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The Answer

By electrocom Aug 04, 2013 2198 Words
The Answer by Karl Nemsow

Voyager1 sails through deep space all alone. It has been on its journey since 1977 sending back glimpses of the solar system to help humankind find some answers.

One of the greatest questions asked by humankind is what, or who, else might exist out in our grandiose cosmos. A cosmos 13.7 billion years old, which is so massive that it is incomprehensible to the human mind. Dr Vince Hawking tried to comprehend such concepts every single day. It made him wonder if being human was as important as we think, for what does it mean to be human, and what makes us different from all the other objects drifting in the vastness of space. It took a series of unexpected events for him to find the answers.

It was 8 February 2025 when Dr Hawking arrived for his first day of work at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Having struggled for many years in low-paying private space research projects, he was never going to turn down the invitation to work in NASA’s premier space program. He and his girlfriend had moved across the country from Los Angeles to Florida, away from family and friends, to grab this chance of a lifetime.

Vince was the newest and youngest member of the NASA research team and, as with most “new guys” in an organisation, he had to pay his dues and start at the bottom. The bottom rung at NASA was monitoring an old mission, and it was Vince’s job was to track the last twelve months of the legendary Voyager1 space probe—for fourteen hours a day, six days a week. Not that he really minded. Voyager1 had grabbed Vince’s attention since he was a child; its images of Jupiter and Saturn inspiring him to discover more about the cosmos.

Fifty-two days later, Vince’s job was unexpectedly cut short. It was a normal Tuesday and Vince had arisen to a beautiful Florida morning. The soothing sound of the ocean was the only audible sound as the sunshine and a gentle sea breeze swept through his beachfront apartment. Vince’s high-school sweetheart Abby laid sound asleep as he prepared for work. NASA life meant 6 am starts and 10 pm finishes but, for some reason, kissing his sleeping girlfriend goodbye on a beautiful morning like this made all the long hours worthwhile.

It was only a short drive to the Kennedy Space Center. Vince loved the walk from the car park. Seeing the gigantic space shuttle Discovery near the entrance as a monument to past space programs made him appreciate how lucky he was to have this job. As he walked through the doors, the smell of instant coffee and donuts filled his senses.

“Another day in paradise,” Vince whispered to himself.

Armed with a coffee and passionfruit donut, Vince cleared some old printouts from his desk and sat down, not noticing the empty computer screens that were surrounding him. A few seconds later, the lack of computer activity finally registered.

“What’s going on here?” he muttered, pressing every key possible on his keyboard while tapping each screen in a vain attempt to fix the problem. There was no response.

“Damn servers must be down,” he groaned and stood up from his desk. Vince walked down the hall to the office of Dr Silas Miller or, as Vince dubbed him, “the Voyager2 guy”. Vince knocked on his door. Silas swiveled around on his chair in surprise.

“A visitor! And it’s Dr Hawking, no less. To what do I owe this honour?” Miller said sarcastically.

Silas and Vince had never liked one another, even though they were so similar and shared many common interests. One such interest was the upcoming vacancy in the research and development team, which would be available at the end of the year. They were both good enough at math’s to know that two does not fit into one, leaving one of them minding Voyager2 for another twelve months—a task neither of them particularly wanted.

“My systems have crashed, Silas. Have you had any problems?” Vince said sharply, hoping to get out of there as quickly possible.

“Nope, all systems go here, Dr Hawking. Perhaps you should better maintain your equipment. I can call the repair team for you if you like,” Silas snidely remarked.

Vince was exasperated. “No problems, I’ll sort it out,” he replied. He turned around and as he left quietly muttered the words “you smug fuck”, allowing Silas no chance of a reply. Vince returned to his office and confirmed with IT that the servers were indeed all operational.

“Three hours ago all was good, then nothing,” he muttered to himself. “What could it be? Voyager is old -maybe it broke down? Forty-eight years of service isn’t bad, I guess.” Vince reported the demise of Voyager1 to his bosses and soon after it was worldwide news. For weeks, people reminisced about the groundbreaking achievements of the little craft that had finally gone offline.

Several weeks later, a sentimental and inquisitive Vince made a call to long-time friend Seth Shostack. Seth had spent his entire life scanning the skies for radio signals from outer space, and was now head of the Allen Radio Telescope Array and senior astronomer at California’s SETI Institute. Vince needed to confirm in his mind once and for all that Voyager1’s epic journey had actually ended.

“Yeah, Vince, I checked out those co-ordinates for you. V1 is gone. But I just found another weird signal,” Shostack explained.

“Weird signal? Is it Voyager?” Vince asked.

“I’m not sure, it could be a satellite or something, but it’s coming from the direction where Voyager was last plotted. I’ll analyse it over the next couple of days and let you know.”

“Thanks Seth, don’t say anything to anyone though. I don’t want more journalists on my doorstep. I just got rid of them,” Vince joked.

“Not a word,” Seth chuckled.

Two days passed. Two days of Vince pacing around his home waiting to hear an answer from Seth.

“What the hell has been wrong with you the last few days? Sit down!” yelled a frustrated Abby.

“Nothing. I’m fine,” Vince replied. He was a terrible liar.

“Don’t lie to me, Vince,” Abby said. “I’ve known you since high school, I’ve put up with a lot of things, never seeing you, moving across the country to support you, and you can’t tell me the truth?” she asked.

“Abby … I asked Seth to do one last check on Voyager for me,” Vince explained sheepishly.

“Oh for fucks sake, Vince! Voyager? Still! Get over it! It’s gone! It’s been a piece of space junk for over three weeks!”

“No, it’s not Voyager.”

“Well, what then? What is it this time?” she asked.

“Seth …” The phone rang, interrupting Vince before he could explain the situation to Abby. He answered to hear from an excited Seth.

“Vince, I just got the signal analysis back, this is unbelievable,” Seth proclaimed.

“What the hell is it?” Vince asked eagerly.

“Well, it’s Voyager …”

Vince interrupted Seth before he could finish his sentence. “Voyager is alive? That’s impossible!”

“Whoa, let me finish,” Seth replied. “It’s Voyager’s recording.”

“Voyager’s recording? Voyager doesn’t broadcast any recordings.”

“No. It’s the gold record, Vince. It’s being broadcast back to us,” Seth answered.

Vince stood stunned. The gold record had been attached to the hull of Voyager1 and contained especially selected sounds and images to explain life and culture on planet Earth. It was designed to explain to extra-terrestrials who and where we are. Vince realised what the signal meant.

“Impossible!” Vince stuttered.

“No, Vince. Something found Voyager1, deciphered the message and sent an answer.”

“Holy shit, Seth. The answer to the biggest question of them all—is there intelligent alien life! We’ve got it!” Vince shouted.

Abby sat opposite Vince, listening to his every word and trying to comprehend what she had just overheard. A sense of dread overwhelmed her as she ran outside to clear her thoughts.

“There is another thing, Vince. I’ve done some calculations and the signal is getting closer,” Seth advised.

“Closer?”

“Yep, it’s moving towards us. It will reach Earth in about sixteen hours at this rate.”

“It’s Sixteen hours away!” Vince exclaimed, shocked by the short time-frame.

“Vince, I’ll call you back later. I would advise you and Abby get to NASA as soon as possible just to be safe. Talk soon.”

“Safe? What? Why?” Vince asked, but the phone went dead.

Vince placed the phone down and collapsed on the couch, billions of scenarios whirling through his head like a tornado of questions and answers. A tearful Abby suddenly appeared in front of him.

“I heard what you said. Sixteen hours, really?”

“Yeah, but we don’t know what’s going to happen …”

Abby stopped Vince short. “Exactly, that’s why I’m going to the airport to get on the next available flight to LA. I need to get out of here and see my family. Just in case.”

Vince held Abby tightly. “You’ve watched Independence Day too often. It will all be fine, please stay.”

“I can’t. Not this time. I love you, but I need to be with my family. Why don’t you come with me?” she asked, already knowing his answer.

“I can’t. Work needs me, it’s more important than ever that I be there now,” Vince answered.

Abby kissed Vince softly on the lips, embracing him for what she imagined would be the last time, tears streaming down her face as she whispered, “I love you”. Vince felt a maelstrom of emotions as Abby slipped out of his grasp; in a matter of moments she was gone. The room started spinning …

Vince lay on the floor bathed in sunlight as he groaned to life. It was 9 am—twelve hours since he blacked out under the stress of Seth’s discovery and Abby’s sudden departure. His blurry eyes turned to the clock on his kitchen counter.

“Shit!” Vince yelled. He instinctively checked his phone, which showed 92 missed calls. Grabbing his keys, he rushed outside and jumped into his car. The engine roared to life and so too did his mind, as he considered how the world was about to change. Speeding to work, the streets were strangely empty. As he approached the base entrance, a guard wearing a gas mask ran out to his car.

“Dr Hawking, where have you been? We’ve been trying to call you for hours,” he yelled through the dense black mask. “You need to get to hangar two immediately.”

Hangar two was the only building Vince did not have security clearance to enter, although he had heard fantastic stories about the craft that were built and tested there. He sped down the dusty road to the hangar, pulling up in a cloud of stones and dirt at the entrance. Four heavily armed guards dressed in black rushed towards him.

“Put this mask on now!” screamed one of the guards, shoving a gas mask on Vince’s face and leading him into the hangar bay.

As he entered, Vince saw the rest of his research team dressed in black jumpsuits lining up to board a massive black craft. He had his answer to the mysteries of hanger two.

The craft was a perfect triangle, the size of five Boeing 747s, and it shimmered like a bitumen road on a hot summer’s day. Vince stood staring in amazement until he was dragged away to a small room and ordered to don a black jumpsuit and helmet. Once suited up, he was led towards the boarding ramp of the craft where Seth greeted him.

“What the fuck is happening, Seth?”

“We got another message,” he explained.

“What was it?” Vince asked.

“An eviction notice. In about 45 minutes from now, Earth’s new tenants are moving in,” Seth explained grimly. “Two hours ago, thousands of silver orbs descended all over the earth and expelled a pale blue gas.”

“And?”

“Everyone started dying.”

Vince reeled in horror, thinking instantly of Abby.

“You know how flea bombs work, Vince?” Seth asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, we’re the fleas.”

Vince stopped walking.

“Let’s go, Vince, we have to go.” Seth urged.

“I can’t go without Abby.”

“Don’t be stupid, Vince, we have to go before it’s too late.”

“Seth, I can’t go. I’ve just figured out the answer to the questions I’ve been asking for most of my life. It’s been right in front of me for so long. I have to find Abby before it’s too late.”

The ramp began to close behind Seth. “What are you talking about? It’s already too late. Vince, you can’t stay?”

“I have to try. I’m staying. Good luck, Seth”. The two friends’ hugged goodbye before Seth ran up the closing ramp.

Vince sprinted out of the hangar and gazed skywards as the massive craft rose from the ground and shot up into the sky. After years of trying to solve humanity’s mysteries by studying the expanses of the cosmos, Vince had finally discovered that the only real answer to the question of what makes us human comes from within.

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