“Hey man, these ripping waves just keep rolling in, never seen so many at one time and so close together for so long.“ Charlie Jackson called to his friends at the surf meeting,
“Yeah, Charlie, like tube city all the time all the white water to ride, never been a tide like it dude. “ Pete Phillips his friend called.
“Been like this all week, just doesn't seem right to me.”
“Hey man, don’t go nerdy on me again it was too weird last time, just ride the tubes and enjoy them for as long as we can.”
At the Fulmore observatory, things for the night shift were just starting. Helen Moore head research assistant was on the watch, walking up to the radio telescope, as usual in her search for quasars, black holes and any other anomalies in space, just like the months before. Since graduating from Parkston last year all she had done was, stare into the black void and think to herself, “I wish I had taken the chance to go to Merryvale lab, instead of looking into the voids of space in the hope something is there.” Walking across the space from the door to the telescope, she saw her colleague Joe Harker “Hi, Joe, anything or nothing as usual?”
Joe Harker, second research assistant and two years Helens’ junior, looked down from the radio scope where he had spent the last two hours of his shift and said “Hi Helen, nothing other than, my ass has gone to sleep.“ He laughed, the humour lost on Helen, she never could understand his earthiness, and they were worlds apart brought together by science and the search for unknown possibilities.
“Being serious for a moment, Joe, can I ask a question?”
“Shoot, gal, you know you will get a true answer.”
“Have you ever doubted what we do and wished you had taken another chance, gone somewhere more exciting rather than stare into space for endless hours?”
“Hell, Helen, almost every week I get that feeling, then I go out and see those lovely twinkling stars and think this is right for me, there is life and adventures out there.”
“I just got the feeling I took a left turn, when I should have taken a right. “ Helen gave a half laugh.
“That friend over at Merryvale being on about all the new things he been designing to fight illnesses with again, pay no heed. We will make the news.”
“How can you be so sure? We been staring out there for ages and nothing is going on.”
“Now, that is where you are wrong, missy. We just ain’t found it that is all. Listen, I know we haven’t seen eye to eye and you looks down on me, cos I didn't go to a big college. That is fair deal.
But I been watching space since I can walk and I know there is a lot of stuff happening there, Okay it isn't going to get the major grants like medicine does but our day will come and headlines will be made. Believe me.”
“Thanks, Joe, I needed that to steady myself and I am sorry I treat you so badly,” Helen said as she blushed.
“Oh, heck Helen don’t you worry none. I might have grew up on poor street but I got me a good brain, that's why I'm here and not at the mill.” Joe laughed.
“Okay, point taken, Joe. Now off you go and see that lovely wife and family you have before she comes for me. “Helen laughed at the thought of Joes’ wife Shirley doing just that.
The late shift started, much the same as usual, calibrate the radio scope, even though Helen sometimes looked down on Joe, she knew as an engineer he had few equals in the area.
Not expecting much more than the usual white noise from space, where all the possible sounds converge into a mindless jumble of nothing, Helen turned to the scope, looking out into the galaxy, and wishing for something. Time passed and she went for a short break, coming back with coffee and her salami roll in her hand, she sat at her desk, going through the endless statistics she was half dozing, when she heard a noise that startled her. Getting up from her desk, she ran to the radio scope. “What was that?” she called to technician June Marrlow.
“I don’t know Helen; we've got a strange bleep coming in.”
“Where did it come from?”
“We're still trying to locate it, it was such a weak signal, we didn’t even think it was there.”
“I heard a tiny high pitched beep, can you tune into the signal?"
“If we hear it again, we can try to locate it.”
“Keep trying! This is important June!”
Hours passed as June and her technical crew tuned the receiver in, just hoping for a slight beep, ears were listening, Helen was watching the radio beacons for a slight hope of spotting a location, on the charts.
“What do you think it was? “ June asked, "A signal sent to us, from outer space.”
“Could be, June, we never know who is there.”
Could this be the breakthrough, Joe had dreamed of all these years. Picking up the phone, Helen rang Joes’ home. His wife answered the phone “Hi, Shirley, this is Helen at the observatory, would it be possible to talk to Joe, please?’ the excitement in Helens’ voice was easy to hear.
“Sure thing, I will get him, he’s just sitting out after dinner.” I'll just call him for you. “Hun, its Helen and she sound mighty excited. I think you'd better get here.”
Joe came back in from the porch and took the phone from his wife “Hi, Helen what is going on, this must be exciting as you never called here.”
“I don’t want to build up your hopes but we might have something going on and I want you to be here, in case it becomes real and you can see it from the start.”
“Ta, I'll be there a soon as I can, Helen.” As he put the phone down, Joe called to his wife “Shirl, got something going on and they want me in on it, you don’t mine if I go back, hun?”
“Joe Harker, you waited your life for this moment, if you don’t go, and seize it, I WILL kick your redneck ass out there!" Shirley laughed. “Now go, afore I gotta take you myself, hun.”
“Thanks, babe.” Joe kissed Shirley, as he grabbed the jeep keys and ran to the garage, jumping in he gunned the engine, and drove back to the centre.
Helen put the phone down and was walking back to the screen showing the solar system, trying to work out, what was going on, when the beep went again.
“Got it fixed, we are tracking it!” called second tech Paul Howard. “Vector 005674, strength 0.002, range about 5 light years.”
Helen looked at the screen, to find the co-ordinates. “You're sure on that Paul?”
“Yes ma’am, sure as I sit here.”
“I believe you, Paul, just checking. Because you know where that puts it, don’t you.”
“Sure do, beyond Neptune.”
“Is it sent do you know or bounced back?”
“From the telemetry, it's bounced back. But…”
“Yes, I know there is nothing that far out, that we know.”
“What’s been going on? “ A breathless Joe called, as he came dashing in.
“Hi, Joe a while back we picked a signal up from way out, Paul reckons it is bounced, but it is so far out, beyond Neptune, the signal is so weak we can hardly get a fix.”
“Something that far out, bouncing a signal, has to be sizable or we would have missed it with the signals.”
“Helen, come have a look at this!” June was looking at the screen and watching as tiny moons were getting dragged out of their regular orbits, and circling the vector of the signal.
“That is weird, seems to be creating a mini-solar system of its own out there.” Joe said. As he watched, small moons close in.
All eyes were glued to the screens as they watched the development of a mini-system, this was groundbreaking news.
“Here you go, gal!" Joe said slapping Helen on the back. "Beats the crap outta Merryvale now don’t it"! He said laughing.
“Sure thing! Joe, this makes all the months of sitting doing nothing but radio frequency counts, a whole lot easier to swallow.”
“Gotta be big, as it has created a magnetic field, and its gathering moons. How big we have no idea, nor what it is made of.”
“Keep on it, Paul. “ Joe called.
“Got it, Joe. “ Paul replied. “From our latest figures it shows as 3.5 Earths.”
“You're not pulling this ole rednecks’ leg here, Paul.”
“No sir, that is as true as I am from Bronson, it is out there, 3.5 times bigger than us, spinning and creating a mini-system as we speak.”
“If it is that big, how have we missed it for so long?”
“As you said, Helen, we didn't know it was there and never thought to look. This was just a fluke signal; being so weak, we probably picked it up, but missed it in the white noise. “Joe replied.
“What do you make of it, Paul? “ Helen asked.
“I'm no expert but I reckon it is solid, although the signal was weak, it was harsh as though it hit solid and was not absorbed. There was no deflection, so that probably means smooth surfaces.”
“Yes, ma’am, like a large solid ball of something.”
“Has NASA got anything planned for the area? We need to hitch up a link and see if we can piggyback a signal to get a view of whatever is there? “Helen asked Joe.
“Latest reports told of an unmanned rocket going out, in a week.”
“I'll get the head of research to phone NASA, you just keep an eye on our friend for us.”
Helen picked up her phone and dialed Jake Houseman, head of research. “Mr. Houseman, this is Helen Moore at the lab, we have found something, and I think you should come and see, for yourself.”
“Calm down young lady, what is it you have seen?” The aged head replied.
“With all respect, sir, you have to see for yourself.”
“Oh, all right, if it is that important to you, I will come over.”
“Believe me sir; you don’t want to miss this!”
Jake Houseman called his driver and took the limo to the facility, where a very excited Helen greeted him. “Glad you can make it, sir, sorry for disturbing you at this hour but we need you to see this for yourself, before we can get official go ahead.”
“Okay, young lady your enthusiasm has got my attention, where are we looking now?”
“Vector 005674, strength 0.002, range about 5 light years sir, there is an object, at our best calculations; it's at least 3.5 times as big as Earth circling in the area of Neptune, creating its own mini-system.”
“That is ground breaking! How long have you been tracking it?”
“There was so much background noise and with such a weak signal, we missed it until tonight sir.”
“How sure are you of your calculations, young lady?”
“About 85%, sir” Paul added.
“What can I do for you now? “ The head asked.
“You can see there is something large there. We were wondering, if you could have a talk with your contacts at NASA to see if we can piggy-back some info, as we think they are sending some unmanned rockets in the neighborhood.”
“That is right; Orbital 2 goes off next Monday. We can use its telemetry to get a signal back.”
“Thank you, sir, for your help.”
“You are welcome; this will shake everyone out at NASA!” Jake laughed. “They are always pulling my leg on research in deep space.”
Days went by; Orbital 2 went off on schedule. All eyes and ears were keen as she took off, after three days of endless tension, the first images came through.
“Helen, we got the telemetry back fro Orbital 2!” June called, hardly believing what she saw.
“What does it show?”
“You gotta come see, or you won't believe me!”
“On the way, June.”
As the ladies looked at the screen, they could not believe what was happening.
“Are you sure this is Orbital’s telemetry?”
“Got a fix and dead on course.”
“Shoot, you know what it reminds me of…”
“Yes, a ball bearing, 3.5 time our size, creating a whirlpool in the outer regions.”
As Helen and June stood transfixed by the images from Orbital 2, the magnetic field pulling objects into the path of Orbital, they could hear the crashes on the shuttles hull, as she was being pushed closer to the object, then all went blank as it went through the EM field.
Paul was watching another screen. “Helen, sorry to take you away, but I think you NEED to see this NOW!”
Sensing the desperate tone in his voice, Helen ran to Paul's’ station.
“Tell me, I am not having a nightmare please!”
As they stood watching the screen, they could see, the orbits of the planets changing, it was hard for the untrained eye to notice but for those trained. It was as obvious as a red flag in a snow bank.
“No, Paul, you're right. The sphere is changing their orbits and twisting their axis, the outer ones will hardly notice but Mercury will be pulled into the sun and…”
“You don’t need to tell me, this will pull Venus as well in the explosions and from there...”
“Yes, we will not stand a chance, by the time the heat and shock waves get here.”
As they stood watching, June and Joe came over to see, what the panic was about.
Helen made a snap decision, as she said, “I'm staying here, anyone who wishes to go home, you can go now, and may God bless you and your families.”
Down on the beach crowds flooded to the shores as the heat built up, and temperatures soared.
“Hey, Charlie what's happening, we get hot summers, but this ain't cool man, look at this.”
As Pete looked at his friend, he could see his skin burning, the heat so intense, that it was crinkling and peeling as he looked. “Man, like that is horrid.”
That was all he could say, as the heat built to unbearable levels, people dropped to the floor, like flies in the winter.
As she stood alone at the screen, watching the reports from all over the globe, tidal waves, earthquakes, avalanches, all disasters happening in a total kaleidoscope of unnatural proportions.
Helen watched as Mercury got pulled into the sun, creating such a sun flare, that it drew in Venus. Waiting for the inevitable, Helen watched, as the heat built up and then the EM field blanked everything, she crossed herself and prayed.
Her last thought was “Our greatest discovery, brought about our end.”