Incoming first appeared in AntipodeanSF issue 153 on October 6, 2019.
“Tell me,” Klaus Sonnenberg asked his friend Ivan Kerensky at breakfast on the last day of Earth, “why you haven’t seemed the least bit upset that this asteroid is going to end us all.”
“Klaus,” Ivan said in an accent that was pure Southern California, “I’m Russian. We know in our soul things will not end well.”
Klaus sputtered in frustration. “You’re no more Russian than I am,” he said. “You’re an American. Your father was a surfer from Orange County. Why aren’t you an eternal optimist?”
“Yes, but my mother was Russian in her bones. Mother Russia. She taught me well.”
“Why are you working at JPL then? While the rest of us have been exhausting ourselves on the effort to deflect the asteroid,” Klaus said, his expression sour, “you’ve been carping away at everything we could do.”
“I don’t mean to belittle our efforts,” Ivan said. “I’ve been working on orbital dynamics of the asteroid while you’ve been supporting the Russian-American launches to build the interceptor in orbit. I wanted it to succeed. I just doubted that it would. And,” he added, “I was right.”
Klaus looked down at his last plate of ham and eggs, saying nothing.
“To your credit,” Ivan continued, “it almost worked.”
“It would have worked,” Klaus said, “if the nuclear weapon had detonated.” He pounded his fist on the cafeteria table. “It was exactly in position. The detonator radioed it was initiating. Then nothing.”
“Murphy must have been only half Russian,” Ivan said. “His law isn’t pessimistic enough for a true Russian.”
Klaus looked up at Ivan, tears in his eyes. “Ivan, you’ve been a good friend. I … I’m sorry we failed.”
Ivan laid a hand on Klaus’ arm. “I’m sorry it didn’t work, too, Klaus. No one detected the asteroid until far too late to change its course. We had to try. You came so close. I’m sorry if you thought I didn’t appreciate your efforts.”
The door to the cafeteria slammed open and Kazuo Nakamura burst in. “It’s gone!” He shouted.
Klaus looked up. “What’s gone?”
“The asteroid!” he said, out of breath. “The Moon was between the asteroid and the Earth. The space station was looking for it as the Moon moved out of the way. It isn’t there!”
“Maybe prayers worked better than our interceptor,” Klaus said. “I’m sure lots of people have been praying for deliverance.”
“Everyone’s gathering in satellite control for a celebration,” Kazuo said. He turned and ran back out.
“Let’s go celebrate,” Klaus said, smiling broadly. He got up and, leaving his breakfast uneaten, ran after Kazuo.
Ivan continued to sit and savor his coffee. He knew when the aliens arrived, things were going to get much worse. He smiled at the thought.