Chapter Seven

Ithaca, New York and Arecibo, Puerto Rico

“Michael?” Pudge’s voice sounded weak and hoarse.

“Where have you been, Pudge? Dad and Mom have been worried sick trying to reach you,” Michael said, his tone betraying his annoyance at having to ask his brother the same question so many times before under different circumstances.

“Michael, I’ve… I’ve had an accident. Don’t worry, nothing major, just a concussion, Pudge said, purposely omitting the fact he had broken leg his and clavicle.

“Pudge, what happened?” Michael asked. His voice softened, anger turned to concern for his younger brother.  

“I … fell off the fourth floor balcony here a couple of days ago, but it was okay, I only fell about twelve feet onto a palm tree.” Pudge failed to mention that he then bounced and fell another twenty-two feet into a pond filled with startled and very loud little frogs.

“When did this happen? How the hell did you fall off a balcony?” Mike sat up and twirled the phone cord. Was it really an accident? Michael pondered, Pudge had always been in trouble, but he was a fragile soul, a good man who allowed fate to dictate his miseries.

“You sure you’re okay? Can I do anything for you?” Michael un-twirled his finger from the phone cord.

“Yes. I mean, yes to the okay part. No to the needing help, but thanks.”

“Call Mom and dad as soon as you can, then. Please let me speak to Director Ramos.”

“Sure Mike…and Mike? Did you... did you get my card? My birthday card?”

Michael felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise; perhaps Pudge was injured much worse than he had admitted to. “What are you talking about, Pudge? My birthday isn’t for another five months. You sure you’re okay? Maybe you should be checked out further.”

“Great. I’m glad you got it. Happy birthday, I love ya bro… I’ll hand you off to Director Arenas.”

“Michael? Your brother will be fine. He has had the best care on the island.” Ramos said.

“Director… I must apologize for my inappropriate behavior towards you earlier. I’m very sorry. I was worried about my brother and…”

The Director interrupted him mid-sentence.

“That is all understandable and forgiven, my dear friend, however I must discuss another matter with you. Robert, do you mind excusing us? I must speak privately with your brother.” He said, the words ‘dear friend’ meant to mock Michael.

Michael heard the squeak of a chair slide on tile, and a muffled response from his brother. His heart suddenly ached to see Pudge.

“Now Michael, I have been asked by the Pentagon to recommend a top Exo-planetary astronomer. Of course, your name was at the top of my list, so they asked me to contact you in their behalf. Your help is needed in matters of great importance. I can’t share all the details with you, but you are to call the office of the President’s Chief of Staff.  I will email you his contact information.”

Ramos’ tone was nearly subservient, and Michael was surprised. Why would Director Ramos be so nice? Why would he recommend me? He wondered, as he rested back into his high-back chair and considered his response for a few seconds. He doesn’t know what it’s about… and I highly doubt he recommend me… but then why is he the one telling me about it?

“Thank you, Director, I’ve been expecting that info” Michael lied, gambling that his intuition was right and Ramos knew nothing.

“You’re welcome. Can I be of any assistance on this matter?” The director’s voice was light as a feather, “Uh, they didn’t really provide any details about this important matter”

This guy was unbelievable and Michael was enjoying this. “Director, as you know, I am not allowed to discuss matters of national security. But I appreciate your putting my name forth. I will certainly tell the Pentagon how much I appreciate your doing so.”

“Oh, yes, thank you… but there is no need for that. Your name, well, they already were considering you, but I helped to put you over the top as the right choice,” Ramos backpedaled, “But if you find that Washington could use my expertise too…”

 Michael interrupted Ramos, “Well… No. The email in a timely manner would be enough. Thank you Director.” Michael hung up without hearing a return goodbye. What a slimy bastard.

All in all, not a bad day, he thought, staring at his computer screen while his hand worked the mouse to bring up his email. Nope, not bad at all - His brother was alive; clumsy, but alive - Ramos had been put in his place and was filled with envy and curiosity, and the White house needed his services. Even the forecasted additional twelve inches of white shit couldn’t ruin his day now.

Michael chortled as the computer pinged to signal an incoming email. Aha! The little fucker had sent it right away!

He opened the email. It contained three pieces of information. The first two he expected: the contact name and phone number, but the third froze him to his seat and dried all the saliva in his mouth. His mind did a reverse and started to rewind to the last comment his brother had made.

The one about the birthday card.

The card.

The letter.

The sticky note.

The third piece of information on the email was a simple series of numbers:
15 19 25 07 43 20y

Michael’s thoughts raced through his brain as he stared at the numbers- What the hell is going on? How did Pudge know that number, and what does it represent? Was he trying to tell me something?

He rubbed his eyes as he felt the beginnings of a migraine. The number sequence remained burned on his retinas and formed white ghosts against the back of his eyelids. They seemed familiar, and tickled around the edges of his recognition, floating.

“I know,” Michael said aloud, as he reached for the mouse on his desk and punched the numbers into a program he had helped develop.

The program spit out a name, and he smiled.

“Gliese,” Michael whispered, as he drummed the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a triumphant staccato on the edge of his desk, “Gliese C.”

Chapter 8