11 DEC, 2036
It’s 100 percent certain we’ll be hit (by a devastating asteroid),
but we’re not 100 percent sure when.
B612 Foundation had said it way back in 2018. The day of reckoning was fast approaching.
Zara watched the flat screen as the US President spoke from Capitol Hill. Just like her, the entire world watched in dread. The President headed the Interagency Working Group (IWG) of DAMIEN (Detecting and Mitigating the Impact of Earth-Bound Near Earth Objects).
“Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Earthlings, the time has come to launch the program—which we wished never was required—but I do so with a heavy heart. Be sure that it is the only option left—to save us and our planet—from the impact of Apophis,” he said with a grim expression, each word coming out with reluctance.
“We have but 120 days left before Apophis hits us. Either we succeed in destroying it or we get wiped out like the dinosaurs were. I hereby launch the International Near-Earth-Object Defence Action Plan.”
Zara knew what it meant. Her husband, Zeeshan, would be leaving on a jet plane. He was part of the strategic defence plan. He would pilot one of the five Nuclear-powered space re-entry vehicles. They would intercept Apophis, before it could enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
Zara was privy to this information, from about a month and expected such an announcement. Her NGO B612, was part of a global network that monitored such Near-Earth-Objects likely to impact Earth. The threat had almost vanished as it was thought that Apophis was out of harm’s way. But their crowd-funded SENTINEL space telescope, launched by B612, had provided immaculate data that helped re-calculate the path of Apophis. Information exchange was prompt and NASA was alerted.
Apophis was a 370 metres asteroid. It could produce 1200 Megaton impact, whereas the Fat Man of Nagasaki produced a paltry 20 kilotons and The Tsar Bomba—50 Megatons.
And Apophis was headed towards Earth—towards Central India.
As the news percolated about the likely zone of impact extending anywhere from Rajasthan to Kolkatta, a panic set in Shweta. It could wipe out the entire country or even continent if the mitigation or destruction failed. Indian Government pressed into action, its National Disaster Relief Forces tasked.
Zara looked at Zeeshan with eyes that said it all. “It’s time we go and meet your Abbu, Zeeshan.”
He looked back understandingly and said, “I guess so. We don’t have much time. We have to get him out of Nagpur.”
“I’ve spoken to him and dropped a hint. I don’t think he will relent.”
Zara and Zeeshan decided to drive down their Ertiga the next day to Nagpur. That way it would be faster. The panic was apparent everywhere. People had started packing and preserving what they could. The trains and planes would all be over-booked soon. The mad rush was about to begin. Everyone wanted to get out of harm’s way—take whatever chance they had for surviving. Man was ultimately an animal. Survival instincts do kick in. And it was one of those times—of life and death.
“Abbu, it is so nice to see you. It’s almost six months that we have met,” Zeeshan said.
“Yes, my son. My eyes were striving to see you, meet you. This house gets so lonely after your Ammi’s demise. I feel her presence everywhere.”
“I know Abbu. That’s why I wanted you to be with me in Mumbai. But you won’t listen,” Zeeshan annoyingly said.
Zara sensing the tension and awkwardness thought it was the right time to make him relent. “Abbu, you know what is going to happen. Apophis is likely to hit central India, if the mission fails. . .”
“I’ve heard about it,” Abbu said nonchalantly.
“Time is right, Abbu. You have to come with us now. We will take you to Mumbai. At least we have a fighting chance in Mumbai. You are a sitting duck over here,” Zara said.
Abbu looked on at the floor, without responding. Zara and Zeeshan waited which seemed like an eternity. Then he spoke very softly saying, “Listen, both of you. I appreciate your concern. But, I have spent my entire life here in Nagpur, in this very house. Ammi’s memories are part of me and this house. I’ll die here, with Apophis or without it. You don’t worry about this old man. Allah will take care of me and his wish is final.” He got up and went inside the kitchen and shouted back, “Would you two care for some Adrak ki chai?”
Zeeshan and Zara knew this was the most likely outcome. Abbu would not budge—and he did not.
100 days for Apophis impact.
Zara bode farewell to Zeeshan from Sriharikota as he donned the Astro-suit and proceeded to board the Nuclear Powered Earth Re-entrant Vehicle (NPERV). It was part of the global mission to launch four such ships to intercept Apophis.
“My young Captain, Go and save mankind. Bust the shit out of Apophis,” she said teary-eyed, knowing very well that this might be the last time she embraced him.
She watched from the viewer’s gallery the rocket soaring high into the atmosphere, propelled by a massive blob of fire. She watched the first stage separation take place and the NPERV disappear in the vastness of the clear blue skies, searching for the ‘Space’ beyond.
The next three days saw three such launches worldwide. It would take them ten days to reach Apophis. They planned to put nuclear explosives on Apophis. Approach to asteroids was not new. Humans had found ways to mine for rare minerals on asteroids. But a direct engagement of a huge asteroid was rare, and a first, even on a cosmic time scale.
The operation was planned in three stages. On its success would depend the survival of the continent—or maybe the entire human race!
Zara went to her plush office in Nariman Point. Her B612 regional HQs was thronged by press reporters and she found her way inside with great difficulty. Her arrival sparked a frenzy amongst the reporters. They poked their mics on to her face, scourging for new information. She was a celebrity now, as her contribution was immense. And furthermore, Zeeshan too was part of the global mission, onboard the NRERV.
She had a brief meeting with her staff. They studied the latest parameters of Apophis and the trajectory it was following. They corroborated and verified it with the NASA data and looked at the final results which appeared pretty grim.
“Madam, it seems now Apophis will hit somewhere in Madhya Pradesh and Eastern Maharashtra. As time goes by, the strike zone will shrink and we will be able to predict it more accurately,” Mr. Sane, the Chief Scientist said.
“And what’s the magnitude of the impact?” Zara asked.
“It would depend upon the mass and the angle. And also upon what our Defence mission accomplishes. If it hits without any hurdles, it will be a 1200 Megaton strike, about 1000 times of Nagasaki.”
“And other effects?” Zara asked with raised eyebrows, fearing the answer.
“We can’t be sure. But it will completely annihilate Central India. Plus there can be a huge seismic activity—and tsunamis—that will be felt across many continents. There would be shock effects too. And most importantly, there will be huge climatic alterations resulting in total chaos in the atmosphere. That’s the one we can’t predict. And it’s what actually wiped out the dinosaurs.”
Zara knew in an instant that the results were totally beyond human predictions. What lay ahead nobody knew. Maybe it was all destined. God, Supreme power or whatever-it-was that controlled it, had willed it. Time would tell. And it was just around the corner.
60 days for impact
The evacuation effort was in full swing. The government machinery, the Defence and paramilitary forces, were all working round the clock ensuring that people move out of the critical zone. An exodus of about thirty crore people was underway. The biggest recorded migration!
An unprecedented level of co-operation was seen across the country. People whole-heartedly opened their doors to their friends and relatives. People moved to the periphery of the landmass. Some who could afford took flights and moved to foreign lands.
Everyone thought of the best possible method to survive. That was human nature, or maybe animal instinct. Animals always put out a fight, until the last breath. Till there is a chance, a hope—no matter how slim it is, they will cling on to it. And the situation demanded it and warranted it.
Global aid poured in and camps and health centres were set up. Countries took precautions in their own ways, for anticipated earthquakes, tsunamis, storms and rainfall. Shelters were created, people dug out bunkers and stocked on rations. The entire planet braced for a fight. A fight to survive.
Zara got a chance to talk to Zeeshan aboard the NPERV after a long time. She was happy that he was still in one piece.
“Hey, champion. How’s it going? Are you ensuring that we make it?” She asked him pretending to be in control of her emotions.
The voice sounded distant and distorted. It was delayed, but it was his for sure. She felt the familiar warmth in her body as she heard him saying, “Oh yeah. Apophis has been primed. We have put tons of bombs on it. They will go off twice. Now we plan to take a direct hit, once we are out of harms’ way. Then we will make a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.”
“Did you land on it?”
“Yes, the Apophis beast is huge and it’s pretty fast. But we will bring it down,” Zeeshan said.
“That’s great news. Hope to see you soon,” Zara said signing off.
30 days to impact
All four NPERVs aimed at Apophis. They fired simultaneously. They wanted a concerted effect. One that would cause a massive enough explosion that would send it off-course. Deflect it and prevent it from striking Earth.
They watched as their munitions headed to their destination. They observed the radars, as the contact was established with the target. Zeeshan’s heart skipped a beat. He wanted the dot on the radar to vanish forever.
He kept on watching as it updated the data. The bleep on the screen was still there. . .
Apophis had survived and was still on course, earth-ward bound!
Zara checked her calculations. Mr. Sane and she stooped over the computer monitor, trying to crunch the data.
“Madam, there is surely some deceleration. A drop of about thirty percent in the speed. But no change in the direction. It’s on the same path.”
“Well, at least there has been some effect. Hope stage two attains something better,” she sighed and moved away from the monitor.
How she longed to be with Zeeshan. The least she wanted was to be near him, in the final moments. If all went well he would be with her in the next three days.
10 days to impact
Stage two was set into action. The Nuclear warheads mounted on Apophis were detonated. The massive explosion hoped to blow it into smithereens.
All the Earth stations were tuned in to the happenings in outer space —NASA, ISRO, the Russian space agency, Japanese. . . . These were the final moments.
The scientists observed the huge explosion in the skies by their powerful telescopes. People on earth observed it with naked eyes. Everyone hoped for a miracle and mitigation of the threat.
But Apophis was a hard nut to crack. It was made up of the densest of the minerals known. The explosion failed to have a significant impact. It cracked it into two pieces, one large and the other relatively small. The small one veered off course, whereas the main one still was on course. The mass reduced by a mere twenty percent.
Globally, prayers started in all religious places. God and Religion was the last recourse. People need a super-power to bow to; a hope to cling on to, when human efforts fail. They were just doing that. That’s human nature.
Now, only the third stage could save Earth—or maybe some Divine intervention from somewhere.
Zeeshan sat close to Zara, hand in hand, glued to the television set, watching the developments continuously. All the NPERVs had made smooth landings.
Apophis entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The entry was violent and set off a blaze of fire in the evening skies. It was like some electric short circuit set in motion.
In a short time after entry, the final stage—the last hope—was operationalised.
There was a massive blast in the skies above. It was all lit up and the skies turned an ochre orange. As if somebody had changed a filter in a picture-perfect photo. It was accompanied by a deafening roar as if thousands of thunders had plotted a simultaneous attack.
Gradually the skies after ten minutes, started turning a dark grey. Then there was the meteorite shower. A bright display of fireworks, like on a New Year or Diwali.
Zara and Zeeshan watched with a glee. Apophis had disintegrated! Stage three had had its effect. The atmospheric oxygen helped the massive explosion and that did the trick.
There was a shower of debris in Central India, but luckily it fell in the barren and desolate region of Bundelkhand. Some houses were reportedly damaged. Some people suffered injuries. But there were no casualties reported, mercifully.
It rained thereafter, for almost three days incessantly. Like the Earth wanted to clean itself of the contamination. It stopped only after three days.
It was a bright blue day and the sun rose like it always did.
Zara rung up Abbu in Nagpur. “Abbu, how are you?”
“I am fine beta. There is nothing to worry about. The rains have stopped. There was a lot of water-logging due to the flash floods. But, it will clear soon. Nothing to worry. See, I had told you. . . Allah is merciful. He’ll take care.”
“Why don’t you visit us here, Abbu? Please do come.”
“I was also thinking about it, Bahu. I think I will start tomorrow.”
Zara and Zeeshan couldn’t believe what they had just heard!
India had survived. Earth had survived. Chaos had been tamed. Mankind had scripted its destiny—or God had willed it—who’s to say?
PC : Wikipedia, Creative Commons licence.
- Apophis is the Greekname of Apep, an enemy of the Ancient Egyptiansun-god Ra. He is the Uncreator, an evil serpent that dwells in the eternal darkness of the Duat and tries to swallow Ra during his nightly passage. Apep is held at bay by Set, the Ancient Egyptian god of storms and the desert.
- Apophis asteroid 99942 Apophisis a 370-metre-diameter near-Earth asteroid that caused a brief period of concern in December 2004 because initial observations indicated a probability of up to 2.7% that it would hit Earthon April 13, 2029.
- B612 Foundation : headquartered in Mil Valley, California, US.
Photo By: Pixabay
This is an entry for #Countdown, a Beaks and Claws club exclusive event. Check out the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/room8/countdown/
Room8 appreciates your rating the story out of 10 in the comments.
Find more from Manoj Paprikar here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/author/manojpaprikar/