Monday, September 26, 2011

Chapter Three Continued: Donovan and Zell

“Come on, you old buzzard,” Donovan jibed from the mountain’s base, “Can’t walk as fast without your cane?”

Zell approached Donovan, shaking his head at his impudence. “There’s something to be said for taking one’s time.”

“Any longer and we would have become artifacts.”

Zell dismissed him with a wave of his hand and walked over to the camp, where some of the other members of their team were working on the day’s findings.

One of them, a young man named Sergio, was reviewing his findings at a burial chamber.

“Look here,” he said, calling Donovan and Zell over, “The bones we found, the woman. She’s Inca, but nothing else about the cist is.”

“And where’s the skull?” wondered Donovan. “Usually that’s the last to decay.”

Arturo, another member of the Peruvian team, spoke up. “It’s possible it’s in another cist.”

“Maybe,” said Zell. “This woman was someone of importance,” he noted, gesturing at some of the objects on the table. “Look at the silver pin. An average Inca woman fastened her shawls with copper.”

As the team continued reviewing their work, a wind began to pick up, softly at first, then swirled with the force of a gale. The papers on Zell’s collapsible desk flew off in all directions and he ran after them trying to gather them. He looked up into the sky wondering why there weren’t any threatening clouds overhead. Then he heard the almost silent whump-whump-whump of a muted engine and looked over the treetops to see the lights of an American black ops helicopter coming towards their site. Donovan was running towards it screaming and gesturing. He couldn’t hear what he was saying but he doubted that even the most liberal newspapers would print it.

“The woman, the woman!” screamed Sergio, throwing a tarp over the bones.

All that work ruined, Zell thought. But before he could get as angry as Alan was, he began to wonder what a military helicopter was doing at their site. Not to evict them. Then what?

From the helicopter emerged a silver-haired Army general about sixty years of age. He held his hat under his arm and between his teeth was a large unlit Havana cigar. The lights from the helicopter illuminated his green uniform, its sharpness contrasting with Donovan’s disheveled attire. Zell crouched beneath the still whirling blades and approached the newcomer. Donovan was already giving him an earful.

“Do you have any fucking idea how much work you’ve just ruined?” Donovan demanded.

The general kept his ramrod military bearing under the whirling blades, which was fine, as he couldn’t have been more than five foot seven. “Am I speaking to Dr. Alan H. Donovan of the Zell Institute?”

“You’re damn right you are. Who the hell are you?”

“General James Francis McKenna, at your service, sir.”

“Well, General James Francis McKenna, what the hell gives you the right to --”

The general turned towards Zell. “And you must be Dr. Elias Zell.”

“I am, General. Now would you mind explaining why you’ve just ruined a month’s worth of work?”

“Sorry for any trouble we may have caused,” he said, sliding a finger across his throat so the pilot would cut his engines.

Donovan looked as if he were ready to deck the diminutive general. "What's this all about, General McKenna?"

"It's a matter of national security, Dr. Donovan. I've been cleared to brief both you and Dr. Zell on it."
Donovan's hazel eyes narrowed. "What matter of national security?"

"Well, Dr. Donovan, it's about the pulse."

Donovan and Zell looked at one another quizzically. "What pulse?" Donovan wondered.

"The EM pulse," McKenna explained, almost flabbergasted. "The pulse a week ago, the one that knocked out power worldwide --"

Zell stepped forward, a genial smile on his face. "Is that what happened? All I know is every piece of hardware we’ve got went haywire a week ago, our supply team is two days overdue and no one’s been able to tell us a damn --”

McKenna looked around at the team of diggers who had now gathered around the helicopter. "Is there someplace a little quieter where we can talk?"

“My tent,” Zell said gesturing towards it. “That is, if your pilot hasn’t blown it into the valley.”

                                                                  * * *

Donovan sat on Zell’s cot scratching at a week’s growth of black stubble. He shook his head again and turned to Zell who was sitting next to him trying to rekindle his extinguished cigar with his gold Zippo. The general sat in Zell’s spare chair bolt upright with his hat in his lap. The air inside the tent was thick with the scent of expensive cigars.

“So let me get this straight,” Donovan said. “NASA believes that this EM pulse came from the Moon and they want me to tag along on some tossed together mission and dig up whatever caused it?”

“That’s the long and short of it, Dr. Donovan. The government ran a computer check of all qualified American archeologists and your name popped up as candidate number one.”

“And why is that?” Donovan wondered.

“Your experience in finding artifacts in hard to reach places,” the general noted, “and of course your, shall we say, unorthodox methods that speed up recovery rates.”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with NASA screwing my father out of a mission on Apollo, would it?”

The general seemed genuinely surprised. “I was not aware that your father was an astronaut, Dr. Donovan.”

“He wasn’t, thanks to NASA. They wanted geologists and they got a ton but when it came down right to it, it was a matter of who kissed the most brass.”

“Alan,” Zell said shooting him a look. “General, now my field isn't electromagnetics, but isn't it possible that this pulse was caused by some kind of -- I don't know -- naturally occurring phenomenon?"

The general tapped some ash off his cigar in a nearby ashtray. "A lot of folks have said that. But they don't know what I'm about to tell you -- a naturally occurring phenomenon doesn't send along landing coordinates."

"Landing coordinates?" A wave of shock overcame Zell's face. "Are you certain?"

"Positive. They're the landing coordinates to the Ocean of Storms. Some of the brightest minds at NASA have speculated that the fissure and the resulting EM pulse which emanated from it was just a way of getting our attention."

“It doesn’t make any sense.” Donovan rubbed his chin. “If what you’re saying is true, that it’s coming from the Ocean of Storms, then the crew of Apollo 12 should’ve picked up this EM energy. They had walked all over the damned --”

“Our best guess is that it was completely buried when Apollo 12 landed back in '69. Which means that whoever buried this object there two million odd years ago timed it to go off on a particular date, specifically December 22, 2012."

Donovan turned to Zell. "Recognize the date?"

"The last date of the Mayan Long Count calendar."

McKenna looked at them. "What're you talking about?"

Donovan shifted slightly in his seat, now somewhat interested. “The Mayans were a very advanced civilization,” he explained. “They used zero, an abstract numerical concept, long before the Romans did, for example. They also realized, by tracking the movements of certain celestial bodies, that there were cycles in the cosmos. After completing 13 cycles of 364 years, the calendar would reset itself and a new age would begin.”

“A new age,” McKenna said, somewhat nonplused.

“A period of great change,” Zell said. “The Mayans thought of it as a union between the First Father and the First Mother.”

"Well, it would seem that I’ve come to the right people," McKenna continued, "with this fissure having opened up over the suspected buried object, we believe it would be a relatively easy matter for an experienced archeology team to dig it up and --"

“A relatively easy matter?” Donovan laughed looking at the lantern hanging in the center of Zell’s tent.

“Do you have any idea how difficult that work would be, even if it were partly exposed? We would be digging on the Moon, General, one-sixth the gravity of the Earth, in space suits not designed for the careful manipulations of an archeological dig --”

“NASA has promised to provide you with all the equipment and training you need.”

“It’s been my experience that NASA’s promises aren’t worth a hell of a lot.”

“Alan,” Zell said curtly. “General, wouldn’t it be better for NASA to send an unmanned probe to the Moon to dig it out? The object on the Moon could be powered by some type of nuclear battery which could be harmful --”

General McKenna waved his cigar. “NASA has a satellite in lunar orbit right now. All the spectral analysis indicates that there is no harmful radiation emanating from the object. Further, it would take several years to design and build such an unmanned robot probe to dig it up. By that time the world could be thrown into a complete panic. Such a panic the President does not take lightly, especially in the current political climate.” He sighed. “Besides there’s the Chinese to consider.”

Donovan folded his arms. “What about the Chinese?”

The general gave a short quick nod. “I’ve been cleared to give you this information. Spy satellites indicate that the Chinese sent an unmanned probe this week, with the possibility of sending a manned expedition sometime this summer.”

“So that’s it!” Donovan said slapping the tent post. “You guys just want to beat somebody else to the Moon. This isn’t about science at all; it’s about sticking the Stars and Stripes in the ground and chalking up another victory for American ingenuity.”

The general stood up and looked as if he was prepared to walk out. At the tent flap he turned and looked squarely at Donovan. “I can assure you, Dr. Donovan, that if this mission is successful, it will be due to American ingenuity. However, this mission is of vital importance to science and we are treating it as such. It could very well mean that we’re being contacted by beings who came to our Solar System eons before humanity could rub two sticks together. However, the president believes that whatever information that object holds should be shared with all of humanity. The best way of sharing that information would be for the United States to mount a recovery mission. As you are well aware, the People’s Republic of China does not share our beliefs regarding the dissemination of information.”

“Wave that flag, General,” Donovan chuckled. “But you’re not convincing me. We’ll go there, study whatever caused the pulse and abandon the Moon as we did before when you fellas in the military convinced the government that you needed a little more cash.”

The general pursed his lips slightly. “So I take it you are not interested in serving on this mission?”

“Let me put it to you this way, General. Tell NASA to go to hell.”

“Goddamn it, Alan!” said Zell.

General McKenna ignored the outbursts. “I have been asked by your president to remind you that your country would be in your debt if you should choose to accept --”

“My country owes my father a debt but he’s not here to collect.”

The general nodded stiffly. “Very well.”

Zell stood up. “I’ll walk you out, General.”

Donovan poured himself another scotch but didn’t drink it, just held it in his hand as he paced back and forth across the center of Zell’s tent. Some nerve, some goddamn nerve, he thought. Let them get some other patsy to go to the Moon. What the hell did they come here and ask me for?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter Three: Peru

December 29, 2012
Qoriwayrachina Dig Site
Vilcabamba, Peru
7:15 p.m.

            Dr. Elias Zell pushed back the mosquito netting flap from his tent and stepped out into the evening air.  The sun was slipping below the horizon, casting the entire dig site in a greenish gold haze. Zell allowed himself a moment to take it all in. Since arriving in Qoriwayrachina, an Incan outpost that may have been a supply center for larger cities like Machu Piccu, they’d been working nonstop and were just beginning to reap the rewards. Yesterday alone they had uncovered silver mines that went a long way towards explaining what the Incas may have been doing in such a remote location. Still, though, there was much work to be done.
            The dig at Qoriwayrachina, located at the 12,476-foot summit of Cerro Victoria in the Vilcabamba Range, was just another day at the office for Zell and his team of diggers. As head of the Zell Institute for Archeological Research and Historical Study, he had spent his entire life in the pursuit of antiquities. The Institute had been founded by his father, Thackeray Zell, a respected member of British society who devoted a considerable portion of his family fortune to uncovering the past. Operating out of Greyhaven Mansion in Burford, near Oxfordshire, Thackeray had used the vast financial resources at his disposal to mount expeditions across the globe. Oh they had laughed at old Thackeray when he made his famous expeditions in search of Noah's Ark and the Holy Grail; he almost destroyed his reputation when he attempted to uncover Atlantis.  But the discoveries he did make, most notably the incredible underwater excavation of Cleopatra's tomb, distinguished him in the minds of men for all time. 
Zell sighed, wishing he had some ice for his scotch.  He sat down at his collapsible desk just outside his tent wanting to write down the results of today's findings in his journal but couldn't take his eyes away from Alan Donovan, his former student and now partner, scrabbling up the rocky slopes of Marcana, the mountain which abutted their camp.
            Son of a bitch, he's still at it.
            Zell shook his head and lit a cigar, half-hypnotized by the blue-gray smoke curling around his lantern. He knew Donovan should get some sleep, that they could do more at first light.  But there was no point in saying anything.  Once Donovan got his mind set on something, that was it.  Zell knew that as soon as the question of where Qoriwayrachina got its water from was raised, Donovan would not rest until he found the answer. And so here he was, searching for the answers, even as the night closed in.
            Zell wished he still had Alan Donovan’s endurance.  Though only twelve years older than his partner in archeology, every one of Zell’s bones creaked, every muscle screamed out to remind him of his day’s exertions.  I’m only forty-seven, he thought, why do I feel like a hundred and forty-seven?  He looked as his scotch and cigar and smiled – ah, the causes and cures to so many ailments.  Zell knew he was being too hard on himself, that his drinking and cigars were only part of the problem.  He had lived the type of adventurous life few men in the 21st century still lived, he had seen more places than most would ever see, he had broken more bones, come closer to death more times than he could count.  If he wanted a cigar and a sip of scotch to blot out the aches, so what?  He had lived enough for five men already and was glad of it. 
            He thought of Donovan again, out carefully sifting through earth for pieces of the past, the knees of his khaki pants no doubt thick with dirt.  With a couple of drinks in him, Zell would tell anyone who was listening how Alan Donovan wouldn’t even lift his head from the ground if the most beautiful girl in the world passed by – not that many gorgeous women sauntered by in their line of work.  It was a bad joke and he knew it but that didn’t stop him from repeating it. 
            “Elias!” came Donovan’s voice from somewhere above him.
            Zell sat upright. He’d been with Donovan long enough to read the tone of his voice. He’d found something. Zell stood up, hearing the electric pop of his joints as he did.
            “This had better be good, Alan,” he called, “I just was starting to review the day’s work.”
            “Your scotch and cigars can wait,” Donovan called back. “Now get up here!”
            Zell began clawing his way up the embankment. As much as his bones ached, he knew better than to ignore it when Alan Donovan had made a find. Alan was one of the brightest students Zell had ever seen, his mind absorbed history and ate up the technical aspects of the archeological field like nobody's business.  But he was stubborn, boy was he ever stubborn.  Once they had argued for days on the dating of certain skull fragments they had found in South Africa.  Alan was convinced they had found a unique australopithecine specimen and did his damnedest to bring Zell over to his way of thinking -- a fairly violent battle ensued between teacher and student, one that wouldn't have been tolerated if Alan had been any other student.  Yet, when they had unearthed the rest of the skeleton, Zell was forced to agree with his conclusions. 
At last he reached Donovan’s position. His old student was standing amidst a set of hidden gullies, grinning almost madly as he watched the water roar past. The wind caused by the water’s force whipped through his thick black hair. Donovan looked at his old friend, his gray-blue eyes dancing.
            “There’s our water supply!” he said.
            “Amazing,” Zell marveled. “So what’s your theory, Doctor?”
            “There’s got to be a second lake up there, somewhere,” Donovan said. “Maybe made up of meltwater from Marcana’s snows. But that’s not all, look.”
            Donovan led Zell to a section of the mountain where a line of stones seemed to form a channel that took the water more than five miles from the lake down to Qoriwayrachina. Zell looked at the channel a moment, the gears in his head now whirring.
            “That’s a lot of effort on the part of the Incas,” he said. “Makes you wonder what was so important about this area that they’d go this far to sustain it.”
            Donovan clapped Zell on the shoulder. “Exactly!” he said. “All the more reason we need to get back to work at first light.” He turned to walk down the mountain. “Come on, Gustavo and Arturo will want to hear about this. Hopefully they’ll find some mention of this water system in those writings we uncovered this morning.”
            As Donovan and Zell began to make the trek back to camp, Zell looked at his friend and spoke. “Your father would be proud, you know.”
            “My father?” asked Donovan. “He was a geologist, not an archeologist, remember? Come on, we don’t want to finish this climb in the dark.”
            Donovan moved ahead of Zell, leaving him with his memories. Hunter Donovan had been one of the geologists selected for the Apollo missions, one of the many who never got the chance to go to the Moon, Zell recalled.  But Hunter's case was different.  It wasn’t budget cuts that sidelined him, it was a minor heart fibrillation, so minor that many doctors questioned whether or not he even had one.  But that didn't stop NASA's doctors from grounding him, though Zell long suspected there was more to it than that.  Cal Walker, a flight director at NASA, hated geologists on principle, believing them to be unnecessary to the Apollo program, figuring that any astronaut could be taught to do what they did.  And he had a particular hatred for Hunter who was considered the best prospect for the geologist-astronaut program since he was also a trained pilot from his time in the navy.
            That prick really screwed you good, old friend, Zell thought as he scanned the ghost of the Moon, now just coming into view. 
            Zell turned his attention back towards the past as he made his way down the slope.  Alan works himself too hard, Zell mused, he works himself because of what his father was and what his father became.  Hunter Donovan was the most disciplined man Zell ever knew, he was disciplined in such a way that if you pulled one piece from the way he was built the whole man crumbled.  Walker and NASA took that piece from Hunter and he was never the same after that. 
            Zell remembered how in awe he was of Hunter.  He had met him after Hunter had left NASA, through his father.  Not only had Hunter been an ace Navy pilot and chosen for the astronaut program, he had also received advanced degrees in geology and was one of the leading experts on the geological history of the Moon.  He was a man like Teddy Roosevelt, someone who could be a hundred things at once and never seem lacking in any category.  Thackeray had selected him to accompany the Institute on a dig in Antarctica. Hunter had helped them excavate and analyze thousands of meteorite samples on the East Antarctic icesheet. But, in spite of his achievements, it was apparent that Hunter was well on the way to his ruination.  As much as he had tried to block the disappointment of being grounded, and later the loss of his young wife to cancer, he couldn't stop dwelling in the past.  His drinking finally caught up with him when he died of a heart attack. By that point, the only job he had been able to hold down was dusting crops somewhere near Barstow, California. Left without a father, Alan was taken in by Thackeray and raised at the Institute. Zell, then in his early twenties, became something of a big brother to the ten-year-old orphan. Many times, when he was home on break from Oxford, Zell would tell Alan tales of the Han Dynasty, the Ark of the Covenant and the mysteries that lay scattered below the world’s oceans. As he grew older, Donovan began joining Zell and Thackeray on digs all over the globe. When Zell took over the Institute after his father’s death, there was no question in Alan’s mind where he belonged.  Over the years, through scores of adventures, their friendship had evolved from mentor to student to a more equal plane, one built on mutual respect and admiration. 

To be continued....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chapter Two: Into Action


December 28, 2012
The White House
Washington, D.C.
5:43 p.m.

The President stood at the windows of the Oval Office with his hands clasped behind his back. He thought of many of his predecessors who had contemplated equally difficult problems in this very same spot. Harry Truman said he never lost a night’s sleep over using the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. John Kennedy debated his response to the Cuban Missile Crisis in this room with his brother. George W. Bush ironed out the doctrine to combat terrorism behind this desk. He wondered what advice those men would give him regarding the current situations involving the Moon and Taiwan.

The casualty lists were almost more than he could bear. At least several thousand people had been killed, most in transportation accidents as power cut off worldwide. His advisors told him that the figures could have been worse, that there could have been hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions killed if the EMP had lasted any longer, but to the President's way of thinking those twenty minutes had done more than enough damage. And beyond the human costs, there was the fact that power was still spotty across the country and that more could die from contaminated water supplies or other such problems. The economic damage alone could plunge the world into a massive depression.

And then there was the mood on the streets. People had been trying to get their lives back to some semblance of normalcy in the last few days, but since the news about the pulse's source had broken, there had been an uneasiness in many American cities. The spike in crime alone indicated that. People were afraid of what it could mean, terrified that all of the warfare which had engulfed the world in the last decade could be dwarfed by an imminent attack by alien invaders.

And even if he could convince Americans that there was no imminent threat from space, the report from Taiwan was not good. The Chinese fleet was building in strength and numbers off the coast of Taiwan. Chinese rhetoric had been growing in recent weeks about the island nation, which they considered to be a breakaway province, rightly theirs. Generations of American presidents had supported the one-China, two-systems policy and China in turn had left well-enough alone.

Why are they doing this now? What’s to gain from further provocation?

The President had ordered the Pacific Fleet to stand ready in the event of an invasion by mainland Chinese forces. Though the Cold War was long over, the policy regarding containment of Communist forces remained in place, if for no other reason than to protect viable new democracies like Taiwan from aggressive neighbors. The Chinese economy is in shambles, the President mused, perhaps they’re looking to occupy Taiwan to stimulate their own economy. But the world would not tolerate such a blatant act of aggression. He would not tolerate it.

So what do I do? Engage this country in yet another war while our forces are spread across the globe combating terrorism? When the threat of a full scale biological or chemical attack is so possible? When we might not even have enough funds to cover all of the commitments we've already made?

A knock on the door stirred the President from his thoughts. In walked his private secretary, a step behind her General McKenna and John Dieckman. The President gestured for the two men to sit as his secretary shut the Oval Office door. He leaned against his desk but remained standing as they spoke. He liked to hear any bad news standing.

“Mr. President,” the general began, looking somewhat embarrassed. “According to our latest intel, we believe that the Chinese maneuvers near Taiwan are a diversion.”

“A diversion? A diversion from what?”

“Mr. President,” Deke said calmly. “The Chinese launched a rocket within the last hour. Everything indicates that it will head towards the Moon. The booster has almost twice the thrust of the old Saturn V’s which took Apollo to the Moon.”

“My God. Is it manned?”

“We don’t believe so,” McKenna said shaking his head. “We believe that it’s an unmanned orbiter designed to study the source of the signal, similar to the one we currently have in orbit. But the booster's the real issue. If they've got a booster with that kind of thrust, then we have to assume it would be capable of bringing a crew to the Moon.”

The President rubbed his chin. “What's our probe telling us now, Deke?”

“The source of the pulse is definitely the Ocean of Storms. The fissure itself is pretty tremendous -- a mile across, ten miles long. We haven't yet been able to ascertain its depth. We might not even be able to without readjusting our orbit.”

“Do we have any clue what's inside it?”

“No sir, not yet. But something's definitely down there. We're still picking up excessive amounts of
residual electromagnetic energy, but it’s diminishing by the hour.”

“General, what’s the current status of the Chinese space program?”

“Fairly advanced, sir. Since putting up their first 'taikonaut' back in '03, they've fine-tuned their Shenzhou capsules considerably. Most experts believe that their latest batch of capsules were designed with the capacity to travel to the Moon. We believe that the Chinese have put a great deal of money into their program in the hopes of achieving a manned lunar mission by the end of next year. This probe gives every indication that they are attempting to accelerate that program in light of the recent developments in the Ocean of Storms.”

The President sat down at his desk. “Are you telling me that they can get to the Moon before we do?”

“It’s possible, sir,” McKenna remarked. “They have a heavy booster and they have a working command module. Present intel indicates that they’re having some troubles with a landing module, but we know they've been giving it a vigorous shake-down over the last two years.”

The President turned to Dieckman. "And the status of our lander?"

Deke made a face. "Still in development, sir. We haven't yet had the funds to get it past the R&D phase."

“Sounds to me like they’re copying the Apollo program down to the letter,” the President mused. “And starving their own people in order to do it.”

McKenna nodded stiffly. “That’s the long and short of it, sir.”

“General, how do we know that the maneuvers are a diversion?”

“We have two subs shadowing the fleet, plus a Skystalker satellite over its position. It appears they’re going in circles and making a big show of it but haven’t made any further advances towards Taiwan in the last week.”

“Okay, so we know they’re not planning to attack Taiwan.”

“Not yet, Mr. President,” the general added.

“Deke, what’s our mission’s status?”

“We’re crunching numbers now, sir. But it looks as if our best bet to get to the Moon in the time period you’ve indicated is to modify our Phoenix capsules and copy Apollo ourselves.”

“Can we beat the Chinese?”

Dieckman and McKenna looked at each other. Deke spoke up first. “I believe so, sir. I've just received a classified document from the Air Force regarding an experimental booster they tested in the early part of the century. It has more thrust than the old Saturn V's that took Apollo to the Moon. Provided we conduct the operation as a crash program using modern modifications on Apollo’s design specs.”

“We can beat the Chinese, sir,” the general said. “After all, we’ve done this before -- they haven’t.”

The President nodded. “Fine. Just get us there before them. You’ll get all the money you need.”

“Mr. President,” McKenna said clearing his throat. “I must strenuously disagree with a part of NASA’s current plan.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Sir.” McKenna gave a sidelong glance to Dieckman. “They want to send civilian archeologists on the mission to dig up the damned thing.”

The President leaned his elbows on his desk. “Archeologists, Deke?”

“Sir, with all due respect to General McKenna,” Deke began with a reddened face, “we’ve trained scientists before. The geologists, for example, who undertook astronaut training in order to go on Apollo --”

“Geologists?” the President wondered. “As far as I can recollect, there were no geologists on the Apollo missions.”

“There was one, sir. Harrison Schmitt went on Apollo 17, the last mission. We were planning to send more of them, but then the later missions were, er, cut, due to a lack of funding.”

“Mr. President,” McKenna interrupted. “Sending civilians, with the possibility that there may be a hostile force up there --”

The President held up his hand. “Jim, I understand your concerns but we've been through this before. All the reports seem to indicate that this object crashed into the Moon long ago. I’m sure the crew, if there was any, is long dead. Which to my mind suggests that we might make use of trained archeologists.” He turned to Dieckman. “Do your boys have anyone in mind?”

“Well sir,” Deke said pulling a folder from the pile on his lap. “This man came up as candidate number one. Dr. Alan H. Donovan. He's thirty-five years old, American, currently works for the Zell Institute in England. He's rated top of his field, though something of a maverick, but he's an experienced pilot, not trained by any of the armed forces --”

"Did you say the Zell Institute?" McKenna interjected. "You don't mean that this guy is running around with Elias Zell?"

Deke glanced over some papers in the file. "It says here he was Zell's protégé and now works with him at the Institute."

"Zell's a goddamn cowboy, Deke," McKenna grumbled. "You've read all the newspaper reports about him. He's a glory-hound, always dragging along reporters to his digs. We can't have someone associated with him go on this mission. Besides, it would mean involving the British --"

"I think we won't have to worry about the British, General." The President took the folder and glanced through it. “I’ll take you at your word, Deke.” He slid the folder back across the desk towards McKenna. “General, as head of Space Command, I want you to approach this man, feel him out. If you think he’s a good match and he’s willing to do it, I don’t see why we shouldn’t offer him the scientific find of a lifetime.”

“But sir --”

“Thank you gentlemen.” The President stood up; Deke and McKenna followed his example. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to look over the final draft of my address to the nation tonight.”

“Mr. President, if you don’t mind my asking,” Deke said. “Are you planning to tell the public that we're --”

“That we’re going back to the Moon? Not yet. I have to reassure the country about the pulse first. We can’t show all our cards just yet.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


December 25, 2012
The Empire State Building
New York City
2:15 p.m.

"So that's the long and the short of it, Cal. We could really use someone with your experience right about now."

Cal Walker sat back in his deep leather desk chair and glanced out at his panoramic view of midtown Manhattan. Though just past his eightieth birthday, Walker was still very much the same steely-eyed missile man who had helped America reach the Moon forty years earlier. His thin frame was still erect and strong, his ice blue eyes still pierced fiercely whenever he caught someone's gaze, his swept-back silver hair betrayed no sign of a receding hairline. Few men of his age could claim to feel and look so good. But since moving out of NASA and into the private sector in the mid-1970's, Walker had not only prospered financially but had also found a number of ways to keep himself feeling youthful.

"I'm glad you contacted me, John," Walker remarked into his telephone. "In fact I was just about to board a plane to Africa so I'm grateful I managed to catch your call. I'd be happy to help you in any way possible, though I doubt someone with my antiquated experience could help your young go-getters at NASA."

"You're being modest, Cal," Deke said as he poured himself another cup of coffee. "No one here has your expertise with a moon shot. I don't know what we'd do if we couldn't get you on board."

"I just wish my return to space, as it were, were under better circumstances. I imagine that the President must be very upset with the most recent casualty reports."

"I haven't spoken to him about them, but I can only imagine he is. That's why we're glad to get your help on the Phoenix redesign. The President is concerned that a panic might be imminent now that the source of the pulse has broken on the news. He wants us up there investigating it ASAP."

"Understandable of course. As I said, I am at your service. I'll see you at the Cape after the new year."

"Thanks Cal. I look forward to it."

Walker hung up the phone and turned his chair to face the man sitting on the opposite side of his desk.

"Well -- NASA's called me in."

The man gave an almost imperceptible shrug. "We were expecting this once the source of the EMP was analyzed."

"The President's put a rush on the mission. He wants a team to be on the Moon by the summer. Sometime in June, no later."

"That may work to our advantage."

"That's what I was thinking."

"Rushing to space can be a dangerous business."

"I know. But the President fears a worldwide panic if the source of the pulse goes unexplored."

"Then NASA has to attempt a mission."

Walker smiled thinly. "My thoughts exactly."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chapter Two Continued: The World Reacts

News about the pulse's source broke early and all over on Christmas Day. Though Dieckman was unaware of it at the time, the initial report had come out of California late Christmas Eve while he was flying back down to Florida. Amateur astronomers had reported seeing debris flying off the Moon's surface shortly before the effects of the EMP were felt worldwide. It didn't take long for people to begin putting two and two together after that. By Christmas morning these reports had been confirmed by astronomers at several professional observatories all over the world, many of whom were of the firm opinion that the EM pulse had originated from a recently opened fissure on the Moon's Ocean of Storms. At this point the major networks and the twenty-four hours cable news stations jumped all over the story, giving it almost equal time with reports about the death and devastation the EMP had caused. Expert after expert was carted into news studios across the globe, each ready to speculate on what might have caused such a fissure and such an explosive burst of electromagnetic energy to come spewing from the Moon.

It didn't take long for the public at large to begin to believe that an intelligence had been at work behind the EMP. It took even less time for them to suspect that this devastating burst of energy might be the precursor to an extraterrestrial invasion. Governments around the world initially remained silent on the issue. This in turn only fueled more speculation about the pulse's origin, especially after many governments sent out representatives to claim -- on the condition of anonymity -- that it had indeed emanated from a recently exposed fissure on the Moon.
The talking heads went wild with the news. Now it was not only believed that the signal was a precursor to an alien invasion, but that the aliens were using the Moon as a strategic staging point. Others argued that it couldn't be possible that the EMP had originated from the Moon, that the Apollo astronauts had never reported any such electromagnetic activity. Contrary opinions argued that this meant that the source of the pulse had not been on the Moon in the late 1960's and early 1970's. A few believed that this conclusively proved that men had never walked on the Moon at all. Old grainy footage of the moon landings were played on an almost continual loop. The effects of the pulse were broadcast over and over, the shots of windows being blown in before cameras worldwide blacked out, the image of a passenger jet lying in the middle of a busy Hong Kong street, the scenes of snarled traffic jams around Rome, London, Berlin and other cities, the clips of people being pulled from car wrecks and subways and elevators in New York City.

By Christmas afternoon the politicians had gotten into the act. All around the world reports were coming in that the major powers had placed their armed forces on full alert. An emergency session of the United Nations Security Council was called. Presidents and prime ministers, premiers and dictators addressed their nations calling for, or ordering, calm. The prime minister of Great Britain asked for the public’s patience as experts analyzed the data. The president of Russia read a statement from the Kremlin noting that Russian forces were on the highest alert. The prime minister of Japan reported that Japanese scientists were working around the clock to understand the source and the meaning of the pulse. The president of France demanded that any response be channeled through the United Nations and noted that her government would not be involved in any preemptive attack, even if the signal proved to be coming from an alien source. Notably absent were the president of the United States and the chairman of China who dispatched representatives to address the howling press corps. Chinese warships continued their maneuvers near the coast of Taiwan; their American counterparts remained stationed off Japan and South Korea.

Across the world that Christmas Day people either went to their houses of worship to pray or stayed close to home following the news reports. In Atlanta a minister told his congregation that the pulse had been the first sign of the Apocalypse. In California people gathered around the Hollywood sign with signs welcoming the aliens. In London a man stood outside Westminster Abbey in the freezing rain holding a sign that read Jesus Is An Alien. In Washington, D.C. a protest was quickly organized on the Mall to denounce any military action against the aliens. In New York a fire broke out at an electrical station knocking out power in northern Manhattan and five hundred people were arrested for looting. In Vatican City a man was arrested for attempting to break into the pope’s residence because he believed that the Catholic pontiff was an alien. Every news report seemed to indicate that a worldwide panic was imminent.

In Houston, Texas Captain Thomas “Moose” Mosensen, United States Navy, nursed his first beer of the holiday and watched the television mounted on the wall of O’Driscoll’s Pub with his friend and fellow astronaut, Captain Anthony “Benny” Benevisto. The bar was empty. The tinsel and the Merry Christmas signs decorating the dark mahogany interior looked painfully depressing. Old man O’Driscoll was walking around the place in a Santa Claus hat and a dirty apron shaking his head over the news. Benny was also shaking his head, but was just a little more vocal about the situation.

“Fucking bullshit,” Benny said. “It’s all fucking bullshit.”

Moose looked over his pint glass at his wiry little friend. “What makes you say that?”

“What makes me say that?” Benny laughed lifting his pint of Guinness. “Oh my friend, are you
kidding? I mean, wouldn’t we know about it? I mean, we’re astronauts after all. Don’t you think that maybe NASA would let us in on this EMP business if we hadda go up there and look for little green men?”

“I’m an astronaut. You’re just waiting by the phone.”

“Whatever, Mr. I-Went-Up-And-Fixed-A-Busted-Air-Filter-On-The-Space-Station. I’m telling you we’d know. They’d haveta tell us.”

“You’ve heard the reports, Benny. They haven’t finished analyzing the data.”

“And what’re they gonna find when they analyze that data? Not that it's the precursor to some War of the Worlds invasion. It'll just be some bullshit. Trust me.”

Moose scratched his blond buzz cut. “Seems to me you might be a little more hopeful about this pulse really being something. It might get you up there finally.”

“Six months of waiting for the go call is not gonna get me to pin my hopes on some crummy little EM pulse from space. Oh, I’ll go up all right. Fix a satellite or something. But to go looking for little green men? Forget about it.”

“You’re a fatalist, Benny.”

“I’m a realist, pal. It's not aliens.”

Moose sipped his beer. “Maybe so.”

“You’re not telling me that you really buy into all this alien invasion bunk?”

Moose shrugged his thick shoulders. “I’m not ruling it out. If you were going to plan a global
invasion, knocking out power all over the world would be the way to prepare for it.”

Benny waved at him. “Aw come on, that’s your cub scout preparedness training talking.”

“Eagle scout. I was an eagle scout.”

“Whatever. All that means is that you wore short pants and a sash until you were eighteen and still believe anything anybody in a uniform tells you.”

“How’d you ever get by in the navy with that kind of attitude?”

“Simple, Moose. I followed your golly-gee-whiz lead and faked it.”

Moose and Benny were known around the Astronaut Office as the Dynamic Duo, after the old Batman and Robin comic book characters, though Moose was hardly any vengeful Dark Knight Detective and Benny was no cheerful Boy Wonder. In fact their roles were quite the opposite. Moose was very much the All-American boy, blond-haired and blue-eyed, six feet two inches tall and weighing in at an even two hundred pounds. He had grown up in a small town in Kansas on a farm owned by his family for four generations, the eldest child and only son of a family of five. A high school honors student and football star, Moose missed his shot at playing for Notre Dame because of a debilitating knee injury suffered in his senior year. But Moose took the injury in stride, as he did any set back he experienced in life, and managed to regain the full use of his knee after a series of operations. At the same time the Terrorism Wars had flared up again after the bombing of an American embassy in Cairo, so he joined the Navy to serve his country. He became a pilot and flew bombing missions over a number of terrorist camps in the Middle East. While assigned to the USS Colin Powell he met Benny, who became the closest thing he ever had to a kid brother.

No one really understood why the good-natured Moose took to Anthony Benevisto, a dark-haired scrawny little wiseass from Brooklyn, who did nothing but brag about what a great pilot he was and break chops wherever he could find chops to break. Benny had joined the Navy not out of any sense of patriotic duty, but because no one in his family had left Brooklyn since they’d arrived there from Italy in the early 20th century. Like a lot of people from New York, Benny thought he knew everything about anything; he prided himself on his “street-smarts.” He always felt someone somewhere was trying to pull a fast one on him and he never took anything anyone ever said at face value. Every order was followed by a muttered wisecrack, every boast by a fellow pilot was met with cynicism. And then of course there was Benny’s own bragging, which made him few friends among his fellow pilots.

Moose always felt that the source of Benny’s arrogance stemmed from the fact that he had been a sickly child with an over-protective mother who never let him out of bed for fear that he would “catch his death.” His mother also never let him play with the neighborhood kids -- those kids were “up to no good.” So Benny spent most of his childhood alone, more often in bed than not, taking apart old computers he found on the street and reassembling them into working order. Not only did he teach himself about computers but he also taught himself everything he could about airplanes. For as long as he could remember he dreamed about being a pilot like the ones he had seen at all the air shows his father had taken him to as a kid. When he turned eighteen he joined the Navy and never looked back. Everyone in his family figured he wouldn’t survive basic training with his sickly constitution. He graduated at the top of his class in flight school just to prove them wrong.

When Moose applied for the astronaut program Benny laughed, claiming that all he would be doing at NASA would be fixing a lot of busted satellites. He’d never get a mission to the space station. He’d be a space mechanic. He was throwing his career away. When Moose wrote him that he had been assigned to a repair mission for the I.S.S., Benny put in his application to NASA the next day. Now Benny strode around the astronaut office with his silver astronaut pin, pouncing on anyone in sight about getting a mission so he could earn his gold one.

The men drank their beer and watched the news. On CNN a familiar face appeared, Dr. Phillip Wu, the biggest loudmouth on the network. Wu had made his name by writing a popular book on the emerging field of genetic engineering, which had been all but dismissed by more reputable geneticists as simplistic. But the networks ate him up because he was good looking with Chiclet-sized capped teeth and a coif of slicked black hair, opinionated and confrontational if not always correct -- basically the kind of stuff that made demographics gold. Just last week, web sites and entertainment magazines had been posting rumors that Wu was going to get his own weekly television talk show, The Fractured Universe.

“I suspect that all of the early reports on the pulse are wrong,” Wu told the CNN anchor. “If it were from an extraterrestrial source, why would it be coming from within our solar system or, as some have postulated, from the Moon? Why didn’t we know about it earlier? No, my analysis indicates that it may very well be a natural phenomenon, something that --”

“See?” Benny said gesturing at the television. “What’d I tell you?”

Moose sighed. “Well, if Dr. Wu says so --”

“Now who’s being cynical, you big Swede?”

“It kills me that you’d believe this crackpot over your own government.”

“My government hasn’t said squat.”

“Benny’s right, Moose. Where’s the President?” O’Driscoll asked with a shrug. “Why doesn’t he say something?”

“He’s probably conferring with advisors,” Moose postulated.

Benny laughed. “He’s having Christmas dinner, that’s what he’s doing.”

The news broadcast took a commercial break and returned with a report about the scores of downed aircraft all over the world. Analysts remarked that the sheer number of damaged or destroyed planes might very well bankrupt several major carriers, despite the White House's assurances that the airline industry would be bailed out by the federal government. This report was followed by an update from Taiwan. Taiwanese forces were on full alert as the Chinese armada was reported in firing distance of the island nation. Taiwanese officials were asking the American government for aid in the event of an attack.

Benny sipped his beer. “Dollars to donuts, Moose, that we’ll be called back to active service to deal with that shit before I get a prime crew mission. Guaranteed.”

“I hope it doesn’t get down to shooting over there. I’m sure the President has people looking into the situation.”

“Sure he does,” Benny said with a shrug. “And I’m sure little green men really just sent that pulse to tell us to stop fighting and embrace the brotherhood of man.” He polished off his beer and tossed another twenty on the bar. “Let’s have another drink. It’s Christmas.”

Moose kept his eyes on the television. “Maybe we better.”

To be continued....

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chapter Two: NASA's Plan

December 25, 2012
Johnson Space Center
Houston, Texas
9:21 a.m.

Some present they’ve given me, John Dieckman thought as he stared at the miniature Christmas tree on the file cabinet in his office.

Everyone had heard what the President had said. They were going to the Moon. In six months. But there was only one catch -- no one presently at NASA had ever been involved with a Moon shot.

Dieckman laughed, shaking his head. Despite all the big talk he had spouted at the White House meeting, he knew Phoenix was nowhere near where it needed to be for them to attempt another landing. In truth, NASA was a pale reflection of its former self. Back in the glory days of the late 1960's and early 1970's the Apollo missions were pulling off miracles day in and day out. Six perfect lunar landings and one aborted mission, though thankfully the crew of Apollo 13 managed to return to Earth safely. Other than the infrequent robot probes sent to the outer planets and the Kuiper Belt, no one had been involved in any deep space work since that time. This generation of NASA scientists and engineers seemed to consider the Moon to be a deep space project, especially if it involved sending astronauts. No human being had left the confines of near Earth orbit since Richard Nixon was president.

When Phoenix had initially been proposed back in 2004, the plan had been to slowly phase out the reusable but tragically unreliable shuttle fleet in favor of Apollo-style one-shot capsules, with the goal of reaching the Moon by 2020. The money was reallocated from existing NASA programs to the Phoenix project. The only problem was Phoenix was coming in painfully overbudget and woefully behind schedule. At this point they had a working command capsule but no landing module or booster heavy enough to propel them to the Moon. In essence they had built the seats to their little buggy to the stars but had no engine or any way to get out of the thing.

Before the shuttles had been decommissioned two years ago, there had been lots of manned missions, plenty of them. Manned missions to launch or repair communications and spy satellites. Manned missions to adjust orbiting telescopes. Manned missions to Alpha, the aging International Space Station, which was once considered a stepping stone to deep space exploration -- a return to the Moon, a manned mission to Mars. Dreams of another generation, funded by a less pragmatic America.

But in the last two years there had been only three manned missions, each to test the fledgling Phoenix program in low Earth orbit. On two of the missions, the first and the third, the capsule had performed admirably. The second flight almost didn't count as a mission. Fifteen minutes after achieving orbit, one of the capsule's retro-rockets began misfiring and the mission had to be aborted. Only luck prevented the crew from being killed. A congressional investigation was held. It took them another six months to get the clearance -- and the money -- to fly again.

The joke around NASA these days is that if not for military spy satellites, they would have less of a budget than the Parks Service -- any one Parks Service in the country, that is. Everyone knew the excuses given by every skinflint legislator and administration since Apollo who had diminished their budget -- what’s the benefit of going into space? What does it get us? Where’s the bottom line profit? And then there were the accidents over the years that helped cement those concerns. Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. All the lost probes. NASA can’t get anything right with the money they have, the politicians bark, why should we give them any more? Never mind the fact that one can’t build a better mouse trap without initial capital. From the political point of view it was all no profit, no results, no funds.

Which left NASA officials with one fundamental problem: how to get to the Moon in a six month time-frame with the pittance they’d been allotted.

Oh the President promised more money sure, Dieckman thought as he slumped in his chair, but how much of that's actually going to get to us when the military’s been clamoring for more funds to not only fight the Terrorism Wars but also this new nonsense with the Chinese fleet conducting military exercises within shooting distance of Taiwan? Deke scratched out some rough figures for the mission on a legal pad and laughed. There’s no way they’re going to give us this.

But first thing’s first. They needed to figure out how to get to the Moon in six months. Many of the younger engineers and designers with no living memory of Apollo were intimidated by the idea of sending men across the translunar expanse. A number of wild ideas had already come across Deke’s desk. The wildest of all was the one which involved building a giant orbiting magnet to yank the object out of the Moon. More practical ones involved unmanned landers with ground computer guided robots that could dig the object out and analyze it there. But Deke knew that having people on the Moon was the best way of excavating the object. That was the only way to insure getting to the Moon in the time period the President had allotted. Anything too radical would not only make them lose their launch window but would also create more panic in the streets once the source of the signal broke on the news.

Deke clicked his pen absentmindedly as he looked out the windows behind his desk. Yeah it could work -- using Apollo as a guide.

With Phoenix 3 NASA had already shown that the capsules were capable of docking with another ship -- in that case the International Space Station. The plan had been to continue to aid the Europeans and the Russians in supplying the station for the next couple of years while Phoenix's lander got off the drawing board. Now they would need to move it from the research and development phase to launch capability in just six months.

But even so it wouldn't need years of designing and engineering. The capsule only needs to be reconfigured for the new mission using Apollo's design specs as an initial blueprint. We might even be able to do it on our budget -- provided we freeze all projects currently in development. And we could practically guarantee the President that it would work. If only we had a few guys left from Apollo to help us with the modifications of the original design.

Deke stood up and stretched, jerking his tie down and his top collar button open in one motion. He glanced over at the models on his desk of the old Apollo command and lunar modules.

We’d need to send a bigger team, not just three men. That wouldn't be a problem with the capsule -- modern computers take up a hell of a lot less space than what went into Apollo. We could put more guys into it easy. But we would have to build a bigger lander. Actually the lander might have to be pretty huge, especially if the President wants us to bring the object or pieces of it back for analysis. A landing crew of at least three, maybe four. And that would mean a much bigger booster. The weight’s the issue, those old Apollo vets were always worried about weight.

Wait a minute. Isn’t old Cal Walker still alive?
Deke remembered seeing him at the space center recently, some party or something. Christ he’s got to be pretty old by now -- eighty if not eighty-five. But the old bastard was still sharp as a tack, rattling off all the reasons why the lunar module had to be so light, how they had to get rid of the seats in the original design, shrink the windows, etc.
I bet old Cal would love to sink his teeth into this
, he thought with a grin, provided he still has any.

Deke picked up the phone and punched in his assistant’s extension. “Mattie, can you come in here for a minute?”

A second later a knock on the door was followed by the entrance of a tall leggy blond with a legal pad. Mattie Kendricks was the brightest assistant anyone could ask for, organized, intelligent, disciplined, in love with NASA and space exploration. And to top it all off she was drop dead gorgeous. Dieckman sighed. Think of your loving wife at home.

“Yes, Mr. Dieckman?”

“Has the astronaut office come back with a list of teams for prime and back up crews for the mission?”

She handed an envelope labeled Top Secret across his desk. “It arrived just as you called.”

“Good good,” he said feeling the weight of the packet. “Seems they’ve given me enough options with the few astronauts we have.”

“It sure feels heavy.”

“Mattie, I want you to get Cal Walker on the phone. He was one of Von Braun's assistants while they were working on Apollo. His number should still be in our files. I think he’s in New York now doing some consulting for some big biotech firm.”

"I've got his number right here," she said handing him a small sheet of notepaper. "The company's called Technical Genetics, Incorporated. I thought you might want to give him a call."

He grinned at the number. "Always one step ahead of me, aren't you?"

She smiled and shrugged as she began to leave the office. "It's a gift."

“Oh and Mattie --”


“Have the people down in the computer lab run a search for American
archeologists. Have them cross reference the names for experience and age. I don’t want anyone younger than thirty or older than fifty. And then narrow down the candidates by marital status. I don’t want any married candidates.”

“You’re not planning to send archeologists to the Moon?”

“I’m not sure. It might be easier to train someone to be an astronaut than it is to train them to be an archeologist.” He glanced at his Apollo models. “And what we’ll need are experienced archeologists. God only knows what we’ll find up there.”

“I’ll get right on it.”

Deke winced. “Sorry to have to call you in here on Christmas Day and all.”

“Not a problem,” she said with her honest smile warming her face. “The Moon definitely outweighs mistletoe.”

To be continued...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chapter One Continued: Pentagon Briefing

December 24, 2012
The Pentagon
Washington, D.C.
9:15 a.m.

We are all prisoners of our possessions
, the President thought as he walked the Pentagon's long corridors, and I'm the kid with the most broken toys. Here he was the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, but he had been unable to do something as simple as address his own people on national television. It had taken two whole days for the American government to get their computer and communication systems up and running again. For those two days he had to rely on leg-work and conflicting reports about the state of his nation. However, preliminary reports from the major cities were good. Few people had reacted violently, most were trying to aid the thousands upon thousands who had been wounded when electrical systems all over the planet failed. People had been trapped in elevators, in cars, in planes and tunnels, on trains and bridges. The crash in Hong Kong had managed to kill only 300 people, having happened on a Sunday, but the damage to the downtown area was staggering. The President shook his head. Three hundred people. These were indeed dark times when the death of so many was cause for relief. The sheer magnitude of it all was almost overwhelming. But now, as things began to normalize, the general mindset of the planet had drifted from outright panic to quiet terror. People were beginning to ask questions. People wanted to know what had caused this.

As the President entered the briefing room, everyone, including the Joint Chiefs, stood at once. The room was crowded, as the President had asked not only his entire cabinet to assemble, but the various heads of space programs around the country as well. The sight of so many rumpled scientists standing around the table near the windows contrasted with the gleaming sharpness of military uniforms and the blue and gray business suits of professional politicians.

“As you were, ladies and gentlemen,” the President said. He took his place at the head of the table, but did not sit. “Sorry to keep you from your families on Christmas Eve, but as you no doubt know by now, we're teetering on the edge of a worldwide panic, the likes of which no generation has ever seen. What you may not know is this: the world is a radically different place from the one we once knew,” he paused, not for dramatic effect as he so often did (rather well, if you went by the editorial page of the Washington Post) during his other speeches. This pause came from a simpler notion. He honestly did not know what to say. After another beat, the President inhaled a deep breath and continued. “The cause of the anomaly of December 22nd has been, to an extent, determined. As of right now, we have positive conformation that we are not alone in the universe.”

Knowing who was speaking, people tried their best to be respectful, but there was a collective rumble of gasps, groans and hmmms in the room. A few of the more cynical attendees muttered a “Jesus Christ” or “Beam me up, Scotty.”

The President silenced them with a look. “I know how it sounds,” he said. “But we have at this point conclusive proof that the pulse emanated from something buried beneath the Moon’s surface.”

“From the Moon?” asked Aaron Stein, wiping his glasses with a monogrammed handkerchief. “Let me guess, Mr. President. Tycho crater? Giant black monolith?”

“You may not be far off, Aaron,” the President answered with a slight grin. “For a further analysis, I turn you over to Dr. Elliot Seaborne of the University of California at San Diego. He heads the LSI team that first encountered the anomaly.”

Seaborne bustled up to the front of the room, a cluster of rolled up maps and charts under his thin arms. A nervous balding man with a pinched face and a threadbare tweet jacket, he looked every bit the stereotypical lab rat. However, when he began speaking, he displayed a surprising confidence. This is my turf, he seemed to be saying. None of you know what’s going on, and you need me to explain it to you, so listen up.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” he said, clearing his throat. “Okay, everyone. I should first give you some background on our search for extraterrestrial life. As you are probably well aware, SETI has spent decades using giant radio telescopes across the country to search the heavens for any sign of extraterrestrial life. What you may not know is that in 1977 Jerry Ehman at the Ohio State SETI program received a signal that went from zero to 30 decibels in 37 seconds. He was so excited by what he heard, he wrote the word WOW in the corner of the page. Unfortunately, attempts to relocate the signal failed, and it was never heard from again. Still, it represented the closest thing we have to proof that intelligent life other than our own exists in the universe. Until now. We know very little about the anomaly at the moment. But we do know it came from a source of extreme power and originated from the Ocean of Storms.”

“That's the landing site of Apollo 12,” said Jack Sykes, director of the National Security Agency.

“Yes sir,” Seaborne said. “And as many questions as that raises, it also answers a few others. For starters, it all but exonerates Alan Bean from burning out the camera lens during the first EVA in November 1969.”

“How is that?” asked Len Byrnes, a NASA scientist. “I thought he pointed the thing at the sun.”

“He may well have, Dr. Byrnes,” said Seaborne. “But in all probability, the camera had already been ionized by electrical activity at the site.” He paused again. “Activity that most probably came from some sort of buried object.”

The room erupted in murmurs. Some members of the NSA who were present tried to keep poker faces, but beneath the veneer, a thin film of worry was showing.

Secretary Martin spoke up. “What other questions have been answered?”

Seaborne cleared his throat. “Well, for one thing, there’s the water that was detected in the early seventies. At the time NASA believed it was just some kind of vapor released during a moonquake. It’s now thought that the water was most likely condensation of some sort from this buried object. Then there’s the moon rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts that contained bits of rusted iron. We theorize that the iron was driven into the rocks during the object’s possible impact,” he paused, “approximately two million years ago.”

McKenna set his coffee cup down. "How the devil can you know that?"

"Teams of geologists have been studying those rock samples since the 1970's, General," Seaborne explained. "The tests conclusively proved that the rusted iron ore found on the Moon was at least that old." Before letting this new development sink in, Seaborne plunged on. “The most fascinating discovery we have made during our studies of the site also stems from the days of the Moon landings. On November 20, 1969, when Apollo 12 blasted off from the Moon, they sent the ascent stage of the LEM -- that's short for the lunar excursion module -- crashing back into its surface. Seismic equipment left behind recorded that the impact of the LEM caused the Moon to reverberate almost like a bell for over an hour. Dr. Frank Press of MIT explained the phenomenon by saying that the impact must have simply caused a series of avalanches and collapses on the Moon’s surface. This explanation, however, does not account for the long sustained seismic readings following the crash. Several experiments were subsequently conducted by NASA which determined that the Moon -- at least in that particular area -- is hollow. The results of these tests have never been disclosed.”

“That’s NASA for you,” one gruff military voice intoned. “Never A Straight Answer.”

Seaborne cleared his throat again. “Spectrographic analysis of the Moon’s surface around the Ocean of Storms reveals some clues that may point to an answer.” At this point he nodded to an assistant at the far end of the room who punched some keys on a laptop terminal. Instantly a large crisp photo of the area appeared on a large television screen mounted into the wall behind Seaborne.

“These are pictures of the Moon's surface taken yesterday by orbiting telescopes. And that," Seaborne said, pointing at the photo, "is what we believe is the source of the EM pulse. Shortly before the pulse hit the Earth, this fissure opened up in the Ocean of Storms. As you can see there is no discernible impact crater. The ejecta we see on the surface is new, previously unseen. Further, its dispersal pattern indicates that whatever caused this fissure to open came from the inside."

"Blasted out from the inside?" Stein wondered.

"Exactly. While shadows prevent us from peering too far into the fissure, by bouncing radar waves from our orbiting satellite, Stellaluna, at it, we can discern that this area of the Moon has an almost hollow interior.”

"And what exactly caused this area of the Moon to be so hollow?" Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Rick Gonzalez wondered.

"Well, General -- and this is pure speculation -- but it appears that whoever put that object on the Moon had likely dug caves around it.”

A palpable silence fell about the room. McKenna cleared his throat. “So what’s the next step?”

“Well, that’s where things get interesting,” Seaborne said. “On a hunch, my team, in collaboration with some radio astronomers from SETI, analyzed the signal. We theorized that, rather than simply trying to disrupt our entire way of life, they were actually attempting to make contact.”

"But that's just a theory," General Gonzalez noted.

"Yes, but a very plausible one. The EM pulse worked on the same principle as the old Emergency Broadcast System," Seaborne noted. "In the days of the Cold War, the government needed such a system to be able to break into every broadcast at once in order to get vital information out. These beings, whoever they are, decided to do basically the same thing. Here let me show you."

Seaborne punched some more keys on his laptop, bringing up a graph on the screen.

“Here we see the signal, operating at somewhere around 36 KHz, which is almost too high to be heard by the human ear. When signals get this high, it usually means that there’s a data stream hidden beneath it. On a hunch, we analyzed the signal, filtering it out until we found a stream of binary numbers. Once we broke them down, we found this.”

The wall display blinked over to an image that read: .04 S, 23.42 W.

“Looks like longitude and latitude,” Admiral Jeff Reynolds offered from the far end of the table.

Seaborne smiled. “That’s exactly what it is. The longitude and latitude of the Ocean of Storms.”

“For what purpose?” Secretary Martin asked.

“Landing coordinates,” Seaborne explained. “What we received was not a warning, not an attack. It was an invitation. As far as our response to that invitation, I turn you over to John Dieckman, director of manned space flight at NASA. Deke?”

Dieckman stepped up and scanned the room, pushing his sandy brown hair from his forehead. Youthful-looking despite nearing his forty-fifth birthday, his well-trained former test pilot's body was only now beginning to develop a middle-aged paunch.

“Gentlemen, ladies, we at NASA believe that the quickest and best solution is to send a team to the Moon to investigate the signal, its source and whatever else may be waiting there.”

Aaron Stein glanced at him over the rims of his glasses. "And how do you propose to do that, Mr. Dieckman? From what I understand, the Phoenix program is still years away from a translunar flight."

"That's not quite true, Mr. Stein," Dieckman explained. "We have tested the command module in Earth orbit and it has successfully docked with -- "

"I've had enough of this," General Gonzalez grumbled, bristling at the idea. “Send men up there, Mr. Dieckman? American men? And just suppose they run smack into a pack of angry Martians who disintegrate them with their ray guns?” he chuckled derisively. “I don’t know about any of you, but I’m not prepared to sacrifice American lives so that NASA can get a budget increase.”

“That’s not the idea,” Dieckman replied. “A hands-on analysis is the only way to ensure that we get an accurate picture of what’s happening up there. We’ve done it before. Six times, actually. And we believe that, given the right timetable and the necessary funds, we can do it again quickly and efficiently with Phoenix.”

General Gonzalez remained unconvinced. “Who’s paying the bills for this? The military? With respect, Mr. President, I do not believe it would be wise to take money out of the defense budget for some kind of science-fiction circus. Especially when we could be looking at some sort of … interstellar Armageddon!”

"And what exactly are we supposed to do, General?" McKenna demanded. "Wait for them to show up over our cities? Wait until they try something else, something far worse that an EM pulse?"

There were those in the room who had secretly harbored Gonzalez's fears. Now that he had displayed the courage to voice them, they quickly joined the fray. Those who disagreed spoke up even louder, and soon the room was afire with angry voices all trying to outshout each other. Dieckman looked around nervously as the meeting descended into chaos.

The President quieted the room by raising his hand. His gaze swept over each of them before he spoke again.

"It's highly unlikely that after two million years there are any hostile forces on the Moon planning on taking over the Earth." He almost scoffed at the idea. "What's more likely is what SETI has suggested, that this was an automated signal intended to get our attention, nothing more." The President glanced around the room again. Each pair of eyes met his, and they read the sincerity in them. "We stand on the threshold of a remarkable event in human history, the chance to leave our own world and make contact with those from another. To dismiss this extraordinary opportunity would be sheer stupidity. Future generations would remember us as fools, cowards who opted not to answer the call to incredible discovery,” he glanced at Gonzalez, “no matter what the risks.”

He paused again, knowing full well that he had their attention. If there was one thing this president could do, it was make a speech. He could recite the contents of a ketchup bottle, and when he was done, make you believe you’d heard the Gettysburg Address. He didn’t employ speechwriters. Didn’t need to. He could command words with a kind of grace that any public speaker would kill for. He waited another beat before continuing.

“‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to great fortune,’” he said, quoting Shakespeare. “‘Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.'" -- he scanned the room again -- "We are going to the Moon, ladies and gentlemen,” he turned to Dieckman, “It’s up to your people to get us there.”

To be continued...