Chapter Nine

Arecibo, Puerto Rico: Arrival -53 minutes

  Nights in the Caribbean fall slowly, as if the sun were on a dimmer that is dialed down by someone who doesn’t want the day to end. The bird calls die down just as slowly, but once night is come the insect sounds take over all at once, a cacophony of chirps and squeaks and buzzing that give the culprits ownership of the night.

Pudge walked out into this nightly din and was immediately hit by a curtain of humidity. He broke into a light sweat, and looked down the hill towards the radio observatory base and offices. The clinic he had just exited sat one hundred and fifty meters above it. He limped downhill and each step he struggled to place all his weight on his good leg. As he took to the slope, the casts and humidity created the ultimate torture: a scratch you cannot itch.

He hoped his password still worked – accessing his computer terminal would at least alleviate that other itch – curiosity. Something he had seen when he first found the signal gnawed at him. It was not until partway down his fall, after jumping from the railing, that the realization of what it had been hit him. He had bounce-slid-toppled off the tree where the fronds and coconuts met, and on his way to the ground he had realized that his wrist was broken (wow - its flopping as I fall), and also what he had missed when he found the signal. He still had time for two more thoughts before the pond greeted him – one; He no longer wanted to die (kinda late, no?) and two; that coconut is falling at the same speed he is, (darn it if Galileo was right after all). Then blackness eclipsed all thoughts and he felt nothing but cheated.

Now he was on his way to confirm his suspicion. He entered the offices by swiping his employee card. That worked. Good so far, he thought. Climbing the stairs gingerly he approached his terminal and pulled out his chair, noticing that the lights were on but the offices were empty. His terminal was always on, and he only needed to enter his screen and system passwords to access his data.

A few keystrokes brought him to the signal page. There it was.  As the very end of the incoming signal was amplified it seemed to become a “standing wave”. Jesus, he mouthed. He quickly understood what could cause this, but not the why. A wave needed an exact, opposite wave to appear as a standing wave.

As he tried to figure out how, his cell phone rang. He picked it up and placed it against his ear, his shoulder holding it in place as he used his free hands to type additional commands with the keyboard.

“Hello?” Pudge answered without taking his eyes off the screen.

“Pudge, It’s Mike. What is going on? How did you get that sequence of numbers?” Mike asked, sounding like a kid asking a magician the secret to his trick.

“Mike, this is unbelievable! Listen, I found this signal and there’s this other signal, and they are interacting…” Pudge sounded incoherent.

Mike interrupted him. “No Pudge, you listen carefully, I need you to get as far underground as you can as quickly as possible. Something terrible is likely to happen within the hour and I don’t know how anyone is going to survive but getting as far underground as possible is your best chance. Call Mom and Dad and have them do the same thing, I don’t have time. I could barely get away to make this call. Not a basement, you understand? Somewhere deep, I don’t know, a bomb shelter, or a cave, but deeper, much deeper. You understand?”

“Mike, there are two signals!”

“Pudge, are you listening to me? You have to get away now!”

“That’s why they appear to be a standing wave at the end” Pudge’s voice sounded far away.

“Pudge, please, listen to me,” Mike begged, “Please call Mom and Dad now and get away as soon as you hang up the phone. If the worst happens and we’re hit I’ll try to find you somehow. Stay on the island. Wait for me.”

“Mike, don’t you see? There are two signals of the same frequency and modulation. The standing wave happens because the two waves… they’re going in opposite directions.”

Mike finally began to listen to his brother. “What do you mean two signals in opposite directions?”

Pudge paused for a beat before replying, as if in prayer, “Mike, someone is responding from Earth.”


Chapter Ten