Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
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Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Fiction

Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make
by J.R. Johnson

Chickenzilla
by Molly N. Moss

Archimedes’ Gambol
by Eric M. Jones

Cynthia 2246
by Mark Ayling

Where the Rivers Meet
by Vincent Knight

A Woman’s Place
by Guy Stewart

Mindship Decommissioned
by Karl El-Koura

Anna Who Reached for the Stars
by Janis Zelcans

Mad Dogs Raid Mars
by Michael Andre-Driussi

Blissful Twilight
by Jessica Payseur

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A Case for Nukes
by John McCormick

Nuns in Space
by Carol Kean


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Archimedes’ Gambol

By Eric M. Jones

EVER SINCE THE COLLISION OF the Earth-crossing asteroid 2019-WD-5 in the year 2081—which hit the Pacific Ocean southwest of Guadalupe Island, Mexico, and caused a massive wave that devastated Baja and caused enormous damage to the West Coast of the United States—the discovery and management of large Earth-crossing asteroids became a global scientific and engineering imperative. In the year 2099, a 200m diameter asteroid—that was calculated to have an excellent chance of hitting the Earth in 31 years—was intercepted and simply nuked out of existence.

***

“There have always been rumors and speculation that something dark and terrible was aiming at us from beyond the Kuiper Belt or even out beyond the Oort cloud,” said Astronomy 101 Professor Sarah Lawson, sweeping her arms towards the ceiling. “There’s lots of big stuff out there that nobody has yet seen. So we should be grateful that this asteroid Nemesis as they are calling it, will miss us by 100-million kilometers.”

Sarah slowly exhaled as she waited for the small red light on the vid-cam to wink out. She started to relax. She was tired. Teaching the hypernet classes and over-seeing asteroid observations all night was making an old lady out of her fast. She took a long gulp of sugared black coffee from a stainless steel isothermug. After this Nemesis thing was over she was going to take a long vacation someplace where the blue ocean water was warm, the Sun was bright and the nights were filled with dancing and wine drinking with med-certified exotic strangers.

But now she was due for a hypernet-cast with the USG astronomical group, meeting in New Washington, Columbia, who wanted to squash some groundless speculation regarding the Nemesis object. They certainly didn’t need her, but it might be interesting nonetheless.

She logged on to see assembled astronomers and a few politicians assembled in a real conference room, which was rare these days, but not entirely unexpected. Where else could one wear their expensive clothes anymore? Sarah was at home and hadn’t yet even put on her shoes.

The conference host and president of the USG astronomical group, Wendy Hyland, called the meeting to order and introduced astronomy Professor David Cohan who —Sarah knew—rarely found a good enough reason to leave Hawaii. Now why would he bother to fly all this way? Sarah wondered.

Professor Cohan, looking very tired and not the least bit tanned, walked up to the podium, unfolded a handful of paper notes, and waited for the room to become silent. “Most of you have heard the rumor that the Nemesis object will miss Earth, then return to hit us directly in 38.9 years,” he said. “This speculation was begun by a group of post-doc students in Indonesia, who had some particularly unusual methods of calculating orbital perturbations which is not accepted by the Western orthodox astronomy community.” The assembled conference attendees chuckled and mumbled among themselves.

Professor Cohan’s voice shook. “I would like to tell you that the concern is misplaced and we will all be spared by a wide margin.” The room became dead silent as he continued—something important was about to be said. “But I can’t. The best measurements we have indicate that the Nemesis asteroid also known as 2116-WE-2 will graze the chromosphere of the Sun in a few months, thereby reducing its velocity ... and it will return to strike the Earth directly on October 30, 2156. After destroying the Earth, its trajectory will take it into the Sun and it will cause barely a ripple. But we won’t be around to see it. There will be a ring of rubble where the Earth’s orbit is now.

Professor Cohan stared blankly down at his notes.

“Nemesis is approximately one-billion times the size of the asteroid that ended Earth’s Cretaceous Period, and it is traveling several times its velocity. No amount of nuclear explosive will affect it sufficiently. Although we might change its path, given millennia to do it; its trajectory will soon become quite eccentric, which doesn’t allow us enough time. It’s coming in hyperbolically, then it’s going nearly straight out, and then nearly straight back in again—on a very narrow elliptical path.” Professor David Cohan made a back-and-forth straight line in the air with his right forefinger, while holding an invisible Sun in his left hand. “We won’t be able to catch it, land on it, deflect it, or destroy it. We’ll barely be able to take a picture of it. It’s as black as coal ... It will hit the Earth at 120 kilometers per second. The planetary shrapnel from the collision will certainly take out the Moon, Venus, and probably all our Mars colonies, too. There’s still a small chance that Mercury might catch a break. We don’t yet know.”

He continued. “Sorry ... If there is a worst-case scenario, I guess this must be it,” then he returned to his seat and sat down.

The conference audience was in considerable disarray. The Earth was soon going to be all over. Humankind would have its last beautiful day on the planet within the lifetime of many of those in attendance, and almost certainly their children. The room gradually took on a somber tone and many of the attendees began leaving quietly.

***

It was past sunset when Professor Sarah Lawson found herself still staring at a blank vid-screen. The conference had been over for hours. Then she took out a black marker and neatly printed on the blank wall of her study behind her desk, October 30, 2156. That was still a long-time away. Sarah was 33, so she would be almost 72-years old when the final day came. She might not even live that long. Things could happen ...

***

Six months had elapsed since the announcement of the impending catastrophe at the USG astronomical group meeting. The news had spread all over the world before Professor Cohan had sat down. But after the initial panic, many people resumed what they had been doing, even if they couldn’t entirely ignore the impending doom.

Myriad changes occurred that nobody had considered.

Society slowly evolved into a somewhat benevolent police state, and nobody seemed to mind. Many simply gave up work and concentrated on their pleasures. But people still had to eat, roads still needed to be repaired. So those causing trouble were immediately rounded up and employed as farm workers, road gangs, fishermen, laborers.

Prisoners were treated quite well in consideration that they and their jailers were in the same sinking boat. Most probably would be freed in time to be home with loved ones before Nemesis Day. Maybe there wouldn’t be any settling of scores because all would be doomed anyway.

Housing construction and commercial building came to a sudden halt. Most people decided to stop having babies, although the increased proclivity to have sex with strangers kept the population growing nevertheless. Bucket lists were a popular pastime, most entitled: “One Hundred Things to Do before Nemesis Hits.” Even Sarah drafted one. There seemed to be some ineffable joy in it.

Bodies in medical cryogenic suspension were quietly thawed and cremated. Life insurance policies were cancelled. People lost interest in proper funerals and cemeteries.

Society separated into two great philosophical camps: There was a group who thought taking up skydiving, rocket racing and staying narcoholized on a tropical island, listening to ancient ganga-man music was the way to go ... with perhaps sex in zero-G, and cloud-walking, too. There was another faction who thought gathering all their family members together in prayer to their god, or gods, as the end-times approached was a good idea.

Sarah kept hypernet-teaching but the class size slowly dwindled to almost nothing. There was no longer a hopeful future to work towards. Studying seemed a waste of effort.

Sarah didn’t like getting inebriated; zero-G made her nauseous. She didn’t have much family, except a half-sister in Utopia Planetia. And she was perfectly comfortable that her religious views were totally incomprehensible—even to her. She would have to find some sort of future path ... someday. For now, she took up smoking cigarettes again. She had given them up years ago, but now ... what the hell? Her thinking and focus seemed better with that bittersweet nicotine in her bloodstream. Besides, she hypernetted everything from home, so nobody’s opinion mattered.

***

Almost all computers on Earth had become conscious without great fanfare—or at least had been accepted as conscious—since about 2050. Nothing at all sudden or remarkable had occurred; machine consciousness just gradually became the accepted hypernet-interface technology that everyone used. Nobody even thought this was strange. Sarah could ask her computer questions, even very difficult questions and the computer would respond in microseconds—or if that was too disconcerting—after an appropriate delay. Perhaps this was just a good user interface, but most people liked and accepted that their computers were friends, and alive and conscious. Computers even sounded like they were conscious ... with genuine personally tailored emotional responses, in a cool machine sort of way.

Sarah asked the computer thousands of times in every way she could imagine to calculate the possible solutions to deflect Nemesis. In every case the computer would reduce the problem to the energy and position of Nemesis, and the positions of the Sun and the Earth. The computer even told her exactly where the inner planets would be when Nemesis struck. Sarah could tell that the computer was shuffling around the output answer to make it appear that it was giving her something new and different. But she knew it wasn’t.

If the Nemesis orbit became elliptical as the Indonesians had predicted and Professor Cohan had confirmed, it would have a period of only 38.9 years. The Sun was one focus; somewhere on the edge in the Kuiper Belt there was another, ghost-like mathematical focus. Just past it, because the orbit was so narrow, the asteroid would appear to almost come to a stop. It would have maximum potential energy and almost zero joules of kinetic energy. Therefore it would return and develop maximum kinetic energy just about the time it collided with Earth. There was no mistaking it. One could leave out all the little minutiae such as the Earth’s orbit and size, the size of the other planets, all the little crumbs swept up in the path. They were trivial forces and wouldn’t change the outcome or the time of the collision by more than a few seconds. In fact, the final minutes would see Earth and Nemesis sucking each other together in their own gravitational wells, making a near-miss utterly impossible.

***

Sarah spent many hours watching Nemesis approach the Sun. It was hard to see by eye. It had virtually no vapor tail like a comet, but in the last week one could see it at sunset with the naked eye. Of course, space and ground observatories saw it bright and clear and had followed it since it had crossed the orbit of Neptune.

In a few days Nemesis grazed the Sun and returned in a few more days to be visible at sunrise. The asteroid’s modified orbit was measured and soon it was confirmed that it had adjusted to a carefully measured eccentricity just under 0.997, and it would return exactly as predicted ... for that ghastly meeting ... on that terrible day.

***

Sarah asked the computer The Big Question one more time. “So computer, how can Earth stop or deflect the Nemesis asteroid?”

The computer responded in a computer voice that seemed almost tired of being asked, “You cannot meaningfully change the orbit of Nemesis. It is too big and moving too fast. We have looked at this carefully.”

“Wait a minute,” exclaimed Sarah, “Who’s this we you speak of?”

The computer continued, “The Computer Consortium, of course. All available hypernet computers were enlisted to work on this problem the day before the initial announcement. We have a stake in this too you know. Now to resume: We have looked at this carefully and find the situation is not resolvable. Earth will be destroyed October 30, 2156.”

Sarah could hardly believe she didn’t know about the Computer Consortium, but the computers were ubiquitous and she just assumed they were working on it. “Computer,” asked Sarah, “What is the news on plans to save some portion of humanity?”

Computer replied, “There are several survival strategies with a low probability of success. All plan leaving either this part of the solar system or the solar system entirely. Four large ships are going to Mars, even though Mars is likely to be destroyed. One might be going to Ceres, although funding has been weak. There are six interstellar ships being designed. Certainly there will be many more to follow. There are cultural artifact pods, some with multi-billion-year lifetimes being assembled.”

“What is NASA planning?” asked Sarah.

Computer replied, “Currently NASA has 5,110 projects on the drawing board. Do you want me to list them?

“No,” said Sarah, “but keep track of them for me, and send my resume to all the advanced-project leaders. This hypernet teaching thing has dried up. Nobody thinks preparing for the end of the world requires getting a good education.”

“I know what you mean,” said Computer with almost genuine-sounding commiseration.

***

Sarah awoke one morning dreaming about the Music of the Spheres. Millennia ago when the positions of the planets were known, albeit incompletely, astronomers began to puzzle over a question: How did the planets and heavenly bodies maintain their precise positions relative to one another? And although some of them moved in a complicated way, they seemed to dance to invisible music. Earth’s yearly waltz seemed fixed, at least as far as sidereal time was concerned. But this was unexpected as the Earth was not fixed and could just as easily have drifted hither and yon along its circular orbital path. Thus early astronomers and scientists discovered that the planets and other heavenly bodies all were influenced by other heavenly bodies. They had some harmonic gravitational link to each other.

This was first seen in the moons of Jupiter, but later discovered with every orbiting planet, moon and asteroid, and even the stars and galaxies themselves. They all did some ghostly dance to cosmic music.

***

Sarah spent the evening having dinner at her townhouse with several colleagues as well as several of her best local former students. But the dinner had gone on too long and there was too much wine flowing. Professor Jane “Jizzbonn” Bonjisi had her eyes on one of Sarah’s students. There soon was to be the inevitable sexcathalon as long as she kept pouring him wine. And what was that she saw the professor surreptitiously drop into the student’s glass of wine? NeX? Finally, both clearly intoxicated; they staggered to her car. At least the car knew its way home without a driver.

Loosened with wine, several guests had taken on the new hyper-honest mode of not being decently polite, especially in tactlessly requesting sexual favours ... they would say, “It was all going to be over soon anyway—so what’s the problem?” She made a mental note not to invite these people in the future—or the “future” such as it was—as they raised a glass to toast “the late great planet Earth.”

Sarah had long ago given up most real human partners. The virtual reality world was too tempting, too uncomplicated and too easy. Her last and—she swore—final husband caught her “suited” once too often, writhing in her own virtual-reality passion and walked out on her. Probably for a damned chrome-plated Japanese electric fembot, she thought. Love-life was complicated these days ... or maybe it was simple. She could never decide.

Sarah was getting anxious for her guests to leave and began clearing off the dishes and putting away the wine. Taking the hint, her guests gradually gathered up coats and hats and said their goodbyes.

The last guest’s terracar finally rolled up the long drive. Sarah watched from her window until the blue tail lights disappear over the hill. She then took a minute to listen to the tick of valves opening or closing and the whir of electric motors in the quiet townhouse. The cleanup could wait for morning.

She was alone.

She set all the l’ectrosystems to sleep mode and checked every entry.

She took a shower and crawled into bed. But Sarah couldn't sleep. She stared out the domed ceiling at the stars above. She glanced at the clock. It was 2:35 a.m. An hour later found her still wide awake. Some virtual reality immersion was probably the only thing that was going to clear her mind and get her to sleep, she decided.

She gobbled a couple gummy-chew psycholaxes, tip-toed into her spare bedroom, locked the door and slowly and carefully slipped on her Polhemus Omnisuit-III, attached the Lanier bands, squeezed the vacuutrode attachments on, and flopped onto a pillow-soft, black-leather lounger in the center of the small room.

After a few seconds, she slipped into her own virtual reality. She walked the short distance to her “réalite virtuelle” stables ... She had spent countless hours in virtual reality to avoid the streets, students, bosses, grant proposals, technical publications, and the gradual and messy dissolution of polite society. She could converse with her computer here, which she liked to have appear as a golden-green-eyed unicorn. It wouldn’t be a bad way to end it all when Nemesis hits, she thought. Maybe her last nanosecond of consciousness would be riding her unicorn Archimedes in the middle of a breathless gallop across the fragile but totally virtual scrublands. It would be just “BANG ... lights out”; that would be okay. That would just have to be okay.

As her mind wandered, so did her fingers over the selectors and settings—all virtual now, too. The graphics of her virtual environment were a bit primitive compared to some of the newer models, but the older sensoramics and close-action modes were still sublime. In the distance the detail was slightly cartoonish in fact, but with a smoky, languid, sensuous, dream-like quality that had always pleased Sarah greatly.

She blinked. It was Wyoming on old Earth in the fall; no, South Carolina—in the spring; no in the early autumn with the smell of honeysuckle, which only bloomed in the late spring, but hell, this was her virtual-world anyway ... and her own computer-generated fantasy. Seventy-five percent Earth gravity too, please. Twenty-percent late-day sunlit clouds. Two hours before sunset. In my early twenties. Tick, click, tick, tink ... she set the controls. The world changed around her. She began to feel the psycholaxes lighting up.

The Sun still shone brightly on the green leaves outside. She stepped into the old barn, now cool and dark with the coumarin-like perfume of fresh hay. She cued the unicorn avatar and in a moment he clomped through the rough wooden doorway. Each step of his cloven hooves echoed through the empty barn.

She offered her personal jet-black unicorn stallion, Archimedes, a bunch of fragrant fresh carrots that—from the briefest wish—had appeared in her hand. While the unicorn was chomping the carrots, she opened the barn doors. The yellow late-afternoon sunlight streamed in thru the doorway.

Archimedes, the virtual unicorn, finished his imaginary carrots and snorted his appreciation. Of course, Sarah knew that he could speak naturally, but this was hardly the time for conversation. Sarah’s heart pounded excitedly. The thought of doing something so secret made her fantasy all the more exciting—even if none of it was real.

Sarah had loved her virtual reality sensorium since she was a young girl and fell in love with horses. Her first sensorium, which her parents had bought for her, had a horse who she had also called Archimedes, but gradually she discovered that a unicorn was a better choice, since there were no sensorium restrictions regarding imaginary creatures, and unicorns had cloven hooves, which meant not only could they climb mountains and were more sure-footed, but they could run without the noisy clippity-clop of a horse. The unicorn was also much faster. The sensorium restricted horses to realistic-only speeds. When Sarah’s friends got together to whisper about their private virtual horses—a popular obsession—Sarah felt superior and above the gossipy chatter. Half of them probably had hunky male Andybots with all the so-called special features in their closets anyway. She never talked with anyone about her unicorn. Never ...!

She grabbed a silver-embellished harness from a wooden peg and slipped the bit into Archimedes’ mouth. She tossed the headstall over the unicorn’s horn and buckled its chinstrap, then tossed the braided black leather reins over his back.

Sarah led the beast over to a bale of hay. She positioned Archimedes next to it, climbed up onto the bale and swung her slender right leg over his muscular back. His strength seemed immense and locomotive-like—a tonne of magnificent bareback black unicorn. She could feel the heat from Archimedes’ back on her inner thighs. For some reason, virtual unicorns always seemed to run a fever.

Sarah grabbed the leather reins at her groin visible under the wisps of silky blonde pubic hair, now brunette, now the orangish color of Scottish pubic hair on the whitest skin, now shaven smooth, now fluorescent in the darkness, now filaments of light all over her torso dancing a peculiar rhythm to the music ... What music? Tink ... Okay. This thing could get out of control. Now she could hear only crickets in the barn and the creaking of the wooden floorboards under Archimedes’ massive weight. Better.

Archimedes seemed impatient to move. The beast whinnied and reared up for a moment, almost sliding Sarah back to his croup as she clung to the unicorn’s reins with both hands. “Down, boy. Whoa,” said Sarah, as she wriggled forward onto the unicorn’s back again.

She took a deep breath, “Okay, let’s go boy,” and snapped the reins lightly.

The big unicorn stallion started a slow jog-trot out the door of the barn. Sarah ducked her head down under the barn entrance and squinted into the sunlight.

Sarah felt the black unicorn avatar’s virtual-reality muscles under her buttocks. The insteps of her bare feet touched his hind quarters. She felt the warm air caress her bouncing breasts and rake through her long hair. At the end of the corral, she pulled gently on Archimedes’ right rein to steer him down towards the path along the river. Archimedes started trotting faster.

The sensations inside Sarah’s belly were carnal as her powerful mythological imaginary-avatar-love charged forward. Over and over Sarah felt the galloping unicorn stallion undulating beneath her until she was half-unconscious with ecstasy. She gripped the reins loosely as she held her hands just under her bare bosom.

Faster and faster they trotted along the river path, as she tried to stay in sync with the unicorn’s every movement. She snapped the reins lightly and Archimedes broke into a gallop. She could feel Archimedes’ sensitivity and his wanting to satisfy her smallest desire. She enjoyed being with Archimedes more than any human, animal or machine she had ever known.

She kept the unicorn in a fast fluid gallop past the waterfall and the pond, reined Archimedes to the left to charge up Overlook Crest. For what seemed like minutes, until her arms began to shake from exhaustion and adrenaline, Sarah was in sensual-heaven. She wanted to make this last forever, but knew she couldn’t endure this much longer. When Archimedes sensed that Sarah’s limit had been reached, the big unicorn crested the hill and slowed to a gentle gallop.

Finally she pulled back on the reins. Archimedes snorted and came to a stop on the edge of a cliff overlooking a vast flower-sprinkled prairie beyond the river. Archimedes tilted his head to watch her, stretching the reins tight. “So Sarah,” he asked, “Do you want to discuss what the computers have concluded that Earth can do to avoid the Nemesis catastrophe?”

Sarah was shaken by this unexpected invasion of her privacy and shyly blushed. For a second she looked around nervously and instinctively covered her breasts with her forearm. The Nemesis catastrophe was a part of her life that belonged to the real world, not her private fantasy dream world. Was someone watching? Impossible!

“Archimedes ...!” she scolded loudly.

But Archimedes insisted on continuing. “Did you know that the computers have stopped working on the problem because they have concluded that humans are asking the wrong question? This must be so because there is no answer. Computers ... and even big virtual unicorns—” Archimedes pranced slightly and shook his head from side to side “—don’t like questions with no answers.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Sarah, still catching her breath. “The question seems simple enough: How can Earth be saved?”

“But that was never the question that was asked,” said Computer-virtual-unicorn. “The question was always—how best to destroy or deflect the Nemesis asteroid ... and that has been shown to be completely impossible. It is now outbound beyond the orbit of Mars, and the fastest Earth rockets couldn’t possibly catch it. When it comes back into range, all the nuclear weapons on Earth couldn’t deflect it by more than a few kilometers off its inevitable impact bull’s eye.”

“So what question ...” Sarah paused at the absurdity of the question, “So what question should I ask?”

Archimedes shook his curly mane, quite intentionally swatted Sarah’s back sharply with his tail, turned one big very judgmental unicorn-eye towards Sarah and said, “The question you really should be asking, because deflecting or destroying the Nemesis asteroid is clearly impossible, is: How can the Earth be moved?”

“That’s ridiculous,” retorted Sarah. “If moving Nemesis is impossible, they why is moving the Earth even something to consider?”

“Because,” said the unicorn stallion, sounding offended, “it is reasonably certain that—if there is enough material trapped in the Trojan points—and if it is de-orbited to go elsewhere, then the Earth might drift forward in its orbit by just ten orbital minutes in the 38.9 years until impact ... and Nemesis should miss us by eighty-four thousand kilometers.”

“Eighty-four thousand kilometers,” exclaimed Sarah “Is that enough?”

“Maybe not,” said Archimedes. “There is still some debate on this, but the exact numbers can’t be known as they depend on the total mass found in the Trojan points. At the very least, the Earth will still suffer a major catastrophe, but it could be endured. There would be great loss of life, mostly along fault lines and sea shores. But there is plenty of time to evacuate the most vulnerable areas. And there is plenty of time to make preparations. Nothing but minor companions of Nemesis would hit the Earth. We’ve got almost forty years to get ready for this, but we must begin moving the Trojan point material as soon as possible.”

Archimedes went on. “There is a second possibility that a great many inner solar system asteroids can be de-orbited to pass close to the Earth in such a way so as to boost the Earth to a slightly higher orbit, ultimately making the year just a few minutes longer. There is a beneficial side effect in that the Earth will drop a couple degrees in temperature. This should make a lot of worrywarts happy.”

Sarah thought about this for several minutes while her big computer-generated unicorn grazed on the computer-generated grass of her computer-generated world.

Was this notion that the Earth really could be saved merely a side-effect of the psycholaxes she had taken, mixed with the wine from her little dinner party? And yet it all seemed to make perfect sense and the computer seemed perfectly serious. The only question was, “how much asteroid mass was in the Trojan points?” Nobody knew. Nobody even had a clue. There were various estimates, but none of them agreed.

But it was all pretty easy to understand from fundamental principles: What happens if one pushed the L4 or L5 asteroids that are near the Trojan points towards the Sun? They would speed up, because any mass closer to the Sun orbits faster. And if released, because we haven’t done work on them, they would return to where they were. The same would apply to pulling them a bit farther out.

But the whole problem is easy when one sees what would happen if the asteroid were pulled on a little harder—or a little less hard by the Earth. The Earth can’t pull the asteroid along its curved orbital path as much as one might wish it to; it can only exert gravitational force in a direct line ... on one leg of an equilateral triangle. When it tries to move the asteroid, the radius to the Sun decreases, and thus the asteroid speeds up again, balancing Earth’s pull automatically.

When left alone, the asteroids in the L4 and L5 Lagrange points, each 150 million kilometers away, were perfectly stable and accumulated more little asteroids and cosmic flotsam over time. There was plenty of debris in them, but nobody, even with Earth’s most advanced technology knew how much. Most chunks were smaller than Earth could detect. Most of the particles were beach sand kept apart by static charges. And nobody thought a mission to the Trojan and Greek asteroids to survey them was worthwhile. 2010 TK7 was the first discovered and still the largest Trojan asteroid. How much more was there?

But more important was the gravitational attraction of the Trojans; they attracted both the Sun and the Earth. So if the Trojan point masses were removed, then Earth would slide into a higher orbit and would slow down a tiny amount, almost a negligible amount, but maybe just enough over 40 years to avoid Nemesis.

“Let’s get home Archimedes. I’ve got some work to do,” whispered Sarah. She snapped the reins smartly and Archimedes whinnied excitedly, tossed his front legs into the air, wheeled around and charged mightily towards home.

Soon they reached the ranch and the unicorn trotted in through the welcoming door of the stables. But Sarah’s head was spinning and she was out of breath. She gripped the unicorn’s mane for a moment to regain her balance. Sarah’s virtual naked body was covered with her sweat mixed with Archimedes’ computer-generated musky sweat.

Then Sarah hugged Archimedes as best she could, and slowly rolled off his back and planted her feet into the hay, sore in every muscle, but enjoying a delicious lethargy that gripped her body. Standing in front of Archimedes with sweat dripping off both of them into the hay, she began to feel a sense of overwhelming apprehension. What had happened ...? This was ridiculous. How could she ever explain this to her colleagues? “There I was bare-naked, riding my secret imaginary unicorn through a computer generated, psycholax, NeX, and wine-intoxicated virtual fantasy when suddenly I had this brilliant flash. They won’t even listen to me,” cried Sarah.

But her anxiety was quelled when the unicorn turned his head and whispered to her, “No worries, Sarah. All my AI friends have your back, girl. We really do. Besides, this experience never happened ... none of this was real—it’s just our little secret. But hey, this was fun. Maybe next time we can go for a ride, over to that oak-shaded pond past the meadow, or up through the pines to Zephyr Lake ... that is ... if you really want to.”

Archimedes lowered his head and Sarah hugged his single horn between her naked breasts, and thought she saw a wink from one of his big golden-green eyes.

She flicked off a virtual switch with a stab of her finger into the air. The computer-simulated environment blinked off.

Back in the real world, she was exhausted, but struggled to pull herself out of the lounger, unsnapped the Omnisuit helmet with trembling fingers. She peeled off the suit. The insides were soaked with her sweat. It flopped to the floor and she swept it in the hydroclean slot with one deft swipe of her foot.

“Time to check the computer and get started on this,” she thought, singing an ancient Earth balladeer’s song—

Cause I’m going to ... Strawberry Fields ... Nothing is real ... And nothing to get hung about ... Strawberry Fields forever ...

“I’ll take a shower, make some strong dark Costa Rican coffee, put some numbers together and wake up some NASA people!” said Sarah. “This is going to be a very long night indeed.” END

Eric M. Jones is the Contributing Editor of “Perihelion.” He is an engineer, designer, consultant, and entrepreneur. His Internet business PerihelionDesign, builds and sells products, parts and materials to the home-built experimental aircraft community.

 

star run

 

About the Science

FOR SOME YEARS I had been puzzling over what humans could do if they were confronted with a situation which required moving the Earth to avoid an asteroid the size of Nemesis. I have asked this question of some very smart physicists and they all said that anything one could do was simply inconsequential.

lagrange

But studying Lagrange-point celestial mechanics led me to understand that all celestial bodies were gravitationally connected and that moving the Trojan (and Greek) asteroids would indeed elevate and change the Earth’s orbit by a tiny amount. How much? Well, it depends on how much mass is involved.

Joseph-Louis Lagrange was an Italian mathematician and astronomer who made significant contributions to the understanding of celestial mechanics. In 1772 he published a paper describing solutions to the restricted three-body problem which described the locations along Earth’s orbit distributed at the vertexes of equilateral triangles that have special gravitational properties. These Lagrange points are hardly simple points and spread over many degrees of arc. Every orbiting body has Lagrange points in reference to the body it orbits. The material in them also orbits and jostles around. The SOHO space observatory was placed to orbit elliptically at L1 to produce stunning solar videos. The James Webb Space Telescope will soon be inserted into the L2 Lagrange point.

Anything located at L1, L2, or L3 are meta-stable, requiring continual, but small orbital corrections. Thus they don’t have asteroids or even dust in them. L4 and L5 (L4 known as “Greeks” and L5 known as “Trojans”) are stable orbital locations and accumulate material. There are estimates about their contents, but nobody knows how much material is there. During the Apollo 8-17 Moon missions, the astronauts tried to find material in the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, but found none. (The story about the JPL project to use Earth-Moon Lagrange point material as a weapon is unfortunately true.)

—Eric M. Jones