Learning to Swear in America - Katie Kennedy



Because there’s no air in space, the asteroid hurtled toward Earth in absolute silence. Of the two objects headed toward North America—the BR1019 asteroid and Yuri Strelnikov’s flight from Moscow—only his plane made a sound. The thought made Yuri smile faintly as the American military plane descended, engines roaring.

The aircraft touched down and taxied, and a moment later the pilot opened the door for its lone passenger. Yuri stepped to the top of the airstair and surveyed the sun-drenched airport. Then he trotted down, carrying a single suitcase and a book bag looped over his shoulder, and headed to a waiting helicopter.

Yuri dragged his suitcase with one hand, felt the bite of the book bag’s strap and the heat of the sun on his shoulders. He rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt with his free hand as he walked. He’d grown an inch in the past six months, and while the sleeves were long enough now, they might not be in a couple of weeks. How would he get a new shirt here? Better to roll the sleeves up from the start, so people were used to it.

An American officer stepped forward to open the helicopter door. He got in after Yuri and nodded to the pilot. Yuri took the headphones he offered, and a moment later the man’s voice crackled through. “NASA’s Near Earth Object Program is housed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. I’ll point it out as we get close.”

Then the pilot lifted off, and once again the ground fell away below Yuri. The pilot threw the throttle open and the craft shuddered and then responded. Yuri laid his cheek against the glass and gazed into the blue arcing over America. He wouldn’t see the asteroid. He knew that. By the time you could see it, it was too late. Because, although it was still in the dark reaches of space, the asteroid was traveling at 159,000 miles per hour.

Yuri sat in the back of the helicopter, his headphones muting the whomp of the rotors, and looked down at this dry city, lower and brighter than Moscow. He didn’t know what he thought of it yet. It was just … different. Yuri glanced at the officer and tried not to fidget. He could see people in white-and-glass buildings watching their descent as the pilot banked and landed. As they climbed out, the officer shouted at Yuri to keep his head down, and put a heavy hand on his neck to make sure he avoided the slowing rotor blades. He ushered Yuri inside one of the buildings and said, “Good luck.”

Yuri started to say, “You, too,” but realized it wasn’t appropriate, and was still searching for a response as the man left. Yuri stood for a moment, fingering the strap of his book bag, wishing he didn’t have the suitcase with him. Who brings a suitcase to an office building? An air-conditioning vent blasted ripples through his blond hair.

A security guard walked over to him and said, “Follow me,” then turned and led Yuri to a door off a large conference room. “You’re supposed to wait in here.” He jerked his head toward the door and walked off, and Yuri went in. The room was very small. It had two chairs on the right wall, two on the left, a tiny table with a pile of old magazines against the far wall. A boy of maybe five or six sat in a chair to the left. Yuri unslung his book bag and sat down opposite him.

The boy fingered the handle of a