Michael Kitz, now former National Security Advisor, prided himself in knowing when there was an opportunity to work a situation to his advantage. The eighteen hours of noise recorded during the first SETI Contact event could mean nothing, or it could mean everything. In a very real sense; right now it was the only thing.
Rachel’s call could only mean the President was, still, watching this closely.
On a good hunch Kitz had resigned as National Security Advisor, to implicate and prosecute Hadden Industries. The change in the guard caused a reshuffle, and when the game of musical chairs concluded his former assistant Rachel had risen through the ranks to become a Deputy Chief of Staff. He had indirectly done her a favour, and she was now clearing her debts. Raising the eighteen hours in the course of their discussion placed it in the spotlight. It was safe to assume that the Chief of Staff and the President knew, and wanted a quiet resurrection.
How had he missed it?
Eleanor Arroway stubbornly asserted that about eighteen hours of alien contact had occurred, all in the seconds when her capsule was dropped from the gimbal tower of the alien machine. Its implausibility looked reckless. It was the kind of harebrained and brazen desperation you would see when the truth was unravelling.
Any tangible evidence could only reside on her personal recording device. But when the recorded data was examined there was only noise. Eighteen hours of it, so it seemed. Kitz struggled to attribute this enigma to the Hadden conspiracy. But the coincidence of eighteen hours of static recorded on a zeroed out digital device, with much greater capacity, was disturbing.
Eighteen! No more, no less. He could understand the prosecution suppressing it, since it could only help the defence. Prosecution could probably have torn it apart as inadmissible noise, but it had not even been raised as evidence! This left any probability that this noise was a part of the conspiracy as diminishingly small. He pulled the report up on his screen and did a text search for ’18 hours’. It had not been noted as being extraordinary, and had been relegated to a footnote, otherwise it might have been publicly declared during the trial. A worthwhile defence attorney certainly would have used it to substantiate Eleanor Arroway’s case against conspiracy to defraud. This one fact may also have bogged the case down in the courts for years.
…A bullet missed.
The higher powers had their motives too. They probably now believed this noise somehow represented a recording of the Contact event, a recording that ‘we mortals’ were simply not able to interpret. The skeptic rose in him, but was unable to offer a plausible explanation.
This played over in his mind before he finally asked, “so is there any further investigation into this noise?”
Designated as a subauthority for the Chief of Staff, Rachel Constantine, placed her index finger on her chin while considering her words. “Well Michael we need to be careful not to reignite the chaos. One rogue alien contact event ought to be enough for this world. ”
“So it’s being kept at close quarters this time?”
“We have had some pretty good people looking into it. If we find anything that is newsworthy we’ll consider our options.”
“And I imagine you will need an appreciation of the security repercussions, although as I am no longer the National Security Advisor I am not in a position to investigate these matters.”
Rachel could see the invitation implied in these words, and was glad that the dancing could soon be dispensed with. “We believe that someone with experience in SETI and an appreciation of the security implications would be well positioned in a role of oversight.”
“May I ask who you have in mind? Actually, let’s not discuss this over the phone, let’s meet. I think my card still has some access. Shall I drop by?”
“Tomorrow is good, 10.00am. See you then”, Rachel gave a curt nod and signed off the video conference channel.
Michael Kitz smiled wryly to himself. Containment often took longer than he liked, but he was starting to see this Genie going back into its bottle, at long last. It was not that he believed the public didn’t have a right to know; it was simply that they often didn’t know what was good for them. Now if only he could make these scientists see it his way.
Idealists! Couldn’t they see that the altruistic and simple view of the life they led was only possible because they had an umbrella of protection? Worse! They thought that their ideas were safer behind corporate patent lawyers.
One thing he had learnt this time however was that pure science really did have a role, no matter how far out the idea… OK, he could live with that adjustment. He had to concede that some of the spinoffs from the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence were worthwhile. But it was probably more luck than design, or perhaps a carefully crafted scheme of Hadden’s to divert SETI, probably to launder money.
Hadden had crossed his path some time ago, and Kitz put nothing past him. His corporation was a force unto itself, almost a government. He had funded Eleanor Arroway’s hunt for ET, and he would not have done this unless he had an agenda.
The loss of life in the sabotage of the first machine was a tragedy, and one that he could have averted if it could have been contained. The unconstrained chaos also provided a perfect smokescreen for Hadden. It was too convenient.
The problem was human. Large projects needed massive recruitment, this meant relaxed diligence, less selectivity, and greater profiling requirements. This in turn meant greater security recruitment and again less diligence. The resultant juggernaut snowballed on, it had no handles and simply rolled where it wanted, all he could do was protect what he could. With containment came control and now if he played his cards right some pure science was under his control.
Noise! Great! What do you do with noise?
In fact he had a good idea of some pure science he could probably get his hands on, science that may just help out. He called his friend General John Meredith at Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
John Meredith had seen a lot of action, too much action. He had written too many letters of condolence, reassigned too many good men to desk-jobs with disabled access. He had also seen skirmishes lost because of communications failure. He had decided that there had to be a better way. This better way had now become his passion.
It had occurred to him in Iraq. TV re-runs were going through the hotel and Steve Austin was seeing stuff, bending stuff and exceeding speed limits with his six million dollar body.
Pah! 6 Million dollars wouldn’t pay a fraction of the compensation claims due to friendly fire alone. As for building a superman, that was fantasy. The prosthetics he had seen, even recently, were only marginally better than his childhood Meccano set. The mind to machine interface was moving ahead slowly though, he’d seen the videos on the Discovery channel. Perhaps the research needed to be taken a little more seriously. He knew men that had stared death in the face; some were still staring at it! they would jump at the chance of getting some mobility back.
He had set some of his staff the task of digging up research on neurological signal interpretation. If it was possible then the signals from the human mind could be translated for prosthesis control. Selling the idea to the brass was easy. It could also be applied to computer aided telepathy for signals, as well as systems and ballistic guidance. The men he recruited into the research had also thanked him for getting them away from the desk jobs. To some this was a fate worse than death. He reassured them that no risks would be taken, but that he needed determined men. John had found his own second lease on life. He found his natural skills in rallying and motivating could be directed into hope and healing rather than maiming.
John had not spoken to Michael Kitz in a while. He had a sense of distrust about anyone in the Whitehouse, and took an initial dislike to Kitz which had progressively softened. He had proved a powerful ally, and someone whose purpose was better aligned than opposed. Many of his injured men were often re-deployed to Kitz, probably because of their intimacy with certain operations, but also because Kitz was good to them. John would say they had found a mutual respect for each other. That was good enough for Kitz, so he supported John’s vision. It had potential, and he liked to keep this sort of potential close by.
Kitz left a message for John to call back with his P.A. and made himself a drink. The call came back soon after.
“Michael, you called. What’s up?”
”John, so how are you? How’s Agnes?”
“We’re all good Michael, You? Hey how’s that Fredrickson kid, is he still with you?
“Sorry John, Fredrickson was a part of the team at the first SETI machine, he was a good man though. He was one of the boys that tried to grab the dead-man-switch on the bomber.”
John paused a moment before he resumed. “Nasty business that, saw you on TV for a fair bit afterwards. Do you really think that Hadden had the whole thing set up?”
“Actually that is partly why I’m calling John. I need to talk to you this afternoon. Can we catch up?”
“Sure, I’m just heading over to Langley now, there’s another birthday celebration.”
Michael knew that this was John’s code for a ‘minor breakthrough’. He was still waiting for the ‘Wedding celebration’ which would mean a major breakthrough in the fusion of man and machine. He wasn’t certain when it would happen but there was no ‘if’ about it, unless John ran out of support.
Some lauded that John had already ‘achieved much of what he’d set out to do’. This was also code for ‘the project has been sufficiently successful, is providing diminishing returns, and other projects need the funds’.
“OK, you know where to find me. I’ll see you soon.”
Shortly afterwards John was moving unimpeded through the Pentagon. He knew Michael had a desk he could use when required. He knocked on the door and after exchanging pleasantries with the receptionist he stepped into Michael’s office.
Michael shook his hand smiling, “John, thanks for coming at such short notice.”
John acknowledged this with a shrug. “ Hello Michael, It’s no trouble. I know you wouldn’t call unless it was important to me.”
They sat at an informal table with deeply set chairs that Michael maintained with mints and water.
“So,” John broke the silence, ”What’s so important it had to be shared now, and so secret it had to be delivered face to face?”
“John, I have a recording from the SETI machine that appears to be noise. I believe it may have been a part of a sophisticated computer aided telepathic hallucination from Hadden Industries into Eleanor Arroway’s machine, or it could be from an alien… or it could just be noise. Either way I could use your help.
Michael leaned closer to John.
“I believe with your support I can also help you fund your project a little further” Kitz hesitated to let this sink in. He leaned back in the chair again and appraised John as he deliberated. “Do I have your basic agreement so I can discuss this further?”
“How much further?”
“Let’s just say that I’ll have the ear of a fairly senior person tomorrow and I’d like to propose that we form an interim collaboration.”
“Michael you know how much this means to me, I need your assurance that you’re not going to let us get sidetracked. I need to know that our ‘collaboration’ isn’t just going to transform my project into some witch hunt.”
Kitz stood up and walked over to his coffee machine. He poured himself a coffee and gestured to the General who provided a simple nod. Kitz poured a second cup and handed it over. He looked squarely at General John Meredith and played his cards as straight as he could.
“John, I have no intention of commandeering your project. I still believe it has significance. But I have the feeling that we’re both under the same budgetary pressures, and I’ve got a line of credit. Right now I have absolutely no idea if this collaboration will bear any fruit at all. What I do know is that I am going to push for the allocation of some of my funds into a verification of whether this noise has any neurosignal content. Call it a consultancy arrangement if you like.”
“Okay,” John knew he was now stepping past the point of no return. Aside from the funding he really needed an injection of interest. He could use Michael’s involvement to foster participation from other sections. “So do you know any more than what you’ve told me or are you still digging?”
“John, the excavation is done, nothing was found except a tooth. We need you to help us figure out if it came from machu picchu. But I will let you know if anything turns up.”
“Alright, well I’ll be around. You know how to find me.” John stood to go.
“Sure,” said Kitz. But as the General was opening the door Michael called to him; “Oh John, happy Birthday!”
“Thanks Michael”, with that he smiled and left.