“Close Enough” came from the expression “close enough for government work.” What would that look like over galactic or planetary distances? How badly could a non-responsive agency botch things? And what kind of NORMAL people might put themselves in a position to depend on that agency?
Here’s the blurb:
Could a Messier object be any messier? A government server glitch leaves Max Keppler no time to react to the comet barreling toward his and Rebecca’s asteroid claim. See Max deal with an uppity A.I., an unhelpful helpdesk, and a comet named Napoleon as he works to minimize the impact of this sudden impact on their already shaky relationship. See how things work out – read “Close Enough.”
And here’s the excerpt:
“A hundred megameters, my ass,” Max Kepler grumbled.
He watched the string of C-class asteroids on his 4-D display. Kepler-Sterne-1, the asteroid where he and Rebecca had staked their claim, was at the center. Napoleon’s Comet had entered their fifty megameter boundary five minutes ago, and telemetry put Napoleon and Kepler-Sterne-1 on minimum separation in one hour and twelve minutes. The closest fringe vector indicated a collision; a glancing blow, perhaps, but who wants any kind of collision with a comet.
“Geordi, Patch me through to IWA.”
“One moment, please,” the base AI replied. “Connecting…”
Rebecca said he shouldn’t have gone with the government agency; she had pushed for a more reliable private firm, but she had already used almost all her dibs to override him for their ridiculously top-of-the-line suits, so he had won the right to choose the government’s free Intrasolar Warning Agency.
Won? There was no winning with Rebecca. The reason their Personal Relationship contract was stuck in Phase One was their inability to negotiate anything meaningful, each convinced that the other was the more stubborn. It was a good thing their business drives were in sync – they wouldn’t have been licensed to be on this rock together if their Commercial Relationship hadn’t already graduated to Four. But he was never going to get to Second Phase with Rebecca if she found out how close to disaster this looked to be.
Hell, the comet would probably get closer to her than he would.
“This is IWA. We’re a little busy here right now. What do you want?” the radio crackled.
“Who am I talking to?” Max asked.
“Who wants to know?”
“This is Max Kepler on Kepler-Sterne-1,” Max said. “Is this Kenny?”
“Yes, this is Kenny. What can I do for you, Mr. Kepler?”
“Kenny, yesterday, you told me that Napoleon was going to clear us by a hundred thousand meters.”
“Did I say that?”
“Yes, you did. I want to know why telemetry shows it on an intercept with us.”
There was a pause, then Max thought he heard Kenny muttering, followed by an expletive, and then, “Looks like you’re another one.”
“Another what?” Max asked.
“Hang on a minute.”
“Don’t put me on hold!” Max said, but an echoing click told him it was too late.
He watched the comet on his 4-D continue its approach for a couple of minutes until Kenny came back on line.
“I.T. says there was a data mismatch on the server yesterday, so the latest positions weren’t updated until they rebooted the system today,” Kenny said.
“Great! So now I have a comet barreling down my throat.”
“Yes. But it’s not a sure thing. There’s only a twelve percent chance that any of it will hit you.”
Geordi showed his distaste for rounding by rattling off, “twelve point four, nine, three…”
“Cancel, Geordi,” Max said. “Kenny has it close enough.”
“For government work,” Geordi pouted.
Max ignored him. “None of those numbers are good, Kenny.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“Not your fault?” Max huffed. “You’re supposed to provide me with timely warning of a situation like this so I can execute a contingency. What am I supposed to do now?”
“Look, it isn’t in the terms of your Service Level Agreement for me to advise you on a course of action, but I suggest that you evacuate,” Kenny said. “Napoleon will be there in an hour. You have plenty of time.”
“The hell I do. I’m in the middle of a maintenance tear-down on our shuttle. It will take me three hours to put it back together.”
“Three point four, one…,” Geordi said.
“Not now, Geordi.”
“Well, that was a dumb thing to do,” Kenny said.
“Not when you have an SLA to provide me a twenty-four hour warning.”
“Don’t you have another shuttle?”
“No, damn it!”
That was another decision that he’d gotten to make. Rebecca was going to be so pissed.
“Bummer,” Kenny said. “By the way, this call is about to exceed your complementary assistance limit. Unless you want to incur additional charges, I’ll need to terminate this session.”
“I can do that myself!” Max said, and broke the COM button when he slammed his fist on it. “Geordi…”
“Congratulations! You have successfully terminated the call,” Geordi said. “I will inform Ms. Sterne…”
“No, you won’t,” Max said.
“The situation demands that I report to Ms. …”
“Surprise override,” Max blurted out.
“Override accepted, starting seventy-two hour timer,” Geordi said, then Rebecca’s voice added, “Oooo, I love surprises!”
Max looked around quickly as he always did before he was certain that it was only Geordi’s mimicry of Rebecca. When they had first heard the A.I. do this, Rebecca had accused Max of programming it into the override sequence, and he had counter-accused her before they both realized it was Geordi’s doing. Max had suggested they remove it, but Rebecca decided it was cute. It was just as well – even though it was a little freaky coming from Geordi, Rebecca’s voice had always been a turn-on, and this was like getting an early bonus for his efforts.
Max was glad he had insisted on a mechanism to keep their AI from informing Rebecca of every little thing. She hadn’t seen the point in the override until Geordi spoiled one of Max’s attempts to surprise her by including some artificial flowers on one of their Fed-UPS deliveries. Rebecca could be militantly practical, but she was a romantic at heart, and relished the rare occasions when Max went the extra parsec in his attempts to woo her. The surprise override was only good for a short time, but long enough to cover him until the comet passed by – if he was lucky enough that Napoleon did pass them by.
“Geordi, is Rebecca still at Bottleneck Point?”
KS-1 was oddly constructed, maybe the result of crust fragments from two asteroids adhering to each other after a collision, and resulting in a new asteroid – a sandwich of hard rock fused around an internalized layer of regolith. Bottleneck Point was at the tapered end, a site where they’d discovered the easiest entry point to the asteroid’s soft center. They had established drilling operations there, taking advantage of the loose interior layer to accelerate their drilling, heating their drill pipe to vaporize the trapped H2O inside. They drew this up through the conductor pipe, almost like sucking the water from a bottle through a straw into their waiting carbon nano-filament sacks.
They’d set up a prefab pod at the Point as a doghouse to make drilling easier on them. Neither one of them was truly claustrophobic, but no matter how good Rebecca’s suits were, people weren’t meant to be encased like that for hours at a time. Once they mined enough to afford some robots it would be a different story, but for now it was what it was.
“Shall I open a connection to Ms. Sterne?” Geordi asked.
“No,” Max said. “Let’s me think this out first.”
“Thinking is not your strongest suit.”
“Shut up! Zoom plus-four times,” Max said, then when the magnification didn’t change he groaned, “Please.”
“Fine,” Geordi said.
Max studied the enlarged image: Bottleneck Point was at the end of Kepler-Sterne-1 furthest from Napoleon’s approach. For the moment, the rest of the rotating asteroid’s mass was blocking Rebecca’s view of the oncoming comet.
“Advance two hours.”
The 4-D model only advanced one hour, and the comet scored a direct hit on KS-1, completely obliterating it.
“Bam!” Geordi said, proudly.
“Oh, come on! That result has to be less than ten percent likely,” Max said.
“Three point two…”
“Can it!” Max said. “Show me what happens if it passes by.”
The model restarted, this time with Napoleon staying on its central vector and missing KS-1, which continued to obscure the view from Bottleneck Point.
“I just have to keep her there, and she won’t see a thing. Could I be so lucky?” Max wondered aloud as he put on his helmet and set his suit to OUTSIDE.
“Luck is not something that can be accounted for,” Geordi said, “although yours does seem to be in need of an upgrade.”
“Geordi,” Rebecca’s voice crackled in over the com, “I’ve finished another sack. I’m shutting down and coming back to the shuttle.”
Not exactly the news Max was hoping for; what will he have to do to keep Rebecca safely in the dark?
“Close Enough” is a speculative fiction short story, and is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“Close Enough” is also included in the collection And Yet Still Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND (as a special offer, the next ten people to purchase the collection at Smashwords with coupon code LZ78M will receive a 67% discount (so you pay only 99-cents for SIX stories – such a deal!):
Which is itself included in the mega-collection The Next Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’
William Mangieri’s writing – including his most recent release “Date Night” – can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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