A Bridge to Earth
by Richard Merlin Smith
|Chapter 3, part 1|
The history begins millions of years ago and light-years away. The story commences a few thousand Earth years ago: a brown dwarf a rogue star with its attendant planets travels on a collision course toward the system of a yellow sun. Soon their disparate plasma sheaths begin to interact, and the Guardians and Stewards must make fateful decisions.
The Guardian paused in its ritual meditation on the Hill of Contemplation and turned its attention in the direction of the sudden disturbance just a few yards away. It focused its optical sensors on the unexpected intruder.
The Guardian’s first reaction was astonishment. A god has returned, it thought. But this is not in accord with the prophecy. The Guardian performed a rapid calculation. It has been 567 years, by the new reckoning, since the gods left. Their promise was that they would return at the passage of 1,861 years.
* * *
The amount of time that Fred had spent taking in the strange landscape had been less than a minute but when the initial shock subsided he became aware that he was shivering uncontrollably. His ears, nose and chin were getting numb and his throat ached. The temperature must have been well below zero and he was being quick-frozen where he stood.
He had no idea what to do, but he was rapidly heading toward panic and he knew he had to get out of there. He drew his arms up against his chest and began walking in place to increase circulation to his extremities. That didn’t make him any warmer, and after a few seconds he got terribly dizzy and was seeing spots. He went down on one knee and lowered his head to keep from passing out.
* * *
The Guardian noted the ungainly stance, the odd external adornments, the awkward motions of the intruder. Very un-godlike, it thought. Clearly, this is not a god. But what, then?
* * *
When Fred’s vision cleared, he was staring at the shaver still clutched in his hand. He could see the distorted reflection of one bloodshot eye in the strip of chrome at the base of the shaver’s cutting heads. The reflection was oddly dark, like polished obsidian, and it flickered redly.
He felt drawn to it and couldn’t look away. He tried to rise but he was so weak and numb that his legs crumpled when he was half erect and he pitched forward, his gaze still locked on the dark reflection of his face.
As he fell back to the ground he cracked his head on something hard and rolled heavily onto his back.
Instinctively he put his hand on his head and he could feel the warm blood oozing from the cut on his scalp. Although he was losing consciousness he tried to get back to his feet, using a boulder for support. But his hand, slippery from the blood, kept sliding off.
Just before he passed out he remembered looking up and seeing, not the pinkish sky, but the white walls and ceiling of his bathroom and a bloody smear on the side of the commode.
* * *
To the astonishment of the Guardian, the intruder vanished. There was a sudden bloom of rosy light where the intruder had been and then, nothing. The Guardian pondered the incident for a long, long time.
October 12, 9:45 a.m. EDT — NSA Headquarters
Jake’s phone rang at 9:45 am. It was Marian Burns, supervisor of the Communications Monitoring Group.
“What’s up?” he quipped when she identified herself.
“You said to notify you if there were any more of those odd transmissions,” she answered.
Jake sat up straight and swiveled his chair around to face his desk. “You’ve got some more,” he stated.
“One more,” she said. “It was detected at 9:30 this morning. I loaded it into the screening processor. You can access it any time.”
“Thanks, Marian,” he said, “you’ve made my day.”
“Any time, Jake.”
Jake swung back around to his computer keyboard and used the system menu to select the SIGINT screening processor display. He entered the values for the code field that would isolate the items of interest. There was a three-second delay while the records were being searched and selected and then the monitor rapidly displayed five lines of data. Sure enough, the fifth item had the same characteristics and came from the same area as the other four.
He keyed a few characters that would copy the five lines to a file in the computer on his desk and then he pressed the escape key to get back to the main menu, where he selected an item labeled “ELECTRONIC MAIL.” He addressed a message to Curt Jackson, his supervisor, an NSA specialist in communications techniques, then appended a copy of the file containing the list of five items that he had previously saved.
He picked up his phone and punched two speed-dial buttons that would connect him through the office intercom system to Jackson’s phone. After two rings, Jackson’s answering machine opened the connection and declared that Mr. Jackson was not in at the moment and please leave a message at the tone. “Hey, Jackson,” said Jake, “read your e-mail. I just sent a copy of a transmission report that I’d like you to look at.”
He started to hang up and then added, “Call me as soon as you can.”
He replaced the telephone receiver in its cradle and turned back to his terminal. Hands poised over the keys, he thought for a moment, remembering the commands necessary to do the next thing that he wanted to do. He quickly keyed an entry into the computer that gave access to a database of stored digitized images of waveforms and frequency spectra of the radio transmissions recorded by the screening processor.
When the next input screen came up he entered the record numbers of the five transmission events and selected “PRINT” from the menu on the screen. A few seconds later, his laser printer whirred softly and doled out five sheets of white bond with neatly drawn waveforms and spectral plots of the transmissions that he had selected.
Ten minutes later Curt Jackson arrived at work and entered his office juggling a mug of coffee that he had picked up in the secretary’s office, along with the morning paper and his briefcase. He dropped the paper on his desk, set the briefcase on the floor, sat down in his chair and punched the “Play” button on his answering machine. Jake’s message was the only one on the recorder this morning and Curt grinned at Jake’s impatience as he sipped his coffee and listened to the message.
* * *
Jake placed small, colored magnets on the five charts to array them on Curt’s writing board and pointed at them as he began to speak.
“These transmissions were recorded over a period of three days, all from the same area in Southern California. They all follow the same general pattern; first a few seconds of broadband radio noise that slowly increases in amplitude then abruptly changes to a pulse-modulated signal. The modulated signal increases rapidly in amplitude, and pulse rate remains constant for a time and then changes rapidly back to broadband noise.
“Near the end of the transmission the power level increases rapidly for a few seconds and then suddenly the signal stops. The onset and termination of the transmissions give the impression of a door being slowly opened and then slammed shut.”
He paused briefly and looked at Curt who merely looked back expectantly.
Jake turned back to the board and went on. “Three of the transmissions occurred at virtually the same time, 6:00 a.m, on three separate days, the ninth, tenth and eleventh of this month. The noise portions of each are the same length, about seven seconds, but the modulated part is longer each day.
“The first day it was about ninety seconds; the second day it was just under three minutes; and the last is about four minutes. Notice, too, that the relative power level at the end of the 11 October event is twice the amplitude of the others.
“On the tenth there were two other transmissions closely following the one at 6:00 a.m. One was at 6:05 a.m. and the other was at 6:22 a.m. They have similar characteristics, but the relative power levels were much lower, although the modulation periods lasted until nearly 6:40. The analysts are still trying to pinpoint the source.”
“You mean they’re having trouble?” asked Curt. “That should be a simple exercise in triangulation.”
“Should be is right,” Jake said as he peered over the top of his glasses, “and it would be for any normal radio source. But this isn’t normal. It’s not a point source.
“In fact, the detectors see it as a quarter-mile hemisphere sitting somewhere along the foothills near Glendora — about thirty miles east of Los Angeles. The power measured by the detectors is the same at all points in the volume. It doesn’t diminish as the detector moves off the center, it just drops off suddenly as the detector sweeps past the edge of the volume of space.”
Curt’s eyes widened and he shook his head. “That sounds more like the description of an astronomical radio source. What do the analysts think it is?”
“Interestingly, they think that it’s the byproduct of a mechanical process rather than an intelligent communication.” He spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders. “And they’ve even speculated that someone is experimenting or trying something out.”
Curt’s silent response was a raised eyebrow.
“I know,” said Jake, “it seems a bit far-fetched, but they all agree that it feels that way.”
“This is very unusual,” Curt mused, “probably unique.”
“I thought so too,” Jake replied, “but it isn’t unique. Two years ago similar patterns were recorded from northern California near Shasta City.” He paced slowly in front of the marking board. “We have no detailed information from those incidents, because the monitoring station was too far away and there weren’t enough repetitions to get more data.”
He stopped pacing and sipped his coffee before going on. “This incident confirms the legitimacy of the earlier detection and indicates that the activity, whatever it was, is still going on. Since the nature of the transmission is unknown, I think we should have the FBI investigate it for us.”
Curt pursed his lips and shook his head slightly, “Not just yet, I think. I’d like to know more about it before we bring in the Bureau.”
“Do we have a field agent in the area?”
“More than likely we do.” Curt stood and reached to pick up his coffee cup from the desk top. “I’ll clear it with the boss. Why don’t you get all the necessary information ready and check the roster to see who’s available in the area. I’ll let you know as soon as I get the clearance.”
“Right, I’ll see you later.”
Jake walked back down the wide hall toward his office. On the way he stopped at the secretarial office to refill his coffee cup. Damn, he thought irritably, someone took the last cup and didn’t make a fresh pot. He emptied the old filter and grounds into the waste basket, washed out the pot and then refilled the reservoir with cold water. As he put in a new filter and scooped the fresh grounds, the charts of the strange radio transmissions intruded into his thoughts.
October 12, 10:55 a.m. PDT — Glendora, California
The next thing that Fred remembered was waking up on his back in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The doctors released him after a thorough examination. They could find nothing wrong except for a minor scalp wound and an obviously shaky emotional state.
Even though he showed symptoms of exposure they were unable to account for it. He didn’t help them by offering an explanation. Margie had followed the ambulance in their car, and they sent him home with instructions to get some rest.
* * *
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Merlin Smith