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Authors: Jack McDevitt

Moonfall (63 page)

BOOK: Moonfall
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They were all dead and the world with them.

Charlie was usually inclined to take an optimistic view of events. If on this occasion he’d given up and concluded all was lost, it was easy enough to understand: the
Percival Lowell
was engulfed in flames and shaking itself to pieces, Feinberg was cackling on the command channel, and he was suddenly beginning to feel the tug of gravity after a long period of zero-g.

That the latter fact was a good sign, that it indicated the rock was changing course, never occurred to him. He waited for the killing blow, consoled only by the knowledge he had given his best effort.

At forty-eight hours, his would be the shortest presidency on record, easily eclipsing William Henry Harrison’s thirty-one days. He wondered whether he might not also be the last U.S. president. He was considering that doleful possibility when his cell phone trilled. It was a remarkably prosaic sound, cool and mundane amid the chaos. He pulled the instrument out of his pocket. “Haskell,” he said, impressed at how good his voice sounded.

“Mr. President. “It was Feinberg. “Congratulations. We’ve done it. It’s headed back out.”

Charlie felt his pulse throbbing. “You’re sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure.”

“Thank God,” he said.

“It’ll take a while to analyze the new orbit. We need to determine whether, and to what degree, the Possum will remain a threat.”

“But it’s not coming down

“No, Mr. President. I can assure you it’s not coming down

Charlie clicked off, closed his eyes, and allowed himself to luxuriate in the moment. He was drenched, and was deliriously happy. And he suddenly realized he was starved.

Rachel’s voice broke in. “Good show, Mr. President,” she said.

Within minutes Charlie was talking to a global audience, giving them the news. The world began to celebrate in its time-honored fashion: church bells rang, drums beat, fireworks exploded, politicians-made speeches. At that moment, Charles L. Haskell could have been elected planetary chief executive, had such a position existed. He knew that his popularity could not fail to carry him to the White House. He also understood that the acclaim would last only until the first recession.

But it was a thought unworthy of the hero of the hour

Up front, Rachel’s comm board had lit up. The entire population of the Earth wanted to talk with him.

The first call he took was from Evelyn.


Tuesday, April 15, 2025

The New White House, Presidential Dining Room.

The dinner had included notables from around the globe, celebrating the first anniversary of what many were now calling the birth of the Space Age, but what President Haskell liked to think of as the long-delayed birth of the Human Family. They’d watched year-old videos of crowds cheering in Paris and Shanghai, Jerusalem and Kansas City, as the Possum sailed across the skies over Florida, trailing fire, and faded at last from human sight.

Not forever, of course. They had a six-year reprieve. Which meant that the nations of the world had no choice but to see Project Skybolt to its conclusion.

The first lady had made it her special responsibility to coordinate the construction of a memorial museum to be dedicated to those who gave their lives in the common effort, to the flight crews of
Copenhagen, Rome, Berlin
, the
Christopher Talley
, to Bigfoot Caparatti and Tony Casaway.

A new world had emerged from the catastrophe. Los Angeles was gone, apparently forever. The lake that formed in the desert regions of central California between the coastal ranges and the eastern peaks was being described by geologists as “temporary,” but they were talking in millennial terms. A group of towns was already springing up along its shores.

No one was left unscarred. The drain on national treasuries caused by the destruction forced world leaders into a cooperative effort unlike anything history had seen before. Military forces seemed to have lost, at least for the time being, their ancient function. No one, in the days after the coming of the
Possum, seemed willing to take up arms against a neighbor. The peoples of the world had stood together against a common misfortune, and a new bond may consequently have formed among them, a bond that transcended national and religious identities, that recognized a common vulnerability. Even in Jerusalem, at long last, an accommodation seemed to have been reached.

In its own dark way, the comet may have been a blessing.

The special guests at the White House dinner had been Andrea Bellwether and Tory Clark. The architects of survival, the president had called them, knowing that Rick Hailey would have approved of the phrase. Tory had said the usual things, spread the credit around, looked embarrassed, and sat down to waves of applause. Andrea said only that her father would have been proud.

Feinberg remarked later that history would remember the technique as the Bellwether Maneuver.

Later the president invited both women to a private party in the Kolladner Room, where they passed the evening with Saber, Keith Morley, Chaplain Pinnacle (who with quick thinking had selected Evelyn Hampton to carry the crucial message to the president), Wes Feinberg, Orly Carpenter, Jonathan Porter, and the flight crews of the various vehicles of Project Rainbow. And of course, with the first lady, Evelyn Haskell.

There are plans to make the celebration an annual event. Unfortunately, however, Rachel Quinn and Lee Cochran will be unable to attend next year. They’ll be on their way to Mars.

I am indebted for assistance, advice, and encouragement to: Franklin R. Chang-Díaz of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center; Ted Dunham and Bruce Koehn of the Lowell Observatory; Terry Gipson, St. Louis Science Center; Sergei Pershman, University of Pennsylvania; Eileen Ryan, Kitt Peak National Observatory; Jim Sharp, formerly of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum; George Tindle, U.S. Customs Service; and Judith A. Tyner, California State University, Long Beach.

The manuscript also profited from the guidance of Fred Espenak of NASA Goddard, both directly and from his excellent book,
Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses: 1986–2035
(Sky Publishing Corp., Cambridge, MA, 1988). Thanks to Ben Bova for permission to use his version of Moonbase, the details of which were derived particularly from
Welcome to Moonbase
(Ballantine Books, 1987).

Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory and science fiction writer Walt Cuirle of the Isaac Asimov Seminar were subjected to constant harassment during the production of this book. They bore up patiently and both are, I believe, still talking to me.

Maureen McDevitt helped the manuscript through several incarnations, and Caitlin Blasdell provided her usual good judgment at HarperPrism. Thanks also to Dolores Dwyer for editorial assistance.

Ron Peiffer assisted with the Coast Guard segments, and Lewis Shiner brought the duct tape.

About the Author

is the author of
A Talent for War, The Engines of God, Ancient Shores, Eternity Road, Moonfall
, and numerous prize-winning short stories. He has served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, taught English and literature, and worked for the U.S. Customs Service in North Dakota and Georgia.

Visit for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

for J

“McDevitt takes the reader down to the last second [and] intercuts the suspense with events on earth…. Care with CHARACTERIZATION, CAREFUL RESEARCH, AND IRRESISTIBLE STORY LINE TAKE


is a thoroughly authentic, near-future double-planet disaster thriller, with a blizzard of sympathetic characters, an electrifying pace, and a stomach-twisting climax. IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AND IT’S ON CNN.”

—Stephen Baxter, author of

is A MONUMENTAL TRIBUTE to the courage of the human spirit. I held my breath for the last hundred pages!”

—Nancy Kress, author of
Maximum Light

is without doubt THE VERY BEST DISASTER NOVEL I HAVE EVER READ. A master writer, Jack McDevitt doesn’t miss a trick—and he adds a few of his own.”

—Kevin J. Anderson, author of

“McDevitt’s pace is breathtaking, his descriptions vividly real, and his plot and science perfectly worked out….

—St. Petersburg Times

“I suspect Jack McDevitt has a fair shot at bestsellerdom and a movie with his latest,
, a glorious attempt to pulverize civilization…. HUGE IN CONCEPT AND IMPACT…. McDevitt has done a marvelous job.”


is terrific, the best science fiction novel I have read in years. ALMOST MORE TENSION THAN YOU CAN STAND.”

—Charles Sheffield, author of
Cold as Ice

“All of McDevitt’s usual strengths are on display—sturdy characterization, deft plotting, and relentless intelligence—only here he has cranked up the action to escape velocity. This is AN AMAZING THRILL RIDE OF A NOVEL; JACK MCDEVITT DOES DISASTER RIGHT!”

—James Patrick Kelly,
author of
Think Like a Dinosaur


—Gregory Benford

“McDevitt tells his complex and suspenseful stories with METICULOUS ATTENTION TO DETAIL, DEFT CHARACTERIZATIONS, AND GRACEFUL PROSE.”

—Publishers Weekly


—Michael Swanwick

“JACK MCDEVITT IS A…WRITER CAPABLE OF HAUNTING BEAUTY AND SHARP INSIGHT…[who] will carry you along by the sheer force of enthusiasm and loaded prose.”


“Some authors are masters at spinning world-spanning cosmic tales; others are adept at down-to-earth character-driven stories. But only a precious few can combine the two, and NO ONE DOES IT BETTER THAN JACK MCDEVITT.”

—Robert J. Sawyer

“MCDEVITT BLENDS STRAIGHTFORWARD ADVENTURE WITH SCIENTIFIC MYSTERY, peoples his stories with diverse…characters, and delivers rewardingly startling solutions.”

—Science Fiction Chronicle

“Jack McDevitt writes with a keen eye for human nature and the sure hand of human experience. AN ENGROSSING STORYTELLER.”

—Jeffrey A. Carver

Books by Jack McDevitt


Infinity Beach


Eternity Road

Ancient Shores

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

. Copyright © 1998 by Cryptic, Inc. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

Adobe Digital Edition June 2009 ISBN 978-0-06-194628-8

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United Kingdom

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United States

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BOOK: Moonfall
11.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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