To Freeze or to Burn

Edith Gartland’s heels clicked on the tile floor of the hallway. The condescending ass walking next to her was boasting about how he’d been head of security for three years without a single incident.

She smiled at him. Let him enjoy that for now. They came to the end of the wide whitewashed hallway and a large metal door. She already knew what the door was made of, the exact date it had been installed, and the person that was sitting behind it.

The head of security placed his hand on a scanner next to the doorway and it glowed green. The door opened to reveal a balding man in his late fifties behind a mahogany desk. Someone who just so happened to be the most important person on the planet. The woman walked in sighing, knowing what would most likely happen and what she would most likely have to do.

“Uh, Mr. President, A Miss Gartland from the FCC is here to see you.”
“Wha? Huh? Who the hell are you?”

The woman in the doorway hid her discontent, clutching the thick file close to her chest. She brushed the stray curls out of her face and began to speak.

“My name is Edith Gartland, from the department of Frontier Colonization Control. I have some very pressing matters for you.” He motioned for her to sit, she shook her head and continued. “The recent global anomalies, the unusual tides, the hurricanes in the Pacific, the earthquakes, it’s all tied with the disrupted orbits of the lunar colonies. There’s a . . . problem. The moon’s orbit has been discovered to be decaying. Rapidly.” She paused for a second for him to comprehend what she had just told him.

“Meh. What’s it mean?” Edith clenched her fists at the ignorance of this man.

“It means, Mr. President . . .” she said slowly, as if talking to a toddler, “that the moon is coming down. To earth. Fast.”

“So? It’s been up there since the dinosaurs were here to see it. What’s the big deal about it now?”

She took a deep breath and attempted to patiently explain again.

“Sir, the moon is going to fall from its orbit, collide with the earth, and knock us out of orbit in the process.”

The fat man sat back in his rhinoceros hide armchair, pouring himself a glass of whiskey out of a large crystal decanter.

“I still don’t get it. What’s the big fuss with these ‘orbits’?” She slapped the thick file on his desk angrily.

“Sir! In less than one month the moon is going to fall out of orbit, collide with the earth, killing everyone! And then our planet will slowly drift into the sun and burn to a crisp! I need you to understand how serious this is! Please! We are all going to die unless something is done!” The president lowered the glass from his lips.

“H-How long do we have?”

“A month, maybe less… but there is a solution, that is why I’m here today.”

“Well, do It! Whatever it is we’ll fund it! Whatever it takes!” Her tone tightened with his compliance.

“You are the only person with access to the Republic’s nuclear weapons, correct?”

“Yes . . . we haven’t had a need for them since—wait, how could they help us now?”

“This may sound a little, well, more than a little unconventional, but our only option is to missilize those weapons and set them on a course to the lunar colonies.” His eyes widened.

“You’re telling me we gotta shoot nukes into the moon?”

“Yes Sir, Sector 14 to be exact. If our calculations are correct, as long as we launch within the next two days the collective blast will be enough to shift the moon out of its decaying orbit, and away from us.” Edith watched as her words sunk into his thick skull.

“That’s where my daughter’s stationed. Sector 14.” He paused, eyebrows scrunched, panic in his eyes. Edith felt a stab in her heart as he made the realization. “Wait a min—two days? How are we supposed to evacuate that many people off the lunar colonies in just two days!?”

Edith’s eyes sank to the floor.

“We . . . we aren’t. An extraction mission of that scale would take months, years even. Even if we had the proper resources, there’s simply not enough time.” She did not look at him.

“What’s gonna happen to all those people? What’s to happen to my daughter?” Edith almost let a tear escape her eye.

“They, of course, will be knocked out of orbit as well. Anyone who’s not dead from the radiation, or immediately from the blast, will most likely freeze to death drifting away from the sun. As for your daughter, she’ll probably be one of the luckier ones to . . . perish quickly.” She bit her lip as a hot tear rolled down her cheek. “I pray you’ll find solace in the fact that she’ll feel no pain.” As she looked up she saw the president crying.

“I–I can’t do it. I can’t k-kill my own daughter! There’s another way. There has to be! There’s another way. We have to find it!”

“Mr. President, I know how hard it is, but every second we waste our chances get slimmer. As much as I hate to admit it, It’s already a long shot.”

“No, just, no. You scientists are smart. Find another way, goddamn it!” he ordered desperately. Edith knew he wouldn’t have the courage to go through with it. She took a shaky breath, wishing she didn’t have to go through with what she was about to do. As he cried into his hands, she reached for the decanter of whiskey and smashed it over his head. Crystal shattered across the room. The president fell unconscious and slumped to the floor. He wasn’t going to wake up any time soon.

The guards outside must’ve heard the strike. She leaned over the desk and reached under, pressing the lockdown protocol switch. She knew exactly where it would be. Metal plating dropped over the windows and the entry-fuse thermite security system melted the thick steel door to the doorway. It was sealed tight. Alarms wailed outside the room. Red lights flashed from the ceiling. The door wouldn’t hold them back for long. She would have four minutes, tops.

She reached for the thick file she had carried in, knowing he wouldn’t read a single page of it, and opened it. Inside the hollowed out sheets was a bottle of spray chloroform in case the president woke up, a hard drive computer program with the launching trajectories and hacking capabilities, and a Colt .380 Mustang with six rounds in the magazine. She stepped over the president and opened his computer just as she saw a blue green light of a breaching laser pierce the metal door. It would slowly cut the door around the edges of the doorway and they would enter the room guns blazing. She checked her watch; they were faster than she had calculated. Working quickly, she got past the security system and plugged in the hard drive. The laser device was through the door. She could hear the voices shouting from the other side. Edith pressed the F6 function and the program started to work, cracking through multiple layers of firewalls and security barriers, gears turning.
It wasn’t working fast enough. The file opened on the computer monitor, showing the launch trajectories. She typed the fastest she could and hit the enter button. An automatic two minute countdown began.
The missiles could, and would, be armed within seconds, the trajectory codes embedded and prepped for launch; the two minute “just in case” countdown was the one part of the program deemed unhackable. She had nothing to do but wait and watch the blue green light pierce through the door, melting through inch by inch. The outside voices continued to get louder and louder. By now Edith figured there must be three dozen fully armed SWAT officers on the other side of that door. Yet a ninety-five-pound woman had brought the entire Republic to its knees. It was a good thing she was the one in this situation. With all the tension around the Baltic regions, others may not have been launching the nukes into the moon. She looked back at the computer.


God, it had only been 15 seconds. She was afraid.

Not for her own life, but for the lives of everyone else on the planet at risk of being blown into smithereens via the moon. Strangely enough, she felt like praying. Edith had always cared more for the dependability of science than the blind trust of religion, yet at her finest hour she felt hopeful there was more, for her and all those she was planning on blowing into smithereens via hundreds of nuclear weapons very soon.

In the past minute alone she had attacked an unarmed president, and in . . . 97 seconds would hit the ENTER key and send over three thousand armed nuclear weapons towards 1.4 million unsuspecting colonists. Edith found herself oddly hopeful that at least the ‘big man upstairs’ realized she was doing good, that at least she had someone on her side.

The blue-green light was halfway through its cutting of the doorway, moving rapidly. She heard a muffled order to turn up the power, the piercing blue-green light turned to a bright violet and the lights flickered. Those idiots were going to blow out the power and they’d all die as a result. She pondered shouting, reasoning with them, telling them she was doing what was right. She decided that it would be hard to justify the deaths of 1.4 million people just by shouting through a red hot crack in the door.

84 seconds . . . the violet light was cutting at least a time and a half faster than before. She wondered what would happen to her if they made it through even ten seconds before the countdown. They would either tackle her to the ground or shoot her on sight. Either way there would be no one to press enter. The entire planet would die . . . 77 . . . she eyeballed how much of the door was left and how fast they were cutting. Shit. They were going too fast. She grabbed the glass pitcher of water off the side table and marched it over to the door. She threw the water onto the violet laser cutting through. It vaporized the water instantly, sending up steam on both sides of the door. More angry shouting came from outside. How else could she stall for more time? She grabbed the pistol off the table and walked over to the thin gap the laser was leaving. She took a shaky deep breath, held the barrel of the gun to the crack and pulled the trigger rapidly, again and again. Six shots fired; the rest were just dull clicks. There was shouting outside and the laser went dim. She exhaled thankfully. She had bought herself more ti—

Bullets erupted from the slit in the door. She screamed and dove to the floor. After a few seconds the flashes stopped and the room went quiet. A sergeant or some type of leader shouted from the other side.

“You idiots! What if you hit the hostage!”

The hostage? What hostage?
The president! She had a hostage!

“Yeah, that’s right!” she shouted, confidence creeping into her voice with every word. “One more move and I shoot the president in his damn face!”

The laser didn’t re-ignite and she ran back to the computer, thankful that none of the bullets hit it. 54. She had bought herself enough time. Hopefully. The countdown reached 47 when the laser turned on again. “I’ll do it! I’ll blow his brains out!” There was no response. Clearly they deemed the fate of wherever these weapons were going was more important than the fate of one man. She nervously helped herself to a glass of the brandy from the liquor cabinet in the corner, knocking it back quickly.

33. The laser had less than two feet to cut.
26. She poured some more and took a long sip. A foot and a half . . .
17. Less than a foot left to cut. She grabbed the computer, hard drive and keyboard and crawled under the desk to buy just a little more time, just a little more time.
11. She glanced up and saw the door practically hanging from a thread . . .
7. The hum of the breaching laser stopped.
6. A battering ram threw thumped against the door and the the thick metal plate fell inwards, shining light into the room.
5. The metal door clanged against the floor.
4. Barrels of a dozen automatic rifles protruded in.
3. They opened fire across the entire room.
2. Edith used her body to shield the precious computer she held onto so tight.
1. Bullets tore into her.

0. With her last ounces of life, Edith Gartland pressed the ENTER key, saving the world.

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