Ellie was on the call list of the SETI Post Detection Task Group. Upon learning of the new signal she was expected at the SETI Institute posthaste. On arrival she was eager to have a few minutes on her own with Kent before anyone else. Kent called a meeting with her original team. It was here that Ellie told them of the preliminary success in their interpretation of the original machine signal.
Kent was not surprised by the turn of events. He understood that when science reached an impasse it was usually only surmounted through a change in perspective. The problem: waiting for someone to come from that new perspective with the right insights.
We probably knew all along, Kent. The energy required to sustain an Einstein Rosen Bridge is far in excess of what we could achieve, it may not even be possible. It makes more sense to accept the constraints of our universe and travel at light speed. Perhaps a Vegan has travelled here ‘in lumine’.”
Another of Ellie’s original associates, Alan Fisher, was there collecting his thoughts. “So let me get this straight, you have your typical ‘mad scientist brain scanner contraption’. You replace the chicken on one end with a computer and a tape full of noise. You put on the headphones at the other end, and you get what?
“We don’t really know yet,” offered Ellie, “Artificial Intelligence? maybe an environment to support a computer model of consciousness? Maybe it could even transport sentience. It doesn’t stop there Fish.” Ellie hesitated. ”Willie, just so that I don’t sound like the only lunatic, could you explain.”
“Well, our subject, Frank, was a special kind of guy. He was a quadriplegic. Anyway he had a range of technologies to try to help him. It made him perfect for the role.” Willie looked at the ceiling. ”Wow, this is so weird telling someone that hasn’t seen it. Anyway, you’ve seen the movie ‘Tron’?”
General assent around the room.
“Well, Frank died during one of the tests, maybe of his own free will. Anyway we decided to set the system in a free running state. The next thing we knew there was this emergent signal.”
“Wow!” Kent stared at the ceiling. It was as if the walls and building were transparent to him, and he was staring at a distant star that only he could see. “And the signal looks just like noise? This changes everything really.”
The SETI Institute was abuzz. Of course Kitz was there. He sought Ellie out, took her aside and, in a congenial manner, said that he had prepared a theatrette for the assembly to be brought up to speed on both signal discoveries. He added that it was important to conduct this briefing before any rash decision to reboot the gimbal.
For once Ellie agreed with him. Though she wasn’t certain that they would have the same agenda, or guest list. She also wondered if he had the information that Hadden Industries had recently provided to her. On impulse she took out her cell phone. She handed it to Kitz saying simply, “Make this a policy please”.
Kitz looked at her with a sense of newfound respect. He took her phone and smiled.
“I’ll see it done.”
In preparing for the assembly there were heated discussions around the possibility that Frank’s demise would be connected with the experiment. It was argued that providing a limited version of the sequence of events would avoid the possibility of erroneous attribution to his death.
The ethical dilemmas of censorship and telling ‘half truths’ were finally squashed by John. He simply stated that the current version of truth was incomplete, and that the subjectivity of eyewitnesses, such as themselves, often differed from those presented with objective facts. The General, a gifted tactician seasoned by his years of coordinating battles, drew a small book from his pocket. It was SunTzu’s Art of war. He flicked over several pages and then read:
“In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.
I don’t want to suggest that the gentle folk out there or the press are enemies. What I will suggest is that we are waging war on ignorance, and it has contrivances that will fool even me.”
So it was decided to remain silent on certain facts until it was understood if his death was due to negligence. John said he would take personal responsibility for any adverse findings.
At the assembly were the usual array of close associates. About twenty people, many of them scientists and engineers, sat expectantly watching the SETI motif on a projector screen in the theatre of the SETI Institute. There were the familiar faces of those involved in the previous International Machine Consortium construction team, and there was also a smattering of new specialists. Ellie guessed that these were probably Government or Military researchers. Many of them were a part of the SETI Post Detection Task Group. She was relatively impressed, and was forced to contemplate Kitz’s motives for such an inclusive team. It was probably containment. Those that would eventually know anyway, should know under controlled circumstances.
The assembly agenda had been approved by Kitz and was to be chaired by Rachel in her capacity of Acting Deputy, Chiefs of Staff. As the various scientists and dignitaries entered the theatrette they saw four seats arrayed at the front where Rachel, Ellie, John and Kent sat. The tone of the presentations had been set through a carefully prepared preamble. This stated that there had been important research in parallel with SETI, and that recent findings would have a significant impact upon forthcoming discussions. The guests were then advised that the opportunity for questions would be provided only after the new implications for SETI’s signal were explained.
The three teams were introduced through Ellie, John and Kent. Their convergence was glossed over.
Rachel then introduced Ellie’s team. Willie began with the background on the extraction of the telemetry signal and the analysis through the Quantum Computer. The screen was used to some effect with the visualisations provided by James. While he provided coverage of encryption collisions and key extraction he stopped short of the work at The Fishbowl.
Rachel then thanked Willie and introduced John. The activities of the military research, the Deep Brain Stimulation device and ‘The Fishbowl’ were very briefly outlined. Images of the team and facility helped provide the context for the presentation. Frank was strongly acknowledged for his stoic contribution. A photo of Frank adjacent to the pedestal in The Fishbowl was shown, he was smiling. His death from a brain aneurism, was simply attributed through ‘natural causes’.
By now some in the audience had started to piece together their own conclusions. Many figured that if there hadn’t been a significant success the two teams would not be here at SETI, and they would probably still have possession of their phones.
Rachel then called on Palmer Joss to deliver the finale.
“My involvement in this project has been peripheral.” He began.
Palmer walked down the aisle from the darkness at the rear upper ranks of seats in the theatrete. Thus he imparted the impression of a guest at a science forum. No question about it thought Ellie; here was a consummate spiritual politician.
“I’d only recently met Frank, and I wasn’t there when he died, but I know him as extraordinary.”
He had reached the theatre floor. He turned, faced the crowd and leaned back against the theatre’s podium.
“Putting aside any religious connotations there’s not a human alive who has not contemplated whether they could, or would, attempt to communicate from beyond life.”
Palmer looked around as if this was his congregation. As a well acknowledged scientific ethicist it was arguably just that. He knew how important his role was; He needed to provide his ethical credentials to this scientific audience without overstepping the spirituality side.
“To those involved in Frank’s experience, whether as a disciple of science, or simply good books,” he acknowledged the scientific team and then spread his arms in humility at ‘good books’, “the conclusion is very compelling that this is exactly what Frank is trying to do.
As a spiritual person I have often scrutinized any scientific process that steps into the spiritual field. Science and faith are now converging on consciousness, and I need to know the scientific community will remain as skeptical as if it were dealing with spiritual healing, stigmata or speaking in tongues.
I’ve seen evidence of an attempt to reach out through a message from a new kind of computer. The computer’s ‘programme’ was recently discovered and adapted from the original SETI event. Through means that will soon be explained, this system has spontaneously shown a signal unique to Frank.
Although I am unqualified to provide the scientific credentials, I am qualified to recognise the sanctity of life. And so, I feel that physical science is morally bound to explore this phenomenon, as surely as medical science is bound to the hippocratic oath.
My role here is to help if there are any ethical dilemmas you feel like discussing. I leave the science to you, and I wish you the best.”
Rachel stood and thanked Palmer before asking Ellie and Kent to officially open the occasion. Ellie stepped up to the podium. This was an audience of peers. She was in her element.
“As Palmer has said the evidence of a connection is compelling. It takes the form of an emergent property from a cyclic closed loop system. This system was initialised with the signal artifact from the first SETI event and Frank’s interaction. We are yet to fully decode our preliminary results, though we feel that it is highly likely to lead to a form of contact. Further work will involve the interpretation of the emergent signal into an interface.
The bigger implication right now, and what really needs to be addressed by the people in this room, is this: Can this information help us deal with the advent of a new SETI signal? Should we wait? Should we proceed? and if so, how?”
At this point Ellie stood and glanced at Willie. Willie had a small pile of copied notes. He handed a bundle over to her. Kitz had provided suggestions of what should be said at this stage and Ellie had worked with Kent to adjust it for this audience.
Ellie continued. ”My team will be available for questions in a special session in two hours time. We are now passing out briefing papers for that session. Please understand that this information is currently highly speculative, and should not pass beyond the participants in this room. It is not worth anyone’s reputation to make this public yet.
The more public purpose, and one which should remain paramount, is the arrival of the new signal. This will need to have an official statement, and an agreed press release as soon as is practical. Before this is developed I think Professor Kent Clark would like to introduce us to this new signal.” Ellie then guided Kent to the podium microphone.
“Thank you Ellie. The developments Ellie’s team bring to this event are news to me. From what I’ve heard these results are relevant and, although embryonic, have staggering implications.
This leads us to a discussion of three events: the Betelgeuse supernova; the return of the signal and the new results of Ellie’s team. This new signal originates from Betelgeuse and consequently I believe that it is reasonable to connect the return of the signal to the supernova event,” Kent paused to allow the murmurs of assent to subside. “This leaves us to contemplate the original SETI signal, and Ellie’s developments since then.”
“Okay, so with some artistic license then; you freeze frame your soul and send it across several light years by electromagnetic waves, all in the hope that you get reconstituted at the other end. The team here on Earth then work steadfastly through several milestones and disappointments to reveal signs of life. Can anyone conclude that the return of the new SETI signal could be the direct result of Ellie’s research? Could Frank’s death be related to the Betelgeuse supernova? Although there may be some degree of poetic consolation, I doubt it. We must focus on the physics rather than become sidetracked on metaphysics.
So, let’s examine the new signal. Based upon a results from interferometry It appears to be a collimated beam of unknown breadth. This suggests it is roughly focused towards our solar system, perhaps to conserve power over this long journey. The signal is now forty-eight hours old and it differs from the original signal since it has no embedded video of either Hitler; his defeat; the Kennedy assassination, nor is there an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Puff ‘n’stuff’ .”
A muted laughter arises from some in the theatrette before Kent continues.
“Aside from the same prime number pattern it appears to be noise. Now we know about Ellie’s research this is interesting, and may bear consideration. It is also somewhat a relief, or we would have every hobbyist on earth decrypting the signal and ‘contributing’ to the research effort. As it is we can hand on heart say that we are equally as perplexed as they are.
Let’s return to the supernova, a cataclysmic event. One theory is that the signal is a mass exodus, and that we are a possible recipient of refugees. Another theory takes the opposite view, and that it is a call for any survivors of the supernova to ‘beam themselves over’. Of course it may simply be a news broadcast.”
The muted laughter around the room allowed the acceptance of the news to be gauged. Kent’s droll delivery had taken some of the tension out of the room. He moved to accepting questions and discussion.
The questions included probes to guess at how long the signal would continue. Those that strongly believed in the portents of an alien exodus suggested urgency and that life may be extinguishing as they were speaking.
With questions raised about whether to ‘drop’ a new recipient or a simple recorder in the machine the nature of the machine was brought back into focus. Was it a telepresence, teleporting, Einstein Rosen bridge, or perhaps an advanced Ouija board?
Eventually Kent proposed they simply progress with the next manned drop.
“Our teams are rehearsed and ready, and I have had the privilege of having heard Ellie’s briefing in advance. I would like to propose that we progress with the use the gimbal machine, and that until we know for sure whether we have a constraint of a single shot event per candidate we employ different participating individuals each time.