How Could we have Done This?
A Short Story, by Sha’Tara
“It’s true then, not just a conspiracy theory any longer?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. President. It’s happening.”
“There had been dissenting voices, even up to six administrations ago, but they were ridiculed. After all, we’re not talking about an asteroid cracking up here, we’re talking about the sun… the sun! It’s so big, so permanent.”
Secretary Rogers shook his head. “So it seemed. We obviously could not have been more wrong, could we.”
“Son of a bitch! We can’t win, we just can’t. We finally, just, extricate ourselves from extermination through nuclear contamination and we’re on the losing side again?”
Due to exigencies caused by climate change, some of it exacerbated by man’s industrial pollution output; destruction of green belts, dwindling extraction and use of so-called fossil fuels planet-wide, coupled with a steady increase in populations, more power for the planet’s energy grids was created using nuclear fission. Nuclear power plants proliferated, most of them located along seashores and major waterways. Convenient for cooling, naturally.
Then the seas began to rise in earnest. Temperatures continued to rise world-wide and climate change deniers were silenced. Coastal populations were forced to migrate inland, resulting in millions of refugees. Disruption of agriculture due to changing weather patterns causing floods and droughts meant famine. Chaos ensued. And world-wide violence followed.
But that wasn’t the main problem. It was those expedient nuclear power plants who would be swamped by rising levels of sea water. The seas may have been able to absorb one or two plants going under and contaminating the waters, but there were thousands of these facing flooding and their wastes inevitably destroying the planet’s oceans. Short sighted plans certainly can have long-term consequences.
The best minds in the world were put together to seek a quick and certain solution to the impending doomsday scenario. The plants all had to be shut down and their stocks of nuclear wastes disposed of in a permanent way. No way could so much waste be buried on the planet, the risks were too high. The whole planet could be contaminated and all biological life as known destroyed. To make a point, someone said, “…and even the billionaires can’t escape this nightmare, not if they remain on the planet.”
Space: that’s where the brains turned to. The wastes would have to be flung out in space, far enough that their orbits wouldn’t decay and they would come tumbling down out of the sky sooner or later; far enough that they would not accidentally interfere with man’s tiny but increasing space exploration. Far enough so they wouldn’t be encountered, ever again.
The sun: that’s were the brains turned to. It was so obvious: fire the wastes into the sun where they could never again do any harm to anyone.
Finally, a solution, if taken from old science fiction books. Yes, that would do it. All that was needed was to develop a relatively inexpensive way to package these wastes, drag them far enough that they could be put on a trajectory into the sun.
One thing that can be said about scientists: they’re all a bit mad. That is, they have to focus on their particular problem and not pay too much attention to possible consequences. If it works, then the problem is solved. Will it create a greater problem down the road of time… or space? Not my problem. I did what I was asked to do. I made “that” possible. The rest is up to, well, the rest.
The engineers took over. Typically, a space-plane was developed that could take a sizeable payload of nuclear wastes into deep space. There the load was shifted upon what were essentially guided missiles, or rockets, which took it the rest of the way into the sun’s surface.
There was great celebrating after the first attempt was successfully achieved. Four and a half tons of nuclear wastes had successfully been driven into the sun’s hell furnace, never to bother anyone again. Hundreds of space-planes and thousands of rockets flew their missions over the next few years as every fission reactor in danger of flooding was decommissioned and scoured.
Finally, a real success story with no side effects except for the cost of removing the wastes from the planet. Many other environmentally unsafe dumps of chemicals were also packaged and added to the space-plane payloads before the program was terminated.
That was forty years ago. Earth people could now concentrate on re-building their shattered economies as the new climate stabilized with higher water levels, expanded deserts circling the equator, almost complete loss of polar ice and the north and south once temperate zones now experiencing equatorial temperatures and conditions such as high winds and monsoons. Two generations had never seen snow and could not comprehend the concept, except by looking into refrigerators or freezers, or by searching past history on the datasphere, once called the internet. Two billion people had died in the interim and were already being forgotten.
“What’s to be done, James?”
“This time, sir, man has taken the step at the edge of the bottomless pit; the one he should have had the wisdom and awareness to back away from. There is nothing to be done, Andrew. If you believe in God, that is your, our, last option. We have overstepped ourselves and we have to face that.”
“The apocalypse, James? Of our own making? What are they saying at the UN? Can anything be salvaged?”
“Our waste dumping has triggered the sun to go nova, sir. Nothing can be done. We don’t have any capability to launch any “ark” or space ship that could travel out of the solar system and escape the coming fire storm, taking a sample of survivalists aboard. And if we did, we don’t have ftl or cryogenic technology and anyone on board such ships would die long before they reached any kind of human-friendly world. There is no escape, no place to go. For the first time in man’s history he has ignorantly taken the irrevocable step; painted himself into a corner from which he cannot escape. It’s over, Andrew.”
“We did this?” He shakes his head as he stares out the window of the oval office. “We caused the sun to go nova by shipping our bits into it? How can that be possible?”
“No one realized the fine balance existing within a fusion reactor. We thought size, you see, because that’s how man thinks. If it’s bigger, it can absorb something much smaller. Turns out that is not the case at all. We triggered a switch, literally knocking a hole in the containment field of the sun’s fusion furnace. From a military standpoint we should be proud. Imagine that: the ant kills tyrannosaurus rex. But the sun was not our enemy, nor was it our personal waste dump. It was our life. A bit late in the game to realize this. I don’t even know how that makes me feel right now. You know, this is a totally different death than any we’ve ever experienced as a species. Until now, one died, a hundred, a million, a couple of billions, but there always was a future to look to, a chance at re-building, a chance to re-create. Now there is nothing. This solar system is going to be slagged. Nothing left, nothing at all.”
“How do I tell this to the nation? What’s my position now? Should I just go home and forget I was even here, ever a president? Does anything mean anything? How much time do they give us?”
“It’s an exponential factor. They’re working on the math but it’s all new to them. Probably not very long because of increasing solar radiation. The heat is about to vaporize the atmosphere and we’ll soon be exposed to solar storms, winds and flares. They estimate that the earth will be a scorched ball of rock within four to eight years.”
“No chance at all to cut our losses and run, hm?” He looks at his secretary with a thin, bitter smile.
“None, it’s over.”
The man’s shoulders sagged completely. “Thanks James. You should go home now.”