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Damn the Asteroids, Full Speed Ahead!

Tom Jolly is a retired astronautical/electrical engineer who now spends his time writing SF and fantasy, designing board games (such as Wiz-War, and Manhattan Project: Energy Empire), and creating obnoxious puzzles. He lives with his wife Penny in Santa Maria, California, in a place where mountain lions and black bears still visit. You can find more of his stories at Tom Jolly.
Captain Markus Halsey stared in dismay at the dense, careening field of asteroids on the display screen. His Chief Scientist, Obu sub-Abu, shook his head. "They're smacking into each other constantly. Look at how close they are!"
The Captain frowned and nodded. "All moving, and only a few hundred meters between each one. How does a field like this come into existence?"
Obu hacked up a hairball to show his irritation and spit it into a ceramic cup that the Jarn carried for just such a purpose. "Short answer? It can't. If the gormbukking asteroids are banging into each other that often, breaking up all the time, the field is going to get wider as the kinetic energy is distributed and the outer edges expand. The objects will slow down as the impact energy becomes heat, too. Over just a few years, a dense asteroid field like this will be so spread out and the energies so averaged out that the rocks will barely be in view of each other, and for the most part, all headed in the same direction." He shrugged. "Or it's dense enough to coalesce into a planet, and the planet would sweep up most of the loose bits. Either way, it can't last."
Their ship had parked over a hundred kilometers from the outer edge of the vast field, and just in the time they'd sat there, the field had expanded toward them by a good five kilometers. Even now, the number of impacts was falling.
"We were supposed to fly through this crap?" the Captain asked.
"That's what High Command told us," the Chief Pilot said. "There's some new planet we're supposed to explore on the other side. If we want to stay on schedule, we'll have to fly through while the rocks are still spinning around and slamming into everything."
"But if we just wait a day..."
"Then all the rocks will be a few kilometers away from each other. You'll really irritate High Command, though."
Captain Halsey rubbed his chin. "Yeah...we can tell them we had a loose engine belt or something. How long do you suppose this asteroid field has been there?"
"Running the action backwards? I'd say about thirty minutes, sir. The only time I've ever seen asteroids this thick and fast is in some of those ridiculous movies you Earthlings used to eat up," Obu said.
This, the Captain thought, coming from a guy who hacked up hairballs. He scowled at Obu. "Thirty minutes? That's... impossible!"
The Mordu Cleric on the bridge spoke, "This adds to the other twenty-nine Incidences of Simulation." This was part of the Mordu religious belief that all creatures were living in a simulation created by a higher-dimensional civilization. Sub-cults within the religion suggested that they were part of a video game, reality show, or some vast experiment. One of the other Incidences was the strange fact that all intelligent creatures looked about the same. No plasma forms, gas bags, or tentacled monsters; it was almost like their Creator had a small budget to work with. Also there was the bizarre coincidence that their technological levels all appeared to be within hundreds of years of one another, despite evolving thousands of light years apart. The list was long.
"Well," said the Captain, "let's just wait it out then. When the cloud of rubble expands far enough to be safe..."
Alarms sounded. "Captain," the First Mate said, "a Ralad Attack Vessel has just appeared on our port bow upper quad. It appears to be powering up its MegaBeam. Our only possible escape is to run through the asteroid field and hope we can dodge all the asteroids."
The Mordu Cleric started laughing.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, February 19th, 2018


There's a lot of bad science in a lot of science fiction movies, and I always wince when they get something seriously wrong. We've been trained as viewers over the years to ignore the biggest flaws and just pay attention to the storyline, but it's hard to resist making fun of bad science. The "dense asteroid field" is one of the silliest and most commonly abused, which led to this little snippet of satire.

- Tom Jolly

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