Apophis – Into the Folds of Darkness
by Raj Anand
GENRE: Sci-fi, Science Fiction
January, 2022: A dark monstrous twin-headed apparition – Apophis – feverishly races past the expanse of the Milky Way galaxy and bolts to the edge of the solar system. Recklessly accelerating, the sinister rock-dyad enters the gravitational keyhole of the blue planet and continues its resolute inebriated journey – to soon arrive with an apocalyptic impact on Earth.
December, 2012: Five sentient beings born in different cities – New York, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Azores Islands and Istanbul, discover amongst haunting memories of their phantasmal past lives, that it is their destiny to save humanity from the evil forces unleashed by the alien fiends – the Skyllats.
And now, the reincarnated 9-year-olds must rely on their shared, ancient wisdom to prepare humanity for the war across the galaxy that is imminent.
Isso Town, Yakushima Island, Japan
January 19, 2022 (0700 hours)
“Peter, what is their present position?” the 1.7-meter-tall Claire with a sharp nose and radiant blue eyes inquired, “Quelque chose d’autre a signaler – do you have anything else to report?” She adjusted her glasses, pushing back her long brown hair.
“Herodotus has crossed into the belt, and is travelling at a speed of 346,000 kilometers per hour,” Peter replied, seated next to the astrophysicist, “I am amazed, Claire, how well the mission has progressed so far.”
Their Command and Control Centre located in a narrow peninsula, beyond Mount Yahazudake on Yakushima Island was housed several floors below an old island home that camouflaged its true purpose.
“You really doubted them? Incroyable!” smiled Claire, when she was interrupted by her secretary with an urgent message.
“It is my job to question and doubt,” grinned Peter and turned around. But Claire had already stepped into a high-speed elevator, climbing seven levels up.
A stoic Colonel Yoshimoto dressed in a dark gray suit and a black tie, stood inside a glass partitioned conference room, studying a large photograph of a Mongolian shaman staring ardently at the moon. The rustic house with rice paper screen walls or shoji, that separated the inner office from the outer living area, was capped with a gray shingled sloping roof supported by polished wooden trusses.
Colonel Yoshimoto bowed when Claire entered and addressed him, “How are you, Koki San? I don’t believe we had a meeting scheduled. In fact, I was about to leave for a connecting flight to New York from Kagoshima.”
“We are aware of your flight to New York, Claire San.” Colonel Yoshimoto spoke apprehensively. “So, I shall be brief. About two days ago we received an unexpected signal from the Sentinel Observatory. We have modelled it several times and have arrived at conclusions…that we frankly find deeply disturbing.”
“Koki San, as you are aware, besides Neerja and I there is no one else at Isso, who knows about our Sentinel project in collaboration with JAXA. I am disappointed that our agreed protocol to…”
“The Sentinel Space Telescope detected a new asteroid two days ago, specifically a binary Atira S-type asteroid which appeared suddenly…”
“Sentinel has identified more than three hundred new asteroids in the past two years. Most of them beyond 0.5 AU orbital distance from earth,” frowned Claire. “Which we have quietly added to the list of Interior Earth Objects or IEO’s, collated by the Minor Planet Center in Massachusetts in the United States. I have a lot on my plate today, so if you will excuse me…” she made a motion to leave.
“Given the Potentially Hazardous Asteroid’s or PHA’s shape, size, mass, rotation dynamics, and an absolute magnitude H of 21.4, we have modeled its ‘Intersection Course’ and ‘Risk Corridor’ across the surface of the earth, as well as simulated the asteroid’s Potential Impact Zone!”
“A Risk Corridor? Potential Impact Zone?” A startled Claire muttered and sat down. “What is the timeline before it hits the earth’s potential keyhole pass… and the asteroid impact?”
“I am afraid it has already entered the earth’s gravitational keyhole. We believe the impact is about ten days from today, give or take a few hours. That is not enough time for…any successful counter measures to be deployed, or even to undertake a comprehensive mitigation damage assessment. But we are certain that the impact will be a cataclysmic event.”
“What is the size and weight of the binary Atira S-type asteroid?” a stunned Claire inquired.
“Since the Sentinel telescope is facing away from the sun, we have been able to map the PHA quite accurately. The primary asteroid has a diameter of 1.45 kilometers, orbited by a minor planet-moon that measures about 0.36 kilometers across. Its combined weight, we estimate, is more than 360,000 metric tons,” explained a troubled Colonel Yoshimoto.
“Are you sure? Have you run the Monte Carlo simulations?”
“Yes, several times! And we have analyzed it on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale as well, I am afraid it currently reads at 2.”
“That is absurd, no asteroid has ever been measured at 2 on the Palermo scale,” blurted a fearful Claire and mumbled, “And the Potential Impact Zone?”
“We believe that the binary asteroid is headed for impact around Washington DC on January 28, 2022 – that is nine days from today. Given its size, mass, and other parameters, we fear that the Eastern Seaboard of the United States may be completely wiped out!”
“The Americans? Do they know? Have you informed the Planetary Defense Coordination office or PDCO and NASA?”
“Yes, we thought about that, but…given the technical and research facilities the Americans have at their disposal, including the PAN-STARR Telescope at Maui, the NEOWISE Space Telescope, the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, the ATLAS program in Hawaii, as well as several others…we are honestly puzzled? Why have the Americans remained obliviously silent?”
“We need to inform them as soon as possible. The only reason that I can think of…” a dazed Claire broke off mid-sentence.
“…is that they already know!” Koki San, finished her thought.
“The Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART, that the Americans have been planning for several years? Could it be launched in such a short time?” Claire inquired, almost afraid to ask.
“DART has been delayed for more than a year due to technical and funding issues. Our sources confirmed that it was finally finished three months ago. Yesterday it was transferred with an undisclosed additional payload to their launch facilities at the Vandenberg Air Force base, where a SpaceX – Falcon 9 rocket is being prepared for launch.”
“But if they are planning to send DART to intercept the asteroid, then as per the Outer Space Treaty or OST, they have to inform the Space Mission Planning Advisory Group or SMPAG in Germany. The OST rules are very clear; if anything goes wrong the Americans would have ABSOLUTE LIABILITY! If the asteroid landed in some other part of the world, rather than…”
“We have run simulations of the DART program, Claire San. We do not believe that the Delta V applied by the Kinetic Impact Technique will be powerful enough to put 99069 Apophis Interior 21 into a deflected trajectory, away from its life-threatening present course. But if they add a sizable thermonuclear payload, then they may be able to destroy or re-direct it…”
“Re-direct it to where? Wait, you have already given the binary asteroid a formal name?”
“Yes, we named it after the first 99942 Apophis Asteroid, which was discovered in 2004 and caused a brief flutter, given its hazard level of 1.12 on the Palermo scale, before it was downgraded. Apophis, as you are aware, is the Greek name for the Egyptian God of Chaos.”
Claire asked again urgently, “Re-direct Apophis to where?”
“The Americans may be able to nudge it with a thermonuclear blast, towards either south-western China or close to the border of India and Pakistan.”
Claire stood in silence, afraid to calculate the fatalities and the damage, although she had already done the calculations. “A binary asteroid of that size, would make the 20-meter wide Chelyabinsk Meteor of 2013 with an energy of 470 kilotons, look like a minor accident. Apophis could release 2300 to 2700 megatons of energy and create a crater at least 30 to 40 kilometers in diameter. If it strikes China or India, the devastation, the earthquakes, and the resultant fatalities could cross 400 million people, if not more…”
“Compared to the Hiroshima bomb that measured at a mere 15 kilotons, and still cost so many lives, including those of my grandparents…” A mournful Colonel Yoshimoto looked away. “The American President held a meeting late last night in the situation room.
“Present were the heads of Planetary Science Division, Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Office of Science and Technology, Planetary Impact Emergency Response Working Group, as well as the head of their military space division. The President took a decision to go ahead with the DART mission with an added thermonuclear payload, which is probably an advanced version of their W80 warhead, with a five-megaton capacity. Their armed forces have been alerted to expect trouble from China or India, or both together…”
“I…I must talk to Lazarok,” an overwhelmed Claire replied. “I will get back to you, on our agreed communication protocol, the moment I reach New York. Koki San, but hypothetically if it is a ‘near-miss’ scenario, what would the asteroid’s orbital period be around the sun?”
Colonel Yoshimoto shook his head, “99069 Apophis Interior 21 is not on course for a ‘close shave’ event, given its extremely unusual speed and orbital plane.”
“I…What…The speed? Yes, I should have asked about that first? Why didn’t we notice Apophis earlier? Sentinel, since it faces the earth and therefore avoids any light interference from the sun, should have picked up the PHA weeks or perhaps months ago?” A delirious Claire tried to make sense of things before she gave up. “Okay, what is its speed?”
“It is 45 kilometers per second!”
Claire attempted a horror-stricken laugh, “That is impossible! No asteroid in the Interior-Earth Orbit or IEO has been recorded with a speed of more than 17 kilometers per second. The only possible reason that an asteroid would have such a speed…is if…”
“If it arrived from beyond our solar system, similar to the Ouamuamua Asteroid in 2017, which weeks later exited our solar system from below the plane of the ecliptic. And the only possible reason that Apophis could suddenly appear, and then head directly towards earth; is because it is…”
“An alien spaceship…” A suddenly queasy Claire whispered, and lowered her head.
“The Americans may be unaware that they are about to engage with an unknown alien civilization…”
“The Chinese? Do they know?”
“Yes! They have enough resources to locate the asteroid. There are frantic meetings on-going at present in Beijing, but I cannot be certain of the outcome until later. Already, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been put on TCPLA 2, across all their theatres of operation, which is the American equivalent of DEFCON 2 – just below an absolute nuclear emergency and a full-scale war.”
“And the Europeans?”
“The Europeans are buying the story being put out by their ‘American friends’. Their resources are at present limited, especially when it comes to ‘sun-side asteroids’. Also, their new ‘Fly-Eye’ telescopes are not fully deployed across the world, yet. Nor have the Americans apprised the anglophile-intelligence-gathering group of nations; that includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and England.”
“And the Indians?”
“The Japanese government has a…shall we say an arrangement with India, which was signed several years ago – given the aggressive Chinese expansion in the region. The Indian Space Research Organization or ISRO, picked up Apophis yesterday. From the unusual data they collected from their Aditya-L1 satellite, which is in a halo orbit around Lagrangian point 1.”
“Merde! This is headed towards a very dangerous situation. I imagine several existing alignments across the world are about to come undone,” an edgy Claire sighed.
“…and new alignments formed, Claire San. Since the Americans have not felt it necessary to inform us either, our government feels that we should – given the urgency of the situation – re-align with our geographical neighbors. We may have had our differences in the past, but this is a cataclysmic event. For all we know the Americans may change their mind, and ensure that the Asteroid Impact avoids India and China. And…”
“And re-directs the asteroid towards Japan…lesser number of people killed with an expansive sea all around it. And a smaller military force compared to that of China.” Claire inferred.
Colonel Yoshimoto nodded, “Our fear was confirmed about the Americans’ intentions when they suddenly began to vacate their 7th fleet stationed at Okinawa yesterday. Initial consultative meetings between Japan, India, and China have already begun, although preliminary, and only between the heads of the three Asian nations.”
“And how do you know all of this, Koki San?” a nervous Claire inquired.
“It was my team that discovered 99069 Apophis Interior 21. Unlike the rigid hierarchal structure that Japan is infamous for, we still have some back channels, at least within the government. Yesterday, I personally apprised the Prime Minister of the precarious situation. And the rest…well…I am a very good chess player, Claire San.” Colonel Yoshimoto smiled, sadly. “I could fill in the blanks between what little the Prime Minister shared.”
“And now you have committed treason by telling me, Koki San?”
“No, that is not possible. I come to you as a representative of the Prime Minister of Japan, under his direct orders.” Colonel Yoshimoto spoke solemnly. “Given JAXA’s long relationship with your company, especially the secret Sentinel Space Telescope program, the Prime Minister believes that Lazarok San could be helpful at present. Because diplomacy may be the only way to stop the situation from reaching a dangerous inflection point.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Savinder Raj Anand is an architect and has been teaching Architecture & Design at various Universities in India for more than 12 years. A long-distance runner with a wanderlust to explore the world, and write stories that traverse across diverse cultures. He lives in Goa with his daughter, a dog, and two cats.
Inspired by his then 18-month-old daughter – when she quoted Socrates – while they together sat in a children’s bookstore in Bangalore (LIGHTROOM) in early January of 2015, he has completed this – his first book – as she turns 7 years old.
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