= prologue = As seen from Earth, it was terribly small, just a tiny speck in the night sky. Two full days passed before anyone realized how dangerous the situation was, before the astronomers finally compared the marks they’d made on the first day to the marks they’d made on the second day, before they realized it was coming straight for them. By then, of course, it was much too late to do anything about it. Humanity as a whole remained largely unaware of the danger they were in. Civilian astronomers, of course, saw the thing, took note of it, could calculate velocity and trejectory as well as their military counterparts, but they lacked full knowledge of just what was hurtling towards them. They demanded answers, of course, filed petitions, had news conferences, but the government didn’t budge. They knew they had only to wait. Those that did know what was headed their way took their last days in stride. They knew what they had gotten into when they started, they were all aware of the risks involved. None of them alerted the media, none of them tried to run away. They knew there was nowhere to go. Behind the thick walls of a supposedly abandoned military facility in northern California, the two high-ranking military officials who had started the program shared cups of instant coffee and rice cakes they’d commendeered from the local grocery store the previous day. “Just seems a waste, that’s all I’m saying,” said the older man. The younger one shook his head. “I’m not disagreeing with you, sir.” “All that work, months of planning. Not to mention all the man power it took to even attempt to get that thing into orbit.” “To say nothing of the entire human endevour.” “Well, not nothing. The whitecoats upstairs said a few pockets might survive.” The younger man gave his superior a sarcastic look. “Do you see any of those white coats around here, sir?” After a moment, the older man cracked a bit of a smile. “You’ve been pretty sassy to me today, Lieutenant.” “Looking to courtmartial me, sir? We’ve got a few minutes left.” The older man laughs out loud, the surprising loud noise carrying down the empty halls and reverberating off spilled filing cabinets. On the roof above them, a small group of those whitecoats huddled together with their faces pointed skyward. The tiny speck had grown considerably larger, and was now recognizable as a man-made object. To those who knew what it was, it was recognizable as a satellite, put into orbit by the United Stated government in the hopes of controlling the weather in the western half of the country. One of the scientists on the roof pointed a finger. “Look,” she said wryly, “the flaps are up.” “Great,” one of her compatriots mumbled, “now we’ll spread it all over the country.” *** On a residential street not terribly far from the scientists’ last stand is a civilian who knows what the dot in the sky is. He’s always known, in fact he knew before the scientists did, before they ever started their fated project. Cale [who has no last name at the moment, sorry] lurks outside the livingroom window of a middle-class home, watching TV with a young man who doesn’t know he’s sharing his news broadcast. “The president has been missing in action since late yesterday,” the news anchorwoman says, “with Press Secretary Adam Mitchell still claiming that the President is down with pneumonia, all but chained to the bed by Presidential physicians. “Meanwhile, astronomers around the world are being joined by other scientists in their demands for more information. Some astronomers have put out images within the last twelve hours of the object they believe is headed straight for us.” A picture of the satellite fills the screen. At the window, Cale stops breathing. He knows he shouldn’t move, that there’s nothing he can do, but he’s wondering if maybe there wasn’t something else he’d been hoping to accomplish with his thirty-four years on this earth. He’s thinking about stealing this poor man’s car and racing up to the abandoned military base to see if there’s anything he can do. The anchorwoman continues. “As you can see, the object does carry the markings of a United States military satellite, but thus far its exact origins and purpose remain unclear. The State Department has repeatedly denied all knowledge of the object, and the Pentagon, in what can only be described as a highly unusual move, has made all its employees unavailable for even off-the-record comments.” Eyeing the brand-new silver compact in the driveway, Cale sighs. “All right, fine,” he whispers. “If I fail it won’t matter anyway.” Leaving the news anchor to interview on of the petition-filing scientists, Cale sneaks around to the car and tries the door handle. Only mildly surprised to find it unlocked, he reaches below the steering column and removes the plastic guard from the wires. After a quick inspection, he removes his shoe and knocks off a portion of metal from below the steering column. The falling metal makes a rather loud clang, and Cale keeps very still until he’s sure he hasn’t been found out. He slips into the driver’s seat and roots about under the steering wheel for three specific. He twists two of them together and then touches the third to the first two and the car starts. “Thank God,” he whispers. He takes a moment to scribble out an apologetic note and leave it in his benefactor’s mailbox before pulling out onto the street and speeding away.