Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Land Leave: Alien Satellite 3/4

The square of their base system. Once arranged, the signal took on a pictoral quality. It demonstrated a hydrogen atom and showed a star system with seven planets. The signal indicated that the second planet was either the largest planet or the planet of origin. It was unclear.

The signal was long; nearly forty distinct pictures emerged from the signal.

The final string seemed to be a time-stamp. The 'second' was about three and a half Earth seconds, kept very accurately by what could only be a nuclear clock. But the base system appeared inconsistent in this regard. The way it counted up did not follow the established base six counting system and much like Earth time, was probably tied to forces local to its planet of origin. The team conjectured that one of the numbers indicated months, the next unit was seasons, and the final unit was years. They had only worked on the project for a couple weeks, and unsure of when each would change over, the team was unable to determine how old the ship was.

That was as far as the team ever got. Neil was looking at an enigmatic 'image' in the signal when it happened. The image was a dot with a line that went to a circle with a dot in the center. At first the team had thought it referenced fusing the hydrogen atom to show nuclear capability, but it didn't quite match. There was already a picture from that in the beginning of the signal. No, Neil looked hard at the signal, trying to interpret it. Such a simple diagram with such an obscure meaning. He sighed.

Then he heard the rumble of the trucks. Two large semi-trucks. They were unassuming; just freight trucks without specific purpose. Before he knew it though, all of the equipment and data was in those trucks, headed off to a destination unknown.

Neil and his team were all reassigned and given generous stipends. No one on the team ever wanted for grant money, but all were occasionally checked in on with the government. Two members of the team ended up doing government work—probably on the signal. They were seldom heard from and what they said always seemed forced.

Neil remembered that image for years. But he never decoded it.

For his part Commander Tam agonized over his decision for a long time. Knowing that the seal had been broken and humanity was no longer alone, he immediately recommended to the committee that all efforts to safeguard the existence and location of the signal be taken. They agreed, and allocated two semi-trucks and the necessary funding to keep the project obscure.

Three years later, Cmdr Tam shook hands with the flight control operator as $400 million in highly classified equipment went into space. The module was basic. It had to be. It was a simple array of equipment, a radio transmitter, and a very simple propulsion system. The satellite used the gravity wells of the planets to gain momentum.

On that day Cmdr Tam was distracted. One of the people on the RX4 discovery team had come out to the media and insisted on telling what she knew. With three thousand pages of mostly blacked out FOIA documents, she had assembled her case and tried to fill in whatever details she could remember. It didn't look good for her. Although out of his purview, Cmdr Tam begged the committee to be lenient with her—no one really knew the consequences of having the information public he argued.

Except she did. She knew that she would be silenced. Just as the satellite was making its slingshot pass by the moon three days later, the woman from the team was being arrested for public exposure at a playground. Invariably, she was found to be a pederast and emotionally unstable.