So this is it.
The surreal feeling came over Beatty as he stared at the ebb screen, studying the diagram Tesla sent him on how to intercept the asteroid. He didn't regret his decision to volunteer. He was the logical choice to pilot the Linacre onto the asteroid. As the highest ranking aboard, ultimate responsibility fell on him.
Personally, he had no wish to spend his remaining days as a burden to his family. Better to go out like this, for Ruth and his sons, for King and Country, for all mankind.
Beatty still wished he could see his family, talk to them, one last time.
"Is everything ready, Admiral?" Prime Minister Lloyd George asked over the radio.
"Yes, Sir. All ship's personnel and wounded have been evacuated. Nurse Hill strapped me into the helm before she got into her escape pod. I have Professor Tesla's instructions in front of me and the chief engineer has volunteered to remain onboard to overload the engine."
"What's the chief engineer's name?"
"Weilman. Leftenant Commander Raymond Weilman."
"Does he have family?"
"Yes. A wife and a daughter."
"I'll see to it they're well cared for. Your family as well."
"Thank you, Prime Minister. And, Sir . . ."
"I was wondering . . . if you could have someone tell my wife and sons." Beatty tried to push down the lump in his throat. "Tell them I love them, and I pray they understand why I did what I did."
"I'll give them the message personally."
"Thank you, Prime Minister. I appreciate that."
"It's the least I can do." Lloyd George paused. "God's speed, David."
"Thank you, Sir. Beatty out."
He shut off the radio and let out a long breath. Beatty then hit the intercom for the engine room. "Weilman?"
"Well, shall we get on with it?"
"We'd better, hadn't we? I'd like to still look down on Earth from the pearly gates."
"As would I, Commander. Preparing to accelerate."
Beatty tapped several buttons in front of him. The Linacre shot through space. His eyes flickered from one part of the ebb screen to another, noting the ship's current speed and the target speed calculated by Tesla to intercept the asteroid. Linacre was actually ahead of the asteroid, but needed time to build up enough speed to match that of the deadly space rock on its approach.
He also looked to a projection screen on his right linked to the ship's rear telescope. Already he could make out the bright ball of light that was the asteroid.
Sweat soaked his torso. He checked and double-checked and triple-checked the Linacre's speed and course. The smallest mistake would mean death for every living being on the planet.
Beatty glanced at the asteroid. It looked much bigger than it had only a few seconds before. Again he checked the ebb. Speed and course still looked good, so long as Tesla's projections were on the mark.
They have to be. He's the smartest chap in the world.
Unfortunately, even smart people weren't infallible.
Beatty shivered when he looked back at the screen. The asteroid appeared almost on top of him. He tried to shake off his anxiety as he did another check of the Linacre's speed and course. So far, so good.
The asteroid vanished from the screen. A split second later he spotted it through the bridge window.
It sped further in away from him!
"Dammit!" Beatty punched more buttons. Linacre's velocity increased. The gap closed between the ship and the asteroid. Not as much as Beatty would have liked. He pushed the engine harder. His heart pounded as Linacre drew closer to the asteroid. 100 miles . . . 80 miles . . . 40 miles.
"Sir," Weilman called. "The engine's getting pushed past its limits."
"No choice, Commander. If we don't get to that rock, the Earth's had it."
"Understood, Sir, but if you keep pushing the engine like this, it's going to give out."
Beatty tensed, panic swelling within him. If the engine failed, Earth was done for.
What choice do you have?
He coaxed every bit of power he could out of the engine. Twenty miles and closing to the asteroid.
The shuddering grew more violent.
Hold together. Please, God, for the sake of all your children, hold this ship together.
Ten miles . . . five miles. The brown, uneven surface of the asteroid filled the bridge window.
Beatty deployed the landing struts. He felt like someone had tossed the ship inside a baby's rattle.
So close. Please . . . hold . . . together.
Another shudder went through the ship, a different one.
They had touched down on the asteroid.
"We're down, Commander! Collapse the magnetic field!"
"Collapsing magnetic field, aye."
A minute after giving the order, a piercing whine reached his ears. The engine overloading. He wondered how long it would take. Hopefully not too long.
Beatty sat back, looking out at the surface of the asteroid. He let out a sardonic laugh. A big ugly rock would be the last thing he ever saw. Not his wife. Not his sons. Not even the Earth. Just this damn asteroid the Martians flew here to –
A monstrous roar filled the ship. A white light obliterated Beatty's vision.
NEXT: THE CONCLUSION