Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure

Once again Richard K. Lyon visits P&D with this clever little liftoff!  A satirical look at armagedon as rocky death hurtles toward the planet Earth in this three part tale originally published in the fanzine, Space and Time...


The Earthmover
(Part One)

By Richard K. Lyon
About the author

THE DEMONSTRATORS WERE CARRYING SIGNS, "Down with Fu Manchu", "Save the Branga" and "Damn General Chang not the Branga". From his office window General Lee Chang, Chief United States Army Corps of Engineers, watched them. His gaunt features betrayed no expression but inwardly he smiled. Part of his amusement was that his fellow Americans considered him an oriental despot. Perhaps it was true but surely a diverse society like the United States needed a despot or two as much as a stew needs onions. Most of the General's pleasure, however, was in the success of his plans.

Later he would issue a statement to the press saying that the demonstrators, the Friends of Nature, were very badly misguided. Indeed they were. Last night the Friends of Nature met in executive session to choose a target issue, an issue to use in their attack on the Corps of Engineers. The Corps was involved in several projects that were politically highly vulnerable, but after a stormy meeting the Friends chose none of these. Instead they decided to attack the Branga River Dam, a project as easy to defend as motherhood. General Chang sipped his morning tea. It was wonderful, he mused, what can be achieved with just a little judicious bribery.

He turned away from the window and looked at his appointment book. Everything this morning was routine with one glaring exception: at 900 hours he would be visited by Jordan Banks, Presidential Advisor for Science and Technology, Carl Margat, Director of NASA, and Professor Ernest Jenner, an astronomer from Mount Palomar Observatory. What could such a group want? They had phoned late yesterday, demanding an immediate appointment to discuss an "urgent and highly confidential matter." They wouldn't say what but they admitted they wanted General Chang to join with them in a unanimous recommendation to the President.

Like both the former Presidents Bush and Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower, President Fairborn used the staff system. If a problem fell within one bureau or agency, then the head of that bureau or agency took care of the matter without bothering the President. If a problem involved two or more agencies, the agency heads must somehow agree on a unanimous recommendation to the President, which President Fairborn would then rubber stamp.

This meant that Banks and the others were coming to discuss a problem that somehow involved NASA, the Office of Science and Technology and the Army Corps of Engineers. The General continued sipping his tea and pondered what this strange problem would be.

At 900 hours exactly his secretary showed Jenner, Banks,and Margat into his office. The astronomer carried a massive stack of disorganized papers, graphs, photos and computer output. A plump little man, he was in a pathetic state of nerves. Though Banks and Margat were maintaining a calm exterior, it was a very brittle calm. Despite their obvious impatience the General made them sit and drink a cup of tea. After they had sat drinking tea they didn't want, the General smiled and said, "I've always believed these little ceremonies help make life civilized. Now, Gentlemen, how may this humble person serve you?"

Before the others could speak Jenner blurted, "We were hoping you could help us get a hundred megaton hydrogen bomb by next Thursday."

The General prided himself on never showing surprise. In the mildest of tones he asked, "And why do you need such a formidable weapon by next Thursday?"

"It takes 172 hours to fly it to the Moon.  We have to have it on the Moon when the Moon is in the right position eleven days from now. What we're going to do is put the bomb in a deep lunar crater and detonate it. That way we can use the Moon as a nuclear pulse rocket to move the Earth. It should be about 40% efficient and the Earth is coupled to the Moon by gravity so all we do is shove the Moon and the Earth follows."

The General stared hard at his three visitors. They appeared to be entirely serious. He said, "Gentlemen, I remind you that the Earth and the Moon mass 6 X 10 kilograms. Since the heat of explosion per gram of TNT is 6400 joules --" His fingers began to move beads on his desktop abacus. "-- therefore your scheme will change the velocity of the Earth by 0.028 centimeters per second. What useful purpose will that serve?"

"Your calculation," Jenner replied hastily, "neglects the effects of the other planets.  When one takes the effect of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter on Earth's orbit into account the change is a full 0.05 centimeters per second.  In three hundred forty three years that will move the Earth by 5360 kilometers.  That will --"

"I think," Jordan Banks interrupted, " we ought to start at the beginning. Probably, General Chang, you have read of the Kerr-Shmidt Comet. Ordinary comets are just dirty snowballs, a few rocks and a lot of frozen gases that boil and glow as the comet approaches the Sun. The Kerr-Shmidt object, however, is an anomaly.  It's the reverse. It's a heap of rocks nearly three hundred kilometers long. There's no telling how many thousands of times in the past Kerr-Shmidt passed through the Solar System without the slightest harm but --"

Jordan Banks paused, controlling his emotions with some effort.  "When," he continued, "Kerr-Shmidt comes back in 343 years it will on a collision course with Earth."

Nodding calm acceptance to these facts, the General commented, "The usual Hollywood solution to such a problem would be for our descendants to deflect the comet with a nuclear device.  I take it that would not be practical?"

"Any effort," Jenner replied hastily, "to deflect the comet will shatter it.  Any fragment bigger than ten kilometers in diameter would be enough to destroy all live on Earth and there'd be thousands of them.  A fragment bigger than a kilometer would be enough to cause nuclear winter and end civilization.  There'd be tens of thousands of them and millions of fragments over a hundred meters that could destroy a city. I have detailed projections --"

Before the scientist could display the dozens of figures he'd brought, Banks interrupted. "The bottom line," he said firmly, "is that we can't stop Kerr-Shmidt but we can dodge, we can make very small change in Earth's orbit and get out of the way.  Since the control of natural disasters is the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers, we've come to you, General Chang."

"I see," the General said slowly. "If I am able to supply the bomb, but not by next Thursday, how will that affect the viability of this project?"

This question was followed by an obviously unhappy silence.  Banks ended this silence by saying, "Next Thursday is an absolute deadline if we're going to solve this problem with existing hardware.  The next window will be in 13 months and won't be nearly as good.  The all windows after that are each a little worse than the previous one.  We'd need a crash program to build a large enough bomb and a rocket powerful enough to carry it.  We've done detailed calculations of the cost of such a program." Banks gestured to Jenner who handed him a graph. "If we miss this one opportunity to save the world, the cost will start at 3.2 billion and go up at 7% per year."

Pausing for a moment to let the General digest what he had said, Banks continued, "As you know, the Federal budget right now is very tight and we're borrowing money at 9%. The way the accountants in the Congressional Budget Office see things that means that postponing the Earthsaving project for one year will be a savings of 2% of 3.2 billion.  That's bad and what's worse is that we've talk to a lot of accountants and they all see things that way!  Congress, of course, can't see past the next election, so, if we miss the Thursday window, we'll be dealing with a lot of people who can't see any harm in postponing things a little. Once the postponing starts I can't imagine what could stop it.  In a hundred years the project will be so hard it will require a massive concerted effort by all mankind, but the danger will be more than two hundred years away. There never will be a crisis. The situation will slowly change from a remote danger to a remote but inevitable disaster. The bottom line, General Chang, is this: if we act now the problem can be solved, otherwise mankind has an excellent chance to die of procrastination."

There was brief silence then the General asked, "Dr. Banks, you're the Personal Advisor to the President for Science and Technology. Have you discussed this matter with him?"

"No. He's busy campaigning and I can't get an appointment until after the election."

"What of the Secretary of Defense?"

"He's the President's Campaign Manager so it's the same story."

"The Secretary of State?"

"He agreed to talk with us after the present Mid East crisis quieted down, provided there isn't another crisis in the meantime. The truth is, General, we've already been around official Washington and you're the first person who'd talk to us."

"That's not all of our troubles," added Margat. "NASA has taken severe budget cuts in the past few years and as a result we have only two reuseable space shuttles and only one large rocket, the last Saturn-D. The Saturn-D is the only vehicle in the world suited to this mission. It's standing on a NASA launch pad but legally it belongs to ERDA and they won't relinquish it."

There was another much longer silence then the General spoke. "Jenner, I do not know you but your reputation is outstanding. Dr. Banks, Dr. Margat, I do know you. Both of you have yet to learn the ways of Washington, but your technical competence is undoubtable. There is no honorable way in which I can disbelieve what you have told me. If I am to be worthy of my ancestors I must provide for my descendants."

Part Two

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The Earthmover is copyright by Richard K. Lyon and was originally published in the fanzine, Space and Time. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)