately to the moon. Like Dunkirk, everybody and anybody who could fly a spaceship and had a serviceable craft was ordered to go, and this included Sita. She wasn't reluctant and, stopping only to check the fuel and food aboard her craft, ironically called the Silver Moon, proceeded to pick up as many lunites as she could. The first lunites at the space ports had packed and left as soon as they heard the news.
Over the next nine days, nearly five hundred spaceships made the journey eight times each, because the journey there and back took just over a day. Mostly, they were small ships with a passenger capability of ten, but for the exodus twice that many usually had to squeeze in. The spaceports - which were only designed for a handful of ships a day were also jam-packed. It was probably the nearest thing to a traffic jam that ever happened in space. Theoretically, everything had to be perfectly coordinated. Of course, this never happens in real life and when there was an accident or a serious jam, the following ships were diverted to other spaceports.
One time, Sita was stuck at a spaceport while the two or three ships that were landed were repaired. One of the passengers (it was decided that they couldn't be called lunites after they had left) came up to Sita in the cockpit and asked why they weren't landing. She explained to him that the few spaceports couldn't cope with this mass exodus, but that they were next in line to land, and would as soon as one of landed spaceships took off again. He exclaimed that life at the moment was like an episode from 'Star Trek'.
Whenever a party of ex-lunites landed at the spaceport, the passengers limped out of the ship as if they were covered in lead weights, and that is probably what it felt like. There were many casualties due to the extra gravity, and this was the main reason for delay. Most of the ex-lunites went to relatives after they had landed but the few who didn't have any stayed around at the spaceports and helped, hoping to find houses and jobs after the exodus was over.
Nine days after Sita had received the call to come to the station, the comet became visible from the moon. At first, it was just a faint dot in the sky, like another star. When she landed, she got a phone call to come back to the station to help fire the missiles. She dropped off her final load of passengers and her ship in India and headed for the AAC station. When she arrived, most of the committee were still working there - pointing at the screen and looking at their watches. One screen showed a countdown which read at nineteen hours and thirty minutes. The first batch of missiles were to be fired at exactly T minus eighteen hours, sixteen minutes and fifty seconds - meaning that it would be that long before the impact with the moon. If the missiles were launched a second before or after they were supposed to, then they would miss. The lives of everyone on the planet rested on the committee's shoulders.
Ten minutes before the missiles were to be launched, Sita sat down in front of a complicated looking control panel, entered a number on a keypad and turned a switch. The missiles would be launched by the computer, but Sita had to make sure that it was ready, unlike when there was just one missile to fire. More than that required special attention and authorization. Now, there was nothing else to do except wait.
At T minus ten seconds, the whole world was watching through television at the monitor screens in the station. At T minus five, everybody in the world held their breath. As each second ticked by the atmosphere grew even more intense until zero. Then, the noise of the nearby missiles taking off exploded into life. There was a clear diagram on a monitor of the earth, the moon the comet and now, the missiles which had been launched. One American television station had placed a cheap television camera on one of the missiles and this view was on another monitor. If they were successful, it would be played back for years to come, as would all the television pictures being taken there. The atmosphere was extreme - but apart from the sound of the computers - it was silent. The missiles, which were moving about twice as fast as the comet, were in the inaudibility of space and they and the comet would intercept in just a few minutes.
Suddenly, the phone rang - or rather bleeped. One of the mathematicians answered it and gave the handset to Sita. She repeated what she heard, forgetting that she was on international television. The whole world heard how there were still a dozen people left on the moon and nobody was prepared to go back and mount the rescue for fear of being hit by the comet. Sita knew exactly what she had to do. She drove out of the station to the spaceport, where 'Silver Moon' was waiting. Quicker than she had ever done before, she took off and headed at top speed for the moon. She had forgotten to check her fuel, and she was halfway there before she realised that she didn't have enough to get all the way back. She looked at the comet, now a white disc in the sky and saw a faint explosion at it's side. She smiled - the missiles had struck. People all around the world swore at her and wondered why she didn't turn back while she could, but either through bravery or insanity, she continued.
When she reached the moon, she had to circle for a while looking for the right spaceport. Before, it hadn't been a problem because there were people at all the spaceports. When she found them, the comet looked like a larger version of the sun and was steadily growing. As the last of the lunites jumped aboard, Sita looked for fuel. She was out of luck. One of the now ex-lunites explained to her that the last of the fuel had been taken by the rescuers. Desperate now, she climbed back into her cockpit and started the engine.
'This could be a rough ride' Sita shouted back to her passengers, a mad plan forming in her mind. She had been going for about an hour when the comet hit the moon. Some of the passengers tried to look back but the explosion was blinding. Suddenly, a huge rock flew right past the window, followed by another and another. Then, one of them struck the 'Silver Moon', and Sita turned the engines off. At first, she thought she could use this to take her right back to earth until she realised that the station on earth would be firing missiles to destroy the very asteroids she was using to get back home. If they fired one of the missiles at the asteroid she was hitching a lift from, she wouldn't know much about it.
She calculated just how far the remaining fuel would take her, and realised that in ten minutes, she could use it to get back home, as the asteroid had taken her much faster than she could have gone with her engines. After that ten minutes, she wasted no more time in leaving the asteroid and heading back for earth. Just as the asteroid overtook her, there was a blinding explosion. Another thirty seconds and she would have been dead. This lack of an error margin cost her, and she ran out of fuel just a hundred metres from landing. Fortunately she had a soft landing in a field. After pulling her passengers out of the wrecked 'Silver Moon' Sita ran back to the station to help with the destruction of the asteroids that used to be the moon. Not one of them large enough to survive burn-up was missed and the earth was ok.
More spaceship fuel was used in those ten days than in the last year of space travel, but not one life was lost. The ex-lunites soon learned to cope with the high gravity and they all found homes and jobs. Sita won many awards for her bravery, and ended up being president of India, where she had a long and happy reign. There were no major effects on the earth due to the loss of it's moon, apart from the loss of tides. The nights were darker, and many legends and fairy tales about the moon died out. For instance; how can you have a werewolf without a full moon?