SUBJ: EARLY WARNING
SEA WAVE INBOUND VIRGINIA-MARYLAND SHORE. RANGE SEVENTY-FIVE NAUTICAL MILES. SPEED TWO-NINE-ZERO KNOTS. White House Briefing Room. 5:00 A.M.
The room was packed with reporters and cameras.
Henry looked grimly into the TV lights. "My fellow Americans," he said, "this has been a terrible night for the American people, and for people around the globe. As you know, despite our best hopes, giant waves have hit us very hard. More are coming. I wish I could tell you otherwise; I wish I could tell you that this national nightmare is over. But I cannot.
"In addition to the assorted calamities of the evening, we are also now threatened by a large object that we've come to call the Possum. Its real name is POSIM-38, and it's slightly over a mile long. POSIM-38 is a piece of moonrock that was blown clear during the collision, and it has the potential, should it fall to Earth, to do irreparable damage to the environment.
"This object will make a close approach to Earth at eight forty-seven this morning. It will pass through the atmosphere, and it is then likely to go into an orbit that will decay, that will bring it back.
"It will continue to present a major hazard unless we act. And the reality is that we'll never have a better opportunity to get rid of it than we have today. Therefore, I've ordered the air force to prepare a massive missile strike, which will be delivered after it leaves the area of the Earth.
"In this way-"
It was as far as he got.
A bolt of lightning exploded directly over the White House, the lights went out, flickered on and off a couple of times, and finally died altogether.
"We're off the air, Mr. President," said his producer.
"Can you get us back on, Herman?"
"In a few minutes. Maybe."
The emergency lights came on.
Henry glanced down at the crowd of reporters. "You can see how things have been." The remark drew a few tired smiles.
While he waited, he talked with them, explaining informally what the consequences might be if they failed to act against the Possum. Had he consulted with China? Someone wanted to know. He hadn't; it wasn't a Chinese issue. CBS asked if the administration would now budget seriously for Skybolt.
He began to explain that the administration had always supported the concept, and was about to fudge history when a young navy lieutenant stepped into the room from a side door and handed a piece of paper to Al Kerr. Kerr glanced at it, came forward immediately and handed it to the president. It read: TIDAL WAVE IMMINENT.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Henry said, "we'd better continue the discussion elsewhere."
No one needed an explanation. The journalists scrambled for their cars. The president turned to an aide. "Get Emily," he said.