THE LAST CHANCE
In the precarious truce that existed before the final war erupted, Ahneevah was assigned to be the commander of the first expedition to …
… explore the mysterious fourth planet where seas, lakes and gigantic underground glaciers were identified by advanced robotic probes. Unfortunately this was a mission that would never happen. During the final test phase of the newest variant StarGazer Trans-Stellar Explorer, a planetary extinction threat was discovered looming on the cosmic horizon. An undetected comet and a companion trailing fragment were on a direct-impact course with the lunar body circling Ahneevah’s world. Sub-planetesimal objects such as asteroids and meteors were less difficult to pick up than comets because they traveled parallel to the solar orbital plane. Comets, on the other hand, came from the stellar debris sphere which completely encompassed the planetary system. This made them extremely difficult to track because they could approach from almost any angle. But even in the face of that scientific truth, under normal circumstances the path of the potential killer-masses of ice and rock might have been observed, plotted and their eventual contact point predicted when they were well beyond the Planetary Orbital Plane Debris Ribbon. However, due to the deteriorating geopolitical conditions and global distrust, all major technology was being commandeered by the military. The orbiting science-gathering satellites were re-tasked to scan the surface for any signs of an impending enemy strike. Without the availability of the sophisticated long-range detection systems, the ominous hazard was not recognized until the invading space vagabonds were less than half of an astronomical unit away. The collision would occur within three lunar cycles and cause the highly-populated natural satellite to de-orbit and crash into Ahneevah’s planet, extinguishing all life on both astral bodies.
Those in the Tactical Planning Authority of the Space Exploration Wing knew that there were no options. With total extinction hanging in the balance, Ahneevah was the only flight-leader capable of effectively dealing with the enormous threat. No other pilot possessed the requisite level of experience in the StarGazer TSE, along with the expertise and instincts that would offer any chance of successfully completing what was generally regarded as a suicide mission.
The science and exploration flight profile for her planned excursion to the fourth planet was hastily revised. The new objective would be a desperate attempt to save her world; its near space neighbor; and the twelve-billion souls living on both bodies. Even if she ended the peril, no one expected her to return—at least no one but herself and those who really knew her.
Her assignment dictated that she go out into the blackness to an intersect coordinate of decimal three-three, line mark of the distance to the fourth planet, the farthest point ever traveled by other than robotic probes. Once there she would rendezvous and fly in formation with the speeding two-fisted predator. That was the easy part. Then, not unlike playing a mega-sized version of a Spheres and Cubes game, Ahneevah would have to fire the powerful magneto-plasma pulse cannon at the smaller chunk of space flotsam. This in turn would accelerate it and drive it into the one-hundred-mile-diameter comet nucleus. In theory, the contact would then alter the course of the dangerous larger celestial rock by enough of a margin to cause it to sail well beneath the orbit of its glowing, cratered target. Though the outbound trip was flawless, upon entering the dust veil of the comet, Ahneevah’s immediate evaluation of the on-board telemetry data clearly indicated that she could not carry out the mission as planned. The trailing body was not simply a fragment that had separated from the comet. Rather, it was a young comet in the early stages of coalescing that somehow was swept up by the larger one. After careful analysis, Ahneevah determined that the newly forming comet’s ice and rock center was far too fragile to be bombarded with the overwhelming potency of the magneto-plasma pulse waves. Even at the minimum setting, the crushing force would tear the core apart, and the reverberations and debris expelled from the explosion would shatter the larger projectile into a scattered discharge—a mountain of rubble substantial enough to be equally as devastating. Still, her planet and its orbiting companion, both teeming with life, depended on Ahneevah for their salvation. She calculated that the StarGazer had ample power to effect an almost imperceptible course change that would also accomplish her main objective which was to prevent the collision.
Drawing on her extraordinary aviating prowess she rendezvoused with the lesser object, flew nose to tail with it and then increased the speed of her craft so as to make contact with the smaller piece. Operating on multiple conscious levels, she then accelerated the StarGazer, propelling the baby chunk forward and closing the distance between it and the greater one. When the trailing fragment reached the velocity that assured impact with the main body, Ahneevah veered away at a reverse heading. She pushed the StarGazer to travel at extreme rates of speed while executing critical maneuvers well outside the trans-stellar ship’s normal operating envelope. As a result of Ahneevah’s action, the smaller fragment struck the menacing ice and rock bullet with enough force to destabilize its trajectory but not enough to destroy it. Once the course had been altered, Ahneevah patiently trailed the threatening ice and rock space debris until her instruments indicated it was no longer a danger to her world. Satisfied, and to alleviate the threat of any eventual course change, she fired the magneto-ion pulse waves to blast it to pieces. Then, at full thrust, she streaked away from the quadrant in order to avoid the stellar waves created by the explosive force of the comet and its companion.
However, like ripples moving outward in a pond the incipient gravitonic interstellar-fabric oscillations overtook the rapidly departing StarGazer. The celestial-mega tsunami buffeted the sub-light craft, causing a breech in the plasma-ionization chamber. A nano-span stood between deliverance and disaster.
Most commanders would have responded to the crisis by continuing to fly an already stricken craft at full plasmic power in an attempt to outrun the energy pulses and the hyper-speeding chunks of rock and ice. But Ahneevah’s vast mental network flashed to another choice—a far better choice. She elected to reduce power, reverse her course and retreat toward the source of the space-quake. Using her extraordinary piloting skills to avoid colliding with the exploded comet’s collateral debris, she found that the closer she moved to the center of the maelstrom, the more the high-energy shock waves began to subside. Additionally, the lower frequency waves carried ionic radiation which reacted with the StarGazer’s magneto hydrodynamic buffer’s nucleonic stream and formed a seal in the plasma core fissure. In a very real sense she fought fire with fire and won her bout with the cosmic interloper, thus sparing her home world and its proximate satellite from a scorching, horrific doom.