Infinity 7 is a science fiction novel involving space travel in the near future and first contact with strange aliens in a most unexpected way.
I am posting it in installments for all to read. Enjoy!
Metis 3 Communications Center, San Diego, CA
Assistant ground controller, Hailey Cantwell, stands in front of a command-and-control screen in the sterile communications room at the Metis Communications Center. The plain white carbon reinforced polymer and steel box is adorned with Roman Tuscan architectural columns, intended to create spatial tension, and as an artistic distraction from its tepid decor. Hailey wears a heavy cardigan under a white knee-length lab coat to help keep herself from shivering in the cool environment. All rooms are kept at sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit to insure the computers run at maximum efficiency.
In front of her is a free-floating hologram. The image depicts a brightly lit black box, about three inches square, slowly rotating from left to right. She touches the space bar on the air keyboard and the box stops spinning. It begins to pulsate, expanding and contracting at regular intervals, as if breathing.
“Hey, Jeb. Come here and look at this.” A similarly dressed man wearing black-rimmed glasses walks over to her console.
“What have you got?”
“It’s a message from Metis 3.”
“Odd. When is our next scheduled communications link-up?”
“Not until 10.00 a.m. tomorrow.”
“That’s what I thought.” He leans in closer to inspect the holographic image. “That looks like an old-fashioned screen saver.”
“Yes, but it came in from Metis.”
“Why would they send that in a communiqué?”
“I was about to ask you that question.”
“Whose signature is on it?”
“There isn’t one.”
“There has to be.” He punches in a few more commands on the airboard. The box begins pulsating more quickly now, turning purple and expanding in size. “Is this a joke?”
Hailey laughs, as if suddenly getting it. “It’s Forrest. Forrest has to have sent this.”
“Or Greely. He’s a joker.”
Hailey rolls her eyes. “She’s a joker. She’s a she.”
Jeb hits the space bar again. “Of course. I know that…”
The box turns scarlet, then bright yellow. Hailey smiles. “Rainbows.”
Jeb types in a few more commands, but the box is unaffected. “Are you sure it’s from Metis 3?”
“I’ve checked the frequency twice.”
A miniscule signature code appears at the bottom of the box. “There it is. But, I don’t recognize the point of origin.” He tries to magnify the image, but the font remains small and illegible.
The box continues to expand, evolving into a shade of dark blue. As it reaches about ten-inches in diameter, there is a sudden and colorful explosion. The box fragments into a thousand miniature slow-motion fireworks streaming and falling, then fading away. As the dots dissolve, tiny red numbers emerge from the bottom of the message. As the numbers grow in size, it becomes clear they are an equation.
Jeb runs his hand through his well-trimmed hair. “This is a bad joke. A waste of time!” He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead and adjusts his glasses. Finally, he stands back from the screen and sighs. The equation grows until the font is about eight inches high, transitioning from blue to yellow to orange.
4Al + 3O₂ = 2Al₂O₃
The equation rotates, like a roast on a spit. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Hailey punches a few keys on the airboard. “Computer. What is the origin of the equation in this communiqué?”
Jeb scribbles on a small airpad with his finger. “O usually stands for Oxygen…The A means…”
A soft, feminine voice fills the room. “The communiqué originates from Metis 3 Space Station.”
Jeb rolls his eyes. “We realize that. Who on board sent it?”
“The message originates from the Metis 3 Space Station mainframe.”
“The Metis 3 computer sent this?”
“That is correct.”
Hailey looks at Jeb, who shrugs. “What’s with the equation?”
“That is not within my knowledge base.”
Hailey keys in more commands. “It’s definitely a formula, but for what?”
Jeb scribbles furiously on his airpad, as if an unspoken rivalry between them spurs him on to finish first. “It’s an equation. It has an equals sign.”
Hailey clears her throat. “Right. I knew that. Computer, who at Command has authorization to read this communiqué?”
“Level 3 clearance and password is required.”
Jeb frowns. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Hailey smirks at her coworker. “Computer, who’s authorized at Level 3?”
The computer voice drones, “I do not have that information.”
“You don’t know who is at Level 3?” Hailey asks.
“That is correct.”
Jeb runs his hand through his hair. “Damn it. Computer, forward this communiqué to command headquarters…and stop wasting my time.”
“I am not authorized to forward Level 3 communiqués.”
“More craziness.” Jeb clears his throat. “Computer, connect me to Metis Program Headquarters.”
Almost instantly, a young woman’s face appears in the center of the room. The computer-generated communication hologram turns clockwise until it faces them.
“Metis Program Headquarters, how may I be of assistance?” The young woman speaks in a pleasant, but obviously artificial tone.
“This is Jeb Craine at Communications. Badge number 314159. I need to speak to…” he turns and frowns sarcastically at Hailey, “…a Level 3 person.”
The woman’s eyes blink twice. “Please repeat?”
“I have a Level 3 communiqué from Metis 3. I need to know where to direct this.”
The holographic face freezes momentarily, obviously running through her data files, then smiles. “Hold, please.” The face fades into a relaxed expression, and her eyes go dark.
After a few minutes, the woman’s face lights up. She smiles and turns toward Jeb, who is now sitting behind a white desk across the room. “The Director’s Office asks that you download the encrypted message into a holovessel and hand deliver it to Metis Command. You are to arrive in person, no later 3:30 p.m. today to deliver this vessel. Thank you for calling Headquarters. How may I further assist you?”
“Okay, that’s fine. End communication,” he says. The face fades away. Jeb takes off his glasses and wipes the lenses with a white hanky. “I guess I’ll have to run this over myself.”
“I’ll go, if you like,” Hailey says, trying to contain her enthusiasm.
Jeb looks at his airpad, busying himself with the equation. “All right. You go.” After a slight pause, as if reading a cue card, he adds, “But I want a full report. And come right back.”
“It’s a long ride up the La Jolla, Jeb. Heavy traffic. How about I just head home after I report?”
Jeb sighs and looks up at her. “Fine. But first thing in the morning let me know exactly what they said.”
“You got it, boss.” She winks at him, and his pale putty face reddens.
Metis Mission Headquarters
Mission Director Dr. John Collins, PhD in astrophysics, stands on a small stage in Lecture Hall 1. He’s finishing up a promotional lecture on the Metis Program. The room is darkened. His handsome face is bottom-lit from a screen in front of the podium, giving him an ethereal orange glow. Behind him is an enlarged three-dimensional holographic image depicting carbonate globules attached to a moon rock. Various speckles of colored shapes dotting a forest-green rock surface shimmer like fool’s gold. The same image hovers in front of each seated audience member, their eager faces aglow from the visuals before them.
“Various structures we’ve identified, tiny carbonate globules, are indications that some form of life did exist in these rocks, it is estimated as long as thirty thousand years ago. We’ve found many types of magnetites in several morphologies. But these in particular,” the scientist points to a few gold-colored globules in the slide, “were found on the first dig by Metis Team 1, near Theophilus on the moon’s surface. As you may know, Theophilus is a huge crater near the center of the moon’s disk.”
A holographic image of Theophilus appears and rotates above them, revealing various angles illuminated in shimmering sunlight.
“Sixty-four miles in diameter, the crater is enclosed by peaks of eighteen thousand, and sixteen thousand feet. The circumference is nearly three hundred square miles. A little too much for us to explore at present,” polite laughter ripples from the audience, “however, by the end of next fiscal year, our Heavy Equipment Dig Program will be in full operation.”
The image changes to a full shot of the moon from space, then resolves onto the moon’s surface, looking across a huge desert expanse, luring the viewer’s eye up to the rugged mountains resting beneath an inky-black sky.
The next hologram reveals heavy mining equipment. Colossal drills and excavators hover a few feet off the ground on the moon’s surface. Near the equipment, troughs of ore move through the center of a large, clear tubular structure. Sparkling debris glitters as it passes through the tunnel. “Of course, with any luck, this computer-generated mining equipment will soon be replaced by the real thing.” More chuckles emanate from the captive audience.
A 3D holographic image of Metis 3 Space Station materializes into view, replacing the moon hologram. It has an appearance similar to a slowly spinning spoked wheel. “Metis 3 Space Station. She’s approximately one hundred-seventy meters in length, comprised of specialized modules.” In the center of the station is a core module to which all other modules are attached, linked together by a tubular outer walk.
Dramatic music resonates as the station glides effortlessly in lunar orbit. “Metis 3 has reached our moon in record time and will continue to probe the mysteries of its mineral-rich soil. And now, with the advent of the Heavy Equipment Dig Program, we will begin to excavate even further below the surface, eventually branching out further into the mountainous regions.”
The image behind the doctor changes to that of a vast, colorful space nebula. Its black heart is reminiscent of the pupil of a gigantic eye. Blue hues of variable chromatic tonalities, surrounding and uniformly shooting out from the dark center, complete the impression of the iris in a colossal human eyeball.
“It’s our mission, as it was in the beginning, and always shall be, to explore our universe, search for evidence of life forms, and comprehensibly study them. And, of course, ultimately share those discoveries with you.” He pauses, stares into the darkened auditorium until he has everyone’s full attention, then continues. “In knowing what’s out there, we can learn more about our origins, and the planet we call home. Remember, the Metis motto: Discovery is Our Business.”
The familiar image of Earth; the white and blue marble surrounded by the blackness of space, appears behind him.
The lights come up. The audience enthusiastically applauds, then begins to disperse.
A voice emerges from the exiting attendees. “Dr. Collins, isn’t it true that the mission statement you just read is only partially accurate, since most of your funding now comes from mining interests?” A few attendees linger to hear a response.
John has heard this question every day for two years, ever since his private foundation became partially endowed by the Plutus Mining Company. After a small glitch in the moon rover set back the project, and tragically resulted in a fatality involving one of the mission crew, the funding began to dry up. The money has to come from somewhere, and off-world mineral extraction is a very real and profitable challenge. John considers it inevitable that the search for natural resources would fund a portion of the Metis missions. However, off-world mining capabilities are still in their infancy, and something he doesn’t expect to come to full fruition in his lifetime.
“Our mission has not changed.” John smiles. “Science and exploration are our top priorities.” Amid enthusiastic follow-up questions, he heads upstage and ducks out a back entrance to the service area.
In the hallway leading to his office, he is assaulted by the shrill voice of Dr. Beck. “John, John!” He turns to see Beck blustering down the hall, his puffed-up belly leading the charge, his unfashionable tie swinging like a pendulum.
John stops and asks, “What is it, Dr. Beck?”
“Something is happening on Metis 3.”
Beck stares at John, waiting for his cue. Beck always does this: makes him wait, then wring it out of him. John wants to shake him. He takes a deep breath and takes the bait. “What’s happening on Metis 3, Dr. Beck?”
“We’ve received a coded message.”
John lifts an eyebrow. “Coded?”
“Level 3, they said. I’m not aware of a Level 3. What is that? Why don’t I know about it?”
“Not here. In my office.” Beck’s eyes flutter and his mouth gapes open. John ignores these facial tics. “Come.” The men turn together and stride purposely down the hall.
A conference room attached to John’s office holds a long, thick glass table surrounded by six chairs. There awaits the woman from Communications. John glances into the room and recognizes Hailey Cantwell. Her evaluations, he recalls, reveal her to be smart, ambitious, and loyal. Mandatory qualities for consideration at Metis. John and Beck enter. Hailey practically bows to John as they approach. This amuses him slightly, but that amusement is quickly displaced by concern. “I hear you have a Level 3 communiqué?”
“Yes, sir. We received it this morning.” She hands him a small metallic ball. John looks at it, then walks to his desk and plugs it into a slot. A hologram of a red ball appears, hovering approximately eight inches above the desk. This ball has a crystalline quality to it, smooth and reflective with cut edges.
“You may leave now. Thank you.” John nods to Hailey and she turns hesitantly, as if not sure where to find the door. “Is there something else?” he asks her.
She turns to him. “No, no, I…”
“Nothing, sir, thank you. It’s just…” Again, she hesitates. “I’ve never heard of a Level 3, and…”
“Hailey, I want to thank you again for this, and for alerting me to the anomalies you observed in Metis Station’s recent lunar orbit reports. Your initiative and loyalty will not go unrewarded.” Hailey beams. He walks over to her, extending his hand, which she takes. “We need to set up a meeting. I would like to discuss your future here.” He shakes her hand while leading her to the door.
“Thank you, sir.” She nods and bows, walking backward out the door. “I’ll stay on top of those trajectory reports…” She continues to stick her head inside the breach, pulling it back just in time.
“Thank you, Hailey. Thank you.” When the door finally latches, the smile quickly falls from his face, as he turns to Beck. “Call the Committee. They should see this.”
Beck nods and scurries from the room.
To be continued…