THE NEEDLE SMASHWORDS LINK
A novel of the End
by: Steven Robert Morrison
From deep silent space far beyond
the orbit of Pluto, an aeons old
anomaly is found moving towards the
Earth. A young college professor
and her international team race to
inform the world and work towards
a solution to save the planet.
“Honey, honey, can you hear me? Hurry up you will be late for school.”
“Mom... it is okay, it is Tuesday, and traffic is light, it is only a ten-minute drive, and damn it Mom, I am an associate professor at the college, so it is not really, being late for school.”
“Caswell Olind Stewart, you are my daughter, I am your Mother and every day that I am on this Earth, it is my duty as your mother to tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it. If you take my advice I would be very pleased, and if you don’t, well we all know the results of that.”
Caswell, fumed as her mother once again intentionally or not reminded her that, yes, her mother was right about advice for her life. She had been against her running off to South America to use the telescopes in the Andes. It was there that she had fallen in love, and that led to her failed marriage, which lasted four long and lost years and that was the reason why she had to move back home and start establishing her life again. Her whirlwind romance to a Chilean astronomer Sebastian Contreras may have been a mistake, but anything in the way of a union that produced her two children, her twins; Matias and Valentina could not have been too much of a mistake.
Walking through the kitchen she looked at her mother, and speaking in a lisping whispering tone, “Okay, Mommy I will look both ways crossing the street, not talk to any strangers and wear rubber boots if it is raining.” The first two she thought to herself made a lot of sense, as for the third, she couldn’t really remember wearing rubber boots in the rain, or even the last time it rained in the early summer.
The seasons had changed, rather than still having the four traditional historical seasons of the Midwest, there were seemingly only two, an unbearably cold, windy dry winter and an unbearably hot windy dry summer. But that was a job for meteorologists and climatologist and even paleo-geologists, her field of study was space, specifically the third zone of the solar system.
The first zone; was the space inhabited by the four rocky terrestrial planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and the rocks, asteroids and dwarf planets in stable orbits in the asteroid belt. The second zone was the domain of the gas giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The third zone; was beyond those, it was the realm of the dwarf planets, ruled by Pluto. Planetoids like Eris, Haumea and Makemake, Quaoar, Senda along with at least 100 other dwarf-planet-sized Kuiper belt objects and reaching far out into the Oort cloud. The first zone had been known since antiquity, the second since the days of Galileo and Copernicus, but the third was only discovered within the lifetime of people still living. In 1930 when a young astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and most of Earth’s population remembered when the New Horizon spacecraft took the first close-up look at Pluto and sent home amazing pictures.
For her, women had a place in science and that included astronomy, if she could discover a planet or two, she would have immortality. Maybe, it would only future astronomers who would know who she was, but she would be known.
Entering her office, a voice yelled over to her before the door was closed, “Cass, we have a larger load of data coming in from the CFH on Mauna Kea. There have been some glitches over the past few days, and it looks like all their data packages may not have come through intact, so they will be resending everything, early morning their time.”
She nodded to her assistant Jax Munro, who at the best of times was a spatial mathematical savant, other times when his 19-year-old boy hormones acted up, he was more of the idiot part of savant. Cass thanked him and then asked if the coffee was the house special blend. Other than just data packets from the Canadian – French - Hawaiian observatory, they also got a few pounds of Hawaiian coffee shipments in monthly.
Accepting to work in Hawaii would have offered her so much more, but Sebastian often flew to the big island to use the other big dishes and lenses there. The last thing she needed of any kind was an emotional reattachment to him now. She had almost forgot about him, at least during the moments when she was not thinking about him.
The predawn hours were slipping away fast, as a rose band spread across the eastern sky above a yet deep indigo Pacific. Night, was the best time to be in Hawaii, and at more than 4,000 metres, or two and a half miles above the sea, the air was still, cool and unbelievably clear. That is why there were half a dozen telescopic installations there. No light pollution, no air pollution and a near constant temperate temperature.
Halbert Stehlik was a man of simple pleasures, one of them was that he simply liked to be left alone, and therefore, the night shift on a mountain top on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was just about the ideal dream job. Technically, he was not alone, but the six other people with him, all pretty much thought the same way. At least that is how he felt that they felt about life, because everyone kept to their own business and tasks, and only spoke only when required.
Stehlik walked back into the more brightly lit interior and thought as he looked at the others at their workstations, someday, someone here may make a discovery of some significance, and we will not even know each other’s name. The only person here that he knew to any degree was his working partner, Anita Messner, working with him on what was called a photo-shoot. They did more than just take the camera, point and click. It was a little more complex and a little more confusing than that, as the WIRCam, was an infrared mosaic of 4 detectors totalling 16 megapixels, it formed a cryogenic camera designed for the J, H, and K spectral bands and chilled to –200 centigrade. He knew there were only a few dozen people on the island who knew what that meant, so he was happy with that with that as well. There was less of a chance of running into someone who may want to “talk shop”, and that too made him happy.
“Excuse me Hal,” Anita, piped up, just as he looked at her. “We have all the sampling we need, it is bundled and ready to be sent, once you give the okay.”
“Okay, I will give the okay, once I needlessly check over things that you have checked over two or three times and that the computer has flawlessly created, established, and packaged. This is nonsense, you know it and I know it.”
“Yup, but that is how the weird wired world of everything works, you can interact, control and create from half a world away, but our lizard brains are still on panic mode. Fearful of being devoured, and thus, we double and triple check everything and lock the doors of our mind.”
“Yeah, that is truth Anita, but no lizard with or without a brain ever tried to map the heavens. We are no longer on the threshold of space and the stars, we have taken a step or two and now as a group, we have walked through the door and have left that ancient room.”
Anita looked back at him and smiled and laughed, just as he said, “Yeah, go ahead and smile. I was starting to weird myself out with that kind of poetic talk too.’
The packets that were bundled were sent off to about two dozen schools, colleges and universities to be studied and analysed by experts, and they were also filed and fired off into the clouds… somewhere for amateurs to play around with. Stehlikrealized, that maybe again, we had not in spite of our technology, crawled too far out that primordial door. All of their raw data was available to anyone, but certain scientists and institutions wanted their own “distinct” package, which was exactly what other people got and everyone could get. He reckoned it was a lizard brain equivalent of crawling to the back of the cave with a big piece of raw meat, and going. “Nom, Nom, Nom, this is all mine.” While the rest of the tribe ate the same raw meat from that day’s kill.
But, if that was the case, we as people also had a hive mind, and in the astronomy of the twenty-first century, the hive mind and collective purpose also served us well. Thousands of people and their computers would look at the pictures he took, and depending on the nature of the beast, they could find any anomalies in temperature, or spectrum bands, or even notice an insanely minutely small shift in a black dot. Then with another double or triple check, something new may be found.
Looking for a change of position of a spot was how Tombaugh found Pluto, but now computers do that routinely, so if a new large piece of rock were to be found, it would be more complex than that.
The sun was almost overhead in Michigan, and it was just above the horizon if you were on Mauna Kea, but from a stationary point far away, very far away, the sun was merely a brighter than normal star holding fast against a stationary background of countless other stars. That is how the sun would have looked from an observer’s vantage point ten billion kilometres beyond Pluto, far out in the Kuiper belt.
Steven Robert Morrison