Chapter 3

Arecibo, Puerto Rico - January 2012

Pudge Livingston stood leaning on crossed arms against the balcony railing on the fourth floor of the Arecibo space observatory. He looked above him and then toward the horizon, admiring the colors changing from black to red in the early night sky. Below him a jungle ran from the walls of the observatory up and over the rim of the valley where the one thousand foot aluminum panel reflector dish lay. The panels covered over eighteen acres and stood in juxtaposition to the surrounding jungle. At sundown and sunrise Pudge enjoyed listening to the thousands of Coqui frogs creating a noisy din that overwhelmed even the humming noise of the one million watt power station that serviced the observatory exclusively. It was a cool night by Puerto Rican standards, about sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, and a soft breeze came and went, adding to Pudge's relaxation. After 8 years as part of Cornell's team at the observatory, he had finally achieved his goal. He had received a signal. Granted, that was not supposed to be his primary goal, that was supposed to be ionospheric studies, but as a secondary goal through the SETI program he was supposed to spend minimal time scanning the skies for signals. Today, he had received a clear, undeniable signal, and although he did not know the message it contained, he could tell that the sender was moving. Toward earth. And it wasn't far by any standards, just barely entering our solar system.

He had quickly raised the Observatory director and apprised him of the signal. Pudge could barely contain his enthusiasm as he sputtered on and on about the signal. The director's reply had been a surprise. He was advised that he had made a mistake, there was no signal, and to immediately change the sequence that directed the receiver to that slice of space. He was also to report first thing in the morning to the director's office. His work had been shoddy as of late and his duties had to be reassessed.
Pudge had hung up the phone, written the sequence on to a piece of paper and sealed into an envelope. He had addressed it and stamped it and brought it to the mailroom. He had then taken the elevator to the fourth floor and walked out into the balcony.

He knew his career was over. He had done nothing wrong. He should become a celebrity as the first man to receive a signal from another intelligent species.
Instead he would become a laughingstock and lose his job. He would not let that happen. He knew deep in his heart that even if no one else would know, he had been the first.
He knew the obligatory review would lead to an investigation and a disclosure of his personnel file, including the sexual harassment lawsuit that had previously been brought against him by a jilted male lover. The event had been buried as a first warning - it was hard to fire anyone for any reason after a first offense, but this had been egregious and scandalous, and he only survived by a whisker. There would be no second chance, and everything would be revealed. Fat, forty-eight, single and incessantly depressed, Pudge was unwilling to take another step down this life.

Pudge raised his left leg and placed his knee on the railing, slowly teetered evenly upon it, and then slid off.
His scream was drowned out by the call of the Coqui.