Scale 7 Artifact, part 6
Exploration (part 4)
"The current theory is that the radio signals are produced by some kind of non-sentient creature." Jackie said, "But the signals are definitely organized. There was a reference to your theories on identifying organization, Dr. Greaves."
"That must be why they woke me up," Daniel said. "I did a lot of work in the analysis of structure. But this is tremendous! Animals that communicate using radio frequencies. Do we know anything about what they look like?"
Sarah could hardly contain herself, she interrupted, "... What they communicate about? How far apart they live?"
Daniel interrupted back, ".. are they communal like bees or territorial like birds? ..."
Jackie laughed at their excitement. "We don't know anything about them, just the signals. None of the probes has been able to identify the creatures."
Sarah was bouncing on her toes and wringing her hands, "Is the life Earth-like, or based on silicon or something?"
"The proteins are extremely Earth-like," Jackie dropped another bombshell.
Sarah gasped, grabbed the keyboard from Daniel's hands and ran to the big screen. Jackie followed and poor Daniel just stood there with open mouth as they made off with his keyboard. Well. That wasn't really fair. He heaved a big sigh and wandered over to sit next to Sarah on the couch. Sarah grinned at him and scooted over close and whatever resentment Daniel felt vanished like smoke. Of course he was still planning to grab the keyboard back the moment her attention wandered.
But wait. She had leaned back against his arm so that it was trapped behind her body. That made it impossible for him to nonchalantly re-commandeer the keyboard during a pause. He would have to lift his arm over her head to get a hold of it and that would warn her to hold on. He was sure the little vixen had done it on purpose. He grinned at the top of her head. Oh. She was good.
The three of them became absorbed for the next half-hour, seeking out information on Moon 3. As the excitement and familiarity grew, they became less formal and courteous. The two without the keyboard would tell Sarah what to do, and Sarah would ignore them, following her own search. Voices raised. Eventually, in a fit of frustration, Jackie grabbed the board. Daniel thought: Sure, you
don't have one arm trapped. When Sarah became frustrated enough she grabbed the keyboard back. It exchanged hands again. The same sort of arguing --and probably keyboard grabbing-- was going on at the terminal in the corner between Peter Li and Harold Walenski.
It turned out that the issue of Earth-like proteins was more complicated. Spectrums indicated Earth-like proteins and other organic molecules, but there was no detailed chemical analysis. Why didn't the probes analyze chemical samples? The question got lost in the excitement without being answered. There was some spectacular video footage of areas that looked amazingly like Earth forests, but the video footage was surprisingly sparse. Why didn't they have days of non-stop video from a probe visit? This question too was lost without being answered.
Then something even more incredible. Sarah spotted it first. She shouted in excitement, "An artifact! They found an artifact!"
Intelligent life. Peter and Harold heard Sarah from their corner and ran over to see what Sarah had found.
"It's scale 7!" Sarah announced. She kept typing furiously.
"It can't be scale 7," Harold said dismissively, "That would be at least ten million meters across. That's," he looked at the ceiling for a moment, "6000 miles. About the diameter of the Earth. They must mean that it's 7 meters across..." He stopped with his mouth gaping as the moon on the big screen faded to a thermal infrared view. Beneath the clouds, there were several thermal features ringing the moon at the equator. Seven identical objects, enormous, evenly spaced around the moon. Each was perfectly round and over a thousand miles across.
"That... that can't be right..." Harold stumbled. Suddenly he grabbed the keyboard from Sarah and began punching at it. He scrolled rapidly through some geological information --too rapidly for Daniel to follow. Peter and his wife shouted at Harold to slow down. He ignored them until Peter grabbed the keyboard.
Oh, that's great. Daniel thought, Now everyone has gotten to use my keyboard except me.
Peter was obviously stumbling. Harold was about to grab the board back and Daniel thought it was time to reduce the emotional levels before things got out of hand. "Mr. Walenski!" Daniel spoke sharply to get the man's attention and then switched tone, too quickly for the man to take offense, "You were going too fast for me. What did you find out?"
"They're natural formations, not artifacts. Huge meteor craters, miles high and miles deep. Any one of the meteor strikes should have shattered the moon, but somehow the energy was reduced. Perhaps they hit very slowly or maybe the meteors were some very light substance." Harold eyed the keyboard covetously from the corner of his eyes. "Some researchers have speculated that they were satellites of Moon 3 all sharing an orbit and by some unknown mechanism of orbital mechanics, they sorted themselves out into equal-spaced distances as their orbits decayed."
"Sure," Sarah said rudely, "Something unknown about that mysterious new theory called Newtonian mechanics."
Daniel interrupted Harold's retort, "Why are they calling it one scale 7 object instead of seven scale 6 objects?"
"Because they are all connected." Sarah answered, looking at Harold with a challenge. "If they are just meteor craters, can he explain how weather balloons sent into one crater come out another? And why are they all exactly the same size? More of that mysterious Newtonian mechanics?"
"First, young lady," Harold answered, "Newtonian mechanics may be an old science, but the multi-body problem is still intractable. And second, the moon is extraordinarily light, so it is not unreasonable to think there are huge caverns below the surface. Possibly formed by boiling gases at the times of the collisions.
"Bubbles aren't passages." Sarah said dismissively.
"Over time, the thin walls of the bubbles broke down until they created large passages between various craters." Harold was visibly angry now.
"That's completely implausible. The crust would collapse." Sarah said.
"Don't tell me what's implausible, young lady!" Harold shouted. "I'm a geologist."
"Dear..." his wife began.
But Sarah was already on her feet and about to explode. Daniel stood and spoke first, "Sir!" He was not nearly as quick as Sarah, but she had stopped to struggle for words, letting Daniel get in first, "I'll have an apology for your manner." He wondered if he was about to issue the very first formal challenge outside of the solar system.
Harold and Sarah both paused, giving Harold's wife time to jump in, "Really dear. You don't even know Miss Osmena and you are shouting at her."
Harold looked at his wife and his attitude changed immediately. "I ... I shouted? Well of course, that was completely improper." With apparent difficulty he met Sarah's eyes and gave a small bow, saying, "I apologize for my behavior, miss. It was quite un-called for."
Sarah looked like she was going to be stubborn, but she glanced at Daniel and then answered Harold with her own small bow. "Thank you, sir. I accept your apology."
Harold looked at Daniel. "Will that be adequate, sir?"
"Not quite." Daniel told him. "I believe Sarah has something to add." Sarah was very defensive and stubborn, but she had been rude also. And if she didn't apologize, it could lead to long-term bad feelings. He looked at her meaningfully. She glared back defiantly.
Guilt wouldn't do it. He'd have to try affection. Daniel nudged her shoulder with his elbow. She glared at him defiantly. He nudged her again and gave her The Look. The one that a grandfather gives that says, I'm proud of you, but I'm starting to be a bit disappointed. She rolled her eyes at him. But then she leaned against Daniel and looked back at Harold, "I apologize too, sir. I was rather rude."
Harold smiled. Problem solved. Except that Sarah was about to add a snippy "but" that would negate the apology. Daniel interrupted her again, "Miss Osmena is a planetologist. She received her master's at the age of sixteen."
"Well." Harold was visibly impressed. "Well, I guess I owe you another apology for not respecting your intelligence miss." The flattery defused Sarah and the crisis was over.
Daniel made formal introductions all around. During the introductions, he tried to snag the keyboard back. Unsuccessfully.
As Daniel plotted his next move on the keyboard, they were interrupted by the door. The new resident was a black man, not much larger than Sarah. Daniel couldn't place the man's age or race with any certainty. Probably an Australian aborigine or an African pigmy. Probably in his forties or fifties. To Daniel's surprise, Sarah squealed and abandoned his side to launch herself at the new arrival. Well. She hadn't squealed for Daniel. Sarah and the newcomer embraced for a long time, far too long for courtesy.
Instead of waiting politely for an introduction, Daniel sat back down on the couch to watch what Peter was doing on the screen. Unfortunately, Peter wasn't very good at navigation, and Daniel wished someone could grab the keyboard from him. But wait! There was now an unoccupied terminal in the corner! It called to him like a siren. But how to get to it without drawing anyone's attention to the coveted source of power?
The keyboard issue had become a game. Oh well, if he was playing a game, he should play to win. Let those other losers get their own keyboards, Daniel thought as he slid into his humorous competitor persona. He started to grin but suppressed it. Mustn't make the other team suspicious. If there were a race to the terminal, Daniel would lose. Old age. But what he gave up in agility he more than made up for in wit. Ha. These losers were so-o-o outclassed. Yes, stealth was called for. Stealth, but quick action also. Soon one of his younger and quicker adversaries would also remember the terminal ...
Daniel felt Sarah's tiny hands on his shoulders from behind. "Daniel, can I introduce you to someone?" Ah HAH! Just the break he had been looking for. Daniel stood up and moved around the couch, ostensibly to shake hands, but in such a way that he ended up with his back to the unused terminal, closer than anyone else in the room. Don't look at it; Sarah will pick up the look and grab the terminal. Daniel imagined himself chuckling and rubbing his hands together evilly.
"Dr. Daniel Greaves, I'd like you to meet my good friend, Primetech Flareout."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Flareout." Had to get introductions over quickly. Politely but quickly. The open terminal beckoned.
Sarah interrupted his mental machinations, "Not 'mister', 'primetech'. It's not his first name, it's a title like 'doctor' or 'general'."
"My mistake, sir." Daniel corrected himself quickly, "I'm pleased to meet you, Primetech Flareout." Nuts. A delay in the plan.
"No harm done, sir." the man responded. "And I'm glad to meet you, Dr. Greaves."
"Do you have a first name?" Daniel visualized a small-talk meter in his head. Once it hit four, no three exchanges, he could make his move.
"Not any more, Dr. Greaves. In my section of the spacetech guild, one gives up his previous name and takes on a name granted by his master committee."
"Oh!" The details suddenly clicked into place in Daniel's mind. "The spacetech guild; a primetech is the top title of the guild, right? Even above grandmaster." That was two small talks.
"Actually, it is at the same level as a grandmaster." the primetech said. "You can be promoted from master either by specializing in one area, making you a grandmaster in that area, or by becoming a master in several different areas, making you a primetech."
I don't need an encyclopedic answer here, I'm in a hurry, Daniel thought. Oh no. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Harold Walenski looking back at the open terminal. He had to rush over now! No, that would break the rules. Three small talks. Daniel had position. He just had to make the last small talk quick and he could still outmaneuver that duplicitous Walenski guy.
Sadly, fate intervened and the door opened again. Nuts. Three more small talks. Minimum.
The latest visitor was a young man in his early thirties. Dark complexioned. Very good looking. The young man entered a bit hesitantly. To Daniel's surprise, Sarah took the imitative to greet him first. Was it was the man's hesitant manner that made Sarah feel more confident, or the close proximity of her two friends?
"Hello, sir, my name is Sarah Osmena." As Sarah spoke, Harold moved to take over the open terminal. Nuts.
Sarah held out her hand and the man took it somberly, "Pleased to meet you, miss. I am Zareda True, just assigned to this building." Was she holding his hand a bit too long? Well. That was interesting. Maybe it wasn't unusual confidence that led her to take the initiative, but unusual motivation. Yes, she had definitely held his hand for too long. This called for teasing at a later opportunity.
"This," Sarah took the arm of the primetech, "is Primetech Flareout."
"Primetech." Zareda nodded, still somber, unsmiling.
"Sir.", the primetech nodded back.
Next, Sarah introduced Daniel, but before they had given greetings, Peter Li shouted, "Zareda! Que pasa, hombre?" He dropped the keyboard (YES!) and came over to greet his friend. Daniel decided that the small talk requirement was officially voided due to the presence of an old acquaintance.
"Toda funciona, Pedro," Zareda answered Peter in Spanish and now Daniel was able to place the man as an American Indian from the Southwest, where Daniel had lived during the war.
No matter, there was a keyboard to grab. But, NO! It was too late. Jackie picked up the abandoned keyboard. Daniel was oh for two and the Walenski family had cornered the market on keyboards. This was no longer a game. It was war. No, he though, it was revolution
. Daniel must inspire the people to overthrow the evil monopolists. He raised his voice to interrupt the conversation at the door, "Primetech and Mr. Zareda, did you know that we have discovered alien life?"
Much excitement ensued --just as Daniel had planned. A few quick explanations and there was a mass movement toward the big screen. Also according to plan. If allowed to continue, this development would return things to the status quo where Daniel was the helpless captive of whomever had the keyboard. But that was only stage one of the plot. "Wait!" Daniel interrupted the surge, "I have a proposal. Mr. and Dr. Walenski, may I have your attention?" The two looked up reluctantly from their research. "This two-headed exploration is not efficient. May I suggest that we all go and get our keyboards and use our visors for independent research? We can set up the big screen as a bulletin board. Everyone can do their own research and let the others know what is going on. It will be faster and less frustrating that way."
There was a general pause. No one moved. The revolution hung in the balance. Suddenly Peter said, "Great idea! I'm going to go get my own keyboard!"
Bless you, my son, Daniel thought. Sarah ran to her room also. Daniel was especially glad of that because she was the most dangerous keyboard hog. Cute girls always get their way. Primetech Flareout condoned the plan but he didn't need a keyboard. He tapped his temple with a finger "Skullware" he said. Ah, that's why he wasn't wearing a visor or an earpiece. Zareda also had skullware, a full computer interface in his head. Daniel was envious.
Since the Walenskis were already holding keyboards, they didn't see the need to get their own. Daniel was not dismayed. El General
had anticipated that the tyrants would seek to hold onto power and the plan covered this eventuality. El General
, Daniel, simply went over to Dr. Walenski to ask for his property back. It was his keyboard after all and everyone was going to get their own keyboards, no? He was cheerfully thinking, Your evil rule is at an end, Dictatora
, but he said, "Dr. Walenski, that is my keyboard you are using, I wonder if you might fetch your own."
Dr. Walenski gave him the evil eye and Daniel suspected that she was aware of the game. But ... but she had a losing hand and knew it. She gave up the coveted instrument gracefully and retreated to her quarters. No doubt to wail in defeat and to fetch her own keyboard. Daniel imagined himself marching at the front of a parade, his arms held high in victory: I win!
A moment later, Daniel sat at the couch with his hard-won keyboard. He knew the war was not yet over. So long as the mystery existed, someone would want that big screen. He began to solidify his position against counterrevolutionaries, and by the time Sarah came back and sat down next to him, he was ready for her.
The enemy snuggled up against him and Daniel thought: Snuggle away, treacherous woman. I have taken the reigns of power and shall never release them. BWAH HAH HAH!
Treacherous woman typed for a few minutes and then looked up at him, "Danny? I can't get a window on the big screen."
Daniel thought: You thought it would be so easy to reconquor the Big Screen? But what he said was, "I have it locked, Sweetheart, just use your visor. Send me what you want to put up and I'll post it."
"I'd rather post in my own window. Can you take off your lock?"
"After I won? Yeah, right." Uh oh. He'd said that out loud. But Sarah giggled and slapped his arm gently. She knew about the game too.
Of course. She had started it. Well, at least she was being a good loser. She knew when she had been hopelessly outclassed. Daniel resolved that he would be a benevolent tyrant of the big screen.
"Danny?" she said as she typed at her keyboard.
"Have you thought about birthdays?"
"Well, I mean how are you going to give me a present on my birthday when there is no real economy, no real luxury items, and the ship has just about everything we need?"
"I hadn't given it any thought." Why was she bringing this up now?
"Presents are important to women, you know. Not just to have them, but to know someone went to the trouble to give them. It makes us feel special."
"I guess so ..." Daniel didn't like where this was going.
"So I think you should take what opportunities you have to give me little gifts. Like if you have the big screen locked and I want to use it."
Oh, she wouldn't... But she did. Sara took off her visor to give Daniel her own version of The Look. Her version had dimples. He stared at her indignantly, but then she added a little pout and Daniel knew he was beat. Oh sure, he probably could have held out till the furrowed eyebrows, but it would just be a futile holding action. Better to concede while he still had a trace of dignity.
"OK," Daniel sighed, "You can have the screen." He turned it over to her and put on his visor.
"I win!" Sarah chirped as she happily took over the spoils.
Daniel lay his head back on the couch and sulked behind the dark glasses, "You cheated."
Sarah giggled, "I win!"