Renegade Asteroid – Part One

renegade asteroidPART ONE by Neal Patterson

Rusty Weaver pedaled frantically past the administration building of Ivydale College, a massive stack of papers strapped to the basket on his handlebars. Spying the bundle nervously. Rusty decided to veer off the sidewalk and shoot across the grassy courtyard. The distance between the Televast Science Building and the observatory was a mere quarter mile as the crow flies, but the journey was far greater by bicycle.

“Watch it, you red-headed creep,” Sally DuMarr shouted at Rusty as he blasted by. Rusty felt a slight twinge of excitement as he realized it was the first time the stunning cheerleader had ever spoken to him.

His mind quickly shifted back to business as he raced down a hill and onto the winding sidewalk which led directly to the observatory entrance. Rusty’s professor and mentor, Dr. Buttons, had appeared more distant and absent-minded than usual. The long nights working in the laboratory had caused his graying temples to turn prematurely white and the ashen circles under his eyes plumped into puffy bags. Whatever was weighing on the poor astronomer’s mind, Rusty knew that these computer printouts would hold the answer.

After wrenching the stack of papers from the bicycle basket, Rusty leaped up the four steps to the building entrance, wrestling the door open with his free elbow and scrambling across the linoleum floor to the telescope room.

“Dr. Buttons,” Rusty cried, his voice echoing off the curving walls. “Dr. Buttons, I’m back from the computer room!”

Dr. Buttons shambled down the wrought iron staircase from his perch beneath the viewfinder of the massive telescope. “I know, Rusty, I know. I heard your footfalls before you got here.”

“I have the report you wanted.” Rusty held the heavy ream above his head.

Dr. Buttons waved his hands. “All right, all right. Put it on the desk. I’m not as strong as you, young man.”

Rusty obeyed and stepped aside as the professor hunched over the printout. At the flip of each page, Dr. Buttons would make grunting noises. Rusty shifted his weight from one foot to the other, hoping for a profound announcement. Maybe now he would know what great discovery the astronomer had made. After several agonizing minutes, Dr. Buttons lifted his head, removed his glasses, and cleaned them on his necktie.

“Well,” Rusty blurted. “What is it, Doctor? A new planet? Some sort of heretofore unknown space phenomenon?”

Dr. Buttons turned to his young assistant and smiled. Patting Rusty on his wiry thatch of red hair, he said, “Youth. So positive. So optimistic.”

Rusty didn’t like the sound of the professor’s tone. His eyes widened. “What’s the matter, sir? Is it bad news?”

“Will you do me a favor, Rusty?”

“Sure, Doctor. Anything!”

“When you say your prayers tonight, ask the All Mighty to give the people of our fragile little planet the strength and wisdom to do the right thing.”

Rusty swallowed hard.

The security protocols for the Televast Aerospace compound were complex and rigid. Electrified fencing reaching 20 feet into the air surrounded the 80-acre facility. Armed guards were stationed every 50 feet along the perimeter of the fence. The gleaming archway at the main entrance was not purely decorative, but held within its chromium structure an array of closed circuit television cameras and ten machine guns controlled remotely by the guards inside the bulletproofed booth. Those who drove up to the massive iron gate were not allowed past unless they provided a specially made ID badge with a microscopic code etched into the border and only readable by the guard with special glasses.

Colonel Lance Spear had nothing to worry about as he approached the guard station. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, he had worked at the aeronautic and space conglomerate for five years and was a familiar face to everyone. A quick flash of his badge and the gates parted. He maneuvered his sleek roadster to his personal parking space by the administration building. Just as he lifted his briefcase from the passenger seat, Betty Televast approached and offered a warm kiss.

“It’s about time you showed up Mister,” Betty playfully scolded. “When I’m in charge around here, I won’t tolerate such tardiness.”

“Now wait a minute,” Spear grinned. “You know very well after we’re married, your old man is going to hand me the reigns of this operation. Besides, you’ll be too busy taking care of those five kids of ours.”

“Five?!!” Betty gave her fiancé a poke in his firm stomach. “Who said anything about five kids?”

“Well, I always wanted my own basketball team,” Spear shot back.

“Oh, men!”

“Just be glad I’m not a football fan!”

“All right, Mr. Funny Man,” Betty said. “You run along. Daddy is already in a snit.”

“Laslo Televast in a snit?” Spear whistled. “This must be big.”

By the time Colonel Spear stepped into the mahogany paneled office of his future father-in-law, Televast had chewed the ends of three cigars into soggy shreds. Tossing the third one in the trash can, Televast gestured for Spear to sit down. “Glad you’re here, Lance. We have a real mess on our hands and I need a man like you to help us get out of it.”

Spear shifted uneasily in his chair. Throughout his career, he had become known as the Handyman. Whatever problem came along, he was the man who could find the solution. This reputation was becoming a bit tiresome, but he never backed away from a tough job.

After Televast hit a button on his desk console, Betty opened the door and ushered in Dr. Buttons. “Come in, the both of you,” Televast ordered. “Colonel Spear, meet Dr. Buttons. He’s our top astronomer at Ivydale College. He’s come across a startling discovery.”

“Mr. Televast, Colonel Spear, I just completed the final computations on the super computer,” Dr. Buttons began. “Based on my telescopic observations over the last few weeks and the computer extrapolations, there is no longer any doubt in my mind.”

“C’mon, Doc,” Spear said, impatiently. “Spit it out. What gives?”

“Gentlemen,” Dr. Buttons proclaimed, “there is an asteroid of incredible size heading on a collision course with Earth!”

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