"Sam, I've got one!" yelled Lisa as she threw open the conference room door and barged in on the meeting. "It's double-damn, hard-core certifiable," she continued, standing just inside the door waving a scratch-pad in the air.
Sam Shepard, Director of the Dark Side Listening Post, looked up from his seat at the head of the simulated oak conference table. She looked a mess; her normally meticulously-arranged, auburn hair frizzed out on all sides like a bird's nest under construction. Her jumper was wrinkled and splashed with what looked like coffee. The only thing certifiable is her, he thought.
"What's the matter with you," Sam said, "busting into my staff meeting like this?" He clenched his teeth, trying not to blow up at her in front of the four department heads sitting around the table.
"Screw the meeting," she said, slamming the scratch-pad down onto the table hard enough to scramble its circuits. Her green, catlike eyes glowed with excitement. "This will pay the rent on this dungeon for the next fifty years."
"Bold, beautiful and batty," muttered Sam through clenched teeth. This is the last time I'm going to put up with her antics, he thought as his blue eyes locked onto her, and his ears acquired a slight red tinge. Tension jumped around the table like static electricity in a thunder storm. Lisa glanced around the room, took a deep breath, and leaned forward with both hands on the table.
"This pad, Gentlemen, Mary," nodding to the only other woman present, "contains a certifiable first contact." She paused, making eye contact with each individual at the table.
"Certified by whom," said Sam as he pushed himself from his chair, slightly out of control in the moons one-sixth gravity. He stood six feet tall with a once muscular build that was sagging slightly and an almost full head of rusty hair, now graying and starting to thin on top. At fifty-eight, he was twice Lisa's age.
"Patch it into the viewer," she said, sliding the pad across the table to him. "The alarm went off about five hours ago at the end of my shift. From the first glance it looked like an intelligent signal, so I started analyzing it. Look at this," she said moving over to the viewer. "It's a series of random length RF pulses with slightly different gaps between each one." She paused with a slightly self-indulgent smile on her face. "Look familiar?" Another dramatic pause. "The pulses fall into two groupings: one longer than the other but none of exactly the same duration."
"Have you broken the code?" asked Mary Heart, head of the Astrophysics Lab.
"It's Morse code," Lisa said. "Hand keyed in English, French and German."
"Then you have a hoax," said Hernando Cortez, head of Stellar Cartography.
"No, I believe the signal was intercepted and retransmitted back toward its source: like a flag being waved to get our attention. A flag we would recognize. The data indicates events that occurred in the early 1900's, 1908 to be precise. Then the format changes." Lisa called up a different file onto the viewer. "This message is a binary progression from 1 to 100 using a 12 bit code. A Rosetta stone, to show us how the data was encoded. Next came three messages, each containing the same information: One transmitted using amplitude modulation, the second using frequency modulation, and the last was phase-encoded."
"So what does it mean," asked Kurt Zarnak, Chief of Operations.
"It means that the Fourth-Protocol is in effect," said Patrick Scott, Project Director for UESIC, the United Earth Search for Interplanetary Communications.
"Wait a minute, Scotty," said Sam. "We don't want to go off half-cocked and give the opposition the opening they need to shut us down. I want this bottled-up until we receive a second transmission." His cold blue eyes scanned the group. "A confirming transmission."
"The protocol requires formal notification of the UE Secretary General upon confirmation or within 24 hours . . ."
"Yes, Scotty, I know the protocol." Then looking at Lisa, "How long do we have?"
"Six hours and counting since the alarm went off," Lisa replied as she slumped into a chair looking exhausted, like an athlete coming down from an adrenaline high.
"OK, you get some sleep," said Sam rasing his hand, cutting off Lisa's protest. "I want you sharp when the next transmission comes in."
"Scotty, have your people draft the communiqué." Sam walked to the window overlooking the courtyard in their underground bunker, thirty feet below the surface on the far side of the Moon. "I want it factual and non-speculative. Don't draw any conclusions; leave it open ended and noncommittal. I want room to maneuver depending on what we find out over the next eighteen hours. Leave room for the possibility of a hoax without specifically mentioning it. We don't want to give the skeptics and paranoids anything they can twist to their advantage." For a moment he watched a scattering of artificial-light filter through the trees, bringing the illusion of noontime; a noon synchronized with UE headquarters in New York, not the 29.5 day cycle of the Moon's day and night. He turned back to his staff. "People, I don't want word of this leaking out. Not a peep! Scotty, make sure you talk to everybody involved. Keep it compartmentalized. The rest of you, keep your people away from the array. Keep them busy with other projects. So busy they won't have time to notice anything going on outside their own area."
Exactly 11 hours and 43 minutes after the first transmission, the alarm sounded again. Forty-five minutes later Sam was on the comlink to UE Headquarters. "Please tell the Secretary General that I would like to speak to him at his earliest convenience," said Sam in his best diplomatic voice. "Left for home did he. Well please make a note that I need to discuss a matter of protocol with him. Urgent? Isn't everything, but it's certainly not my place to prioritize the Secretary General's messages." He dropped the link and smiled to himself. That should buy me at least fourteen hours, now for the tough one.
"This is Samuel Shepard, Director of the Dark Side Listening Post. I need to speak to the President right now." Sam tapped his fingers on the table as the aid droned on. "Of course he's indisposed; he's watching the Monday night Freeball game. You tell him he can talk to me now or watch Karam Gandhi announce it to the world tomorrow." Sam, and everybody else that served the president, knew how much he despised the Secretary General ever since he had lost the election to him. Actually it was Mo's own dirty tricks that backfired on him, but nobody was foolish enough to let Morris T. Katsenbahm hear those words.
"This better be good, Sam! It's the first time in thirty-years the Eagles have been contenders for the Americas' division title," said the President as his right hand idly tugged at the beard he had shaven off thirty years before, when he had given up cattle-ranching to run for Governor of Montana. Although his brother now manages the ranch for him, Mo still liked to return to the Big Sky country of Montana once or twice a year.
"Sorry, Mr. President, but we have a Fourth Protocol situation here." Sam saw him glance at the viewer's status indicator to make sure the link was secured. "We received the first transmission thirteen hours ago and estimate that it originated about 91 light-years out in the direction of the Lagoon Nebula. The second message came in on the same stellar coordinates a little over an hour ago from about 73 light years distances."
"Why that's over one light year an hour. Wasn't it your paper that shot down the military's Time Warp project by claiming it's impossible to travel faster than light?"
"It is impossible, sir. They're probably traveling at just under light speed. So when they made their second transmission, 18 light years later, the first message was only 12 hours ahead of them, from our perspective."
"What?" the president snapped as he shrugged his shoulders and raised both hands in a questioning gesture. "I don't give a damn about perspective! When the hell are they going to be here!" he said slamming both fists down on the table.
"They should enter the Solar System in about two days, sir. At that point they will have to drop out of light speed to traverse our system. That could take anywhere from an hour to a month depending on where they enter and how fast they travel."
"How many are there, where are they from, and why have they spent hundreds of years to get here?" President Katsenbahm accented each question by thumping the table with his fist.
"Traveling at light speed, time would appear to stand still for them. Traveling just under light speed they probably see time passing at about the same rate we see their messages arrive, or, to say it another way, they probably age less then an hour for every light year they travel. So from their persp, . . . ah, view they're only taken a two or three-day detour. In real time, the time ticked off by our watches here on Earth, they received a signal transmitted from Earth in 1908 in our year 1999 -- 91 years ago -- and sent it back to us. As to motive, all we know for sure is they want us to know they are coming."
"That seems a bold assumption," said the President, looking back at Sam with narrowed eyes.
"Not really; actually, it's quite ingenious. They received an incredibly weak and primitive signal from an unknown planet. They wanted to contact us, but they knew nothing about us, and they had no way of deciphering our message or constructing a message we could understand. So they sent our message back to us using the same frequency and encoding, something they knew we would understand. And to make sure we received it, they used a powerful, narrow-beam transmitter."
"You sound like a heifer in heat, all excited about the prospects without knowing the consequences," said the president with a forced smile. Sam knew that smile; it meant he should stick to the facts and skip the theories. "Are you sure the Japanese aren't pulling your chain again, trying to discredit the project?"
"I don't think so. From the strength and direction of the signal we know it can't be a reflection and almost certainly not a hoax. The original message referred to events in 1908 while the second message spoke of war events that occurred in 1944. And both transmissions ended with identical messages using the same frequency but incorporating modulation techniques not yet invented in the early 1900's. We believe those messages were from an alien race."
"Who knows about this?" the President demanded. "You haven't told Gandhi yet have you?"
"Yes, Mister President," said Sam, belaying any hint of the tension he felt welling up in his stomach. "I left the Secretary General a message just before I called you. I doubt if he will respond before tomorrow."
"Good; that gives us an advantage." He smiled then slumped back into his chair.
He looks old for 85, thought Sam. It's the office; it sucks the life out of a man, like the Sun turning a plum into a dried-up prune.
"I want you down here -- stat! Don't take a commercial shuttle; we can't wait for the next gravitational ridge. I'll arrange for an Earth Guard Cutter to pick you up at Kennedy, and you can blast straight in from there."
"But sir, I can . . . "
"See you when you get here," said the president as he reached over and disconnected the link. Mo Katsenbahm was never one to negotiate when an order would do.
Three and a half hours later Sam's hopper approached the Kennedy Space Port orbiting the Moon. It was surrounded by dozens of transports and freighters waiting for the gravitational ridge to reach peak alignment in 12 days. Like the old, square-rigged ships of Earth's antiquity that road the tides in and out of port, these modern behemoths follow an invisible path where the combined gravitational pull of the Sun, Moon and Earth balanced each other out. It took longer, up to 30 days, but the savings in fuel were astronomical.
Ahead lay a sleek, white-hulled ship distinctively marked with a broad red stripe slashing across its bow -- the mark of an Earth Guard Vessel. As the hopper docked, Sam looked out at the Moon. It's stark, barren beauty filled the entire viewport. From orbit the only sign of man's influence on the surface was the sun glinting off huge solar panels on the rim of the Shackleton Crater at the South Pole.
Bathed in sunlight 80 percent of the time, these panels produced much of the power used to run the vast Artemis industrial complex. Although home to many commercial research centers and even a movie studio, Sam knew it was the mines of Artemis that were key to life on the Moon. For they produce most of the water, and all of the hydrogen and oxygen used on the Moon and in space beyond.
"Welcome to the Cutter Defiant, Dr. Shepard," said Captain Steward as Sam stepped through the airlock. "We'll have you back on terra firma in a little over 40 hours. Meanwhile, I have freed up my quarters for you. It's not much on comfort, but it has the only private viewer on board."
"Thanks, I have to get in touch with my people right away. Do you think you can shave a few hours of the flight time?" Sam smiled, "I have an appointment with the President."
"Sir, this is one of the fastest ships in the fleet. Our mission is search and rescue besides patrolling our borders for smugglers and the like. We're built for speed, but I can't change the laws of physics. We'll get you home as fast as humanly possible, but for anything else you'll have to contact the Man upstairs."
Or the whatever they are upstairs thought Sam as he followed the captain to his quarters. The room was tiny compared to his office back on the Moon. A bunk was built into the far wall, and to the left stood a small viewer atop a table with one large and two small chairs around it. Above the table hung a painting of an ancient 44 footer, an old US Coast Guard Cutter breaching a huge wave as it sailed past a breakwater. He assumed the door beside it led to the head. The right wall was completely covered with cabinets, shelves and lockers. On the shelves were the usual mementos one collects over the years, and a rather impressive collection of antique books.
After showing Sam the amenities, the Captain handed him a combadge for shipboard communications then beat a hasty retreat. Sam went straight to the viewer. "Scotty, what's the latest?"
"Scotty's not here," said Lisa. "The Secretary General called him Earth-side. I don't think he realized I was here when Scotty called to brief him. Boy, he was pissed that you told the President before him. Scotty explained how you had tried to reach him, but he wasn't buying it. He muttered something about you establishing plausible deniability while you wet-nursed old Mo." Lisa smiled as she leaned back in her chair, "Ha! It was really funny seeing that gray, little mousy-man roar like that." Then her expression changed, "Funny to me, not to Scotty."
"Humm..., " Sam slumped down into the large overstuffed chair, "I'll have to make it up to him when this is all over. That is, if I'm still working here."
"Cheer up boss," she said, with a smirk on her face and a glint in her eye. "Maybe you'll be working for him, and then he can put up with all the political bovine-excrement."
"What's the status!" Sam barked as he riveted his eyes on her. Well at least she didn't say bullshit this time, he thought.
"The Net's burring up with rumors," She said. "It started about six hours ago when some kid in Iceland picked up the second transmission. Being a Boy Scout he knew right away it was Morse code. He put it out on the net and people all over Eastern Canada and Western Europe reported the same transmission. Then reports came in from Alaska and Eastern Russia reporting a similar transmission 12 hours earlier. Now the whole net is full of rumors about ghost messages from the past. The news-neties are crawling around like maggots on manure. We've had over a thousand requests-for-information from the media during the past hour. They're interviewing everybody from academics, who take hours to say nothing, to Zen Buddhists who are meditating for an answer."
"Have you heard from Scotty?"
"No, not a peep. Wait a minute, the net's flaming." Lisa flipped through several clips then looked back at Sam. "It seems that a Professor Carnegie from Berkeley has figured it all out. He predicts that an alien spacecraft will enter our Solar System within a day or two."
The forty hours to Earth seemed to drag on forever as Sam drove Lisa crazy with all-too-frequent status checks interspersed with long sessions in the gravity rehabilitator. "Dr. Shepard," came the captain's voice over Sam's combadge, "You are welcome to join me on the bridge for Earth-fall if you wish."
"We're coming up on Glennville now," said Captain Steward as the Defiant dropped into orbit. Sam watched as the John Glenn Earth Port rose like a Phoenix from beyond the Earth's horizon. Stark against the jet black sky, the space station's silver skin shimmered in the twilight reflecting the blues and whites of the Earth beneath it. Even the veteran crew members gasped when the station suddenly flashed a blinding white as it broke free of the Earth's shadow into pure sunlight, like a spirit assenting into the heavens.
The trip Earth-side from Glennville took just over an hour in a small, four-man hopper.
"Capitol's coming up below us, sir," said the NASA pilot as the hopper slowed. "Beyond it, straight down Pennsylvania Avenue, is the White House."
Sam watched as Pennsylvania Avenue disappeared beneath the Presidential Mall surrounding the White House. The mall was shaded with trees and small, brightly-capped, mushroom-shaped kiosks each containing an information viewer, drinking fountain, and an individual restroom. Their brightly colored canopies cloaked the Disrupter cannons that were tracking the hopper as it drifted over the mall toward the White House landing pad.
"God help us," said Sam. "It looks like every nut on the planet's down there." The mall was indeed packed with people grouped together like flocks of birds gathered for migration. Sam watched as a young man in a plaid jacket raised a sign over his head like a bludgeon and charged another group. The police quickly subdued the man and led him away, as the media closed in for yet another vid-clip. Other groups followed the press, each vying for that precious opportunity to sell their cause.
"Welcome, Doctor Shepard," said a young woman in her late forties as the hopper's door hissed open letting in the first real air Sam had breathed in a year and a half. "I'm Barbara Bathgate, the President's Press Secretary." She grabbed his arm and led him under a green canopy into the White House basement entrance past a guard manning a Caress.
"I hate those damn things," Sam muttered, shuddering as the acoustical energy ran over his body like a thousand ants. Barbara led him through the White House into a lift and commanded it to the Situation Room. Descending several stories, it banked to the left and continued laterally for several hundred feet.
"Welcome to the Warren," she said as they stepped out of the lift into a small anteroom. After checking their credentials the guard pushed a button causing a blast-gate to swing open. They entered a large domed theater with a huge viewer in the center. About half way up the sides of the dome were clusters of vid-panels, all showing different scenes from around the world. The entry level, where they stood, was an open gallery circling the domed room. Below were two tiers full of vids and viewers manned by technicians. The next tier down was covered with small groups of tables and chairs surrounding unmanned viewers, while the bottom tier contained theater-style seating which faced the central viewer. Ahead was one of five wide aisles descending to the viewer level where a dozen people were seated around the President. The UE Secretary General was speaking on the viewer.
"Mr. President, this is getting out of control. Your statements only serve to upset the timid while flaming the passions of the militant. Now is the time for unity," the Secretary General paused, leaned forward slightly, and in a low, metered voice continued. "We must speak with one voice, the voice of a United Earth. The voice of reason, not of fear. A compassionate voice of understanding for the fears of its people." He stood straight now as he brought his hands together, fingers touching, and bowed his head slightly in the Hindu tradition. "Yet a confident voice: one that will bolster the spirits of its people."
"You always were a great one for speeches," said the President as he rose, clapping lightly in mock appreciation. "But we don't need speeches, we need action. The Earth's being invaded, and you want to beat 'em off with an olive branch."
"That is the same rhetoric that led to the riots in Japan and the mass suicides in Switzerland. The Euro-Australian Commonwealth, the Asian Alliance, and the Cyrillic Confederation have all agreed to wait and see. The military is on standby, and the fleet is being redeployed. We may not have a very big stick, as you say, but we would prefer to hold it by our side, not to wave it around like your Teddy Roosevelt. The only political ethic you North Americans seem to know is threat and intimidation. That may have worked back when you were the only superpower, but for a second-rate power, run by one who raises the venerable cow for food, it seems inappropriate."
"My, my," said the President, his calm demeanor betrayed by white-knuckles and red-tinged ears. "Resorting to name calling are we?" Turning his back to the Secretary General he took a deep breath, smiled, and gave a reassuring wink to Secretary of State Lincoln. Putting on his stern face, he turned back. "The big three aren't going to lock us out of the negotiations. I'll be there representing this great nation of ours, or you'll see just what this broken-down, old cowboy can do." He smiled broadly for a moment then watched as an aid approached the Secretary General and whispered something into his ear. At the same time Norman Schwarzenegger, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, approached the President.
"Mr. President," said Schwarzenegger as he leaned forward with his right hand shielding his mouth from the viewer, "there here! Their ship just dropped out of light speed near the Sun."
The President and Secretary General looked back at each other. As though each instinctively knew the thoughts of the other, they nodded in agreement then each turned back to their entourage. Somehow Sam knew the time for bickering had past; they would stand together now.
The viewer switched to a display of the Solar System suspended in dimensional space. A solid line showed the ship's trajectory running parallel to the Solar System's planetary plain then it turned and dropped toward the sun. From the Sun a dashed line curved out on an intercept course with Earth.
"They're using the Sun's gravity to help decelerate," said Sam. "We'll soon know if it bears a Dove of Peace or the Sword of Damocles." They all watched as the solid line extended, one dash at a time, toward Earth.
It took a little over two hours for the craft to decelerate and enter a stationary orbit above the Pacific Ocean near the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line. The ship looked similar to Glennville, with six thick cylinders in the shape of a hexagonal wheel connected by spokes to a central hub. Aside from being three times larger, the major difference was the configuration of the six spokes. They ran at a forty-five-degree angle from the junctions of the cylinders to the blunt end of a five-mile long hub. The outside diameter of the wheel was six miles, while the cross sectional width of each cylinder was a little over a mile.
"They must come from a large planet," said Sam looking at a scratch-pad he had borrowed. "If we assume that the living quarters are inside the wheel. Its rotational speed is generating a gravitational force of 1.26 g's."
"What's that?" said Mo, as five objects left the ship's hub and spread out across the globe.
"It looks like a surveillance system," said Schwarzenegger, "one satellite above each pole and three along the equator."
"Or a prelude to an attack," said Lincoln as he tilted his head down slightly and glanced out of the corners of his eyes in the general's direction.
"Not Likely," replied Schwarzenegger, a bit louder then necessary. "No invader would give up the element of surprise."
"And no General would lead his troops into battle without first assessing the strength and deployment of the enemy!"
"Enough!" said the President as he raised his left hand momentarily. Pacing before the viewer, his right hand slowly tugged at his nonexistent beard. Stopping, he turned, "Sam, what's the latest from your people at Darkside?"
"I have a call in for Lisa Carpenter on a priority channel right now, Mr. President." Sam turned and signaled a technician, hoping he had gotten through to her. A moment later Lisa appeared on the main viewer.
"Sam, where the hell have you . . ." Her mouth hung open a moment before continuing. "Oh, Mr. President." She paused again looking around the room. Sam nodded at her to continue. "We," she licked her lips with a dry tongue. "We were contacted by the aliens just after they dropped out of light speed about . . ."
"What!" The President glanced with hard eyes at the top row of technicians. "Go on," he said nodding to Lisa.
"We tried to contact you . . . " The president cut off her explanation with a raised hand, then gestured for her to continue. "They asked questions about our languages, English in particular, but they wouldn't answer any questions about themselves. 'Later, first learn talk,' they kept saying."
"Oh great!" said Sam in a voice not quite muffled enough. That's just what we need: aliens trained in diplomacy by Lisa, he thought.
"They kept asking about the meaning of phrases, mostly slang and jargon. Oh, and they wanted to know who our Chief Planetary Historian was. I tried to get them to contact you, sir, but they said," she read from her notes, "'No! Speak to politician useless with history known not.' I finally gave them Janet Goodall's name at the Library of Congress. The rest of the conversation was all about language. Boy, they're fast learners. They started with a three-year old's grammar, and an hour later they were speaking at a high school level."
Over the next several hours, reports came in from people all over Earth. Scientist, reporters, school teachers (especially language majors), and librarians were contacted on their communicators. No visual contacts were made, only audio and data links. At one point the GCC estimated that over 10,000 data links were established between the alien ship and the Global Network. Private data bases were being accessed using user-id's and passwords that the aliens had obtained illicitly, and all the information was flowing back to the ship. The aliens appeared to be working collectively to update a single translation protocol. As each individual question was resolved, the answer became apparent to all.
"Fellow beings of the stars, I bring you greetings from the center of our galaxy." Without preamble, the message appeared in the people's regional language on every ComNet around the globe. It was Earth's first look at the visitors. They appeared hauntingly familiar with large, egg-shaped heads devoid of any hair, but with features similar to, though smaller than, the human face. Their eyes appeared as slits recessed into their head above a broad ridge that might be a nose. Their mouth virtually disappeared when not talking, and the teeth seemed solid rather than individual. It was as if some intergalactic sculptor had molded them from a description of humans without benefit of any dimensions. All the same parts were present, but their proportions were different: short legs on a stocky trunk with long thin arms, and a large head with a narrow chin on a massive neck.
"We come from a distant world called E-den-a. It is about 10,000 light years from the nucleus of the central bulge on the far side of the galaxy in the center of what you call the Sagittarius Spiral Arm. Over the centuries, we have spread to 28 other planets, all within 40 light years of Edena. We found much life, but no other beings who reached for the stars. As our sun began to expand in its antiquity, we knew we had little time before a rogue solar-flare would engulf our home world. We few who remained on our beloved Edena could not bear the thought of it disappearing into the stellar night unremembered. Unlike out brethren who left to create new worlds in their own idealized images, we could not abandon our heritage. We wanted, no, we needed to preserve our art, our culture, and our history -- so it was decided to construct this star cruiser. Our ship, The Seed of Edena, is a monument to our people, for it carries the accumulated knowledge of our race to the stars.
"We left our home planet almost 100 millennia ago in search of other beings; though, to us, only seventy-six years have past. During our voyage we have discovered seven other species whose communication signals had traveled far enough for us to detect. In all but one instance we have shared each others history, and we will carry that knowledge back with us to our own race. We will continue to map the galaxy following the Orion Spiral Arm out, and then return along the Sagittarius Arm. It is a trip of 282 years that will last 371 millennia for those we left behind on other worlds. In the end we will find our people either extinct or evolved far beyond our ability to comprehend. In any case, we will find a new star with a young planet to become the new Edena."
For three hours the Earth stood still. Every eye on the planet was transfixed on the newcomers history. Its effect on people is akin to a religious experience, thought Sam as he looked at the people around him. It's like the coming of Christ, he thought, or the return of Marco Polo to Venice. An event too fantastic to be believed, but too wondrous to be dismissed. It demands an acclamation of faith: to believe without knowing, to accept without hesitation because any other action is unthinkable.
Sam remained by the President's side for two days. There were the obligatory formal meetings where the Secretary General and the leaders of the four major powers pledged peaceful coexistence while implying, to the folks back home, that none of this would have been possible without their leadership. It was all pointlessly political with the real work being done by groups of specialists organized by the newcomers.
"It's about time," said Sam as Lisa appeared on the viewer, "I've been trying to reach you for two days."
"It's been wild," she said. "Working with the Edenans is like making love to a porcupine, there's lots of action but we're the ones getting stuck." She rose from her chair, stretched, and walked around. "They're giving us lots of history but no science. Their favorite expression is, 'In time, it all will become clear.' It's damn frustrating to know they know but won't tell. 'To influence your natural evolution, we want not,' they say. Natural evolution be dammed! If they could just confirm some of our theories, we could leap ahead. It's like being back in junior-high talking to my dad. 'Some day you will look back on all of this and thank me,' he used to say. Why the hell didn't he just tell me how it was and save me all the pain?" she asked rhetorically. Slumping back into her chair, she looked down at her hands. "Actually he did," she said softly. "You know," looking up at Sam she smiled while wiping away a tear with the back of her index finger. "He put up with a lot of crap from my sister and me."
"I know exactly how he felt," Sam said. Reaching out to put his hand on her shoulder he paused, remembering that he was talking through a life-size viewer. "The negotiations with the Edenans would be easier face to face," he continued, "but they have ruled out physical contact because of the possibility of contamination. 'Remember your Aztecs,' they kept saying. I thought they had changed their mind when that small, saucer-shaped ship appeared beside them a few hours ago. Our military thought it might be an atmospheric shuttle, but the Edenans wouldn't say, although they seemed to be very excited about it." Sam frowned and slowly shook his head back and forth. "Which, of course, made the military paranoid -- again!"
"Ms. Lisa," an Edenan with a rather flat head appeared on the viewer. "The most wondrous news, I have. From one of our sister worlds, a ship has arrived. Our existence, they did not know of until the world we last visited, they did find. Soon will others arrive to modify our ship for the flight..." Pausing, he smiled broadly then with his head held high, continued. "No, the jump home."
"Jump?" she asked. "You mean faster than light?"
"No, no, malleable is time, not light," he said sternly. "It's like pulling on a stitch in the fabric of time." Then grinning he said, "In time, it all will become clear." His eye-slits widened in delight. "Much, much time," he said bobbing his head up and down with that silly grin stuck to his face.
"Sam, this is Loddy. He's a physicist," she said winking at Sam, "not a linguist." After the exchange of greetings she asked, "Why did the other ship follow you here?"
"For our history, it is they come," Loddy said with his head held high.
"So they're here for the record of your exploration," said Sam. "You must be very proud."
"No, no!" He shook his head. "Maps they have; studying other worlds for centuries, they have been. History it is they want from us."
"The history of the races you met?" asked Lisa, her eyebrows scrunched in puzzlement.
"No, no! Our history," he said throwing his long spindly arms up in frustration. "The history of Edena it is they search for. A history to them lost over 100 millennia. To them, Edena is just a myth! The myth of a single home planet from which sprang hundreds-of-thousands of worlds."
"It's ironic," said Sam as Loddy left the screen. "When they left Edena, we humans were still in the pre-stone age: running around in furs looking for fire."
"What are the odds," asked Lisa, "that they would find our signals a scant 100 light-years from Earth after traveling 100,000 light-years? Damn slim! No, double-damn slim!"
"Then, to find out that the knowledge they sought, the history of our galaxy, is eclipsed by the knowledge they brought, the history of their own race. Imagine, working seventy-six years on a project only to find it hopelessly out of date. And what are we left with?" Sam rased his eyebrows and gave a mock smile. "A road-map that's 100,000 years out of date!"
"Oh no," said Lisa with a half smile and a gleam in her eye that Sam knew only too well. "Their legacy is not information, but knowledge. The knowledge of what can be done, and if it can be done, by damn, it will be done!"
Let me know if you Like this story & please
leave a comment.
Please rate A Stitch in Time
and let me know what you think. Just click on one of the ratings below.
[ * Stinks
| ** So-So
| *** Good
| **** Great
| ***** Loved It ]
Your feedback is important to me. Any additional comments will be appreciated.
Thanks, Tom Heald.
Free counter provided by Andale on Aug. 29, 2004.