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It So Happened
The Comet 1, Part 2.
• A British scientist writes a paper based on Duttada's discovery.
• He and the Defence Science Advisor have a tete-a-tete over an
• A conference of international experts might yield a clue to the
In the spacious dining hall of King's College, Cambridge, the butler
whispered deferentially in the Provost's ear and handed him an envelope
on a silver tray. The Provost beckoned James and passed on the
envelope saying, "It seems you are wanted urgently inyour room."
As he made his way towards the beautiful building, James opened
the envelope. It contained a brief note:
Dear Dr Forsyth,
The bearer of this note has been instructed to bring you to my office in
London tonight. Please come without delay. I am making arrangements
for your overnight stay in London. I regret the inconvenience caused to
you and request you to keep your visit strictly confidential. Believe me, it
is absolutely essential.
The signature carried the designation underneath: Defence
Science Advisor, Her Majesty's Government.
A bowler-hatted man near the mantlepiece greeted him as James
entered his sitting room. "I am Johnson, sir. Security officer at
Whitehall." He showed his identity card and continued, "I presume,
you know why I am here, sir."
"To the extent that is conveyed in this note," replied James. He
knew that it would be useless to ask Johnson for further details. "I
won't take long."
Johnson's Ford Cortina brought them to Whitehall in less than
ninety minutes. It took them another ten minutes to reach the
chambers of Sir John Macpherson. Having introduced James to
Sir John, the quiet but efficient Johnson slipped out.
"Dr Forsyth, my apologies for this imposition on your time!" Sir
John advanced with outstretched hands. "To avoid any further delay,
I will come to the point right away." Sir John handed him a
"Why! It is my paper to Nature. How did you get this original
manuscript?" James was surprised and somewhat uneasy.
Sir John saw his anxiety and continued, "Taylor, the editor of
Nature is a friend of mine."
"I had asked Nature to publish it without delay since it is very
important," James looked puzzled.
"I agree that it is important. So important in fact that it must
never be published --- that is, if what you say is correct." Sir John
lit his pipe.
James would never have tolerated aspersions on the accuracy of his
work, or the implied order that it must be suppressed. But he knew Sir
John to be a respected scientist and was willing to hear him out.
"Please do not misunderstand me, Dr Forsyth. I met Taylor today
at lunch in the club where he showed me your paper --- I still retain
enough interest in astronomy, you know --- and he asked for my
opinion before sending it to a professional referee. I immediately
realised that your result has profound implications, if it is correct."
"Let me assure you, Sir John, that it is correct. I stake my
reputation on it," James could not contain himself any more.
"Do you realise what will happen if Comet Dutta collides with
the Earth, as you predict it will?"
"The effects will be catastrophic! That is why I have taken extra
care to verify my calculations. Barring rare circumstances, the
collision is inevitable." James was confident. But Sir John picked
out the one qualifying phrase: "What are those rare circumstances?"
"Well, it might collide with some asteroid before reaching here.
Or it might just split up when near the Sun, or it might evaporate..."
"But one can't count on these fortuitous circumstances. We have
to proceed on the assumption that Comet Dutta will collide with
the Earth. Cometary collisions are expected to occur once in ten
million years. But now we know that the next one will occur
in a year..."
"Ten months, to be precise," interjected James.
"Thank you for the correction! Do you realise that we have only
ten months of survival left for the entire living species on the Earth?
Don't you think we have to do something to stop all this?"
A fleeting smile crossed James' face. ‘Just like a civil servant! As
if we are facing here a minor breakdown of law and order,' he thought
to himself. Aloud, he said, "How, may I ask, can we prevent this
"I don't know; but we have no option but to try. I think we need
more than two brains to handle this situation. It is essential to call
an urgent meeting of experts from all over the world to think of a
counter-measure and of course in total secrecy. Think of the panic
in the world if this dreadful news leaks out." Sir John glanced at
the manuscript in James' hand.
"My suppressing this paper will not hide the truth, Sir John!"
James said. "There are others who will arrive at the same conclusion,
sooner or later."
"No. Do not suppress it but tone it down. Add many if's and
but's to make your conclusion appear not so certain... I will exert
all my influence with friends in other countries to make them
exercise a similar restraint for a while."
"For how long?"
"Until this wretched comet is safely out of the way. Let us spend
some time now to plan the details of this international conference.
Shall we call it in a week's time, here?"
A week to plan such an important secret conference of
international experts! James thought it an impossible task, but Sir
John disagreed, and began to spell out details.
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