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Transformers Dark of the Moon, Page 2

Peter David

  “Too close to call,” he said.

  Dead silence.

  “Nobody breathe,” Aaron Brooks said in what he realized might well be the last order he ever gave.


  (The object—or, as half a dozen men would now describe it, the contact—hurtles through space, as it has for uncounted years. It is a dead thing, frozen and dark. All this time, all this way, it has managed to avoid falling into the grip of the gravity field of any astronomical body. Despite the vastness of space, this has not been as easy a feat as one might think. If it had endeavored to accomplish this by design, such a task would have been formidable. Since it has transpired by luck, it is nothing short of miraculous. It seems to be a compelling argument for the notion that there is some unknowable, unseen being who is guiding matters along—although whether it is because of some grand master plan for the betterment of the universe or just perverse personal amusement, it would be impossible to say.)

  (Whatever the reason, though, luck has obviously run out for the object; a collision is imminent. And the target appears to be a blue/green sphere dead ahead, the third sphere in orbit around the Type G2V star hanging a mere 93 million miles away … a vast distance under most circumstances but a mere stone’s throw in astronomical terms. Moving at 33,000 miles per hour, when the object hits—depending upon where that should occur—the results will be catastrophic. If it hits the water, tidal waves or an underground seismic event will certainly result. If it strikes land, then the outcome will be a crater the size of several cities and perhaps another seismic event, possibly enough to split or sink a continent. Or it might not even reach ground. It could well superheat in the atmosphere to in excess of 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit and explode with a ferocity two hundred times greater than an atomic bomb. This had happened before, ripping apart eight hundred square miles of Russian forest, leaving 80 million trees flattened in a radial pattern.)

  (Except this object might well detonate above a major city, leveling hundreds—even thousands—of skyscrapers and snuffing out the lives of millions of people. There are only so many times that a single planet can escape cosmic catastrophe.)

  (Closer it comes to the blue/green sphere, and faster, and yes, it is going to be a city, a city that a group of scientists in the Mojave are powerless to warn because it’s going to take too long and an evacuation would require hours, perhaps a full day, and they have only minutes left. All they would have time for is to pray to the deity that has seemingly abandoned them to a random and capricious fate.)

  (And then a small, silver-gray mass of rock—that doesn’t have anything on its plate except affecting the tides and serving as inspiration for both romantic poets and suckers for werewolf legends—puts itself between the blue/green sphere and the intruder. With no atmosphere in which the intruder can superheat, with no population to die, it has nothing to lose. It is an undead soldier throwing itself upon a grenade to save the troops.)

  (Mission accomplished.)

  (A journey that began oh so long ago is brought to an abrupt and terminal halt.)


  “Lunar impact!” Aaron Brooks shouted. He didn’t bother to poll the other men but instead simply called out, “Confirmations?”

  “We have impact!” “Lunar impact, confirmed!” “Way to go, baby!” The shouts were coming quickly, overlapping one another, laced with cries of relieved laughter and all the tension that they had managed to keep bottled up in the face of an impending crisis. They were clapping one another on the back, congratulating one another as if they themselves had somehow managed to move the moon directly into the intruder’s path.

  Brooks sagged into his chair, his chest heaving, putting his hand to his head and realizing that his hair was now drenched in sweat. As he waited for his pulse to return to something approximating normal, Newman walked straight over to him, all business. Brooks wasn’t surprised at Newman’s detachment. The man lived and breathed numbers and had ice water in his veins. To him, the object striking the moon was an interesting outcome to a mathematical exercise in trajectory and nothing more.

  “It’s not a meteor,” he said with certainty.

  Forcing himself to take a slow breath and then exhale just as slowly, Brooks said, “So when the computer’s saying UFO, it really means …”

  “Yeah,” Newman said. “The telemetry leaves no question. Whatever that thing is that hit the moon, it’s not a meteor or a fragment from a comet or anything that’s understood by anyone, except maybe those lunatics out at Area 51. We have a genuine unidentified flying object.”

  “So you’re saying there may be an alien corpse lying on the far side of the moon right now.”

  “Or several alien corpses. Or maybe …” His voice trailed off.

  “Or maybe what?”

  “Or maybe alien weapons.”

  “You,” Brooks said immediately, “read too much of that sci-fi crap.” But even as he said it aloud, the truth of Newman’s speculation burrowed into his imagination and promptly began to eat away at what little peace of mind he had left.

  At that moment, Brooks’s aide, an attractive young British woman—Carla Spencer—came running up to him and pointed at a blinking red line. “Mr. Webb’s ready to take your call now,” she said breathlessly. “They kept trying to put me off, and I told them they would bloody well speak to you now if they cared about the future of their bleeding planet.”

  Brooks couldn’t help himself; he laughed. Spencer, normally brimming with British reserve, chuckled in response as she realized how she’d come across. Brooks felt as if he were truly seeing her for the first time. He had always been a single-minded workaholic, and there was nothing that focused someone on matters other than work more than a narrowly averted catastrophe. He reached for his receiver, but just before he pushed the button to connect it, he said, “You wanna go out for a drink after work?”

  “Desperately,” she said.

  He nodded, then put the phone to his ear and, just before he started talking, decided that perhaps boredom was underrated after all.


  James E. Webb, a barrel-chested man whose hair had not started graying until after he became NASA administrator a mere two months earlier, glared at the phone on his desk as if it had tried to bite him.

  Outside his office window, the White House was illuminated against the evening sky. He had been awed by it when he had first settled into the job in February. Now all he could do was stare at the building and think about how he was letting down the main man occupying it. Or perhaps (he hated to think, darkly) the main man had in fact been letting him down.

  Shortly before taking office, Webb had had dinner with his immediate predecessor, Doctor Hugh Dryden. Dryden had only been an interim replacement, following Doctor T. Keith Glennan. Both of the men who had preceded Webb were scientists: Dryden’s field had been aeronautics, and Glennan was an engineer. Webb, by contrast, still wasn’t sure if he was the best fit for the position, since he was a former marine fighter pilot turned lawyer. He had been candid with Dryden, whom he respected, and wondered aloud whether he had the proper skill set for the job.

  Dryden simply stared at him over the tops of his round spectacles and said, “Never doubt you’re the right man at the right time. Most of your job isn’t dealing with scientists. You’re dealing with politicians. This isn’t a job requiring scientific acumen. It needs a pit bull.”

  It hadn’t taken Webb long to realize that Dryden had been absolutely right. Since taking office he had had to deal with one senator after the next, all of them small-minded men, united in only one thing: They were all positive that they had far better uses for government money than giving it to NASA. Not that they could agree on what that use was, although more often than not, they all felt it should be earmarked for programs in their home states. Most of the Republicans wanted to cut taxes and felt that a disproportionately large amount of the money that such cuts would require should be taken from NASA’s budget. Most of the Democrats simply w
anted to redirect the NASA budget into social programs, reasoning that America should be more interested in feeding and clothing children than in wandering around in the depths of space’s unforgiving vacuum. And then there was the idiot who he had just hung up with, a congressman so superstitious that he wanted to introduce a bill asserting that NASA could never put the number thirteen into any spaceflight mission because terrible things would happen as a result. Incredible, the notions that people staked their decisions upon.

  And it wasn’t as if the president had been particularly helpful. Webb had to admit that that, at least, was understandable. He had come into office on a wave of expectations, brimming with youth and vigor. That was a hell of a lot to live up to, and on any given day he was probably being pulled in a hundred different directions at once—and NASA wasn’t necessarily a priority.

  His office intercom rang, and he punched it. “Yes?”

  “Doctor Moore’s people calling back.”

  “Right, right.” Moore’s assistant had called him minutes earlier, when he’d been hip-deep wading through the superstitious foolishness of the congressman. Unfortunately, the “honorable gentleman” was someone who was in a position to choke off NASA’s money, and so Webb had to focus on what was important rather than whatever Moore was calling about. Webb had informed his secretary to tell them to call back in five minutes. He briefly considered blowing them off again, thinking that maybe once, just once, getting out of the office earlier than 9 P.M. might be accomplished.

  Instead, giving in to the inevitable, he said, “Put it through.” Moments later, the phone rang and he picked it up. “This is Webb,” he said briskly.

  Moore was speaking quickly, so quickly that Webb had to tell him to slow down and repeat everything he’d said. Then, when he did so, Webb told him to say it a third time. He’d understood him the second time; he just wasn’t sure he believed it.

  Webb’s secretary walked in with some letters for him to sign and stopped dead. Webb’s face was ashen. He was saying, “Are you sure? How long ago?”

  Normally she wouldn’t have been able to hear a voice on the other side, but the caller, Doctor Moore, was speaking so loudly that it came through the receiver: “Impact detected. We have impact confirmed. Contact at 2150 PST.”

  Webb was scribbling something on a sheet of paper while Moore continued talking about all manner of specifics, which the secretary wasn’t entirely following. Then Webb gestured for the secretary to come over and tapped the piece of paper. She looked at it, and her eyes widened.

  It read, “Get me McNamara.”


  It was less than an hour after the agitated conversation in Webb’s office when a black limousine pulled up to the front of the White House. Credentials were quickly displayed, and the marine guarding the gate quickly waved the limo through.

  Minutes later the limo discharged a man who couldn’t quite believe the insane direction this day had taken. He was wasp thin, with round glasses and short dark hair that was meticulously parted and slicked down.

  At that particular point in time, if he had run into Bob Lovett—the man who had been the president’s first choice for the cabinet post that he now held—he would have been sure to thank Lovett with a brick upside the head. No one should have to deal with something this strange. The fact that he could say with complete honesty, “ ‘Strange’ is my middle name,” didn’t make things better.

  Robert Strange McNamara, the secretary of defense, hurried through the corridors of power of the White House, hastening toward the Oval Office. His boss had already settled in for the night with Jackie and the kids and hadn’t been thrilled at the prospect of an emergency meeting. He was even less thrilled when McNamara—with all due respect—had declined to go into detail as to what exactly was going on. On the off chance that the phone line was not secure, he didn’t need word of this leaking out.

  It wasn’t as if McNamara didn’t have enough things on his mind. The situation in Indochina was deteriorating, the Soviets were making noise, plus there were very early indications—and he prayed that it was just rumors, nothing more—that the Cubans were up to something with missile bases. That would be just what they needed: missiles parked practically in their backyard. What a ready-made crisis that would be.

  And yet, incredibly, all of that paled in comparison to what they were faced with now. It made worldly considerations seem positively mundane.

  He approached the main entrance to the Oval Office and was waved in by the Secret Service. McNamara had been running, but now he stopped and chose to take a few moments to try to restore his breathing to normal. The brown leather briefcase he was carrying had been thumping against his leg as he ran; he was probably going to have one hell of a bruise in the morning.

  He rapped briskly twice on the door and stepped in. Kennedy was looking out the window, apparently deep in thought. Without even turning, he said, “Good evening, Mr. Secretary.”

  “Good evening, Mr. President.”

  Allowing slightly less formality, the president said, “Working late, Bob?”

  “Just came from Webb’s office, actually.”

  “Let me guess: He’s giving us heat because of the Russians.”

  “Well … that does continue to be an issue.”

  Kennedy sighed. “He’s tired of NASA being so far behind. Don’t think that I’m unsympathetic. And don’t think that I haven’t been hearing about it, Bob. People are steaming over Yuri Gagarin. Everyone’s bellowing about national pride, and yet no one actually wants to loosen the purse strings to make it happen. We’re in a race, Bob. Although”—he shook his head—“the people who are worried are concerned to an insane degree. You have no idea how many of them have told me they think that the Russians are going to get to the moon and set up gigantic guns so that they can shoot at us. Can you imagine that? Weapons on the moon.”

  “I can imagine it pretty well, actually, and that’s the reason for my coming in, Mr. President.” He crossed the room and settled the briefcase on a table. Reflexively he glanced under the desk to make sure the president’s son wasn’t hiding under it again. The last thing he needed was to have a child discussing this with his little friends. He opened the briefcase and pulled out a file folder, holding it up. “Designation top secret. We believe a UFO spacecraft has collided with the moon.”

  Slowly Kennedy swiveled around in his chair to face the secretary of defense. Kennedy was far too good a poker player to permit incredulity to play across his face. He allowed, in this case, a slightly raised eyebrow as he looked at the report McNamara was spreading across his desk. “A UFO.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “At first glance, my assumption would be that that notion is insane.”

  “Then with all respect, Mr. President, I would suggest that, in this instance, there’s more than meets the eye.”

  He laid out the information for Kennedy, walking the president through the specifics. He did so in exactly the way Webb had done with him and made it clear that Webb was available to come in and discuss matters further. Fortunately, the scientists who had made the discovery had been comprehensive in breaking down their research for digestion by nonscientists.

  McNamara had initially been concerned that Kennedy would simply dismiss the notion out of hand. Certainly there had been men who had occupied that office who would have done exactly that. Hell, Nixon would have laughed him out of the Oval, so thank God that election had turned out the way that it had.

  Instead, after initial skepticism, Kennedy had taken in everything McNamara was telling him. The secretary could even see the beginnings of quiet excitement in Kennedy’s bearing. The more he heard, the more evidence that was presented to him, the more galvanized he became.

  Yet when McNamara concluded his case … when he finally stopped talking … Kennedy didn’t respond immediately. Instead he sat there for a time, steepling his fingers, and he seemed to be staring inward. McNamara could practically hear the wheels turning inside
JFK’s head.

  Finally he said, “Tell NASA to move heaven and earth. I want a manned mission.” To himself as much as to McNamara, he added, “We need to get Bobby in here. We need to sell this to Congress.”

  “ ‘This’?” The word concerned McNamara. “Are you intending to tell Congress …?” His hand drifted toward the top-secret material.

  Kennedy snorted, and his Boston accent became even broader. “I tell Congress, and the only thing they’ll launch is investigations into the sanity of everyone involved—including me. Hell, they’ll probably claim the Pope put me up to it. No, we’re going to have to sell this thing without telling people what we’re actually selling. We may also want to confer with Dave Bell on this. The OMB is definitely going to want to weigh in, and the sooner we get Bell on board, the better. But we minimize this thing, Bob. ‘Need to know’ is our watchword. Well … watchwords. Nobody can know that this is the impetus for what I’m going to be proposing. Not even Lyndon.”

  “Have you considered, sir,” McNamara pointed out, “that Lyndon—or even someone else—may be sitting in that chair when it actually happens? It could take twenty years …”

  “We don’t have twenty years. And if we did, and someone else is in this office when it happens, then I’ll wait until the men are approaching the moon and I’ll tell the president myself.” He stared at the papers atop the desk. “This is not an easy endeavor we’re discussing, Bob. This undertaking … it’s on par with the effort that went into the building of the Panama Canal. Or the Manhattan Project.”

  “Yes, sir. On the other hand, for all we know, whatever’s landed on the moon could wind up making the A-bomb look like a firecracker.”

  Kennedy nodded with a smile that was anything but mirthful. “Which brings us back to weapons on the moon. Suddenly seems a little less paranoid than I would have thought.”

  “Yes, sir,” said McNamara, who had been thinking exactly the same thing.