Bjarni Thorssen had long ago decided to live up to the Viking looks that were his birth-right. On the international stage, a stellar scientific reputation (literally and figuratively) was rarely sufficient on its own to rise to the top of the pile. To break into the big-time, you need something extra, something on which the Cult of Personality can go to work. Over the years, Bjarni had let his beard grow (although he refused to plait it), and let his speech become infected by traditional oaths. Many would be surprised to learn that Bjarni, a giant in height, girth, and character was, by nature, introverted. In meetings he could be loud and tenacious in fighting his corner, but no one really saw him in his home environment, and the reality would ave jarred with the mead-hall image he liked to project.
There were many jobs that he would never get: it was the peacemakers who got such plum roles. But various scandals had thinned the herd considerably, and there were many jobs in the international astronomy community that were his for the asking. He had a long term plan, and right now Director of the European Space Organisation’s Chilean based observatories was exactly where he wanted to be.
Quiet in private, Bjarni’s bombastic public persona had actually been an inspired appointment at a critical time in the funding landscape. When there’d been talk of budget cuts, Bjarni had lobbied hard and actually been able to increase his budget (to the chagrin of a number of his peers, who hadn’t been so fortunate). Whilst this funding didn’t mean the new telescope that the community was calling for, and which Bjarni hoped would be his legacy, essential maintenance had become exciting upgrades, and he’d been able to fund several new post-doc positions.
One of these now stood in front of him.
“You’ll see that the Duty Operator had a go at a quick calculation, which indicates that the object will strike the Earth. To be honest, I think they were a bit previous in attempting this, and whilst I’m all for open and honest, and I can see where there might be some advantage in releasing the numbers, I think I would be inclined to file them. There really wasn’t sufficient information to make an accurate assessment at that point. The object was watched for another few hours, and in the morning it was possible to refine the calculations which show a reasonably close approach, but nothing that’s going to cause people to head for the bunkers.”
“Don’t you believe it” Bjarni growled, “people are idiots.”
Bjarni noted the careful hand calculations and could see that the erroneous early assessment had been made by Earl Travis, a young buck eager to make a name for himself, despite only being a year or so into his PhD. The revised calculations had been made by the woman in front of him. Ris Patel, one of his new appointments, had real potential. Another twenty years and she’d probably be having this conversation on his side of the desk. She had the rare ability to see the political landscape across academia and the funding bureaucracies that kept this facility operating, as well as being an outstanding astronomer. She just needed to develop her persona…
The ESO was the first to report on the object, and it was soon confirmed by other reputable observatories around the world. No one ever found out where the spurious collision story came from, but Bjarni was very impressive in a series of interviews and very carefully explained that, as the ESO had said in their first statement, there had never been any danger to the Earth… He would go on to win an award for this work (a small one, not a Nobel, or anything like that), but the cash was enough for a small shindig at the observatory. But as Professor Thorssen doesn’t play any further part in this story, we’ll leave him there.
With all the excitement over the object, which the astronomers decided was probably just a very large comet, and then spent months arguing over what to call it, no one really paid any attention to the rather spectacular shooting star that occurred at around the same time. Esther, saw it, with her older brother Owain. They’d gone out star gazing and were lying out on the hillside above Abercynafon. Owain was pointing out the constellations (and not just the obvious ones that everyone knows) when a streak of light spurted overhead and fled across the horizon.
“What was that, Owain?”
“A shooting star, bach. There’s all sorts of little bits of dust and things up there that hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. That must have been quite a big bit of rock though to make that much light and to go on for so long. It’s a pity we didn’t get a picture.”
Neither of them connected it with the triple sonic boom that occurred about an hour later, nor, in point of fact, did they realise that that was what they were hearing.
At this point there was not much to see, but they had an impression of something going quite fast overhead. They thought it must be an RAF fighter on night maneuvers. They didn’t hear whatever it was playing ducks and drakes across the Tallybont Reservoir. If it had been eligible, it would have beaten the existing record, but Kurt Steiner’s 88 skips were safe in the Guinness Book of World Records for a while longer – this was no small stone, propelled by a human…
Slowed by it’s entry into the atmosphere and then around the world, slowed further by on board systems, slowed further still by it’s journey across the lake, the space craft jinked lazily up the hillside and then settled next to a little knot of trees.
© David Jesson, 2019
During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.
The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning. All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story. At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers. I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below. So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger, is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.
Without giving too much away, the protagonist is piloting the craft that has just landed in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Are they:
Option 1: Escaping?
Option 2: Scouting?
Option 3: Retrieving something?
Option 4: On a jolly?
I ‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for two weeks, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time. Feel free to expand on the options in the comments! I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you thing this is heading!
See you next month!