The sky hinted at the coming dawn when Lena awoke to the sound of the hotel comm ringing with an incoming communication. Carl’s arm was resting on her hip as they lay there under the warm, down comforter.
“Time to get up,” she said, his eyes drifting open. She scooted out from beneath Carl’s arm and headed to the comm. Pressing the answer button, a woman’s pleasant voice came over the speaker, “This is your complementary wake up call. The current time is 6:01 a.m. A continental breakfast is available in the hotel café until 9 a.m. Have a great morning.”
“I’m going to go get ready. I’ll meet you in the café in thirty minutes?” Lena asked as she collected her purse from the coffee table.
“Sure,” Carl grumbled from beneath a pillow he had pulled over his head.
She pushed the button on the InstaBrew 2000, knowing that the aromatic coffee would get him out of bed in a few minutes and headed to her room.
Lena decided to let Professor McNeil know that they were meeting at the café in thirty minutes so first went to the door on the other side of her room and knocked on the door.
When the old man answered the door in a bathrobe, slippers, and a cup of hot tea, Lean coughed to cover a laugh. She had never seen the professor in something so casual.
“We’ll meet you in the lobby café for breakfast in thirty minutes,” she said as she retreated to her room before she accidentally offended him.
Entering her room, she began digging in her suitcase. She selected the only business attire she owned and laid it out on the neatly made bed. The suit included a sleeveless white button-down shirt, dark forest-green slacks, and a matching, single-button sports jacket.
Next, she pulled out her toiletry bag and dump its contents onto the counter of the bathroom. Popping the cap open on the bottle of hair oil, she applied it liberally through her mass of red curls before combing them into submission. Lena did a simple braid to conserve time, got dressed in the dark green pantsuit, and slipped on her high heels.
Dressed for the day, she went to the side table to grab her datapad and the flash drive with the data they had collected at the observatories. The datapad was where she had left it, but the flash drive was missing. She looked in the drawer, on the ground, under the bed, and was emptying her suitcase when her door chimed.
Frustrated and confused, Lean opened the door to find Carl standing there in a pair of worn denim jeans, a graphic tee, and his signature black and white Chucks. She rolled her eyes. Of course, he would think this was appropriate to wear to the Pentagon.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Not yet. I can’t find my flash drive.”
“Where’s the last place you had it?”
“I thought that I had put it down next to my datapad before we went to dinner last night,” she said, still searching the contents on her bed.
“Prof. McNeil has the same data. We can look for your drive when we get back.”
“Okay,” Lena responded, dejected. When her stomach growled, reminding her that she needed to eat before their meeting at the Pentagon, she gave up on the search, put the datapad in her purse, and followed Carl out of the room.
They ate quickly, not saying much. When they were finished, they exited through the front entrance of the hotel where another Valiant Q7 hovered in the pick-up lane waiting for them.
On their approach to the Pentagon, Lena spotted several Black Ops Helios taking off and landing on top of the five-story building at a steady pace.
“Is this normal traffic?” she asked no one in particular.
“All the State heads will be at the meeting this morning,” McNeil informed them.
Lena’s head snapped to the professor. “I thought we were only going to be talking to maybe President Simmon and his advisors,” she stammered, more nervous now.
“No, Miss Fitzgerald. If we are going to have any hope of surviving this, we will need to initiate a global effort.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence.
Their driver stopped at three different checkpoints before she and her two companions were deposited in front of the West Wing. A group of five military officers, dressed in light-tan camo BDUs, greeted them and the officer in charge of the unit stepped forward.
“Welcome to the Pentagon, I am Warrant Officer Hoffman, and we will be escorting you to the meeting this morning,” he said as he handed each of them priority badges that hung from lanyards. “You will need to wear these at all times while on the Pentagon grounds, as well as each time you visit during your stay. Should your visit last longer than three days, you will be required to obtain a new badge from the receptionist at the front entrance.”
He turned on his heels as the other four officers formed up, two on each side of the group, and led them into the building. As Officer Hoffman walked, he spoke over his shoulder letting us know what to expect as we entered the building.
“Today, I will be taking you through the West Entrance to expedite the check-in process. When entering the building, please place any bags and devices on your person into the bucket provided. Then you will place your entire hand on the security scanner. Once the scanner turns green, you will proceed through the metal detection zone that is marked on the floor. Any devices that are still on your person will be rendered unusable should they pass through this area if not placed in the bucket. All sanctioned internal and external medical devices will not be subject to this effect.”
Just as he finished with the explanation, they entered the doors and began the process. The military entourage broke off from their group and took another route that placed them out of view.
Lena went first, placing her purse in the large clear, rectangular bucket, and then stepped up to the entry scanner. When she settled her hand on the security scanner where a handshape was outlined in white, it lit with a red light for several seconds before flashing bright green and displaying an image of her driver’s license on the attached screen.
A military woman in light, tan BDUs waived for her to continue through so, Lena removed her hand and took several steps through the security detection zone. The area was marked by two white lines set three feet apart. When she took her third step, about halfway through the marked-off area, a red line of light moved quickly from the bottom of her feet all the way up her body to her head before turning green as the hand scanner had.
Once she exited the body scanner, she was offered the bucket with her purse in it and accepting it, turned to wait for Carl and Prof. McNeil to come through. While she waited, Officer Hoffman and his unit came out of a side door and joined her. They waited as first Prof. McNeil and then Carl retrieved their items from their own offered buckets.
The commando formed up around them again and they were escorted through the building, into a lift, and down three levels.
The halls in the corridor were extremely busy with activity.
Probably because of the sheer number of important people who are here today, Lena thought, her stomach fluttering a bit.
When they got off the lift, they were led through a confusing maze of tunnels before coming to a thick set of concrete doors that opened when Officer Hoffman subjected himself to a retinal scan, palm scan, and voice identification authentication test.
Beyond the doors was a massive oval-shaped chamber that had vid panels lining every inch of the walls and six curved rows of computer terminals. Every terminal was manned by military computer specialists performing tasks that were vital to the nation’s security. In the very center was an enclosed conference room that was enclosed in thick glass where several people sat around a large table.
Officer Hoffman led them through the chamber and to the conference room, while the other four officers were left standing at parade rest in the tunnel, just outside the now closing, thick concrete doors.
When their group finally reached the conference room at the center, a secret service agent in a black suit stopped them.
“Please place all devices on this table before entering,” the woman said.
“All my data and notes are on my holo-tab,” Prof. McNeil began to object.
“You may send your notes to this ID and they will be available for your use on a datapad that will be supplied to you,” she said handing a slip of paper to the professor.
Lena was feeling very intimidated as she entered the glass-enclosed room. The magnitude of what they face was evidenced by the men and women who sat at the table before them. Secretaries, directors, department heads, and both the president and vice president were present. They were all important people that anyone in the U.S. would recognize on site.
All except for a woman with black hair held up by chopsticks and wearing a black and white, pinstripe woman’s business dress suit, Chucks that matched Carl’s, and a sleek pair of TechGlasses.
The woman stood behind Director Frank Wiess of USSF, her hands moving across her sight constantly. This confused Lena because, everyone, including the President and VP, had been required to relinquish any devices capable of outside communications before entering the room.
Director Wiess smiled with recognition and stood when Prof. McNeil finally entered the conference room. Lena pulled her attention away from the woman as he called the meeting to order.
“Good morning, everyone,” Director Frank Wiess, his voice booming around the room. “The reason you have all been asked here today is of the utmost importance and involves the lives of every human on this planet. The guests I have brought in today will explain further.”
At this cue, Professor McNeil walked to stand next to the big man.
“This is Doctor Alfred McNeil. He is one of the leading Astrophysicists and a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder,” Director Wiess said, introducing Prof. McNeil to the assembled before retaking his seat.
“Just under thirty-two hours ago, Dr. Carl Ranson was alerted to an anomaly on the Asteroid Trajectory System that was installed in every observatory in the nation after the incident of the comet that nearly destroyed Earth in 2021,” he began without preamble and pointing to Carl when he mentioned him.
“Dr. Ranson performed the routine procedures that is required by all that use the observatories and discovered that the anomaly was in fact, a large collection of debris that entered our solar system from the direction of the Eridani Epsilon system.”
Suddenly, there was a holographic display of the cloud hovering over the conference table. Audible gasps could be heard around the table.
“There is no way of stopping this. This is not going to be like the movies. We will not be able to send a crew up to an asteroid to drill a hole and blow it to pieces with a nuke. This is not just a single asteroid; it is hundreds of them, and they are heading straight for us,” Prof. McNeil said in a more solemn tone and waved Lena over to him.
She stood up and made her way to the professor as he introduced her.
“This is Dr. Lena Fitzgerald. She will explain what this means for us,” he finished before taking his seat.
Lena froze. She hadn’t realized he was going to do this, but she closed her eyes for a few moments. She knew that Carl could never have gotten up in front of these people and spoke to them. Public speaking was not one of his skills. So, she took one final deep breath, opened her eyes, and began. She told them everything that they had found.
“So, you’re saying we have just over 900 days until this is going to happen,” President Simmons said.
“Nine-hundred and eleven days, give or take, Mr. President”
“And you agree with this assessment, Dr. McNeil?”
“I have checked the data myself and the assessment of Dr. Fitzpatrick and Dr. Ranson is accurate.”
“No offense, doctors, but how did two college students catch this when neither USSF nor NASA did?” the president asked pointedly to the directors of those programs. Both men’s faces reddened just a touch.
“They would not have been able to see it from their locations,” Lena interjected in their defense. “Our observatory’s A.T.S. systems were the first to pick up the cloud because it came into our detection range first. Our best theory is that a small planet was destroyed by an astronomic collision in the originating system and that has sent its pieces hurdling towards us. We could not detect them because we could not see them until Jupiter provided a backdrop, and they were within range. Now that we know what to look for, we can find them even without Jupiter,” Lena added.
A silence descended on the room as the new reality of the future came into clear and undeniable focus. A cloud of cosmic debris was headed in their direction. Not just a single space rock the size of Texas; this cloud held hundreds, if not thousands, of asteroids that would hit the atmosphere in around two and a half years.
“But how accurate is the timeline?” a woman asked, skeptically.
“The calculations were simple and are narrowed within twenty-four to forty-eight hours in either direction.”
After a few minutes of shocked silence, the room erupted into a cacophony of turbulent conversations and emotions.
Lena took her seat, her part over and grateful for it. She could not believe how loud and unrestrained these great leaders were. These were the men and women who had been elected to lead, govern, and protect the American people, and they were scared.
“Silence!” President Simmons napped. Standing, he waited until the last of the panic had subsided.
“I know that you are all frightened, but we have to keep our heads. The first thing that we need to do is come up with a plan and Director Wiess has informed me that his team has been working around the clock on a solution,” he said as he turned his attention to Director Wiess, giving over the floor.
“For some time, we have been preparing for a deep space mission to establish a colony on a planet outside of our star system. The current craft’s design can accommodate a colony group of close to 4,000 people however my team of engineers and scientists are currently working on ways to improve and expand the design,” Frank responded. “Before the news of this cloud came to light, the craft was at eighty percent completion with an estimated nine months remaining before launch day but with a larger workforce and...”
“How large are we reasonably able to expand it and are we able to do the improvement and expansion in the time we have?” President Simmons cut in.
“That all depends on material and manpower. We have calculated that, with the materials that we have currently in the United States inventory, we can expand the current vessel by possibly twelve levels. However, if more materials can be acquired from the private sector, that number could rise dramatically. Unfortunately, until we go public with this information, I will not be able to approach the private sector to obtain their inventory.”
“How about the time issue? How quickly can the craft be built?”
“Not fast enough with our current workforce,” Frank said gravely. “We need to bring this crisis into the light as soon as possible. Once the information is public knowledge, we can begin inventorying private stockpiles of needed materials and expanding the workforce necessary to ramp up production.”
Nodding his understanding, President Simmons continued. This time speaking to everyone in the room, “The way in which this news is released to the public will determine how they respond to it.”
“Excuse me, Mr. President,” came the cultured voice of Teresa Bois, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. “As soon as this goes public, there will be unrest worldwide. Even if we manage to expand this craft to save a portion of humanity, billions are still doomed to remain on a world that will be obliterated. How will we justify picking and choosing those who will survive?”
“I suggest that we save our future, our children,” President Simmons responded, without hesitance.
“But there are still over 80 million children in the US. How are we supposed to choose which children are worth saving and how are children supposed to operate a vessel like this and survive such a long journey?”
“These are the questions that we need to answer. Our task for the remainder of this meeting is to establish the selection process and put it to paper because Frank is correct. This news must be released soon but in a way that makes everyone pull together to achieve the end goal, not riot in the streets,” President Simmons said. “Hopefully, we will not have to take such drastic choices that involve military action, but we are prepared to do so nevertheless.”
Lena listened intently to the conversation and ideas. She was a bit concerned at first when everyone began to freak out but once they started discussing plans to save what they could of humanity, they seem to calm and focus.
As she listened, Lena glanced at the woman standing behind Director Wiess. Her hands were moving furiously with either the datapad in her hand or in front of the TechGlasses and, every few minutes, she looked like she was talking to herself.
The people in the secure room spoke of logistics and qualifications for several hours. They began referring to the vessel as the US: Destiny and the voyage was referred to as the Migration, naming the selected children and adults as colonists and crew, respectively.
Lena listened as President Simmons read off a list he had prepared as a starting point for deciding on the qualifications and for the most part, they were agreed upon unanimously. When there was a disagreement, they all listened to the reason for the objection and any counter objection that was put forth. After that, they simply raised their hands and either discarded or added the qualification by the popular majority. When no more ideas on the qualifications came forth, President Simmons stood to his feet.
“Does anyone else have any ideas, questions, or concerns?”
“Nobody has mentioned where exactly we are going to send the colonists,” Madame Secretary Bois said.
“We have determined that Vita Nova, which is the closest verified terrestrial planet with the capability to support human life, will be the best option,” Frank said. “This is where we had originally planned to explore specifically for that reason.”
“What about the other nations?” asked Chase Quentin, the Secretary of Foreign Relations.
“I have already scheduled a virtual summit with the U.N. that will be held in about three hours to inform them of what we have discovered. I will also share the schematics of the original deep spacecraft with them so that they can try to save as many of their people as they can.”
“There are some concerns with that plan, Mr. President,” Gerald Ogden, the Secretary of Defense, said, speaking for the first time in a smooth baritone.
“And those concerns are, Mr. Secretary?” President Simmons asked, bemused.
“What if countries who are not allied with us decided to equip their vessels with artillery and fill them with their military? How would our vessel full of children defend themselves should that nation decide that they wanted our vessel too?”
Simmons' eyes widened, clearly having not thought of that potential outcome. “I see your point. Do you have any recommendations on how we could avoid this?” President Simmons asked.
“Why not keep the blueprints and invite the other nations to work cooperatively? Require them to send laborers and materials to build even more habitats on U.S. soil and then have them vet their population for caregivers, pilots, and children as we are doing,” posed Secretary Ogden.
As the conversation turned to political matters, Lena’s thoughts began to wonder. She thought about her family, her young cousins and wondered how she might get them all spots on this migration that the people in power were planning.
When President Simmons finally ended the meeting, Lena was exhausted. The conference had lasted more than five hours and had accomplished much. She knew if the legislative branch had been conducting this meeting, it would have taken much longer.