The sun was up and shining brightly in a cloudless sky. It would get warmer today, maybe even hot this afternoon, but that was fine. He had some work in the main barn that would keep him in the shade. Right now this patch of heritage corn needed weeding and until he could figure out how to get the corn to weed itself...he would apply hoe to soil and enjoy the timeless rhythm. He heard the car and saw the dust trailing into the bright sky long before the billowing mass of dirt stopped down at the entrance to his farm. He waited only long enough to ensure the driver wasn't going to be stupid enough to try and drive up to the main house. Last time he'd shot someone for doing just that, the Sheriff had raised all kinds of hell about the paperwork he'd been forced to fill out. Posted was posted, anyone that drove this far out should be able to read. He'd nearly finished his weeding when a shuffling and huffing announced the arrival of his visitor. He didn't look up, waiting for the man to speak. When the visitor remained silent, he looked up at the end of the last row. The man was small, almost little. Flushed from the heat and maybe the exercise of the walk, he was busy mopping his face with a handkerchief that clearly wasn't up for the task. His other hand held a briefcase, of all things. Sighing, he said, "If you're selling anything, you've wasted a trip. If I need anything, I'll come a'looking." The little man's voice was surprisingly deep, "Ah... Mr. MacDonald?" Now he smiled, "Yes, that's me. Before you ask," everyone always asked, "I had it changed while I was in college. If you're not selling, why would you trespass on my property? It's posted and all." "Yes, Sir. And thank you for not shooting at me. Your man in town...said you didn't like visitors, I can appreciate that." "Then you can't be a tax man or some damn Fed farm meddler, Bruce takes care of all of that for me." As much as he hated layers, just like whores, they did have there uses. "Yes, Sir. My name is Thaddeus P. Hoptoade and I am from the Government - NASA to be specific." "The Hell you say!" He leaned against his hoe. "Why in the seven Hells of Perdition did you come all the way out here?" "Oddly enough, Mr. MacDonald, to talk with you. All of our letters seems to have been...ineffective. You don't have..." "A telephone, TeeVee or any of that civilized crap. Look, Mr. Hoptoade, I want to raise organic food. I make a bit of cash money by selling seed and some food into town where folks can't garden." He stressed his next words, "And I value my privacy. A lot." Now he pinned the little Government man with a glare, "Just what would NASA want that I could offer?" "I can see you're a man of direct words and action, rather than dance around and waste both of our time, I'll cut to the chase. I'm here to make an offer on your farm." Bert put the hoe over his shoulder and started walking back to the barn. "You sure as hell have an oddball sense of humor, Mister NASA man. If you talked with Bruce..." The little man had to scurry to just to keep up with the tall farmer, "I do not joke, Sir. As a matter of fact, Bruce was the one who encouraged me to come out here and try talking with you, face to face." Bert remained silent until he'd put his tool up in the small barn and walked back to the main house. Wordlessly, he pointed to a chair on the veranda before walking inside. When he returned he had a pitcher full of cold lemonade and pair of glasses. He poured out a glass for each of them, and then sat. The liquid was ice cold, he could see the surprise on the other man's face. "I have solar heating and cooling, a small freezer and a cool box - I'm no new-age Luddite, Mr. Hoptoade. I just to choose to live with as little of modern day technology as possible." "I see. Pennsylvania Dutch?" "No. Texas born and raised. Came up here to do..." He swept his hand expansively to take in all that was visible. "This. All organic. No chemicals, no fertilizer. I've spent my life building up the soil so it is as fertile as you see it today." Now the little man looked uncomfortable. "So, I take it that means I'm wasting our time to even make an offer?" "You would be most correct. However, I am curious. Why would NASA want my place? I know the water here is just about as pure as it gets, the spring feeds out of a limestone formation. I only have 160 acres, too small, I think, for anything like an observatory or the like. So, as I've said, I'm curious..." "Yes...well" The little man looked more than uncomfortable, "I wouldn't know about any of that, I'm a lawyer." "Maybe I should have shot you..." Thaddeus had to look twice to see the smile. "Yes, well, I did thank you for that earlier, now didn't I?" "Look, I can see you've no desire to be here, yet here you are. Why not just lay it out? I doubt there is anything you can say that would get me to change my mind." Emotions ran across his face before a resigned look settled in for the duration. "Very well, Mr. MacDonald." He sat the briefcase on his lap and flipped the case open, pulling out a stack of paper. "I'm authorized to offer you up to six and one half million collars for your outfit - lock, stock and all buildings. So, to cut through the crap as they say, I'm offering the six million plus up front." "That's over forty grand per acre. Did NASA run out of gold plated paperclips to buy?" "I was told I could be generous and still save the Government money." "You lost me there." "You said earlier there was nothing that I could say that would get you to move." He glanced at the watch on his wrist, "Well, in fifty two hours and thirty-three minutes," he looked up, "more or less, this farm will cease to exist." "Keep talking, I need to be reminded just why I didn't shoot you on sight..." "Thirty some years ago, NASA put up a geosciences satellite, Earth and resource mapping, all that." "And?" There was no mistaking the coldness in his voice. "And due to...budget constraints at the time, a system to control the deorbit path was not added to the bird. The thinking at the time was that an ocean impact was the highest probability at end of life for the system. That seems to have been...overly optimistic." "So, what you are really saying is there is a chance some debris could hit my place?" "No, Sir. It is a certainty." His frown deepened, "As a matter of practical fact, the entire object will land here, not just pieces. It was that well built." He pointed to the front yard, "Roughly about there, next to the apple tree." "So? NASA comes in and carefully cleans up the bits and pieces, you pay for the damages, we go back to how things were." "I'm afraid it's not that simple, Mr. MacDonald." Another sigh escaped before he glanced at the top paper, "The spacecraft frame was made from almost pure beryllium, so much of your property would have to be scraped up at a depth of at least several inches to remove it." "I see you have another shoe to drop..." "The space craft was powered by an RTG system." As the farmer's blank look, he added, "Nearly weapons grade plutonium was the fuel in that generator. This specific radioisotope thermoelectric generator carried over six kilograms of P-238. Our models show that the iridium heat shielding will likely fail owing to an unknown at the time design flaw in the casting of the shield." "And you want to buy my property because?" "We can't be certain all of the P-238 can be recovered. We would have to seize your property for your own safety, at which point..." "I would turn Bruce loose like a mad dog to sue your ass into oblivion." "Almost. You would have to sue to get permission to sue." He shrugged, "Sovereign immunity and all that. The senior management at NASA sees that this could quickly turn into a PR nightmare, costing the agency far more than simply buying your farm in advance." He held up his hand, "We will do a complete clean up, no matter what. You would be left with sterile soil, I suspect down to the bedrock in many places, and any settlement you get would be years, maybe decades, in the courts." He shuddered, "Not to mention the legal fees. No, it would be far cheaper for us to pay the forty grand per acre and take our time on the clean up." "I see. I have how long before I give you an answer?" Another glance at the wristwatch before speaking, "I'll give you a half hour. I can sit here or wait back at my auto. Past that, I'll have to go to town and report my...failure to my boss. You can expect the National Guard or the local Sheriff to be along tomorrow to escort you off of your property. If you take a shot at the Guard..." "The Sheriff will be happy to remove my body. I get it, Mr. Hoptoade." He stood, "If you'll wait a minute?" He reappeared a few minutes later, a pair of suitcases in hand. "If you'll be kind enough to give me a ride back into town, we can get all the papers signed at Bruce's office." ********* Bruce looked at him over the dinner plates. "Okay, Bert. I give up. I thought you would give the NASA man hell. Yet you came in, signed over your place and seemed happy enough to do that. The six and half mill is a good deal, but no fuss?" The lanky man shrugged. "I'll find another place, take me a few years, but I'll be back at what I was doing, and have a healthy bank account to help with that. Everything important to me was in the suitcases - photos and all that. I can farm anywhere." After a short pause, he said "I have a question for you." "What's that?" "What if the NASA man was wrong? I'll be on the bus tonight, heading up to the Capital. I'm going to buy me a pickup camper and I'll be headed west before that damn thing hits. Maybe try my luck in Utah or Colorado - lots of farmland out there." As he stood to walk out, his lawyer sat there, a stunned look on his face... What if the NASA man had been wrong? A farmer has to worry about a lot of things, tornadoes, wildfires, drought - but rarely the sky falling down... ********** Posted for your enjoyment, all rights reserved, everything is fictional except, of course, where it isn't.