Countdown to the Comet

A story written for day 3 of the A-to-Z challenge. C is for contraterrene matter, an early alternative term for what is now known as antimatter.

Sir James Marten greeted the two gentlemen as they entered the observatory floor. “Your Majesty,” he bowed to the first.

“Sir James Marten,” his visitor replied. “May I introduce the President of the United States?” A round of handshakes followed before the astronomer for the Royal Observatory ushered the two men to the meeting table.

“Mr. President,” Marten began. “May I say that I am honored by your visit to our observatory.”

The President held up a hand. “My time here is brief, Sir James. I am scheduled to meet your Prime Minister in an hour to discuss defense preparations.” Though the Prime Minister was still negotiating for peace, there seemed little chance of success with the Germans threatening the Polish border. “To cut to the chase, I understand that the Royal Astronomer has gone bonkers and is now predicting Armageddon.”

Marten hesitated momentarily. “I will endeavour to be brief. You are no doubt aware of the quite accidental discovery of Comet Spencer Jones some months ago?”

“Indeed, I vaguely recall it. Very little good news crosses my desk of late.”

“Sadly, Mr. President, there is little good in this news. Using the mathematics of Keplerian mechanics, we are able to predict the movements of these heavenly bodies quite precisely.”

The President nodded. “I recall some years back an American astronomer succeeded in detecting the ninth planet of our solar system,” he commented with a hint of pride.

“By our calculations, Comet Spencer Jones will come quite close to the Earth in approximately eighty years.”

“How close?”

“Mr. President,” the astronomer said, “it’s going to impact the Moon.”

The President nodded pensively. “That’s fascinating, Sir James, but a new crater on the Moon eighty years from now is of limited interest.” He fished in his pocket and withdrew a pocketwatch. “And I am nearly due for that meeting with the Prime Minister.”

King George broke his silence. “That, however, is not the worst of the news, Mr. President. Sir James, do try to speed things along for our guest.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. Mr. President, are you familiar with the concept of contraterrene matter?”

A puzzled look crossed the American leader’s face. “Perhaps a Cambridge lad such as yourself could dumb it down for a poor uneducated Harvard grad such as myself?”

“It is a recent physics concept: a sort of mirror matter, identical to normal terrene matter in every way except charge. Except when terrene and contraterrene matter meet, they annihilate into pure energy.” Marten sighed wearily. “Well, Mr. President, we have determined that this comet is composed of pure contraterrene matter.”

“I don’t understand,” said the leader. “If this contraterrene matter is indistinguishable from normal matter, how can you identify it?”

“One of our theoretical physicists realized that as a comet composed of contraterrene matter travels through the solar system, it will occasionally contact stray gas. We have detected telltale radiation from the comet that can only be explained as a terrene-contraterrene reaction.”

“So this contraterrene comet is going to impact the Moon sometime in the early twenty-first century?”

comet-1Marten nodded. “When it does, it will release more than ten to the thirty-seventh power ergs of energy. The Moon will be destroyed, and the resultant debris will rain down on our Earth. Nothing will survive.”

“Good God!” the President muttered. “So what can we do?”

Once again, the King spoke. “We have developed a plan, Mr. President.” He leaned closer across the chestnut meeting table, lowering his voice to a whisper. “War is coming. We must defeat the German juggernaut and eliminate the madman at the head of the German state.”


“The war will be an excuse to pour money into weapons and rocketry research on both sides. In the aftermath, we will seize their top rocket scientists, bringing them into our fold. We will also work with the Soviet leadership to cultivate an atmosphere of global conflict, so that our weapons and space programs may continue to expand. This must be done in absolute secrecy at all times, lest we incite a panic in the general populace.”

“Work with the Germans? And the Soviets?!”

“Scientists are scientists,” Sir James told the President. “We will need the best and brightest minds the world can offer to harness the awesome power of the atom. Only then can we hope to journey to this contraterrene comet, and destroy it.”

“Atomic power?” said the President in awe. “I thought that was just science fiction.”

“For the sake of Britain, and America, and all of Mankind,” King George said to the President, “I hope it is not.”


3 thoughts on “Countdown to the Comet

  1. Hey! An interesting scene, but the ending just raises more questions. Not just “Once they have the rockets and atomic power, what do they do next?” but “Why did you set this pre-WW2?” and “Why the King instead of the British PM?”

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