3:55 a.m. Just five more minutes and I can rest my hard head on that soft pillow in my bunk, Lieutenant Bill Nelson thought.
This was supposed to be a cushy assignment, and in many ways it was, but he hadn’t taken into account the incredible amount of boredom of a 12-hour stint looking at a computer screen that never did anything but glowed green. Now he understood why such assignments only lasted six months. Otherwise, you go stark raving mad from the boredom alone.
3:56 a.m. Four more minutes, eight hours of shut eye, and then he’d be done for good. A couple of weeks on leave during which he planned to be mostly drunk somewhere in the Florida Keys and then on to his next assignment. Whatever Uncle Sam had planned, it had to be better than this one.
It started with a bleep bleep as a small green dot appeared at the edge of the screen, and then all hell broke loose as a shrill alarm shattered the early morning silence, threatening to bust Nelson’s eardrums, and a light above the computer screen started flashing red. Moments later, lines of data began scrolling across the bottom of the monitor as the green dot made its way above it.
“Holy shit!” Nelson shouted as he shot up straight in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He reached over to his right and toggled the switch that turned off the alarm and flashing light. This can’t be happening, he thought. Less than five minutes and he’d be done. He could slip off to the cot and pillow that waited for him in his room. Get some good sleep and then get the hell out of here. Maybe I could just ignore that little green dot, he thought. It was probably just a bug in the system anyway, but even as he had the thought his hand reached beyond the switch to the red phone. He knew his orders. Report any unusual occurrences, and this one had to be a doozy to set off the alarms.
As he held the receiver to his ear, he studied the lines of data. Yep, had to be a glitch in the system. No way could something out in space be traveling that fast and heading directly at Earth. A few more seconds passed before he heard a click at the other end and a gravelly voice said, “Oliver Stanwick here. What you got?”
Holy mother-of-pearl, it’s the head of B.I.U.F.O. himself, Nelson thought as he sat up even straighter. “Sorry to disturb you, sir. It’s probably just a glitch in the system, but I have a bogey in my screen.”
“What’s the size of the bogey?” Oliver asked again.
Nelson studied the screen again before replying, “That’s the odd thing. It doesn’t appear to be that large. Not more than forty or fifty meters across. I’m pretty sure that’s not what set off the system.”
There was a pause at the other end of the phone before Oliver asked, “ If it wasn’t the size that set it off, then what did?”
“Well, according to the data the bogie is traveling over 275,000 kilometers per hour.”
“What was that, Lieutenant?” Oliver said.
Nelson repeated the number before adding, “But here’s the thing, Colonel. Not only is it traveling at such an impossible high-speed, but it’s also decelerating as it draws closer to earth. Shouldn’t Earth’s gravitational field increase its speed?”
“One would think,” Oliver replied. “And what’s its trajectory? “
“Oh, it’s going to hit us all right. No doubt about it. It’s a little too early to say for sure but, if we’re lucky, it could hit somewhere in the Atlantic. That is, if the damn thing actually does exist.”
“Okay, Lieutenant. Keep me posted. What time is it?”
“4:01,” Nelson replied.
“You due to get off your shift, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir, but...”
“Yeah, you’ll need to stay at your post. Alert your C.O. to that effect.”
“Yes, sir.” Nelson heard another click as the line went dead.
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