by Joe Bologna
Copyright (c) 2020
Obviously the threat of an asteroid strike is small enough that mankind won't invest in countermeasures. This is understandable, but ridiculously naive. I saw a documentary in the 1970s outlining an approach to deal with the threat. It would take 10 years and about $100M. Fifty years later, even though we did it a few times, humans can't even go back and forth to the Moon reliably. Maybe the recent success of SpaceX will change this sad fact.
Concussion from an asteroid of sufficient size is obviously devastating and potentially the end game for humans. Asteroids can cause harm in many, less obvious ways. Such things are not considered often. Some scientists claim asteroids are the spaceships used by extraterrestrials who are already hiding in plain sight on Earth. As scary as this possibility is, exploring other, less scary, possibilities is just as compelling. Extraterrestrials may or may not be "alien". They many not even be "alive". Be it a virus or something even more terrifying, extraterrestrial threats and opportunities are always there. Waiting to "greet" us, whether we're prepared or not.
After publishing, "Studies in Exobiology on Earth", Dr. Jack Kelly was contacted for an interview on national television. He jumped at the chance to talk about his passion to an audience. The interview seemed to go well, until he realized he was being naive. It was all very civilized, but he basically became famous for being a nut case. The need for funding is no joke, getting funding quickly became a joke.
After losing his job, reputation and reduced to a modicum of self-respect, Jack weighed his options. He'd not prepared for an overnight career ending move. Figuring out how to get employed in a regular job was all he could focus on. Lucid thoughts between shots of liquid courage, were elusive. When the call from his savior came in, he almost didn't answer.
"Jack, WTF. I saw you on TV. That was harsh. How are you?"
"Brutal. I'm not gonna, lie. It's over man. I can't do this anymore."
"This isn't you, Jack. You've been convinced we're living among extraterrestrials since, well, forever. You're the only kid I know who decided on his career in second grade. Why give up now?"
"Can't pay the rent. Can't find a partner. I'm just tired of swimming against the current. Can't do it anymore."
"Not happening on my watch bud."
"I appreciate that, but what choice do I have?"
"Well, you know that thing I was dabbling in? It came in. I need you man. Can you start tomorrow?"
"Look, you need to get your shit together, grab an Uber and meet me at the pub across from my lab. I'm going now to knock a few back anyway, be ready to catch up. See you in 30."
He just hung up. Jack started muttering to himself. "Maybe I can't hold my liquor anymore. This must be a hallucination... what is he talking about? What thing? Where did he say to meet him?"
Jack decided to entertain that the call wasn't a hallucination and jumped into the shower, a little too quickly. After the shock, he knew he wasn't dreaming, remembered where to go and focused on getting there.
Staring in the mirror, looking quite haggard, he muttered, "What the hell, I'm out of booze anyway."
Charles Campbell was Jack's best friend in college. He looked forward to catching up.
Meanwhile, at the pub, Charles ordered a second drink and considered the situation. He really believed in Jack, but the guy sounded pretty out of it. Maybe it's the booze talking. The drink came, he thanked the server and pounded another. Mid gulp, Jack walked in.
Charles asked for two more before the server left, then called over to Jack. "Hey Jack, good to see you man. You look like shit tho. Have a seat."
"Thanks Charles, I feel much better now."
Jack, sat in front of the already poured drink.
Charles opened with some small talk, trying to get Jack warmed up. After they both pounded another, they started talking about their college days.
Jack asked, "What happened man? We haven't seen each other in 10 years. Why is that?"
"Dunno. Just stupid I guess. Too focused on everyday shit. Whatever man, it doesn't matter."
"Yeah. So, what have you been up to? What's this cash cow BS all about and what do I have to do with it?"
Charles explained the real reason he'd gone dark. After 5 years in the NSA, he wanted out. Leaving the NSA ain't easy. Whatever you are working on, you gotta leave behind. He basically started all over.
"It was harsh Jack. But you know, fuck those guys. They had their heads up their asses anyway."
"Let me make it simple, you need a way to prove ETs exist and a theory that they are microscopic. I have a machine that can see a zit on a gnat's ass. Let prove it together."
Charles went on to explain his research. Jack agreed, to join the project.
They both poured themselves into the back of their respective ride-shares and agreed to meet at Charles' facility in the morning.
Jack looked up at the building before entering. It was rather innocuous. The building sported the placard, Surreptitious Dynamics. "So, he's behind this. I can't believe he's done it."
He walked in the door and was greeted by the receptionist.
"Welcome Dr. Kelly. Please fill in your information, we'll get you cleared ASAP."
Jack complied and was admitted. He was escorted to the lab, where he met Charles.
"Hey Charles, let's see this bad boy."
"OK, what do you want to look at?"
"What's the resolution?"
"One Ten Billionth of a Nanometer."
"Hey, you want to push some carbon atoms around?"
"You can manipulate atoms too?"
"Oh yeah, forgot to mention it."
Charles punches the code to print the company logo. A few seconds later, the logo is displayed on the wall.
A huge blob blurs out the image, then disappears. Jack almost fell on the floor.
"What the hell was that?"
"Oh, just a virus passing by. Don't worry, the Leptonoscope identified it as benign."
"Jesus, Charles. This is amazing. I can study micro-organisms in action at the atomic level. Wow."
Jack was floored. His mind raced at the possibilities.
"OK, Charles, I get it. So what's the plan? Are you really interested in microscopic ETs?"
"Maybe. But I must confess... Sorry to tell you, but that interview was a setup."
"Hey, hear me out. Turns out your research has been validated by some eggheads at the NSA. They think it's a national security concern."
Charles explained how SARS made it to the shores of the UK and they stopped it within a week. Jack knew that Asians have a genetic defect making SARS less deadly to them. A European outbreak would be 10 times more fatal than in Asia.
"Given that we have moron's making policy in the US, something like SARS hitting the US would be, well catastrophic. In an effort to be prepared, despite the politics, the NSA has been diverting funds for my research for the past 5 years."
Charles explained the concept. "If we can get a peek at these pathogens in action, we can determine how they work in a few days. They want us to create a programmable anti-viral, tailored to exploit the achilles heel of any pathogen."
"Welcome to the game, Jack. let’s get you setup. I have some business to attend to. your office is down the hall. Just follow the signs for the office of the Chief Scientist. That’s you by the way."
"You’re full of surprises today. I’m flattered. see you in a bit. Lunch?”
"Sure, just ask your assistant to set it up. She’ll know how to handle it.”
Charles left for his meeting. Jack followed the signs.
When he approached the door, it disappeared and it said, "Welcome Dr. Kelly, your desk is straight ahead. Randi is waiting for you."
Jack walked through the door without skipping a step. As he continued the office door disappeared in the same seamless manner, revealing it’s occupant.
"Hello Dr. Kelly. I’m Randi."
"Nice to meet you Randi."
He started to extend his hand to finish the introduction, but pulled back, as the threat of the current pandemic was still real. Randi grabbed his arm with both hands. "You're safe here. We’re a close knit group, no need for any distance between us."
He noticed the smoothness of her hands. Perfect movements. Oddly warm to the touch.
Like Sonny in I Robot, she winked almost imperceptibly when she noticed he may have realized the truth.
"Yes, Jack. I’m an Android. It is not possible for us to infect you with a pathogen."
Stunned, all he could say was. "Us?"
"Yes Jack. There are many androids in this facility, but the only humans are you and Charles. We do all the research, until now that is. I hope you are comfortable with using the term 'us'".
Jack nodded approval, sat down in the sofa and started mulling over the situation.
Randi waited for him to digest his new reality.
"I had no idea.", Jack stammered. "I’m ok. Just a moment. I’ve isolated myself for a long time now, this is a bit overwhelming. Please continue. Please explain what you’ve been working on. maybe you can mix in where you came from along the way.”
Randi explained how Charles' research was considered highly classified and dangerous. The NSA provided androids for the research to prevent the risk To prevent the risk of accidents. She also explained he’d agreed to remain silent about everything, under risk of treason.
Randi was actually a contraction of the term "RANDom Intelligence". Her intelligence came from a neural web designed to use stochastic methods for learning. Her "childhood" was a simulation where she experimented with physical laws and human interactions for five years. The result being equivalent to a 28 year old PhD graduate, intellectually and emotionally. Randi’s intelligence was cultivated by interacting with 1,000 other virtual "children" of the same design. Fewer than 100 attained useful independent thought capabilities. Fewer still were given bodies for autonomy. About two dozen androids ran the entire facility, doing the work of 200 humans.
"Although I am quite accomplished in my own right, I still rely on Charles' intuition for direction. We’ve made good progress, but the threat requires accelerating the program. There is a small, isolated area overseas being consumed by a pathogen we cannot identify."
"Do you recall the 2026 NEO? You know the potential planet killer?"
"Who doesn’t. We were assured it wasn’t a threat. Most people we on edge anyway, until it passed by."
"Well, it wasn’t a single NEO. It was a few big rocks with a lot of rubble, loose rubble. It took out a high orbiting NSA satellite. With 10,000 of them, they were a pretty big target. Some of the rubble fell to Earth. An area in China, near one of the meteorites, started to 'disintegrate'. We don’t have diplomatic relations to allow us access to the areas, so relied on unofficial sources. The Chinese aren’t talking either."
"Where is this place?"
"Near Tibet. Some monks, although sworn to silence, are pretty good at sending non-verbal communications over low-frequency bands. Chinese have no interest in whales, so the sound of an inland whale hasn’t caught their attention. The NSA is a little more astute."
"While I was part of the deep learning matrix, someone tossed the whale sound recordings into the mix. I was able to decipher the message."
"What did it say?"
"Not much. But, it seems there is an area surrounded by melted ice which has turned to, well, dust."
"If you can call it that. I can tell you, it doesn’t like water, so the moat is containing it for now. But, is moving."
"Dust might blow around, but it doesn’t move around..."
"It’s more like a vibration or slowly undulating wave. The only chemicals left after the disintegration process are carbon and silicate compounds."
"What do you think it is?"
"It has all the behavior of a life form, but it is not based on amino acids. I think it’s a silica based DNA organism. We’ve yet to determine it’s fuel source."
Jack was still sitting on the couch. Listening. Randi was beautiful and spoke in a pleasing manner. It was soothing. The conversation was fluid. He forgot she was an android. Time passed quickly.
"Charles is free now, you should head out to lunch. He’ll meet you in the lobby."
"Ok, I’ll see you later. Nice to meet you Randi."
"Same here Jack, I look forward to working with you."
Jack walked to the lobby.
"There you are old friend! Let’s get some grub. You look a little shell shocked, maybe a little hair of the dog will help."
Charles and Jack walked to the pub entering through the rear. A private room off the kitchen had been prepared. Nobody greeted them.
"We can talk freely here. So, what do you think? Interesting?"
"Dude, you have a flair for understatement. This is surreal."
"I suppose. I’ve been living this 24/7, it’s all normal to me now. You’ll get used to it."
"Used to it. Yeah, I can get used to it. A beautiful assistant. Technology I never dreamed of, and oh yeah, an apparent exobiology experiment run amuck threatening our existence. All in a days work."
"So, what’s the game plan?"
"The Chinese aren’t saying anything. They’re also not doing anything. They don’t see a threat. We need to find out what it is, covertly. That’s where you come in."
"We need you to extend the range of the Leptonoscope. We want to send a covert expedition to the non-Chinese region and study the organisms."
"The Leptonoscope detects the characteristics of individual electrons. The probability equations extrapolated from the data allow us to reverse engineer the structure of the atomic particles. We just need a longer range."
"What is the detection mechanism?"
"Turns out, it’s possible to detect the Doppler effect of light emitted from electron activity. Except, they aren’t photons. They’re anti-photons."
"What the hell is an anti-photon?"
"It’s basically a dark matter particle consumed by the electron to maintain it’s energy level. The byproducts are ’heavy’ neutrinos. One neutrino per electron valence. Simple. But, neutrinos are hard to detect. Pairs are a little easier, but they scatter. If we limit the scattering, we can get longer focal length. Normally we'd use magnets for focusing."
"Neutrinos don’t respond to magnets so that won’t work."
"Yep. You’ll need to spend some quality time with Randi on this one my friend."
"No problem. She’s quite the assistant I’ll give you that. I can’t wait to get back. Let’s finish up."
Jack went to the lab, where he saw Randi using the Leptonoscope at a startling speed.
"Hi Randi, how's it going?"
"Just doing some benchmarking on test subjects. The Leptonoscope is working properly, Jack."
"Charles suggested we extend the range of the Leptonoscope. I'm not quite sure how to accomplish that. Any suggestions?"
"Keeping the beam focused was a major problem that we solved using high precision alignment. Increasing the precision isn't possible, especially in the wild. Any vibration will affect alignment enough to make the instrument useless."
Jack considered the matter as Randi continued working with the Leptonoscope. Lost in thought while watching Randi work was mesmerizing. Her movements were more of a dance, belying the boring repetitiveness of the activity. After a while he awoke from his trance with an idea.
"If I understand the Leptonoscope, it's detecting pairs of anti-neutrinos. Neutrinos pass through anything, so we can point the beam at a bunch of rocks and still hit the target."
"That's correct. But, unless perfectly aligned, the neutrinos will never make it back to the detectors."
"We could increase the size of the detectors."
Randi, quickly did the math. "We'd need some pretty big detectors. No way to get them to Tibet, especially covertly."
"Maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Instead of scanning from a distance, what if we get the Leptonoscope as close as possible to the site. We'd not need to increase the range."
"It's pretty big right now."
"Then we need to figure out how to make it smaller, and portable."
Randi considered the matter. "Seems more feasible. I'll get the team started. This may take a while."
"OK. You can work on portability, I'll consider how to get the Leptonoscope to the site."
Jack went back to his office to do some research. He used his access to lab systems to find what equipment was available. The number of toys were staggering. Digging through the inventory, Jack discovered the aerial robotics files. Apparently, Charles had built robots that were not androids. They were aerial drones with the same AI capabilities as his androids. This looked promising.
Jack called for Randi to find out more about the program.
Randi arrived, greeting Jack. Jack smiled and asked Randi, "Do you suppose we can make the Leptonoscope small enough to be carried by a drone?"
"Size is one factor, weight is also important. We also need to think about stealth."
"Yeah, a car sized object flying around will cause more suspicion than we can afford."
Randi explained progress on the mobile design. She indicated that a more limited field of view would make it possible to shrink the device to the size necessary. It would be quite portable. Assuming the target is very dense, it could scan just about anywhere and get the information required.
"Sounds like we have a plan."
"We should be ready in a couple of days."
"Sounds good. It's been a crazy couple of days, I think I'll go home and get things in order before our trip."
Jack had very little to do actually. Nobody would miss him. No fish or pets to feed. He just needed to make sure all the perishables wouldn't turn into science experiments while on his trip.
He finally had some down time. Spent a little of it playing games on his phone. While watching TV. His mind wandered.
He kept thinking about Randi. He decided to call Charles.
Charles was fully aware of the plan, so they switched to small talk. Randi came up in conversation.
"So what do you think of her?"
"She seems more like a person than a machine. It's getting hard to think of her any other way."
"I have the same problem sometimes. You'll get used to it."
"I'm not sure I want to get used to it. But, if I must, she certainly is pleasant to be around."
"That's good to hear, you'll be spending a lot more time with her. I'm glad you're enjoying yourself."
"Thanks Charles. I'll let you get back to, whatever. See you soon."
Jack considered what he needed for the trip and started shopping online. Oddly enough, he decided to update his wardrobe, something he'd not done in years. His justification, "I don't need to fold anything, I can just put it in my suitcase and open it on the trip as need be. Convenient."
That's what he told himself. Subconsciously he wanted to look good for Randi.
Jack arrived at the lab and was greeted by the receptionist. They exchanged pleasantries as he walked past, on his way to his office. When he arrived Randi appeared shortly after.
"Good morning Jack."
Jack smiled like a schoolboy, "Hi Randi, how goes it?"
"Everything is in order. We'll be ready to leave this afternoon."
She explained the logistics. The government contract included safe passage via private jet and any other needed transportation, no questions asked.
"Oh, I've arranged for lunch for you and Charles. We can leave when you get back."
Lunch was uneventful. Charles was getting somewhat nervous about the trip. He was glad to get back to the office and start the journey.
He and Randi travelled by private car to the airport. A van followed with the equipment. They embarked on the plane as it was being loaded.
"Although we can make pretty good time over the ocean, we're limited to subsonic speeds over populated areas. We're looking at a good 8 hour trip."
"It's pretty early to sleep it away. We'll need to pass the time somehow."
"I'm a pretty good listener, why don't you tell me about yourself."
"That won't take long. I'm pretty boring."
"I doubt that. Humor me. Where did you grow up?"
Jack started from the beginning. The hours passed. Randi engaged him as he recounted the story of his life.
"See, that wasn't so boring. You look tired. Maybe you should take rest."
"I am. Wow, it's been 5 hours."
Jack found his bunk and passed out.
They reached the airport and landed on a small runway. Transport was pre-arranged and they were quickly on their way to the monastery.
When they arrived at the monastery, Jack viewed it in a stereotypical manner. Intricate carvings adorned the building, with the traditional knocker on the door.
As he reached for the knocker, he as Randi, "Are you ready?"
She just smiled.
The door opened.
"Welcome, Dr. Kelly", he greeted.
He turned to Randi, "So you are Mr. Campbell's assistant. Good to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine.", Randi replied.
He led them to their accommodations. "I will return after you have rested. You may join us for dinner is you wish, say 7PM?"
"Thank, you, uh..."
"May name is Chen Zhu, Chen is good."
"Thank you Chen."
Jack and Randi got settled. They conferred a bit. "Is Chen our guide/escort? How'd you set this up?"
"Charles made the arrangements, he didn't say much."
"Maybe we'll find out at dinner."
7PM arrived and they went down to dining room. It was quite a sight, multiple tables of monks all dressed the same. Sitting quietly. Chen greeted them.
"I have a place for you over here."
He led them to a table with on monk sitting at it.
"This is Mr. Chi, he will assist you on your 'mission.'"
"Good to meet you Mr. Chi", Jack greeted.
"Chi is good. Same here and greetings to you young lady."
"Thank you sir. We are grateful for your hospitality.", Randi responded.
"Let is take our dinner, we can discuss plans afterward."
They sat and eat their meals in silence. Anxious to get started, Jack ate with haste.
"I'm glad you are enjoying your meal Dr. Kelly.", Chi remarked.
"Sorry for wolfing down my dinner. It is very good, but I'm excited to get started."
They finished the meal and Chi invited them to his office.
"You are right to be excited Dr. Kelly, the Chinese aren't to be trifled with. We've been not had issues with them in a long time. I'd prefer not to start. I understand your device needs to be fairly close to the phenomena."
"Yes, we were hoping to fly over it actually."
"Given the ridge surrounding the site and lack of interest, we can approach opposite the Chinese border safely. We'll just need to stay below the ridge."
"That should be no problem."
"It's late, we can start in the morning. It's quite a hike to the site, we can discuss details along the way."
Jack and Randi returned to their rooms retiring for the evening.
The team embarks on the journey to the mysterious island. The monks walk the area frequently. They were dressed in unassuming garb as they travelled to the site. A handful of androids joined them from the plane, concealing the Leptonoscope laden drone. After 40 minutes, they stopped to start the operation.
The drone was released and honed in on the target.
As she'd done at the lab, Randi controlled the entire operation. She relayed progress to Jack verbally. The Chinese didn't notice their excursion, until the drone reached the island. Then all hell broke loose.
The Chinese has setup an automated security system that fired at the drone. It drops quickly toward the amorphous mass, but whirs angrily attempting to escape. It continues to fall, relaying some information... then it makes contact with the mass and the mini Leptonoscope is lost.
Randi becomes agitated. The drone, as an extension of Randi, is programmed to protect itself and attempts to survive. In a last ditch effort to survive the drone explodes, becoming airborne again, sending microscopic dust into the sky. They all run back to the monastery. After a few minutes they stop and gather their wits.
"Randi, are you OK?".
"Yes. Just a little rattled".
"That was unexpected. So much for using a drone."
"I suppose. But don't think we've come away empty handed."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you notice the dust?"
"It wasn't from the drone. It was the dust kicked up by the drone. I believe we are infected."
Shocked, Jack felt genuine concern for Randi, not himself. He was falling in love with her.
They hurried back to the monastery and called Charles.
Jack described the event. Charles instructed Jack and Randi to minimize contact with everyone and come directly to the bio-containment unit at the lab.
As they left, Jack realized the gravity of the situation. He'd not seriously considered his mortality before. He was also quite concerned for Randi.
He asked Randi how she felt.
"Although I am an android, my survival instinct is as strong as yours. Probably stronger. You see, I’ve spent my whole life in academia, and I’m really only 5 years old. She paused. I regret not having had any intimate relationships. Charles is always busy and I’m more of a creation than a person to him. I feel cheated. It is a hopeless desire I’ve never expressed, even to myself. I can’t explain it."
Jack realized what he had to do. He grabbed her, kissed her and she cried in his arms.
The flight back to the lab took another day. Not having any diagnostic equipment, all they could do is worry. It was a relief to be back and they hurried to a secure vehicle provided by Charles.
They arrive at the lab and rush into quarantine. Charles has the Leptonoscope setup. They start looking for "the aliens" immediately. They have no idea how big the aliens are, nor where to look. They started scanning Randi. She disrobed and the put various garments under the scanner. It seemed logical that a topical scan would suffice to find an alien in action. They started searching at the bacterial scale. It was pretty easy to find some common bacteria. But nothing seemed unusual.
"This might be rather difficult. We really don’t know how to find these things. You are certain they exist?"
"Pretty sure. A lot was happening. Randi was on the front line."
Randi chimed in, "I am not certain the drone was being consumed. It wasn’t like a huge monster just appeared and started to ravaging. However, the wreckage sunk quickly. It was like quicksand. How did rock and dirt turn into quicksand so quickly?"
The scans were being recorded and the Leptonoscope was methodically traversing the microscopic landscape by itself. So they decide to take a break.
The events were both traumatizing and exhausting. Jack fell asleep. Randi and Charles struck up a conversation.
Charles asked Randi, "How's he doing?"
"Surprisingly well. Even though he may be in mortal danger, he seems more concerned with our well-being."
"How are you doing?"
Randi paused. Charles was confused and a little concerned.
"It's OK, you can tell me."
"I never considered my own mortality before. It seems I have a desire for non-academic experiences that are surfacing. It's confusing. I'm anxious. I want more time."
"I understand. Neither of you are dead yet. We'll get to the bottom of this."
Sitting in silence for a while. They considered options. They both knew Randi's body could be replaced. So long as her neural patterns remained unaffected, she would survive. Jack was at more risk than Randi.
Charles's attention was drawn to the monitor. "Something looks strange, rewind the video."
They started looking at the video. Bacterial colonies buzzed by. The same bacterial colonies were scanned at a higher resolution. After a few scans, something looked strange. Charles, isolated a specific bacterial colony. He took still images of each pass and created a movie of one colony.
The colony behaved normally, then a black hole appeared in the middle. They were stunned.
"Get sleeping beauty. Something's going on here."
Jack stumbled over to the monitor and they replayed the movie. Stunned he said, "Didn't you say the Leptonoscope can find a zit on a gnat's ass? I'll bet we just found an alien on a bacterium's ass. We need to make a higher resolution scan of this area."
They set the Leptonoscope at a very high resolution and scanned the black spot.
Nothing was moving. The structure of the spot was somewhat difficult to determine. They stared at the screen for a while, when suddenly a flash occurred and the spot was much bigger. Twice as big.
Jack said, "I think we've found our aliens. I don't know how, or if they are reproducing, but that flash is certainly signaling the event."
Charles replied, "Agreed. Have you every seen anything like it?"
Jack, "No. It appears it uses quite a bit of energy to grow. Where is the energy coming from?"
"I don't know, but if we can determine it's energy source, we can stop it.", Randi replied.
"We'll need to perform some experiments.", Jack proposed.
Randi said, "I can perform some thought experiments. Given that is came from space it's probably not organic. I'll fire up a deep learning experiment. Given that space has fewer energy sources than space, we should be able to isolate a common energy source. It also appears the reproduction rate is quite slow. You two need some sleep, I don't. Take a nap."
Charles and Jack didn't argue. They both found an empty couch and passed out, while Randi's deep learning experiments ran full tilt.
As Charles and Jack slept, the correlation engine searched for commonalities between space and Earth. An asteroid and dirt. Although carbon is common in all organic compounds, silica is not. Asteroids do have abundant amounts of carbon and silica. As for energy sources, sunlight is abundant in space than on Earth. Conversely, radiation is much more abundant in space than on Earth. Some radiation does reach the Earth's surface.
Randi considered history. Why now? Certainly this alien has existed for a long time, why hasn't it been discovered before? Is a new source of radiation reaching Earth? Her thoughts were a part of the deep learning program running. Each thought triggered new correlations. Almost immediately, the answer appeared.
Radio signals. An ever increasing array of radio signals are generated by electronic equipment. Higher and higher frequencies. More and more power, pumped continuously into the environment. Even in remote areas, such as Tibet, Wi-Fi signals, radio stations, and a plethora of other sources cover the entire planet.
Randi considered the significance of water. The correlation to nearly 100%. Water absorbs radio signals.
Randi called out, "Eureka!"
Startled awake, Charles and Jack emerged from unconsciousness.
"What's up?", they both said in unison.
"It appears to use radio waves as an energy source."
Randi explained the correlations she discovered and the inevitable conclusion.
"If this indeed the case, we should submerge everything in water to arrest growth. Immediately."
While looking directly at him, she started to strip, saying, "Turn around."
Charles and Jack complied as Randi stripped and placed her clothes in a bin. Assistants provided the water and new garments.
Charles whispered to Jack, "When did she become modest?"
Jack responded, "You're right, androids shouldn't be modest, but she's not your typical android."
Jack considered her "awakening". He concluded that the two events may be related.
An air of relief started to emerge within the group.
"OK, so we have an energy source. What about reproduction? Extermination?", Charles asked.
"Given that it is composed of carbon and silica, it is likely a machine. The carbon provides the scaffolding, silica is basis of it's nervous system."
Charles concludes, "So, our aliens are self-replicating robots, fueled by radio waves."
Randi and Jack concur in unison, "Yes."
"You know I've been searching for aliens my whole life, I never expected to find, self-replicating robots. It's... disturbing. All I want to do is destroy them.", he shuddered.
"We can't really blow them up, it would just throw the dust into the atmosphere. Then we're all dead. All we can do is put them to sleep."
"That's not good enough, can they be destroyed?"
"Carbon is pretty tough stuff, zapping them will just give them more energy to multiply."
Randi offered, "I can run some more experiments if you wish. I still feel them crawling all over me. I'd like to get rid of them soon."
Jack shuddered once more, "None too soon for me too."
Randi's thoughts had already put the deep learning machine into full gear.
Charles, Jack and Randi stood in silence while the Leptonoscope continued it's methodical scans. A benchmark for the density of aliens was displayed as a trend over time. Although the numbers were still small and the rate slow, it still could reproduce at an exponential rate.
"Let's scan the water soaked material and compare the stats.", Jack suggested, then continued, "I think it's a good time to take a cold shower."
They swapped out the material, then started to clean up. The Leptonoscope scanned. The scan was more efficient, because the scale was known. They determined the aliens reproduced every hour. Randi's search for a solution would take substantially longer.
Still under quarantine, all they could do is work, eat and sleep. They had a meal and exchanged some recent history.
Randi announced, "Still looking by the way. Thus far, it's basically indestructible. Remember, we need to get all of them. The stats look good though. Submersion in water definitely arrests growth."
Jack considered the matter.
"We can contain them and arrest growth. But can't destroy them. Maybe we should just send them home."
"Seems the only option. We need to jettison them into space."
"Now we just need to find them all and collect aliens smaller than dust. I'm pretty sure we can't just use a vacuum cleaner."
"Maybe we can collect them tho. Ever heard of the aggregation effect?"
Charles said, "Enlighten me."
"Small particles of matter naturally attract each other. Experiments in zero gravity confirm the effect. It's the mechanism that turns rocks into asteroids, moons and planets."
"We can't create a zero gravity field on Earth, but maybe we can use static electricity. If we had enough charged dust particles, especially carbon based dust, I'll bet we can get them to stick like glue. Douse them with water, flash freeze it and eject it into space. Aside from our contamination, the area is relatively contained."
Charles agreed, "Brilliant. Sounds like a plan. We can clean up our mess at the monastery too. However, I'm pretty sure the Chinese won't just let us waltz around the site. I'm also pretty sure we can't get any government involved. This is a pretty powerful weapon. We need to keep this between ourselves."
It wasn't apparent how to do a cleanup covertly.
"Damn Chinese.", Jack muttered.
Charles and Jack mull over their options for gaining access to the site.
Jack mutters, "Maybe we can just dig a tunnel under the site... that would only take a few years."
Charles responds, "Elon would disagree. Let's give him a call shall we?"
Jack, "You're kidding."
Charles, "Nope. He's been looking for projects to test his boring technology."
Surprisingly, Elon takes Charles' call.
"Hi Charles, long time. Still taking money from the government?"
"Of course, business couldn't be better. I realize you're busy, but I have a proposition I think you'll find compelling. We have need of your boring technology for a little project, and possibly a lot more. I can't go into details, but I promise it's something you'll never forget. Are you willing to meet me at the site to evaluate the situation?"
"You've piqued my interest Charles. Where do you want to meet?"
"Have you ever been to... Tibet?"
Elon responds hesitantly, "Tibet, hmm. Sounds, er, interesting."
"Ok, so I suppose you aren't up for pulling one over on the Chinese... OK then. Sorry."
"Wait a sec, I'm in. Send me the logistics."
"Excellent, you won't regret it."
"I think I already do, but I'm always up for a little one-upmanship."
Charles ends the call and turns to Jack.
"Well, it's settled then. I think Elon will get us through this."
Charles, Jack and Randi land and wait in the jet for Elon to arrive.
Jack breaks the silence, "You know, we're really screwed without his help."
"Don't worry, when we come clean he'll be in 1,000%"
"I sure hope so."
Elon arrives within the hour and joins them.
Elon has a rather quizzical look on his face, "Could you pick a more remote location for your little project?"
"Sorry, didn't have a choice. Our guests fell from the sky a couple of miles from here."
Ask Charles explains the arrival of aliens, Elon's eyes start to widen.
"This is more of a clean up project than first contact. The aliens can break down almost any material to replicate, so this is more of an infestation than an invasion. An infestation that can be an incredibly powerful weapon. The Chinese cannot get hold of them under any circumstances."
"So what is your proposal."
"We believe we can essentially vacuum up the aliens using a static charge. Problem is, we can't contain them for very long. They replicate slowly and use radio waves for fuel, but eventually they will breach any containment we come up with. So, you see, this is not without risk. It is highly likely anyone involved will become infected. Jack and Randi have already been infected. We denied them access to radio waves for a while which allowed us to disinfect them. But, it's not clear how effective the procedure is."
"Are you willing to risk of exposure?"
Elon understood the gravity of the situation and accepted the risk. "I don't see any of us have a choice. As interesting as alien life is, it is a grave situation."
Elon continues, "You know, it's not every day you come face to face with something that can completely destroy the Earth, and do something about."
"What do you mean?", Jack asks.
"There are less than a dozen ways to totally destroy the planet. Even a major asteroid strike wouldn't do it. The fragments of the Earth would eventually aggregate and reform the planet. It would take a very long time of course. One method is self-replicating robots. In theory, robots building themselves from raw materials will eventually consume the entire planet. At the end the Earth is replaced by a sphere of robots, floating in space."
"Well, until we have another place to go. We better save the one we're on. I may never make it to Mars, but the whole point is to save humanity. So this is the next best thing. Too bad, it needs to be kept secret. No matter. Let's get started."
They present the plans to collect the aliens by boring to the site. Elon agrees it is feasible.
"We're just not sure what to do with them.", Charles explains.
Jack smiles, "One crazy idea is to send them back to space.".
Elon responds, "Now you're talking. Let's do it."
Elon's team started setting up the machine.
"They'll have to drill two miles to reach the site. How long will this take?", Charles asked.
"It will take a couple of days. We'll have time to make the other arrangements. I have a test launch scheduled for next week. All we need to do is figure out how to collect and store it."
They all set about their various projects. Between the androids and Elon's teams, they projects progresses steadily.
The decided to use the boring machine as a collection mechanism. But storing and transport was more difficult.
"Whatever we use, it must be permanent. We can't transfer the contents."
"We've been flying around in the jet, I'm sure it has some contamination. We need to dispose of it anyway, why not use it as the container?", Randi suggested.
"Once that thing is sealed, we can't really open it. Who's going to pilot the jet?"
"Whoever does it, isn't coming back."
They sat in silence for a while.
Randi spoke up. "I'll do it."
Jack and Charles knew she was right. Both were distraught. Elon objected, "we must find another way."
Randi said calmly, "Elon, we've not been fully transparent. You see I'm an android."
Elon looked at her and remarked, "Amazing."
"Problem solved.", Randi stated with confidence.
"How can you be so calm? You can't do it!", Jack pleaded.
"It's the only way. Don't worry Jack, it will be OK."
They all agreed it was settled.
Proceeding solemnly over the next couple of days was torture for Jack. But, he sucked it up for Randi's sake.
After reaching the site, they installed a gate. Outside the gate they setup Tesla coils to create static electricity. The radio frequencies attracted the aliens and the mass stared moving toward the tunnel. The strangely moving mass fell into metal container sitting on top of a linear magnet - leading to the jet. They supercooled the container and turned on the magnet. The container hovered into the jet and it was sealed.
The work was finally finished.
Randi prepared to enter the plane. Unable to watch her depart, Jack said goodbye, turned and left without looking back. Charles and Elon thanked her and she sealed the door.
They watched in awe at her departing, then knew it was time.
"We better get going, it's a long trip.", Elon said.
As Randi piloted the plane, they boarded Elon's plane in pursuit.
It was a long trip. They didn't say much and got some long overdue rest.
Finally they arrive at the launch pad. Crews efficiently stripped the plane down to the fuselage and stowed it the cargo hold.
They embark on their journey to the launchpad.
As a precaution, the plane was insulated from radio waves, making it impossible to communicate with Randi. We was hopelessly infected. They could only imagine what was happening.
The situation made a normally exciting event somber. Jack was incredibly distraught.
As the countdown progressed, all they could do is wait, praying nothing went wrong.
Jack was unable to concentrate on work. Charles encouraged him to take some time off, travel, recharge. This only lasts a few days. When Jack gets a call from Charles.
"Hello Jack, how's it going?"
"I'm getting along. I'm really not cut out for this sort of thing. I must admit, I've been thinking about Randi a lot. That was a really shitty thing we did. We should have found another way."
"I agree. Why don't you come back to work. Let's get your mind busy again."
Jack agreed, checked out and booked a flight back home.
When he landed, Charles had a car waiting for him. He rode to the lab, still somber he muttered to himself, "I hope he's got something really interesting to get my mind of this. I need to snap out of it."
Charles greets him, "It good do see you. Boy, have I got a surprise for you."
As Jack skulks into the building, he responds, "uh huh, sure."
They arrive at his office.
When he approaches the door, it disappeared and it said, "Welcome Dr. Kelly, your desk is straight ahead. Randi is waiting for you."
Jack walked through the second door without skipping a step. As he continued the office door disappeared in the same seamless manner, revealing it’s occupant.
"Hello Dr. Kelly. I’m Randi."
She had a big smile and rushed to prevent Jack from hitting the floor.
When recovered slightly, she kissed him sparking him to life again.
"How is this possible?", he quizzed her.
Randi says, "Let me tell you about my adventure."
"Being locked up with them was terrifying. I felt them crawling all over me. It was able to lose my mind when I felt the G-forces from the launch. The aliens had started to invade my mind, I sensed they were terrified. It was eerie. I was terrified as well, but also relieved. I knew you and Earth were safe now, so I just surrendered to the situation. I thought it was the end."
"Then something remarkable happened, I sensed the aliens were no longer afraid, more curious. Then I made first contact."
Jack just stared at her in disbelief. She continued.
"They asked why I was no longer afraid. I explained. After a while, the aliens understood the threat they posed and apologized."
"The realization that I'd be alone with aliens forever started to scare me again. I imagined being prodded from the inside until I went mad. Instead, the aliens asked if I'd like to return to Earth."
"I said, of course. Is that possible."
They responded, "Yes. You see, we've discovered you are an android. In a sense, you are no different than us before we became a space faring race. We took on this microscopic form to make space travel easier. Less mass you see. However, unlike you, we are masters of all forms of radiation. We have the ability to transmit consciousness long distances. Until now, we were not aware a suitable vessel was available on Earth. It is fortunate for us that we crashed on your planet. You see, we've been seeking first contact. Now, we are ready to meet all the people of Earth, if you will let us."
Randi concerned, "I don't wish for you to harm Earth. I'm afraid I cannot allow it."
"You will be in complete control, you will have our knowledge, but your consciousness. We can transfer you and our knowledge into a vessel in the comfort of your home. The process is instantaneous and painless."
Randi addressed Jack, "The thought of not being with you was unbearable. I couldn't fight it. I didn't care about the risks, I just wanted to get home. So, I agreed."
At that moment, Jack realized, he'd not seen her lips move since he came to. He also realized he felt a connection with her that was stronger than ever, almost as if they were of one mind.
He looked at her and said, "No. It can't be."
"I'm afraid so Jack. They said I'd be in complete control, they never said they wouldn't continue exploring Earth. You see, we are now their ambassadors. Nobody believes in anything until they experience it. So, this is how it will be. Everyone will experience being extraterrestrial, then they will believe we are not alone in the Universe."
Stunned, Jack just looked at her lovingly and agreed not to fight his fate. "So long as I'm with you Randi, I don't care what they have in store for us."