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Authors: Tanya Huff

The Future Falls

BOOK: The Future Falls
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The finest in Fantasy and Science Fiction

by TANYA HUFF from DAW Books:

 

THE SILVERED

* * *

THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM

THE WILD WAYS

THE FUTURE FALLS

* * *

The Confederation Novels:

A CONFEDERATION OF VALOR

Valor's Choice/The Better Part of Valor

THE HEART OF VALOR (#3)

VALOR'S TRIAL (#4)

THE TRUTH OF VALOR (#5)

* * *

SMOKE AND SHADOWS (#1)

SMOKE AND MIRRORS (#2)

SMOKE AND ASHES (#3)

* * *

BLOOD PRICE (#1)

BLOOD TRAIL (#2)

BLOOD LINES (#3)

BLOOD PACT (#4)

BLOOD DEBT (#5)

BLOOD BANK (#6)

* * *:

THE COMPLETE KEEPER CHRONICLES

Summon the Keeper/The Second Summoning/Long Hot Summoning

* * *

THE QUARTERS NOVELS, Volume 1:

Sing the Four Quarters/Fifth Quarter

THE QUARTERS NOVELS, Volume 2:

No Quarter/The Quartered Sea

* * *

WIZARD OF THE GROVE

Child of the Grove/The Last Wizard

* * *

OF DARKNESS, LIGHT, AND FIRE

Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light/The Fire's
Stone

Copyright © 2014 by Tanya Huff.

 

All Rights Reserved.

 

Jacket art by Steve Stone.

 

Jacket design by G-Force Design.

 

DAW Book Collectors No. 1669.

 

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

 

Book designed by Elizabeth Glover.

 

ISBN 978-0-698-17388-0

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

 

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

 

Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.

 

 

Version_1

CONTENTS

Other titles by Tanya Huff

Title page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

 

 

 

For Gary and Sheryl,

who trusted me a TRULY TERRIFYING AMOUNT to get it right.
Thank
you.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

With thanks to Vicki Farmer, who brought JPL to life, to Alex Potter, who did the same for Vermont, and to John Chew, who helped with two plus two. Any deviation from reality is on
me.

S
he lay stretched out under a beach umbrella, long silver braid coiled on top of her head, the fingers of one hand wrapped around a piña colada—made with real island rum and fresh coconut milk—the fingers of the other drumming against the broad teak arm of the lounge chair. She'd been watching a beach volleyball game and she hadn't appreciated having her view of half-naked, athletic young men bounding about on the sand interrupted by the Sight of a falling rock.

Usually, what she Saw was as open to speculation as an election promise. She Saw fire burning in the center of Calgary, and her granddaughter holding a double handful of water, ready to put it out. She saw discarded antlers on an empty throne, and knew the bloodline had been both challenged and changed. Granted, the Elder God rising up from a rift in the ocean bed off Nova Scotia had turned out to be more literal than she'd anticipated, but, usually, what she Saw was the metaphysical equivalent of interpretive dance. She got out of it only what she put into it.

Usually.

She wasn't in the habit of making the family a gift of what she'd Seen. A firm believer in anything free was worth the price paid, she usually arranged it so that the family worked for the information while providing her with weeks, or even months, of amusement. This time, however, she thought she might have to make an exception.

Having been banished from Calgary by her granddaughter, who was strong enough to enforce the banishment—pride warred with annoyance
and occasionally won—she'd have to return to the family home in Ontario. To the old farmhouse where she'd raised her children and arranged for her grandchildren. In Ontario. In October. When the weather was seldom pleasant even with September barely out of sight.

Ontario meant Jane.

Who was less likely to be pleasant than the weather.

A warm breeze wafted past, bringing with it the scent of coconut oil and sweat, the sound of laughing young men willing to be charmed.

She had to be crazy to leave this behind.

Except . . .

It had been a
very
large rock.

Still, it wasn't as if a few more days of lovely weather and obliging young men would make any significant difference in the end.

“. . . turns out that 2007 AG5 had masked the other asteroid.”

Pam Yorlem noted that Dr. Grayson's voice had remained admirably steady throughout his report. The Director of JPL had dark circles under both eyes and his hands had been shaking slightly before he shoved them into his jacket pockets, but, considering that he'd spent the night on the red-eye from LAX then taken a taxi directly to NASA HQ after landing at Dulles, that was hardly surprising. Dr. Mehta, one of the scientists involved with the Near-Earth Object Program, looked significantly less affected, but she was twenty years younger than both Dr. Grayson and, Pam allowed, herself. Perhaps that made her more hopeful.

No, she seemed too smart for that.

Drawing in a deep breath, Pam released it slowly and said, “Let me see if I've got this. Sixteen months ago, LaSagra in southern Spain, determined that 2007 AG5, an M-class approximately 45 meters in diameter, will pass within about 3.5 Earth radii of the Earth's surface inside the geosynchronous satellite ring. Seventeen hours ago, you, Dr. Mehta . . .” Pam nodded toward the astrophysicist on the other side of her desk. “. . . discovered that 2007 AG5 was hiding another asteroid. A larger asteroid. An asteroid over a kilometer in diameter, masked by the metal content of AG5, including, but not limited to, the brightness of reflected light from its polished surface. You
determined the existence of this second asteroid mathematically while killing time waiting for Vesta data to run rather than by actually finding another bright spot in the sky.”

Dr. Mehta's brows rose, but before she could speak, Pam raised a hand.

“My apologies; that was uncalled for.” Blaming the messenger was not the response of a person with her training and experience. “I'm not doubting your math. I'd like to, given that we apparently have twenty-one months before impact, but I'm not.” At least not right now. It seemed a safe assumption that after discovering an NEO on its way to becoming slightly more than
near
, everyone would check and then recheck the math. “How long before the trajectories of the two asteroids diverge to the point where there'll be too many sightings of the second for us to keep . . .” She glanced down at the screen of her tablet, frowned, and looked up. “Seriously, Dr. Grayson? The Armageddon Asteroid? You're naming a large chunk of rock that will destroy a significant proportion of life on this planet unless we pull off the Hail Mary Pass to end all Hail Mary Passes after a Michael Bay movie?”

“Subsurface nuclear explosives are one of the listed diversion options,” Dr. Grayson pointed out. He covered a yawn with the back of his hand. “Sorry, I can't sleep on planes. And technically, subsurface nukes are possible. Sort of.”

“Maybe Bruce Willis can save us,” Dr. Mehta offered, rolling her eyes.

“Let's not rule it out. All right . . .” Pam rewound the conversation back to before the distraction of a scientifically ludicrous movie. “. . . how long before there's too many sightings worldwide for us to keep this secret? And when I say secret, I mean out of the media, off the blog-sphere, public panic delayed?”

“Given the way the budgets have been cut for the big scopes and that amateurs tend to ignore asteroids once they've been listed . . .” Dr. Mehta tucked a strand of short dark hair behind her ear and shrugged. “. . . with luck, six months.”

“Or someone could stumble over it tomorrow the way Kiren did. Or we could luck out and it'll be another 2012 LZ1—unseen until Siding Springs spotted it before the flyby.” Dr. Grayson shrugged. “It's a crap shoot, Chief.” He spread his hands. “And we're screwed either way. Twenty-one months, big hunk of rock, bam, extinction event.”

“Bam?”

“Scientifically speaking.”

“No.” Pam squared her shoulders. She was a Brigadier General in the United States Air Force. She'd logged over 5,000 hours flight time in over 50 different aircraft and over 38 days in space. She was the second woman to command a shuttle mission and the first to command the International Space Station. She was the first woman to be in charge at NASA and she didn't do
bam
. “We stop it.”

“How?”

“I have at NASA, Dr. Grayson, the best and the brightest minds in the world—and I include the two of you in that assessment. That's neither hyperbole nor flattery, that's fact. I'm sure that in the six months before the panic starts, you and your colleagues, here and internationally, will come up with a solution.”

Dr. Grayson stared at her for a long moment, then all the tension left his body at once and he sagged down in his chair. “You really believe that.”

“I do.” She had to because
when in danger or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout
was no way to live. Or die, if it came to it. “I'll inform the president. I'm sure he'll want to speak with both of you, and I'll advise him to lock down both this information and what we plan to do about it at the highest security level. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to mention this discovery to no one else.”

“It was why we got on a plane.” Dr. Grayson covered another yawn. “You can't hack wetware. Well, you can, but it's not usually where they start. I hear everyone breaks on the third day.”

“Dr. Grayson . . .”

Another yawn. “Sorry. Free associating.”

“Before you got on the plane, did you mention this discovery to anyone?”

“I told the wife we were heading east for another budget discussion.”

“What about Houston?”

“I thought we should see you first.”

“Dr. Mehta?”

She shook her head. “I told Dr. Grayson . . .”

“Of course.” Dr. Mehta had begun to look drawn, shocky if Pam was any judge. It seemed the younger scientist had held it together until she'd passed the buck upstairs and now reaction had begun to set in. “Talk to my assistant on your way out. She'll see that you have a place to stay until we know when
you're heading back to the west coast. Get some sleep. Get ready for questions. In my experience, the joint chiefs appreciate PowerPoint.”

“And small words,” Dr. Grayson muttered under his breath. Given that she wasn't intended to hear it, Pam decided she hadn't. And he wasn't entirely wrong.

“Thank you for this.” She gestured with the tablet. “You've given us a chance, however slight. I'll let you know what else we'll need from you as soon as I find out.”

She'd started making notes before they were completely out of the office. The heads of equivalent organizations internationally would have to be informed. Media Relations could spin any leaks—and there would be leaks, there always were—on the conspiracy websites the government assisted the deluded to maintain.

Only nine million dollars of NASA's yearly budget went toward searching for NEOs, the majority of it supporting the operations of several observatories, and a significantly smaller portion into finding ways to protect the Earth from a potential collision. That would have to change.

While waiting for the president's office to get back to her, Pam started running the numbers, lips pulled back off her teeth as she imagined bringing this before the House Committee on Appropriations. “Let's see if
this
is enough to free up more than not quite half of one percent of the budget . . .”

With Dr. Grayson dozing beside her, Kiren stared out the window of the taxi, watched the rain, and wondered if she should have protested General Yorlem's interruption. The military might consider an assumption by a brigadier general to be fact, but she was a scientist and she knew better. Would have known better even had this particular assumption by the general not so personally concerned her.

Dr. Grayson had been the only person connected with NASA she'd told, but before she'd spoken to him, right after she'd checked the math for the sixth time, she'd called her oldest friend—fingers trembling so violently it had taken her three tries to make the call. She'd known Gary since third grade when his parents bought the house next door to hers. They'd gone through middle school and high school together—double-dated at both junior
and senior prom—and headed off to MIT together, science nerds and proud. Their ways had started to diverge then; he'd headed into engineering and she'd gone into space science and data analysis, but they'd stayed friends. Accomplices when possible.

She'd stood for him at his wedding to a wonderful woman, her red sari a burst of color by their canopy.

“He's like my brother,” Kiren always said when it came up. Actually, Gary was closer to her than her brother who was five years older and a bit of an ass. She hadn't called her brother when she'd worked out the mathematical possibility of the world ending.

BOOK: The Future Falls
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