“Don’t tell me you’re busy?”
“No. I’ll be back later.”
The U.F.P. Justice hung in null-G, poised, as its burdened commander labored over the ship’s supercomputer terminal. Two hours ago, the call had come in: “Unauthorized asteroid deflection burn, Dec. -5.419°, R.A. 41.17°, class ξ asteroid 1999 RQ36 ‘Bennu’. Deflection Δv = 0.26±0.03 m/s.”
Small deflections make big changes. Even the emission of absorbed heat makes asteroids move unpredictably, unless their surfaces are mapped in detail. But with literally millions of asteroids, the Yarkovsky effect is not worth the bother.
But now someone has gone and moved one of them. A pretty big one, maybe half a kilometer on edge. That would probably utterly destroy one of Earth’s megacities, should it hit one.
Which means someone landed on it, did a thermographic survey, plotted its orbit to high precision, and then nudged it deliberately, in a particular direction, an exact amount.
So, the question–was it some unhinged terrorist bent on the obliteration of Los Angeles? Or a miner secretly moving a motherlode of priceless volatiles back to base?
In 51 years, he’d know for sure. For now, there’d be only guessing.