Authors: Steve Alten
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This novel is dedicated to
Dr. Arul Chidambaram and the doctors, nurses, and dedicated staff at Wellington Regional Hospital.
Thank you for saving my life.…
It is with great appreciation that I acknowledge those who contributed to the completion of
The Omega Project
First and foremost, to the great staff at Forge Books, with special thanks to Tom Doherty and his family, my editors, James Frenkel and Whitney Ross, art director Seth Lerner and jacket designer Peter Lutjen. My gratitude and appreciation to my personal editor, Lou Aronica at the Fiction Studio ([email protected]), whose advice remains invaluable, and to my literary agent, Danny Baror of Baror International, for his friendship and dedication. Thanks as well to his assistant, Heather Baror-Shapiro.
To my friend Nick Nunziata—a special thanks for your input during the writing process. Thanks as well to the talented William McDonald (
) for the original artwork found within these pages, and to copy editor Justine Gardner.
My gratitude and appreciation to Barbara Becker, who serves as my personal reader and works tirelessly in the Adopt An Author program, as well as to Millennium Technology Resources, for managing the
Finally, to my wife, Kim, and my kids, Kelsey and Branden, for their love, and for their tolerance of the long hours involved in my writing career, and most importantly to my readers and fans, without whom I’d have no career.
The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there’s an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.
, Nobel Prize–winning physicist and author of
A Brief History of Time
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
MARCH 12, 1998
The representative wearing the requisite white lab coat was not a scientist; his selection to address the media was based more on his availability than his public relations experience. Now, as he stepped out of the administration building and into a 54°F headwind, he wished he had called in sick.
Reporters’ side conversations were replaced by a heavy silence as he approached the hastily prepared podium and its entanglement of microphones. He removed a prepared statement from his pants pocket, then paused at the whirring flutter of camera shutters to evaluate the crowd.
Look at all of them … a herd of sheep, panicked by a lone voice yelling wolf. Don’t let them see you wipe at any sweat beads, they’ll interpret the body language. Just read the damn statement, answer a few questions, and get back inside where it’s warm.
“Good morning. Yesterday, Harvard astronomer Brian Marsden of the International Astronomical Union issued an IAU circular about a possible very close pass to the Earth of the asteroid designated 1997 XF11. According to Marsden’s calculations, the asteroid, which is approximately one mile in diameter, will pass within thirty thousand miles on Thursday, October 26, 2028, at approximately 1:30
Eastern Daylight Time. Mr. Marsden stated that, while the chance of an actual collision with Earth remained small, it was not entirely out of the realm of possibility. A mile-wide asteroid, as most of you know, could cause quite a bit of damage.
“Following Mr. Marsden’s announcement, JPL scientists Dr. Donald Yeomans and Dr. Paul Chodas reexamined the data on 1997 XF11. This reexamination was based on orbit calculations made in March of 1990 at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, seven years before its reported discovery by Jim Scotti of the Spacewatch group. Based on this more conclusive data, we’re happy to report that Asteroid 1997 XF11 will pass at a rather more comfortable distance of nine hundred sixty thousand kilometers—about six hundred thousand miles, approximately two moon distances away, giving it a near zero probability of impacting our planet.”
A wave of arms beckoned for his attention amid a chorus of stated questions. Tucking the statement inside his pants pocket, he scanned the crowd, seeking a friendly face. He pointed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone’s name. Yes, the gentleman with the red-striped tie.”
. How is it that scientists at JPL were able to find this new data less than a day after the IAU’s announcement?”
“If you’re suggesting a conspiracy, Mr. Bachman, you may want to check with the producers of those two new asteroid-impact movies.” He smiled at the effectiveness of the rehearsed line, using the interruption of the laughter to casually brush at the moisture beading over his brow. “Actually, the asteroid had been photographed by JPL scientists at Palomar in 1990 but never named. Had it been named I suspect there would have been less of a panic and I’d be enjoying my breakfast in the commissary. Yes? You, with the paisley shirt.”
According to Jack G. Hills of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, this is the most dangerous near-Earth asteroid ever spotted and its impact would be the equivalent of two million Hiroshima-size bombs. How does this new threat compare with the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago?”
“The asteroid you’re referring to was probably three times the size of 1997 XF11. Again, the chances of it striking the Earth are minimal. We’re not downplaying the danger; we’ve simply recalculated the asteroid’s orbit based on more accurate, reliable data. Yes, the young lady from CNN?”
“Are there any factors that could alter the asteroid’s projected orbit over the next thirty years? For example, could the Earth’s gravitational pull affect the asteroid’s orbit on its next pass, which I believe is on Halloween in 2002, effecting a change in 2028?”
Sweat had soaked through the back of the administrator’s dress shirt. “While it’s true that gravitational interaction with a larger object can alter an asteroid’s orbit by approximately a quarter of one degree, JPL calculations confirm that the influence of the Earth’s orbit on 1997 XF11 on its next pass in 2002 should be minimal. In a worst-case scenario, Asteroid 1997 XF11 will come no closer to Earth in October 2028 than a moon’s distance away. Thank you, that’s all for now.”
The JPL representative waved to the crowd as he exited the podium, his thoughts lingering on his last statement.
A moon’s distance away.… Has anyone bothered to plot the moon’s orbit when 1997 XF11 passes Earth in 2028?
(The Great Die-Off)
Strong and healthy, who thinks of sickness until it strikes like lightning?
Preoccupied with the world, who thinks of death until it arrives like thunder?
II, discourse collections of the Buddha, fifth century
MARCH 12, 2022
I didn’t know much about guns. The one I’d been gripping in my sweaty palm held four bullets in its clip and one in the chamber—same as it had when I’d removed it from the corpse I’d come across two weeks ago. It was rare these days to find a dead body that hasn’t been skinned and stripped of its meat. Thankfully, I’d never been forced to consume human flesh, which was why I was here … out in the woods, hoping to shoot a deer before the last deer was taken, before the last of my supplies ran out and hunger drove me either to cannibalism, suicide, or starvation.
I’d arrived in the woods before dawn, having ridden all night on my motorcycle. No lights needed, thanks to my night-vision glasses, no sound since the bike was powered solely by batteries. I’d been staked out in this blind for the better part of eight hours. Sweat continued to pour down my face and soak my camouflage clothing, and the bugs were relentless, but I’d chosen this spot because it was only twenty paces from the creek, offering me a clear shot at anything or anyone that ventured by. Truth be told, I’d never shot anything more lethal than a BB gun, but desperate times required desperate measures.
When I was younger, my father had taken me camping with the Cub Scouts. The closest we’d come to hunting game was roasting marshmallows. A real hunter wouldn’t have been hunting deer with a handgun. A real hunter probably wouldn’t have had ant bites all over his ankles or mosquito bites on his arms, and he wouldn’t have been so scared.
I wasn’t scared of the woods. I was scared of being lost in the woods, unable to find my way back to the main road and the brush where I’d hidden the bike. Mostly, I was scared about what else might be in the woods hunting the deer hunters.
I called them the “SS”—sociopathic survivors. Rapists, murderers, cannibals—the SS were soulless beings hell-bent on enjoying their final fleeting moments on Earth. I’d never seen them in action, but I’d seen the forensic evidence of their depravity and it terrified me.
The last bullet in my gun’s chamber was reserved for my brain should those pack animals hunt me down.
The SS were bottom-feeders before the Die-Off, which is why they’d survived. They lived off the grid. Same for the fortress farmers, bunker clans, conspiracy theorists, and other whack-jobs who could read the tea leaves and had known the world’s oil reserves were running out.
Note to any future generations listening to these audio tapes: The powers-that-be knew the world’s oil reserves peaked in 2005; in fact, they knew how things would end as far back as the 1970s when Jimmy Carter was in office. And still the assholes did nothing.