“You’re doing it again.”
I’d been staring at Leo’s hands, their wrinkled backs, as he worked the numbers. Dozens of printed negatives lay scattered across the sandalwood table, the stars reversed to fuzzy, black dots. We’d been at it for hours, photographing the night sky, focusing on one narrow quadrant of the cosmos high above the island of Kauai.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Have you figured its diameter?”
“I need one more image printed. The one at three-oh-seven.” Leo maintained that being an astrophysicist had little to do with observing celestial bodies and more to do with grinding out the math.
I tapped the laptop’s keys, printed and slipped the fresh page next to the others. “Stuffy in here,” I said, as I levered out the awnings that let the sweet smell of the Nā Pali Coast drift in. Our observation shack, high above the Waimea Canyon, remained in the sunrise shadow of the mountains, but the glow at the horizon promised another lovely day.
“Damn it, Ma. Don’t let the wind screw up my layout again.” Leo’s growl sounded menacing but I’d grown to cherish it.
With polished lava stones I weighed down each stack of negatives. “There, that’ll keep them steady.”
Leopold Parda’a rubbed his bald head. “I don’t think this is right?” He motioned for me to hand him the pencil sharpener embedded in a plastic tiki token. He spun his No. 2 until the shavings piled to a tiny hill. “You see this image here on the 3:07 copy. You see how both of these stars have vanished from the background.”
I lean over as he flipped the pages back and forth, 3:02 to 3:07. I saw two dark spots, evident on the former vanish on the latter. “Holy Hina. At the distance we estimated, that would make this thing…”
“Don’t say it. Don’t go there. Not yet.”
“We have to send this in. With the path we calculated—”
“—It should fly right by us, relatively speaking.” Leo took a red marker and stroked a circle around the missing stars.
My eyes stretched wide. I’d rarely seen him make such a bold motion. “And at that size?”
“Kupuna, stop. Just stop.” He pushed back his bamboo chair and stepped out onto the deck. Our sixteen-inch scope, the one we’d saved up for, stood passive in off-mode. Leo patted its base. “Pele, what have you given us? A curse perhaps?”
“Come back in, Leo. Let’s finish this. We can’t keep this… This luku a secret.” The cool breeze tugged at my muumuu, the pink and orange shapes wavered lazily. I loved the way I could walk about the shack with nothing but a thin sheet of fabric between me and the ocean winds.
“This is big, Ma. Not just this Luku, this destroyer. But us, out here, finding it. Together.” Leo’s smile pulled at his wrinkles and his eyes danced as he looked into mine. “We finally proved ourselves.”
I tsk’d, “Not if we don’t post it, right goddamn now, you silly man.”
“I need coffee, with that good Hawaiian rum.” He pulled the chair back up to the table. “Don’t give me that look. This is our time and I want to celebrate.”
“Yes, yes. It’s done. See this?” I pointed to the screen on my laptop. “This means we are first to detect this artifact.” I’d fallen back in with watching Leo’s hands scuttle about the table as he ran his numbers. When he was done, I’d posted them to the NASA site for amateur astronomers. Our reservation number showed in the top corner.
But my lover, my friend trembled with the knowledge we’d uncovered. “Ma, I need time. Time to think about what this means.”
“It means change, my love.” I helped him to the sturdy cots we shared, thick mats to soften our sleep. “Change for us and for the planet.”
“Bad, Kupuna, bad change.”
I helped him don his special socks. Even in the mild tropics Leo’s feet would chill while he slept. I pulled the blanket over his shoulders and kissed his head. “These islands know change. Good and bad. Be glad we live at the ancient end of the chain.”
He fell asleep, his snoring blending with the murmur of the kukui and lehua trees along the canyon ridge.
With a bowl of mango and pineapple, dashed with a squeeze of lime to brighten the flavor, I pulled up the news on my laptop.
News of Luku, the name we’d given the artifact, filled every page. I scrolled through NASA’s briefing and nodded my head as I read their conclusion; the same one Leo and I had arrived at: Luku would traverse the inner solar system. Due to its size, one greater than Venus, it would disrupt the orbits of Earth and all our neighbors. The rogue’s path through the asteroid belt would dislodge thousands of asteroids and, depending on how close it came to Earth, would induce strange gravitational gyrations in our planet’s oceans and tectonics.
I read until the flies circled my uneaten breakfast. I slammed the cover down. “Damn the gods. Damn all the gods.”
Leo heard my scuffle and cursing. “Ma, what’s for breakfast?”
“Leo, love, I’ll fix you wela-eggs, with Koni’s hot sauce and biscuits. You worked hard last night. Pele served us well.”
“You stayed up? Ma, you need to rest. Did you take your medicine?”
I stretched my back, my neck bones popping. “I need to walk and feed the ducks and koi. I’ll take my pills when I return.”
Leo hugged me tight. “And the artifact? Were we first?” He gave my ass a squeeze as I slipped from his arms.
“Dirty old kani. Yes, Luku is ours. Our legacy.”
“Hurry back. I’m hungry.” Leo slipped on his sandals and walked into the kitchen. “I’ll make fresh coffee.”
By the time I’d reach our little pond, the orange shapes of the koi swirling in antic circles as they spied my familiar shadow, I’d begun to weep. I wept for our children who would suffer in this maelstrom that we’d discovered. I wept for my secrets that I’d kept from Leo—the other men and Leilei, poor Leilei. I wept for the world, a world that I knew would not recover from Luku the Destroyer.
The ducks were happy to see me. Their gabbling and insistent ways brought me back to the moist green beneath my feet, the sound of red-birds squabbling in the brush.
When I returned, Leo stood frozen before the television.
“Leo, baby, turn that off. Time for hot-eggs and toast.” I reminded him.
“I don’t like toast.”
“Biscuits, I mean.”
“I don’t like biscuits, either.”
“Leo, of course…”
“I know about the men, Teesa. I’ve always known about the men.”
I shuffled past, ignoring him. “This is our day, Leo. We discovered this crazy, rogue planet. Let’s have a holiday. Go down to Ka’pa’a and eat roast chicken and drink Mai Tais.” I watched Leo work on this notion. I knew he’d forget the men and the money as soon as he’d had his fill of drink.
“Mai Tais? I’d rather have the pork, Hani’s pork on sticks.”
The world was going to end. No, not the world. Our world certainly. But Luku would vanish and the planets would realign, not as they were, but in some unexpected formation that would probably end life, the only life we knew that existed in the Universe.
“I’ll bring your hat, you go get in the car. I need to send a note to Leilei. She’s not well, you remember.”
“Luku, The Destroyer. We found it didn’t we?”
“Yes, love. The Destroyer, that’s us.”
There are an estimated 50 billion rogue planets in the Milky Way galaxy. In this story one rogue planet, named Luku by an amateur astronomer, passes between the orbits of Mars and Earth. It’s the size of Venus and is moving at fifty miles per second. It disrupts the orbits of the innermost planets.
Mars’ path gets stretched out of orbit, going into an oblong elliptical loop that takes it inside Earth’s orbit. Earth gets pulled outward and its year lengthens by two weeks.
The gravitational havoc causes Martian volcanoes to erupt. Earth’s tectonic plates get wracked causing earthquakes all over the planet. The seas convulse, thrashing the coasts for hundreds of miles inland. And a volcanic winter descends.
This is improbable—not impossible.