30 Stories in 30 Days #07 – “The Buzzing of Flies”

THE BUZZING OF FLIES

March 11, 2015

There was a low murmur in the nearly full conference room as the reporters took their seats.  On the stage a couple of people were checking the three microphones at the table.  Without fanfare, they were joined by three middle aged people.

The larger group talked and laughed a bit, but then the three took their seats, and the others left.  The reporters quieted down.
On the far left of the table, a woman leaned forward and clicked on her microphone.  “Welcome,” she said.  “For those who don’t know, I am Doctor Alice Hechter, Director of the Weaver Science Council, and I’ll be leading this announcement on the latest information about 2015CE26.  To my left is Doctor Colin McCrum of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who will have some details to share with us later.”

The man in the middle waved to the crowd and said, “Hello.”

“And on the other end,” Alice continued, “is David Hoffman, Deputy Administrator of NASA.”

David leaned forward and said, “Administrator Laslett was scheduled to be here, but is apparently suffering from a bad case of food poisoning.”

“Well, I’m sure she’s watching,” Alice said.  She waved to the camera and added, “Know that we all wish you a speedy recovery.”

Alice took a sip of water and began.  “Today we will be announcing the latest discoveries about 2015CE26, which has been called the Alien Asteroid.  I’d like to start with some of the backstory.  Most of this has already been widely reported, but I think it best to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“The object 2015CE26 was discovered on February 10th by the CASP, or Comet and Asteroid Search Project run by West Chester University, and partially funded by the Weaver Science Council.  As part of the project, they take several photos of a section of the night sky and put them into a computer, which compares the images looking for anything that moves.

“There are millions of asteroids out there – most of which we haven’t detected yet – and hundreds are discovered by such programs each week.  But 2015CE26 quickly stood out as something interesting.  The first indication of its uniqueness was that it was relatively bright.  Most small object in the outer solar system are dark.  Billions of years of cosmic radiation alters the chemistry of the surface layers leaving them as dark as charcoal.  Given that assumption, for 2015CE26 to be as bright as it was, it needed to be very large.  The initial estimates had it at nearly 600 kilometers in diameter, which would put it just larger than the largest asteroid, 2 Pallas.

“But more importantly, the second most interesting thing about 2015CE26 was its orbit.  Or technically, its lack of one.  The initial orbit calculated for the object showed that it was not in orbit around the sun; meaning, it originated in another star system and was just passing through ours.

“As you all know, the reports of an ‘Alien Asteroid’ sent the internet ablaze.” Alice stopped for a moment before continuing.  “I’m both happy and sorry to say that what we will now reveal will make the last few weeks look tame.”

Most of the reporters sat up straight after she said that.

“There are two additional factors of the uniqueness of 2015CE26 that we will now reveal.  The first surprise were the results of the spectrographic analysis, which was like no known object.  Doctor McCrum will be going into further detail about that later.  But more importantly, was the fact that the original orbital calculation for 2015CE26 wasn’t correct.  All the astronomers who were pointing their telescopes where it was predicted to be, were having trouble finding it.  At first, it was assumed that there was some outgassing from the object which was altering its trajectory and thus throwing off our calculations.  But given that the object was near the orbit of Saturn, the sunlight reaching it should not have been enough to warm the object to cause outgassing.

“It was then realized, that the reason the projected location was wrong was because it had been assumed that 2015CE26 was traveling at a constant velocity.  If you assumed it was decelerating, then the projected path matched what was actually observed.”

The reporters had been silent, but now several began muttering and texts began being sent.

“2015CE26 is slowing down,” Alice stated.  “If the deceleration continues, it will come to a stop somewhere within the Asteroid Belt.  To our knowledge, there is no natural manner for this to happen.  Therefore, we have come to the conclusion that 2015CE26 is not just an asteroid from another star system, but some sort of craft from another star system.”

As one, the reporters jumped up and began shouting questions.

April 22, 2016

“We are now ten minutes away from Alpha’s closest pass with the alien ship.” The newscaster smiled and nodded to the panel of scientists, including Alice.  “Actually, as you have all explained – repeatedly – the closest pass happened three minutes ago.  But the radio signals of that pass need almost thirteen minutes to reach Earth.”

“You’re started to catch on Jim,” Alice said with a smile.

Jim shrugged.  “Well, when you hang around scientists for a year, you do manage to pick a few things up through osmosis.”

Some of the scientists were glued to their computer screens, but the ones who heard his comment chuckled.

“But enough about my science education,” Jim continued.  “What do the latest images show?”

The image changed from the news studio to one showing two objects on a black background.  One was a gray, irregular triangle.  This was a previously unnamed asteroid now referred to as Star Port.  Next to it was a smaller, silvery cylinder: the alien ship.  It had been over a year since humans had detected the ship entering the solar system.  It had decelerated and stopped next to the asteroid.  Scientists theorized that the aliens were mining material from the asteroid for repairs or resupply.  The scientists didn’t know for sure, because despite countless messages beamed toward the ship on all conceivable frequencies, no signal had ever been detected in reply.

If the aliens didn’t want to return our calls, we would have to go visit them.  And while thousands of people volunteered for a – possibly – one-way trip to meet the aliens, there was no spacecraft ready to launch them.

Thus, a fleet of robotic probes – rushed through construction – were launched to make contact.  Since nobody could agree to what to call our first robotic ambassador – Magellan, Gagarin, Armstrong, Peace, Mir, Hello, Terra, Explorer, Voyager, Eagle, Prometheus, Contact, etc., etc., etc. – the new United Nation Commission for Alien Contact with Alice as Chairwoman just named it Alpha so everyone could get to work on the other thousand things that needed to be done.

Alpha was little more than a camera and a transmitter.  It was designed for the sole purpose of flying by the ship at a distance of about one hundred miles, taking as many photos as it could, and letting the aliens know we were curious about them.

Assuming the aliens didn’t just blow up Alpha, Beta would make an even closer flyby in fifteen days.  Then in three months, Gamma would arrive.  But instead of flying by, it would slow down and fly in tandem with the ship.  All would beam messages to the ship at their closest approach, hoping to finally get an answer.

Now, just minutes before the images of Alpha’s flyby reached Earth, everyone was pouring over the images that the probe had already sent back.  “The latest estimate,” Alice explained, “is that the ship is cylindrical with a diameter of 580 meters and a length of 1420 meters.  There are also hints,” here red circles appeared around faint points between the asteroid and ship, “of what may be shuttlecraft.  We’ll have to see what the closer images show.  If they are shuttlecraft, that would advance the theory that the ship stopped to make repairs or to take on supplies.”

A new image appeared and the asteroid and ship were just noticeably bigger.

“Everything still looks good?” Jim asked.

“Yes,” Alice replied.  After a moment, she added, “I may be mistaken, but it looks as if there is … something at the center of the cylinder.  It may be markings, or an opening.  To a shuttle bay, perhaps.”

As the minutes passed, and more and more images came in, the detail of the asteroid and cylinder grew.  Eventually, the probe was too close to see both in one view, and the camera switched to focus on the ship.  The something Alice spotted turned out to be an opening.  And given that the smaller, cube like ships looked to be flying in and out of it, it was most likely the opening to a shuttle bay.

One image looked almost directly into the bay, but at first glance nothing could be made out because the inside was in shadow.  “With image enhancing,” Alice said, “we may be able to see some detail of the ship’s interior.  But that will have to wait.  The very next image will be from closest approach, which is estimated at 101 miles.  Right after it sends us that image, Alpha will send its greeting to the ship.”

The next image came in, but not much of the ship could be seen because Alpha was now looking at the shadowed side.  What could be seen was just a smooth, silvery surface with no hint of markings or protrusions.

“Telemetry shows that the message has been sent,” Alice explained.  “If they didn’t notice the probe flying towards them, they now know we’re there.”

For the next hour, Alpha sent back more images of the ship and asteroid, but didn’t report on any signal from the ship.

May 9, 2016

The room hushed as Alice walked on to the stage and up to the podium.  She cleared her throat and began.  “Three days ago it was reported that the alien ship had left the asteroid called Star Port.  This came from observations made by telescopes here on Earth and in orbit, as well as images returned by Beta, which flew by last week.  The space probe Gamma is ten weeks away from going into orbit around Star Port.  It does not have the fuel capability to pursue the alien ship.  Therefore, it will go into orbit as planned so we may finally figure out what they were mining.

“The probes Delta and Epsilon were put into Safe Mode to preserve fuel and the launch of Zeta was put on hold.  If the ship was just moving to another asteroid, it was hoped these craft would be able to join it there.

“But further observations indicate the ship is not moving to another asteroid.  Nor is it heading towards Earth.  It appears that the ship is accelerating in order to leave the solar system.  We will track it for as long as we can, but we do not have any probes capable of following it.”

Alice was silent for a few seconds, then said, “Why they were here, we may never know.  Their arrival was the biggest thing to ever happen to humanity.  But to them, our actions with our probes may just have been as the buzzing of flies is to us.”

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One Response to “30 Stories in 30 Days #07 – “The Buzzing of Flies””

  1. Several years ago, I had the idea of aliens coming to the solar system and strip mining the asteroids and there was nothing we could do to stop them. As with all my old ideas, it was something I always meant to go back to.

    Recently, there are companies looking to mine asteroids, such as Planetary Resources (http://www.planetaryresources.com/) and Deep Space Industries (http://deepspaceindustries.com/). So I figured the time was right to write this story. But instead of the aliens strip mining our asteroids, I just had them stopping for supplies and ignoring us.

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