You know, I don't like asteroids. I don't know why. I just don't like them.
The International Commission On Planetary Dangers was formed in the year 2011 to protect Earth from asteroids, comets, and other space objects. One such object created a 15 megaton explosion when it hit the remote Tunguska region of Russia in 1908. A larger strike could well cause the extinction of all life on the planet.
An orbiting ring of space stations was created to meet the threat, each armed with an array of telescope 'eyes' and a set of nuclear missiles. The system's computers were linked via the “Interplanetary Internet” so that they formed a seamless whole, a meta-computer capable of simulating cognition and intelligent behavior.
The only thing missing was an overall “personality” for this intelligent system. After all, it would need to interpret incoming information, make decisions, and be prepared to act decisively – and it had to be willing to do so for all eternity. A human model was needed, one with precisely the right combination of drives, obsessions, and talents. After an exhaustive search the team settled on an aging but still-popular newsman and television personality: Andy Rooney.
Rooney's personality was ideally suited to the task. Researchers found that he was capable of forming lasting dislikes for inanimate objects …
Asteroids? Lovely? Not in my book. They're stubbly, gray, and pockmarked.
If Richard Nixon were a planet he'd be an asteroid.
I just don't like the look of them.
He had an irresistible urge to catalog the objects of his dislikes …
Remember when I brought all those cereal boxes onto 60 Minutes and showed you why I hated them? I'm going to do that with asteroids now. This one here is just too dark. It's a “C” type, or “carbonaceous” asteroid. Don't you think it's dark? I think it's dark. Too dark, if you ask me.
This one is an S – what they call “stony” or “silicaceous” – but it's not any better looking than the first one. Granted, it's lighter in color. I suppose that makes it easier to see. But in this case, I don't think that's a good thing. Do you?
Oh, and then there's the other kind – the U's. They're all the ones that don't fit into the first two categories. How ridiculous is that? Defining something by what it isn't?
I don't know about you, but I'd happily blast any of them into smithereens if I had half the chance.
He had an old newshound's relentless thirst for detail …
You see that little gray “S” type out there by Jupiter? The one whose orbit is a little wobblier than usual? That orbit bothers me. I don't know why. It makes me feel I can't trust it, like it could start moving in our direction.
I'm going to watch that guy.
And an underlying seriousness of purpose. A “gravity,” if you'll excuse the choice of words …
You think I'm kidding? I'm not kidding. Give me half a chance and I'll show those bastards what humanity is made of. Not for nothing was I a cub reporter for Stars and Stripes.
And those goes for you other asteroids out there in the Kuiper Belt, too. I know you're almost outside the solar system. But don't think I'm not watching you.
The scientists had difficulty programming and training the “ARAI,” or “Andy Rooney Artificial Intelligence,” as it was called. Sometimes they found it … cantankerous …
You want to lecture me about asteroids, Professor Know-It-All? I think I know a thing or two about asteroids. And I know more about genuine shoe-leather reporting than you'll ever know. I'm a journalist. What are you – a blogger?
But, in the end, team members were forced to admire the synthetic curmudgeon's shrewd instincts and keen eye – not to mention its unrelenting urge to investigate, catalog, and possibly destroy the objects of “his” dislike.
You know, we haven't even talked about comets yet. What do they call 'em – dirty snowballs? They're dirty-something, all right.
These tendencies nearly led to catastrophe, however, when our first alien visitors approached lunar orbit in the spring of 2109. The ARAI responded to their greetings – broadcast in all Earth languages – with skepticism bordering on hostility.
“Greetings, Citizens of Earth”? Who writes your dialog? I've got a 500-megaton greeting card right here, pal, and I'm not afraid to use it. How do you like that dialog?
Yes, I admit it. You seem very nice. But an asteroid that can talk is still an asteroid, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.
“Andy Rooney” noted the aliens' finely articulated limbs and the crystalline delicacy of their craft. To him that meant simply that they were a “U” asteroid, unclassifiable as either carbonaceous or silicaceous. The visitors acknowledged that they were in fact neither of those things – an admission which nearly led to an act of war. But their intelligence was great and their research had been thorough. They eventually won the ARAI's heart by bemoaning the fact that Earth fashions were not as flattering to the human form as they had once been.
Boy, you aren't kidding! Did you see my piece about fashion? Actually, I've done quite a few pieces about it, going back to that nut Rudi Gernreich in the 1960s. In fact, your clothes look a little like his. But they look better on you.
What did you say about “mod” fashions? Not flattering to terrestrial hominids? You said a mouthful, pal – if that is a mouth.
Anyway, whatever it is, you're a plain speaker. Like Harry Truman. I admire that. What? You're familiar with the expression, “the buck stops here”? And you agree? I'll tell you, I wish more people felt like that nowadays.
The aliens explained that they had come to warn humanity about the Replicidians, a race of superintelligent four-dimensional viruses swarming toward Earth. They're just beyond the orbit of Neptune now, said the visitors. And they're closing in fast.
Andy Rooney sighed as he focused his many-lensed eyes out beyond Neptune. There was a long silence as he considered the implications of this new information. Finally he spoke:
It's a funny thing about Replicidians, he said.
I just don't like them.