“Explain again how you guide these artificial asteroids to their targets.” The general had followed the basic discussion, but when the projectiles, launched using a SpaceX Dragon orbiting Earth, itself launched from a pad in French Guiana’s spaceport, began atmospheric re-entry — he became lost.
“You’ll recall,” began the astrophysicist, pointing her laser’s red dot onto the image projected on the wall, “that each of the seven astro-shells is comprised of a ceramic casing, the head of which is our impact load; the base containing the navigation controls.”
“Yes, I got that far. But –”
“But, the impact load does not detach from the guidance base until the target is approximately forty klicks out.” She twiddled the laser in a circle around the three small fins projecting from the sides of what looked like a giant space bullet. “These nav-paddles extend out and using trajectory and GPS data to calculate its descent which started, if you’ll remember, when the launch craft orbited to within one thousand klicks of the target, guide the payload before detaching.”
The general, the top button of his starched shirt undone, the sweltering room adding to the stress he was under regarding this clandestine operation, took a sip from his water bottle and repeated for clarification, “The asteroid detaches, the shell part disintegrates — twenty miles or so above the target, and the rock part then “falls” smack dab onto our target.” He took another sip. “Have I got that right?”
“Smack dab,” the woman said, her mouth wide, her lips pursing with the “b” at the end, “is a bit of misnomer. Our accuracy, so far, has been to within five-hundred meters.”
“Well, if the hole you make with the detonation–”
“You realize that there’s no explosives within the iron-nickel impact payload, it’s purely kinetic energy that does the damage–”
The general was getting tired of being continuously interrupted by this woman and her aid, who had interjected, multiple times, with the facts regarding the plausible deniability. This impact payload was a manufactured creation designed to mimic, down to its chemical signature, an asteroid — that would be untraceable. Any impact would be deemed an “act of God.”
“Yes, yes, I know it’s just a rock. But a rock falling at nearly twenty thousand miles an hour. As I was saying, if the hole it makes with the explosion then, is big enough, even if you miss you’ll still destroy the target. Is that right?”
The aid spoke up again. Both the general and the three colonels brought in to assess the results of the prior two test launches had had just about enough from this fellow. “Statistically speaking, there are no guarantees. Our error tolerances have shown that on-the-whole we will destroy, with a fifty percent efficiency, any target we, well, target. Our last two seven-round tests showed results that were optimal when the test was performed during the early morning, reduced wind, and the latitude of the target fell to within ten degrees of the equator. We—”
“All right. Enough.” The general held up his hand to stifle the fellows rehearsal of facts that had already been discussed, ad nauseam. “Can you or can you not destroy something the size of a high school stadium, if, as you say, you fire one of these things under “optimal” conditions?”
The woman shut down the pocket projector connected to her phone and the room went dark before her aid flipped the lights back on. “We can give you a ninety-eight percent probability of success, but only if we deliver three simultaneous astro-shells.”
The colonels seated around the table began to nod their heads. The general looked into the eyes of each one in turn. He nodded himself. “When can we schedule the next launch?”
[TWO WEEKS LATER]
CNN: “Some are calling the early morning destruction of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad’s palace an act-of-God and retribution for the atrocities inflicted on the people of Syria by the Syrian military at the direction and control of al-Assad himself. The entire al-Assad family, including many palace staff, are thought to have died in the devastation, including the President.
Sources say that in addition to the al-Assad royal family, the two brothers, Maher, and Assef were in attendance and also died in the cataclysm.
Residents near the palace claim that the explosion heard was unlike any bomb they’d experienced of the six years of civil conflict. “An incredible noise! And then my whole house shook, as if Allah himself were shaking it with his bare hands.”
“The noise was terrible. Very frightening. This was not a boom. No, this was like a thousand thunders all happening same time. So loud, my ears, I still hear ringing.”
CNN: “As you can see from the drone footage, the craters formed from whatever fell from the sky this morning, military sources say, could not have been formed by any conventional weapon currently known. Not even the MOAB bomb, dropped on Afghanistan last spring could have produced such devastation, they said.”
“We’ve analyzed what we believe to be pieces of the asteroid and find that what appears to have been a single meteor, broke apart some miles above the Earth and each of the three pieces struck within one hundred meters of each other. The fragments, we believe, come from what’s known as a super-dense pallasite type asteroid. Some silicon, but mostly iron and nickel metal. This was one hard, fast and heavy rock!”
CNN: “Could his have been a bomb or missile of some sort?”
“No bomb did this. No, there were eyewitnesses who claim to have seen a vapor trail behind the bolide which did this damage. It was a missile. Absolutely, but a natural one.”
CNN: “The power vacuum left by the death of the much contested Syrian president looks to be filled, temporarily, by the more moderate Moffar Al-Shafei until elections can be organized.”
The general and the engineer met for lunch at a bistro in downtown Sydney.
“The performance of your astro-shells met and exceed our expectations. The accuracy your assistant bickered about appeared to be a non-issue. We understand that there remain a number of these devices still in orbit.”
She set down her fork, the key-lime pie she’d just finished and the success of the project gave her a glow the general found provocative, now that she wasn’t interrupting him.
“Yes General. The orbital craft remains navigable up to about a thousand mile detour in orbit. We’d have to plan the alteration in detail, but yes, there are additional astro-shells, four to be exact, ready for deployment.”
“Excellent. My bosses would like you to arrange an orbit that takes us over the north Pacific. A bit closer to Asia than to North America.”
“Yes, we can do that I think.” She rested her hand on the table just a few inches from his own. He reached and lay his over top of hers and looked into her eyes.
“Good. Set it up then.”
She left her hand beneath his. His was warm and surprisingly gentle. “Do you have a target in mind?” she asked.
“We do. We think we might rain a little heavenly fire down on a certain hermit dictator.”
She nodded in understanding her almond shaped eyes squinting in clandestine camaraderie. “Very good,” she said. “You and I make a pretty good team.”
“We do don’t we; in a Guardians of Earth sort of way.”
“Yes, guardians, I like that.”