“I know I’m just a kid, but I think I found something terrible.”
That’s what I told the 911 operator when I was 14. I was right, too. Well, maybe I was wrong depending on how you look at it. Because of me, I’m alive, and so is the president. At least I think she’s alive, we don’t hear much from her anymore. Is there even an America left anymore?
Because of me. Because of me.
Because of me, millions of Americans are dead. If I hadn’t made that call on that day . . . well, things would have been different. But I got to believe it all happened for a reason, like it was all part of some grand plan. When I tell myself that, I feel better. Still, it’s hard living in this bunker, wondering each day as I wake, “will I get to see the sun today?” Some days I do. Those are good days.
My mom was white. My dad was Hispanic. My name is Kim Doppler. I’m black.
I’m 23 now, and I never met my biological parents. I only have memories of my foster parents. I have three brothers and two sisters, they’re of all ages . . . and races. Some are white some are black, some are brown. I can’t really keep track of all of them. My parents just loved adopting kids, I guess. Still, as many of us as there were, and as hard as my parents worked, there was still enough love to go around, somehow. Love is like fishes and loaves that way.
I’m the oldest girl. When I’d talk to my mom, we’d refer to the rest of them as “the kids”, in fact, I used to joke with my mom, that they were my kids. I’ve always felt like I needed to be the one to take care of everyone else. Not sure why, but I guess I was, at least, mature enough to tell my mom was in a bit over her head. She’s great. I wouldn’t take any other mom. I wish I could walk past her in the house and smell her perfume. I wish she were still alive.
My dad was never around. There were two kinds of dads in my neighborhood growing up, both kinds weren’t around. There’s the one that aint around because he’s not man enough to take on the responsibility of raising kids. My dad wasn’t that kind. My dad was the one that wasn’t around because he worked about 80 hours a week. He put food on the table. And had a table in the first place. As a kid, there were days I wish I had one less meal if it meant I could see my dad. Most days were that way. I wish they still were that way. I wish he was still alive.
My mom was a saint.
That’s why she needed my help. Brushing hair and cooking breakfast and paying the water bill. Yes, I dropped the monthly payment off at the city building. It’s OK, I needed to walk the other kids to school anyway, and it’s on the way. My mom would let me lick the envelope; the taste had a hint of spearmint. First, I’d walk the kids, then I’d drop the payment at the city building, then I’d walk to my high school. It’s a straight line, more or less.
I guess all that responsibility had given me strength and allowed me to grow beyond my then 14 years of age, because school was easy peasy. Straight A’s were nothing. School had been a joke to me for those last few years. I could hardly bear it. I stopped most days at the public library after school to grab a new book for the evening. The library is on the way home from school, more or less.
I know everything there is to know about planetary motion, spacecraft transfer orbits, solar system escape trajectories. Everything. For my 8th grade science fair project, I successfully, physically simulated Voyager 2’s double gravity assist slingshot off of Jupiter and Mars. Think about that. How did that not win?
I’ll tell you how it did not win: Jerk Dexter. Oops, did I say Jerk, I mean Jack. He made a stupid volcano that won the science fair. A volcano! Come on Jerk, volcanoes were old news in 1973 when Peter Brady made one for his science fair.
To be fair, it was pretty cool. Jerk made two different models, one was a simulated Mount St. Helens, with working tectonic plates to simulate Northwestern Pacific Convergent Boundary. His second model simulated a hot-spot style volcano like you’d see in Hawaii. Nothing too impressive here, but he did add phosphorescent liquid to his magma and covered the entire model with a black sheet to get the lighting as minimal as possible so that the magma glowed bright orange for the stupid judges.
His parents gave him a blank check to buy supplies. Meanwhile my supplies consisted of old pickle jars and empty ajax bottles.
I was so mad. I told myself I would stop at nothing to get that trophy the next year. Jack Dexter would not repeat as champion. So, I spent most nights on the roof, swatting mosquitos and looking through my $80 telescope, trying to prove evidence of a ninth planet in our solar system. I figured that should win me the Nobel Prize, easy peasy. Then if that happened, the dumb judges at the Shawnee County Science Fair would surely give me first prize. It was then that I made the discovery. Not the ninth planet. Something far greater, far worse. It’s funny how your world can change in one instant. Then your life is totally different from that moment on. In an infinitesimal fraction of a second, you can go from deputy mom to full-fledged grownup. I was a kid, pretending to be an adult, but I was still a kid, until that moment.
That whole day is like a vivid film strip in my brain. On the way to school, my mom was backing out of the driveway. It was one of the rare days she actually drove me to school. It was snowing, that was her exception, she’d drive us if it were snowing. I was riding shotgun because, of course I was. I remember rubbing my hands together and warming them in the air vents on the dashboard. As we approached the street, I saw the two Metter kids playing in the street. They’re neighbor kids, “always on the loose” my mom would say. Today was no different. They were running and sliding on the packed white snow-ice in the street. I warned my mom.
“We got Metters, at four o’clock,” I had said. My breath like a fog.
“Thanks,” Mom said. “I see them. Buggers.”
She eyeballed them as she continued in reverse. Maybe if I hadn’t warned her, she would have seen what was coming from the other direction. But she didn’t. She didn’t see the bulldozer coming from the other direction. Yes, that’s right, a bulldozer was driving down our street. I’m not sure why, heading to a construction site, I guess. We never saw it coming. Luckily it wasn’t going fast, and no one was hurt. Still, a machine designed for pure destruction is still going to do what it does best, even when slowed down. It totaled our minivan.
My mom was pissed.
She said she was mad at herself, but I could tell she was mad at me. Mad for distracting her.
I was mad at me too.
Later that night was when I found it in the sky. I had been shivering on the roof for hours that night leading up to the discovery. It was my way of coping with the guilt of the accident. Regardless, I had found it. A little speck of light that was no brighter than any of the other stars, but I could tell within a few moments it was not a star. It was moving in a slightly different direction than the other stars in the night sky. This object was much closer. I took some initial measurements that evening and did some rough preliminary calculations. As I told you earlier, I know planetary physics, and when I say “I know” something, trust me I KNOW it. Planetary physics or Kepler Mechanics as we call it, was one of my passions.
After two simple measurements of the object’s position, spaced ten minutes apart, along with looking up on NASA’s website to find earth’s current position in the solar system at the time of the measurements, I was able to get a rough trajectory of the object plotted. At the time I couldn’t be sure of what I had found. I would need to follow up the measurements with days’ worth of data to fine tune the trajectory and plot a more accurate course.
But all that extra measurement only did one thing. It confirmed my initial fear on that night was correct.
In 46 days, the object, an asteroid, would come from the direction of the constellation Aries and impact earth.
An excerpt from the novel, The Arch Emulator and the Seven Keys.
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