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Kyoto Protocol

Underground

A mysterious signal radically shifts the destiny of an entire world...

5th of Harvest. 3314

It was a night like any other night. I was monitoring the equipment of the Lethian Radio Observatory, starting at a screen waiting for something to happen. As I sat there nearly napping, head nodding and eyes to glassy, static erupted from the speakers, launching my heart to the ceiling.

My ears perked up, my snout twitched, I was suddenly more than away and a second away from the soil. As adrenaline coursed through my system, I set about willing myself to be wary I set about adjusting the signal gain, careful not to scratch the equipment with my untrimmed claws. As I worked, all the possibilities zipped and zapped through my head as I tried to figure out what the signal was. As I adjusted the squelch, I could make out distinct beeps being demodulated from an artificial carrier. It was a signal!

Heart in my throat, I verified that the computer was recording everything, and because I hate SPOFs, or single points of failure, I set up an auxiliary recorder with my personal equipment.

There was, of course, a first contact protocol; the government bureaucratizes everything. The scientific community, as always, had to tip-toe around the Dogmatics, still somehow the dominant force on our world of Ketoria. Thus, whenever some new discovery could knock them off their gilded pedestal, we had to go according to a rigid procedure designed to dishearten more than poke holes or be of any actual use.

I rushed to the phone and quickly dialed the observatory's director, making only a few miss-calls, "We have a signal, sir!" I could hardly keep my enthusiasm in check, "Yes, of course, the observatory's mainframe is recording it. So far, the strength is good. Yeah, it's apparently the Theadon cluster. Yes sir, it is a great night!"

6th of Harvest

The signal was still going strong as the sun began its climb above the horizon. I communicated with our sister stations on the far side of the world what I found out so they could keep the recordings going. After the Director arrived, we went over the recording and prepared for an endless set of meetings. When all was said and done, it was a long morning, but excitement kept me going.

"Is everything still green?" the Director asked as he walked into the conference room yet again.

He was a distinguished man who had aged better than gracefully. He was only a few years from retirement, so as long as we did our jobs, we had little to worry about when it came to the king of inane nonsense corporate climbers liked to play. His graying long furs looked good on him, his snout, which at his age could start to lose cartilage, was still filled nicely. Despite his tenure coming to an end, he always pushed all of us to be our best, and I was happy that I could give him this gift before he left.

"Yes Sir, Yehthal Observatory has picked up the transmission and is continuing to record. Those clay toting Dogmatics won't be able to deny it this time."

The rest of the night crew was beginning to slow down, we were all usually asleep by now. They all nodded in agreement but did not feel the need to vocalize it. I guess they weren't nearly as excited about this as I was.

"When you're stuck in the past, you can deny anything," the director finally managed after a sigh, "Governor Kursty broke protocol, and told the local news station. We're—I'm going to have to hold a press conference in the Pantheon, right in front of the statue of Oarain, you know, one of the old gods."

"Oh yeah, the Allfather. Awesome." I rolled my eyes, "Does that man ever think before he opens his mouth?"

While not a full-fledged Dogmatic, the Governor was definitely not a man of science. Given the choice, he would lean toward the religious, if only to preserve his candidacy. After all, the Dogmatics offered a person of variable enough scruples power and the promise of achievement. Thinking about it, he must have a Dogmatic on his payroll or be on the payroll of one who looked over everything he did and made certain he acted with their interests in mind.

"I have nothing to say about that man," the Director returned flatly, he knew how to play the game, even if he preferred to sit on the side lines as far afield as possible, "I have to get going, don't want the public to think we are afraid, or worse yet, fabricating evidence."

I stood up quickly as he was about to open the door, "Uh, Sir, we would like to stand behind you for this." I looked around and the others nodded in agreement, well most of them.

"Then, let's move out."

*****

A crowd had already gathered by the time we arrived. Lights flashed, noise filled the air. This was not a comfortable situation. The director took a deep breath and approached the podium.

The Pantheon was a park/temple/shrine to the old gods. Though the Dogmatics had pretty much killed off the other religions and assumed their traditions, it was an obvious ploy to keep them on the mind of everyone who witnessed the proceedings. Their 'subtlety' was anything but. They were as always so afraid of change that they would sacrifice their own kids, if only to prove the power of their teachings.

"Last night, at twenty till midnight, our radio telescope operators picked up a signal that appears to have originated from beyond our solar system." He read from a prepared script, "At this time, Yehthal Radio Observatory has taken over recording as our own telescope is no longer within the line of sight of the apparent source."

The murmurings started. The Dogmatics controlled the hearts and minds of the common folk. Even the few that thought for themselves did not want to be under the scrutiny of the Dogmatics. The director, sensing the change in atmosphere, abandoned his speech.

"We, in the scientific community, encourage all to remain calm and take this news with a grain of salt..."

It was always suspected that the discovery of life outside our solar system would set off alarms. But we had no idea that it would be this bad. The crowd began to accuse us of not only manufacturing the signal, but of hiding the 'fact' of a flat world, and many other things, some of which had nothing to do with the signal. Soon, some began to protest and scream, a full blown riot was starting. This was not a good day at all.

Even the Dogmatics had to pretend to play nice. The police quickly interceded before the riot could begin in earnest. They were forced to quickly escort us to waiting cars to prevent the crowd from hurling anything more dangerous than insults at us.

15th of Harvest

The week was long, and people were constantly looking at me and seeing the riot that destroyed several of the Pantheon's most prized marble statues. Not only that, it was also extremely troublesome to get to and from work as many had begun to picket the observatory. Fortunately, the observatory was on an island a little way off the coast, and only accessible via a long causeway, which was currently closed to the public.

The news outlets had taken the story and run with it, adjusting facts as they needed to fit their truth. Tonight, I had been booked to speak on Tonight: With Weild Hensbaine, a very prestigious late-night talk show, to speak about the discovery and set some things straight. I was only too happy to oblige; especially as a moratorium on scientific pursuits was placed on the city.

I waited in the wings, not so patiently pacing as the host did what he did best, talk the audience's ears off. Presently he came to the reason I was here.

"...And tonight, we decided to shift gears a little. Instead of one single guest at a time, we'll have a little bit of a debate."

"What the hey?" My ears perked up in alarm as I turned to the stage manager, "I didn't know about this!"

"Whats the matter, Science Guy, scared of a little friendly competition? It's just a ratings stunt, no big deal, you'll do great." She tried and failed to hide her contempt of me and my work, "It'll be fine, just you know, be yourself..."

With that she pushed me through the curtain as Weild announced me, "For the, uh, scientific community, Dr. Tysson Cain."

I stumbled, the lights were blinding, I couldn't see the audience and I didn't know if I was breathing. This did not phase the next guest whom Weild was proudly announcing.

"And for the rest of us, Deacon, Halstrom, Varney!"

The audience cheered for Varney, he was, after all, the favorite spokesmen for the Dogmatics. He was tall and lean, the current vision of sexiness in the world. His fur was a pleasant cream, a stark contrast to my gun-metal-grey. He waved at the crowd, smiled shook my hand, shook Weild's hand and generally hammed it up; I instantly hated him.

On auto pilot, I approached the desk, shook hands with the host and tried to play to the crowd as Varney did. I struggled to wrap my head around what was going on, and my face was a complete blank. Varney insisted I, not he, take the chair closest to the host's desk, the position of prestige, what was going on?

"So," Weild began as the crowd calmed to a murmur, "You are part of a team that claims to have received a signal from beyond the stars, hunh?"

"Still in the stars..." I shifted uncomfortably, "But the signal did appear to have originated from outside the solar system..."

"How do we know you didn't fabricate it?" The Deacon instantly went on the offensive.

"The instruments show a distinct directionality that triangulates..." I tried to show the calculations I drew up.

"We only have your word for that," The Deacon snarked, "For all we know, you made those numbers up..."

"Well, uh, you see, any idiot..."

"So, we're idiots now?"

"No, uh, I didn't..."

"Don't answer that, we all know what you people think of us." He cut me off, "But tell me this, how much power would it take for even a directional signal, let alone an omni-directional one, to travel light years? I've read your work, they wouldn't know which direction we were in relation to them, it'd be pretty rare right..."

For a moment I was flattered that he read my paper, then I realized it was only to humiliate me. I fumbled through my notes as I did a quick calculation.

"Well, uh, uhm, on the, uh, the low side... 3 trillion terra-watts..."

"So, more power than we could make in a decade, hunh," the Deacon scoffed, smiling at the crowd.

"Just because we lack the technology..."

"Yeah, on technology, we know we don't have the knowledge, what makes you so sure they use a similar means of communication, let alone technology?" His smile was demonic, this was a trap and I pranced proudly into it, "Not to mention, a race that can travel the stars would by necessity, need to travel faster than light, which science says is impossible. Why would they use light speed coms, a little slow don't you think?"

The audience was just eating this up. He always knew what to say, and he'd probably had time to prepare properly. He had the luxury to ignore them, he knew they were eating out of his paw.

"Well, uh..." I had no answer, the question made too much sense.

I hated it when the Dogmatics used logic against me, it was the only time they didn't outright ignore it.

"Light speed is as fast as we can go..." I thought I had recovered, "As we understand it, it is a universal speed limit. We don't know what their motives are, maybe they're looking for pen pals?"

"Motives, right, cute, we can't know them, or their 'motives', so let's put that aside," he huffed, "But if they could be our new besties, they could have all the answers we seek to the universe. But if they have all the answers why just give them to us?"

"I don't think they would..."

"Well, we agree on something." He laughed, I loathed him even more, "We wouldn't be able to communicate with them at all. Aliens would not speak any of our languages."

I was conflicted; Weild made no comment, he was not helping or hurting, but he could end this anytime. I doubted I would ever watch Tonight again.

"Yes, well, we would have some work to do, deciphering and all." The crowd was turning ugly, "Is this some kind of Allfather nonsence?"

As soon as I said that I know I shouldn't have, this was what he was waiting for.

"Nonsence?" He laughed, somehow managing to calm the crowd again, "Setting that aside. This was supposed to be about science, I wasn't going to bring it up, but since you did..."

It was all down hill from there, no matter what I said, or didn't say, I was booed and threatened. By the time I got home, it was all I could do to just fall into the sheets and not die. I was bedridden for days, on the verge of suicidal depression. Thankfully the Director understood, he even gave a courtesy call every day to check on me.

4th of Nightfrost (Several Weeks Later)

The Hall of Atonement was one of the places people go to be sorry, not sorry for things they have done, to tell their sins when the gods should already know them. For the past month, me and the rest of the team that first recorded the signal were made to feel miserable about it. It had come to the point, that if I wanted to continue to live in peace, and to do my job, I had to recant everything I said about the 'alleged' 'discovery.' And so, here I was, with the few of the team that could stomach saving face for the greater good. We had to get back to real work, even if it was in the background, forever forward, and all that.

The media, unsurprisingly, was making a big deal out of it, though if it was one of the Dogmatic's favorites, this kind of thing would be down played. Typical. In the hall the proper crowd gathered, I just hoped this would be a friendlier crowd than at the Pantheon. I waited in the wings for the appointed time, chatting with the now former director of the observatory. I was lucky compared to him, he was being forced to retire early so that most of his life's work could be saved.

"I am so sorry you have to do this." The Director told me, "I tried to keep the crew out of this..."

"Me, you have to step down..." I tried before he calmed me.

"At least its retirement, and not fired, or imprisoned, Half full, remember." he put a paw on my shoulder, "Science must always strive to move us forward, even as the Dogmatics work doggedly to tradition and status quo. I regret nothing, and neither should you. You have to keep the torch lit."

"But heaven forbid anyone see it, Sir." I tried not to scoff as I adjusted my collar, "If I were religious, I might feel nervous about stretching the truth here."

"I think you might need a drink anyway," the former Director chuckled, "But nerves are just, under the circumstances. We all have to do what we can to move the ball. I am proud that you have the wherewithal to follow through."

I had never liked dressing up, this suit, under the best of circumstances felt tight, but today it was neighboring on unbearable. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the commentators continued to drone on and on about some topic I couldn't be bothered to pay attention to. Eventually, it was time to pay the piper. After a few deep breaths, I walked out on stage, my steps echoed on the hard surfaces. I strode as reverently as I could manage to the lectern, and took another calming breath.

"The world is full of mysteries that I, as a scientist, have spent a lifetime working to solve." My voice wavered, my paws shook as I changed my cue cards, fortunately, the best lies have a kernel of truth, "My team and I have been involved in a plot to destroy the old ways forever."

The crowd appeared to accept this statement, one less thing to worry about, "What we have been calling a signal can't at this time be verified, and I apologize for all the trouble this may have caused."

My short remarks complete, I waited for the Hawk, or senior most Dogmatic of the area, to preside over the official recantation. He silently strode up, his shoes a whole lot softer than mine, his dark black shiny robes wafted in the breeze his movements stirred up. His face was mostly impassive, but I could see his smirk, he knew and didn't care, this was a strategic victory for his side.

"Do you, Tysson Cain, acknowledge the fallacy of your most recent work?" He purposely ignored my title.

I knew that if they could they would shut down all the sciences. But they needed us to make their lives easier and keep their flocks alive. Some scientist even worked to 'prove' the Dogmatic 'truth.' I just had to keep the bile down long enough for this to be over and official, so I could get back to work.

"Yes, I was, ahem, led amuck, astray. By a very charismatic man." The words like sewage in my mouth, but I had to continue, "There is no evidence to support the idea of extra-terrestrial life."

"And do you here and now, affirm the righteousness of the Dogmatica?"

"I do," I said allowed than under my breath, "Not."

"You are forgiven, and can be gone." He dismissed, the Dogmatics knew they could only push one so far.

Humiliation was good, but only in small controlled amounts. Pushing someone too far made for very sticky situations. I was so glad this was over, but as I was about to step off stage he called out.

"On final thing, doctor," he managed to make it sound like a curse, "Was there a signal?"

The Dogmatics had systematically used their influence and called in favors to gather and destroy all official copies, and even some unofficial ones. He knew the answer, but the crowd needed me to say it.

"There are no records." I kept to half-truths, but silently added, "Never the less, there is one."

7th of Nightfrost, 3317

“What do you suppose they look like?”

Over the years, I had kept trying my darndest to decode the signal, but I was getting nowhere, fast. I had recently come to the epiphany that I needed help, help I could trust not to fink on me, and that was the rub. I had been looking everywhere I could for someone good with a computer and code, but with uncommon discretion. So far I had no luck.

That was the only reason, despite my growing aversion to public places, I was in this café, looking over my shoulder like a nervous wreck. Because I was publicly despised, I really didn’t have to worry too much about people watching me, but I couldn’t help myself. While the patio was more comfortable, here I was in the stuffy interior, trying to ignore the young woman standing in front of me.

“What, uhm, what who look like, miss…” I started, pretending to be distracted by the menu, she didn’t take the hint.

She stood with her back to the doors, engulfed in a halo cast by the sun through the windows. Her light rust colored fur was dotted with a nice charcoal color, the long furs on top of her head were curly and bounced with energy. I had to admit, I was enthralled, but this wasn’t the time, not like anything would happen anyway.

“Name’s Scarlet, and I was talking about,” she glanced toward the door then continued in a conspiratorial tone, “The people that sent us the message, from, you know…”

“You must be mistaken, there was no message.” I still hated the lie.

“You ain’t fooling no one.” Her smile was seductive, “I know, and accept what happened, it's those stupid Dogmatics and their cover-ups. They didn’t even do a good job about it.”

“They’re not stupid,” I sighed wishing I had the guts to say it, “And you shouldn’t really be talking like that about them.” I groaned again, not certain I wasn’t being watched, or she wasn’t a trick, I was paranoid after the Tonight show, “And the only thing that was confirmed, before we all recanted that work to continue other work, was that it was artificial…”

“Yeah, I know all about the forced recantations. I have actually been trying to get to you, at the right time, for about a year.” She smiled again, and leaned closer, “And a signal means a message.”

As she spoke, her eyes light with excitement, “It could be anything, a picture, words, ohh, a rousing speech! We just have to figure it out.” She tried to suppress her excitement and increasing volume, it sort of worked.

I again had to sigh a lie, “The recordings were destroyed.”

“I know your work, you always have a backup.” She smiled beautifully, I was more than excited she knew me and my work, I would have to read her work, was she published, what the hell did she do?

“I want to help.” She continued, unabated, “I too, am tired of my own work being put against their stupid book with no answers…”

“Unh, I know the feeling.” Hopefully this wasn’t a trap, I wanted to get to know her, “But… really, what can we do about it?”

“Right now,” she shrugged, sitting, “Nothing. But when we get it decoded and what-not, there may be something. And two heads are better than one…”

“Except when you are trying to keep a secret,” I suggested.

“True, true.” She agreed easily, the shushed me, how did she know someone was walking up behind her.

“Hey, Tysson, didn’t realize you were on a, or busy…” The gruff voice of my potential co-conspirator announced.

“Hi, Dave,” I rose to shake his paw, “Scarlet here was just leaving.”

Dave was one of those young techies that understood gadgets in a way I never would, fresh out of the military where he learned all about the skills I needed, and had a cover if needed. He was here because he could help with a problem we were having with the antenna, and if it didn’t work out… His sandy-brown fur still shown with the sheen of youth. It had been hell to track him down on the low down, but here he was, and I was not going to allow this opportunity to pass me by.

“Not on your life.” Scarlet objected almost too loudly to me, then to Dave, “Why are you here, Dave?”

“Came to meet a friend, and maybe talk shop.” He shrugged, looks like I made a good choice with him.

“Yes, Scarlet, we’re planning on making an upgrade to the computer array at the observatory.” I cut her off before she could get anything else out, “And that work, is sadly, classified.”

“Ah, so you got a techie to look at your recording, smart.” She acquiesced, returning to her seat.

“What the hell did you tell her?” Dave demanded quietly in my ear as he sat down.

“I didn’t say a thing, she just showed up.” I returned in his ear.

“FYI, I can hear you both.” She chuckled, “And for better or worse, you have to trust me. I probably want this more than you two combined.”

Me and Dave looked at each other for a moment before I shook my head, “Ug, fine, it's too late now, Dave, Scarlet, Scarlet, Dave.”

“Oh, fine.” Dave grunted, “You said you had a copy, it was my understanding that the Dogmatics wiped all the drives worldwide?”

“He had a backup copy, right? You did, didn’t you?” Scarlet bubbled, way too excited and on the verge of being too loud.

“Shush, you.” I glared at her, “And yes, I always have a backup.” I pulled out a small drive with a copy of my copy.

He looked it over carefully before replying, “What exactly did you record?” Dave asked, putting the drive in his satchel.

“The microwave spectrum in the vicinity of the central band of the carrier, as well as the AM and FM demodulated tones, ranging from 30hz to 720hz.”

“You demodulated it?”

“Yes, like I said, I recorded both the carrier plus and minus 30% and the de-moded tones. They were demoded in parallel so as to ensure no loss on the signal. I have been working with signals longer than you’ve been alive.”

“Good, I was afraid you only got the demod.” He sighed in relief, “Well, it was sent by aliens, and we have no idea how it was modulated in the first place, so the original signal is the most important piece of the puzzle.”

“Wow,” Scarlet marveled, “here I was expecting your techie to have been brainwashed like the rest of the herd.”

“And what the hell do you do?” Dave scoffed, “Surely no ‘techie’ stuff.”

“For your information, I am an evolutionary anthropologist. As you can imagine, the Dogmatics don’t like me using that title. Pompous asses.”

For the next few hours we discussed out little project’s path, including our ground rules: 1) any new member had to be approved by all of us, 2) under no circumstances was any Dogmatic to learn what we were doing, 3) anyone caught would be disavowed by the rest. We realized by the end that this was going to be far longer and more difficult than we thought.

27th of Ripening, 3325

The little group I started that day grew slowly as we learned we needed some differed expertise than we started with. We had found people all over the planet we could trust. Somehow, in all of this, we spawned secret chapters as some left and wanted to keep in touch and started their own cabals.

I found it odd, the signal had lasted just shy of 36 hours and observatories all over the world confirmed that it didn’t come from here, but people still found a way to refuse to accept. The Dogmatics had more of a hold on their minds than I had given them credit for, and they would mercilessly dismantle the lives of any on that refused to recant statements The Dogmatics found it sacrilegious, and refused to return to the fold.

I had learned over the years that my own recantation, so soon after the initial discovery put me in a position not quite over the edge but far enough that I could do what I wanted and be left alone, mostly. Others had not acted and they were ruined, living on the streets with no useful skills. I had, in fact, become quite the conspirator, not something I had ever wanted on my résumé.

In order to cover up our meetings, Scarlet had helpfully pointed out we all needed to be more sociable. She even gave me pointers, and I was getting better at it than I ever thought I would. I had even managed to get some tutoring on the game of politics from the former Director before he passed. All this meant that I was making a name for myself that helped in both worlds I was living. The Dogmatics even, on occasion, asked me to play devil’s advocate, because everybody knew I had disagreed with them and still played in their sand box, and got invited to work...

All in all, even though I was living multiple lives, the fake on in the light and my real one in the dark, I was having the time of my life. Morning twilight spread from the eastern edge of the ocean, slowly overpowering the small lamp on my desk as I finished up the previous night’s reports.

I stood and stretched. It had been a long night, and still no second wow signal from above, which nay-sayers used as ‘proof’ there was no signal. I chugged the rest of my cold coffee, logged off my computer and shut off my light.

“Time for brinner,” I declared to no one in particular.

I grabbed my coat and stepped into the hall, then on impulse, I stuck my snout into the next office, “Hey, Thaine, I’m thinking of heading to Leopard’s Lodge for some chow. You sure you don’t want to come along this time?”

Thaine was an imposing scientist: Tall, strong, athletic, ridiculously intelligent, and hopelessly devoted to Dogmatica. Despite being my age his dark, on the verge of being black, brown fur had the sheen of youth. It was like the Dogmatics had a secret youth formula.

“Not this time.” He groaned, “The ex is coming into town with the kids, have to spend the whole day with that bitch.”

“Oh, uh, well, your loss, man.” I shrugged and closed the door.

It was just as well, he wasn’t invested in the search for extra-terrestrial life. In fact, he was the biggest opposition I had, he wanted to use science to prove Dogmatica, weirdo. I always invited him out of habit since he had arrived to take the co-director's spot opposite mine. It had to look like I was willing to work with him and never avoiding him. Thankfully, he refused more often than not, I hated that stuck up prick. The few occasions he did tag along, the team had a protocol.

Despite the big promotion, I had kept my office in the Lethian Observatory and stuck mainly to the night shift, all the better to see signals from space and not be interrupted. This was one of the few jobs where the first shift was at night, and the off shift was during the day. Guess it was true that any publicity was good publicity. This was a typical quiet time in the morning; the night owls like me were leaving and the day shift hadn’t quite arrived yet. This facility had both visual and radio telescopes so we could more easily compare and contrast observations.

By the time I drove out of the subterranean parking complex, the sun had made it over the horizon; it was officially morning. We were on the edge of the city, still on our small island with the tallest peak in the area, with the causeway connecting us to the mainland almost 2 KM, it was the longest such structure in the world. The city was proud of our technical marvel.

The city itself, Novo Staten, was pressed right up against the ocean; only the craggy cliffs had survived the onsloght of civilization. The few beaches in the northern hemisphere were closed this time of year. Even if it wasn’t, it was too early for vacationers to venture to the shore.

I entered the city proper and the skyscrapers towered overhead. This was a thriving city, people from all over the world congregated in this center of science, the most defiance of the Dogmatics we could really muster. I was so glad to be in the center of the storm where we would solve the riddle.

Now, instead of a beat-up property beyond the suburbs, I now lived in an upscale neighborhood deep in the city within walking distance of anything I might want to do. I hated driving in a metropolis. I pulled into the building’s parking garage and cruised slowly until I came to my assigned spot and pulled in. Though it had been a long night, I still had things to do.

After locking the car, I inhaled deeply and headed to the street level exit. The streets were, as always bustling, drones going about their lives oblivious to everything but themselves. After purchasing a nice hot coffee to tide me over, I started off to Leopard’s Lodge.

Here since the beginning, those of us that accepted the truth met. Like always, the few tables outside in view of the various levels of catwalks and buildings were full of customers and the inside was low on people. Our spot was in the back, where few ever went, no use in tempting fate too much.

I greeted Jade, my usual waitress, she was one of the team, if only in spirit, all she could really do was stay on the lookout for us, and we were thankful for that, “Usual Tysson?” She asked, already bringing my standard order.

“Thanks, Jade, you’re a doll.”

“I know,” She smiled handing me my plate, “The others are set up, hear Dave has something big."

The thought of something new sent adrenaline surging through my body; after nearly a decade, had we finally cracked the signal? I hurried to the table and began to tear into my breakfast. It was important to keep our society as secret as possible, so Dave casually looked up, then casually drew a line on a napkin. I drew another line to make it look like the cross section of a saucer. This continued until all of us had been confirmed, the seven.

“So, Jade said you have some news, Dave,” Scarlet asked, she too, was excited, like usual, but it was growing on me.

Scarlet was now a professor of anthropology and archeology at the local university, we were making all kinds of useful connections, even though she insisted she was pioneering the new field of ‘xeno-anthropology.’ The others kept quiet and sluggishly ate, it was too early for them, though they had contributed greatly to the cause.

Dave glared at me, “She needs to be more discrete, you need to fix your girl…”

“Hey, you’re the one that brought her in,” I protested, then shoved more food into my mouth.

“Ung, fine, I’ll talk to her.” He groaned, “But yes, I do have exciting news.”

“Don’t keep us in suspense,” Scarlet started, “Don’t tell me you finally managed to decode the signal?”

“Well, no, but we did manage to confirm that it is the same 30-minute signal that repeated over and over…”

“We knew that last week,” Scarlet groaned, mirroring my reaction as she accepted a drink from Jade, “I hoped it was something important.”

“But last week we didn’t know it was a digital multiplexed signal…”

“Of course it's digital, that’s how we knew it was artificial…”

“What this means,” Dave insisted as he forcefully continued, “We’re looking at over ten teraflops of Data, who knows what the message has in it.”

“Look,” Scarlet grumbled, “You’re the computer guy, but I still don’t understand how we actually expect to decode any of this. I admit, I was hopeful in the beginning, but we’re having problems figuring out the dead language of Skellion. And that language was made by us, and the signal was sent by aliens, an entirely different and unknown species! Is it even possible to get something from it?”

“Well, it’s a computer signal, and computers use patterns. No matter what species made it, or how they think, there are certain laws of physics that govern how the conversion of information into bits occurs. We just have to find that pattern.” Dave insisted.

Now that he was the owner of a cyber-security firm, with multiple super computers at his disposal, he was the leading expert planet wide on computer technologies. He was able to use his company to keep our communications a secret, despite being right under the snouts of the Dogmatics.

“But how do we know if those patterns are supposed to be sound, or art, or whatever?” I asked, brushing Scarlet’s paw and smiling at her in support.

For a second, Dave had no answers, he just sat there with a blank face, “That’s what algorithms are for. We just set up a data block, start a rendering program, and see what we get. We’re still years away from that, though.”

19th of Harvest, 3327

Small things, traveling slowly were difficult, at best, to detect. Never the less, Thaine was meticulous, and managed to find an object with his optical telescope at the observatory.

“Tysson!” he called from his office where he monitored screens and crunched numbers, “Have your receivers monitored anything from the Theadon cluster?”

“Not recently, why?” I returned stepping through his door, “That’s not a section of sky we normally monitor because there are no known celestial bodies along that trajectory.”

“Well, over the past few weeks, I’ve been tracking a 50 thousand ton object, on what looks like a highly elliptical orbit, that has a surface whose reflection coefficient indicates it is artificial.”

“Just to cover bases, you did check the Near Planet trajectory list?” I asked, struggling to appear helpful, “Well, I know you did, just had to dummy check, you know, protocol.”

“You would know about jumping the gun.” I think he joked, and I hoped he didn’t see me sneer, “Would it be possible to train your arrays on it?”

“To what end?”

“As you said, we have to cover all bases. Wouldn’t want those weirdo, former compatriots of yours we were hiding evidence, or covering up something.”

I shrugged while I quickly suppressed my hatred and came up with a response that wouldn’t out me, “No, we defiantly wouldn’t. But that area is out of line of sight for right now… I can ask the senior Fellow at Yehthal…”

“No, it's not critical."

Not certain where he was going or if I would like the local, I returned, “I can devote some time tomorrow, then?”

“That’d be great.” He smiled, it was almost sickening, “You planning on going to what is that place you're always talking about, Leopards Lodge, today?”

“Uh, probably, why?”

“I’d really like your input on this.” He waved his data pad with numbers and stuff on it.

“Sure, we can go. But without looking at your work, I couldn’t offer anything substantial…”

“That’s fine, I just want to spar with the greatest devil’s advocate stand in, so I can be ready for my debates… I let you look over the finer points while we wait for service.”

“Sounds, uh, great.” I struggled to not sound surprised and/or disappointed.

*****

This was one of our meeting days. I hoped nothing significant was going to be on the table, I’d hate to miss it.

“Ah, I see you have a guest,” Jade announced as we walked in, we have a table for you, right here by the door.

“Perfect, Jade.” I smiled pleasantly as I took a seat at the indicated table, “Can we get menus, please…"

“I don’t need a menu.” Thaine gruffly returned, “I’ll have a coffee with bacon and eggs, if you have them.”

“And how would you like them cooked, dear?” She asked pleasantly, her black and white pinstriped fur bristled with nerves.

“Bacon crispy, eggs scrambled hard.” Thaine returned, not even paying attention to her, he never noticed ‘the help,’ they weren’t worth it in his mind.

“Sounds good, I’ll have the same.” I grimaced.

“Coming up, hon.” She smiled pleasantly but artificially as only a waitress could, then walked away.

I glanced over at the Seven’s table and was pleased to see it was empty. Perhaps nothing of note was going to happen after all. Just as I settled in for a long morning after work, Dave rushed in. He looked at the back table, realized no one was there then looked about frantically. Then, he noticed me.

“Tysson, you’re not going to believe this… Major breakthrough…”

“Oh, uh, hi Dave, this is Thaine, he works at the observatory with me.”

“Good morning, Dave.” Thaine emotionlessly intoned.

He was always on the look out for a way to get ahead with little effort, so this perked up his ears, “What kind of breakthrough could, you two, be working on? Together?”

I knew he had nothing, and it wasn’t a good thing to stare blankly at Thaine, especially when you were trying to think up an answer to a question he asked. I thought quickly through my list of pre-planned responses.

“Dave, here, is helping me to upgrade, or should I say we are trying to plan an upgrade to our RT arrays. You know how upper management likes a plan to everything a year in advance of the start, right.”

“And Dave gets this excited about upgrades?”

“Weird, I know, but that’s why he is a techie, he gets excited about, tech, stuff…”

Thaine was suspicious by nature. If I answered another question posed to Dave, he would know something was up, and would stop at nothing to see it to the end. I had witnessed it too many times. I was glad I was now so practiced at deception, because if I wasn’t I would be about to die. I just hoped I had bought enough time that Dave came up with something.

“So, tell me, Dave, what is this breakthrough you came in babbling about?”

His eyes flicked down as he dug for a response, “Viswar issues… We were trying to stretch the uh, freq range of the antenna, but if you stretch the threshold too much, you loose a lot of, uh, receipt, threshold…”

“So, how did you fix this, problem, I’m listening…”

“Well, you see, if you make it a dynamic, continuous cycling receiving module, shunting the signal down the appropriate line, you effectively triple the range…”

“And… you're excited because you have already designed this… thing… already?”

“Well, uh, you see, no.” He smiled weakly, “I was so excited that I figured it out how to solve it, I kinda forgot to solve it… Like he said, techie, we’re crazy about this stuff…”

Thaine sat there and nodded for a moment considering the statements for a moment, “So, go design your thing, then get back to us.” He finally dismissed Dave.

Dave scuttled off, I just wish I could have joined him, Thaine was just too oppressive to be around long term, “Ty, that’s why I hate engineers, and why there are procedures to find the right ones for the projects we do.”

“What can I say?” I chuckled uneasily suppressing the urge to make sure Dave left, “trying to save some money.”

“Can’t fault you for that.” Thaine sighed, while he had dropped it for now, it was not over, Dave would have to be very careful, “Now, about this object."

It turned out, that Dave had cracked one of the files. Using that information, he was able to start identifying all the types of files. It was defiantly a giant leap in the right direction. And yet there I was, discussing a Trans Quolian Object with my nemesis.

3rd of Nightfrost, Several Weeks Later

The last few weeks had been painful; Thaine had watched my every move looking for signs of sedition. Fortunately, he was too distracted by his object, now called O2rip3327nq17, to follow through in anything meaningful else. I provided radio telemetry from time to time, and it seemed to sedate him. I was so worried about getting caught I hadn’t made it to any of the meetings for a while. Thaine was a d***.

This morning, I was excited, it was finally a day I could risk going to a meeting, and I had something to contribute for a change. I was able to go, because Thaine had begun leaving early, and my counter spies informed me, he spent most of his time not at work in his house. He claimed he was a little sick, but his general lack of interest and energy was almost enough for me to be worried.

Maybe his ‘sickness’ had something to do with nq17, the trending possibilities were not favorable to the Dogmatics. With a spring in my step I walked into the Lodge and Greeted Jade, for the first time in a month I was not the least bit worried about who might see me.

“Finally got rid of your shadow, Hun?” she smiled, “You’re actually the first one here, I’ll be right out with your usual.

I took a seat and got comfortable to wait for the others, I hadn’t even felt the need to drink copious amounts of coffee to keep me charged, this was a great day. Scarlet made her entrance in her usual bubbly fashion and sat down with a smile and peck on my cheek.

“I know you couldn’t come because of Thaine, so you don’t know.” She was bouncy in excitement.

“And what, prey-tell, would that be, Foxy?” I smiled, I might just start something with her.

“I like when you call me that.” She smiled even more widely, “Well, you know Dave managed to get a text file opened up…”

“Unless you’re a xeno-linguist too, that doesn’t help much…”

“Oh, but this is even better,” she was giddy as a school-pup, “One of those surface files was a set of schematics, apparently. Now, we couldn’t read the words, obviously, but some of those technical symbols showed Dave’s team how to open other files… We finally have a picture of them!”

I couldn’t help but to get a bit caught up in her excitement, but I did make sure the coast was clear, “Foxy, remember to stay quiet, this is still a secret, “But, what do they look like?”

“Upright, furless, bipedal apes.” She looked around, then showed me a pic.

It was impossible to tell what gender it was, but it did have clothes, proving sapience. It was not completely furless, it did have long furs on its head, but lacked short furs on the rest of its body. While we had, despite the Dogmatics allegations to the contrary, evolved from K9 like ancestors, this thing was definitely monkey-like. I found it simply disturbing. Scarlet, though was apparently mesmerized, which was a bit creepy, but I think I could deal with that.

“I see our Scarlet has jumped the gun and showed you the pic.” Dave droned as he took his seat, “Now whose woman needs to be put in her place?”

“Shut it, Dave, we finally have proof…”

“Scarlet, honey,” I hated to rain on her parade, “That thing looks so creepy, many will think it’s a horror movie prop, and therefore, won’t take it as proof.”

She looked at the picture, back at us, at the picture then around, and finally her shoulders slumped in acceptance, “I guess you’re right. But the look in your eyes says you have something…”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” I grinned, pulling Thaine’s observational notes from my bag, “This object, based on Thaine’s own meticulous calculations, came from the Thedon cluster, yes the same place as the signal. And it will pass right by us in 5 years.”

“Are you sure he ain’t yanking your chain?” Jade cut in, serving my briner.

“That guy doesn’t appear to have a sense of humor.” Dave absently replied looking over the notes, “Now, I don’t know much about astronomy and its observations, but I do know a lot about math, and this, looks legit.”

“Then we have a window.” Scarlet smiled, it defiantly was time to pursue something physical.

19th of Planting, 3334

It had been almost half a year, but order was finally restored around the world. Anti-dogmatic political parties had sprung up everywhere, with the greatest scientific minds leading them, the ones like me, not Thaine. And here I was in the middle of it all, wishing I could still be observing the stars.

I was the leader, legally elected and everything. My council was the Seven plus a few. Though I was constantly racked with anxiety about how I could have stopped this from happening in the first place, I was happy with the direction we were going. For now, our goals were completing the decryption and deciphering of the signal and maintaining order in the dynamic new world. I hoped by the time the signal was done, we had a new goal so we could continue with works of science and not petty politics, but that was not today’s concern.

I hadn’t been in the observatory for months, my new office was in the capitol building. It was far too opulent for my tastes, built and furnished by the corruption of the Dogmatics. It was far too big for me, walls, floor, and ceiling of gilded marble, and covered with tapestries, and rugs, etc. I kind of hated my life.

The door opened and my reason for accepting this sauntered in. As Scarlet approached the desk I pretended to be working.

“Hey, Ty, the last of the Dogmatics have waved the white flag, we now have no enemies.”

“Just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.” I knew I was being paranoid, but that had been my life for 20 years, “No, it's not simple paranoia, it’s the truth, there are always people that want to take you down even if just for fun or spite, and we know the Dogmatics are dedicated.”

“Yeah, well, at least we can now focus on translations…”

“How far have we gotten?”

“Dave says only a few terra-flops, and we also have a few sound recordings, and man are they eerie.” She shivered as she remembered the sounds, “There is one phrase that looks significant, something called ‘the Kyoto Protocol’ apparently it’s about first contacts and alien meetings and stuff, but that’s about all we know about that.”

“Do you think we are chasing our tails, I mean, can we ever translate and/or learn a completely alien language?”

“Sequoia, a sorta quasi-xenolingist, thinks there may be more than one language on the recordings.” She smiled sitting in my lap, “Yeah, it is great, silly, she thinks that having multiple starting points may help to figure out how they think, making true translation possible. I’m no linguist but it sounds reasonable. How long till the ship comes around these parts again?”

“Two hundred and seventy-seven years. That’s when it will be close enough to at least try to pull into orbit.” I answered with a sigh, I would never see it through, “Perhaps it will give us the opportunity to pull enough data that we could use their science and technology to help bring it in.”

“We can only hope, Sweetie.” She nuzzled me.

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