Three Years Later…
“Mr. Arnold, you’ve got a call from a Jan Rogers. She say she’s with the ETL project. I thought that was shut down.”
Mr. Arnold looked hard at the corner where two walls and the ceiling intersected till a light came on in his brain. “Oh, Jan. Well, yes its shut down except for some maintenance people. She’s one of them. Put her through.”
While his secretary pushed the buttons Mr. Arnold had a moment to wonder what disaster would cause Jan to call. It had to be something cataclysmic. He never should have agreed to let her stay on. The woman was not emotionally stable.
“Jan. How’s it going?”
“Fine. Well, more than fine.” There was excitement, enthusiasm in her voice. “I’ve… We’ve made contact.”
Mr. Arnold’s first thought was the whereabouts of his secretary. He knew she eavesdropped sometimes.
“We shouldn’t talk about this on the phone. I’ll come down there.” He looked at his desk calendar. I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon. Right after lunch. And Jan. Don’t say anything to anybody else about this, okay? You haven’t told anybody else about this, have you?”
No. You’re the first one I’ve told.” She sounded confused by his apparent lack of interest in her news. That was good. Mr. Arnold liked to keep people confused. It gave him the upper hand.
“Good. Keep it that way till I get there. We don’t want this to get out till we have all the facts, do we?”
Mr. Arnold decided how to handle Jan during the flight. Intimidation. He was good at it. He could frighten her into keeping her mouth shut. There was no telling what she thought she had found. The woman was probably was unbalanced. He never should have let her talk him into this.
He walked into the room with his best no nonsense I’m the boss face.
“Now what’s this all about?”
Jan looked startled. He could tell he already had her at a disadvantage.
“We have contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. A repeating signal.”
Mr. Arnold frowned. “You found it when ten years work of scientists and engineers couldn’t?”
“Well, I made some changes.”
“Changes? I didn’t authorize any changes.” He folded his arm across his chest, a posture that he knew made him look bigger and more imposing. He had tried to lose some weight once till he realized that people didn’t fear him as much when he was lighter.
Jan shrank back. She got two inches shorter and at least ten pounds lighter in an unconscious attempt to protect herself against Mr. Arnold’s bulk.
“Well, not changes. More like enhancements. They can all be easily removed. Let me show you.” She moved toward the bank of monitors.
“See, the mistake we had been making was that we were looking for somebody out there who was looking for us. Somebody sending a signal like ours. You know, ‘Hi, my name’s Jan. What’s yours?’” Jan was forgetting Mr. Arnold’s attitude as she got into her explanation. “I thought what if there’s someone out there just sending routine communications? What if we were looking for a repeating signal over too short a span? What if they were sending, Oh, say, the complete works of Shakespeare? So I changed the parameters of the matching search. And I got… this.” She pointed to a monitor.
The screen was divided vertically into two equal sections. Both sides were filled with patterns that on closer inspection turned out to be ones and zeros, a vast multitude of one and zeros. Mr. Arnold didn’t know whether to look like he understood what he was looking at or to look skeptical. His look fell somewhere in between so he would up looking confused, which was exactly what he was. He looked at Jan, raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“Look at this.” She pointed with her left hand at a spot on the left side of the screen and with her right hand to a spot on the right side. “See. They’re the same. This is where the pattern begins to repeat. These are two different transmissions exactly eight hours and thirty-six minutes apart. From this point on the transmissions match exactly.” She used the mouse to scroll both sides of the screen to the right. The patterns continued to match. “It’s a coherent, intelligent signal. If you compare signals fifteen minutes apart or thirty minutes apart you won’t see a match. But eight hours and thirty-six minutes… Well, there it is.” She stepped back and waved her hand at the screen like a magician who had just made a tiger appear out of thin air.
Mr. Arnold didn’t know what to do. It certainly looked like she had found something. But then she had no training or education in this. He thought about what would happen if he reported this. Scientists and engineers would descend on the place. They would study it from every angle. If this was the real thing he could be a hero for keeping the project going and for choosing Jan to keep it running. If it was nothing he would look like a fool, worse than a fool because he did not follow orders. Better to follow orders than to be a hero. Now, what to do with Jan. He knew there was not much chance of it, but if she got up enough courage to go to the press he would be in real trouble.
“Well, it sure looks like something. Are you sure you haven’t picked up a transmission that originated from one of our satellites? There’s a lot of stuff floating around out there. Tell you what. Let’s keep this under our hats for now. We don’t want to get people excited for no reason. You keep studying this. Keep me posted on what you find. When we’re sure of what we’ve got we’ll make it public. Okay?”
Jan looked hurt. “I’ve checked it out, Mr. Arnold. I’ve been studying this for six months. I’ve checked for other possible sources. I’m sure we’ve got the real thing here.”
Mr. Arnold did his best exasperated boss routine. “Jan. I’ll be blunk with you. You have messed around with some expensive equipment, modified sophisticated programs. You claim you can set everything back the way it was, but can you really? I didn’t authorize you to make changes to software or hardware. You were just supposed to keep tabs on the existing processes when you didn’t have any maintenance projects to work on. You are a maintenance worker. You could be in serious trouble for tampering with expensive government equipment. I know you believe you’ve discovered something important but you could be deluding yourself. I think you are. I think you’ve made all this up in your head. For all I know you’ve faked all this. Now I’m not going to do anything about this. You can stay on as a maintenance worker, but no more messing with this equipment. Understand?”
By now Jan appeared to be two inches shorter and twenty pound lighter. Arms folded across her chest, clutching herself tightly, she made it look like the room temperature had dropped twenty degrees.
“Yes, Mr. Arnold.”
Copyright © 2011 by Angus B. Lewis
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