Home        Index Chapter Two


by sharok rillk

Chapter One : The Beginning

- Earth : ThreatNet HQ, USA -

The Space Threat Detection Network was a small scientific project which was assigned the goal of detecting any interstellar objects that may be on a collision course with the blue planet Earth. Its headquarters were situated on an abandoned Air Force base somewhere in the southeastern portion of the United States. As all Air Force bases go, this one was a sprawling compound with six hangers that used to house old-style jet-engine fighters, and a dozen or so smaller buildings comprising the "living quarters" of the old base. The hangers were now empty ; jet-engine fighters had been abandoned a while ago and replaced by the more actual helojet. Most of the other buildings were abandoned also, save for the control tower (out of principle, not much air traffic these days), the barracks, and the headquarters building proper. The cafeteria and lunch area were a small room in the headquarters building.

Since this was a project that concerned civil security, it was logical that it fell under the jurisdiction of the military, which also happened to decrease the time it might take to alert high-ranking officials - if the need ever came to do that. In truth, the only reason for this operation was the rather large rock that had come falling from the sky fifteen years before. It had landed in the Pacific Ocean, and quite a few islands had been utterly wiped from the face of the planet, not to mention the Japanese and Californian coasts that had been hit by 60-foot waves. California, once the richest state in the union (and one of the richest areas in the world), had been thrown back a hundred years in economic growth. It was still in the process of rebuilding and some economists had forecast that it would take more than a century before the Sunny State could pretend to claim back its former glory. As for Japan, the event had erased Hiroshima from collective memory, along with half the population and most of the industrial infrastructure. The country was still on its knees, and the UN was in charge of the never-ending relief program.

The disaster that this small space rock had caused had scared the pants off every citizen in the world - especially the ones that lived along coastal areas. Nothing like a good burn to start being afraid of fire. Under the immense popular pressure that had followed, the governments of the world had buckled and ThreatNet had been hastily constructed. After a decade, world pressure had gone dormant as the public turned its interests to other things. The space rock disaster had disappeared from the newspapers, to become the stuff of books, scary and unjustified online revelations, and some adventurous films. Government interest had faded to a low degree, and the joint surveillance operations had slowly been abandoned to the sole hands of the US team, the only one left that was keeping a 24/7 watch on the data.

Of course, nobody had abandoned the project entirely, and every country that had some part of the infrastructure was maintaining it as best they could, lest someone accuse the government of negligence (which would undoubtedly be translated into crime against humanity for the unlucky scapegoats). So the hardware was kept in rather good shape, even if few countries actually requested any summary of results. The United States was the only country still dedicating correct funding for resources and personnel - mainly because the military were not ready to let go this crown jewel of their Space Division - which never had had much to do.

So, ThreatNet was surviving, and the scientists and other personnel assigned to the project were going about their daily routine without much anxiety at all. Indeed, in addition to the many telescopes that were devoting an important slice of their operational time to hunt for threatening space rocks, there had recently been a new addition to the arsenal : the Gravitational Variation Detection Network. This was an entirely new series of detectors that had been rolled out by the US Space Division, following the highly-regarded results of Mrs. Susan Richards' doctorate on gravitons and gravitational theories.

Mrs. Richards had founded her doctorate on how gravitons and the wave effect would allow a detection mechanism, providing it was sensitive enough and properly calibrated, to pinpoint a mass of more than a hundred thousand metric tons on its way to Earth within a distance of almost a billion kilometers, and that in near-real time. The Space Division had pounced on the report and, at the very end of Richards' acceptance speech, she had been whisked away under a top-secret government contract to put her ideas to work.

Except, of course, that theory is nice, but reality always has a way of making things difficult.

"So David, how's our DetNet feeling this morning ?" asked Chief Commander Benjamin Thomson as he walked into ComCenter at a brisk pace.

"Good morning, Sir. Well, we have the usual objects under scrutiny and no new threat has surfaced as of yet. GravNet is sending some conflicting data concerning one of Jupiter's moons, though." Lieutenant David Morse answered in a cheery tone.

"GravNet again ? Jesus, when will those propeller heads get that thing working ?" snorted Chief Thomson derisively. "It's been blowin' fuses all year. What is it this time ?"

"Well, Sir, it would seem that the sixth moon currently situated on the far side of Jupiter's orbit has increased in mass by about ten billion metric tons." came the bemused answer.

"Ten billion ? Sheesh, somebody must've sneezed on a transistor." The two shared smiles at the inside joke. "Okay, when did this anomaly happen ?"

"At oh-four-two-six and seventeen seconds, Sir."

"And what is the current situation, Lieutenant ?"

"Stable, Sir. There has been no further detectable changes in mass according to GravNet."

Chief Commander Thomson was slightly surprised at that. An anomaly that persisted for more than two hours was something a bit more serious than the previous events. He sat his coffee mug - a special Betty Boop model he was extremely fond of (you didn't often see Betty Boop in a tight-fitting leather suit) - on the desk next to the Lieutenants console, and sat with one leg on the console desk.

"Hang on, Lieutenant. You're telling me that one of Jupiter's moons got a ten billion ton increase in mass and has stayed there for more than two hours ?"

"Yes Sir. The global mass GravNet is recording for Ganymede is stable at nominal plus ten billion since oh-four-two-six this morning."

"Did you recalibrate the base receptors ?"

"Yes Sir, base receptors functioning at nominal specifications. Everything is in the green, but the anomaly will not go away."

"Did you contact NASA ?"

"Left an email for Richards, she'll be in later this morning." answered Morse.

"Good. Did you file a formal report ?"

"Including detection logs and recalibration results, yes."

"Fine. Well, as long as this anomaly doesn't move, we won't classify it as a threat." Chief Thomson got up and went to his office. He was not thrilled by amount of bickering that this situation would inevitably attract, but he had to read the report and approve it officially, as per protocol. His long years of experience told him that the real stress wouldn't come before the whiteshirts started their rebuttals anyway. Oh well, thought Thomson, another day in the Corps. He smiled briefly, then switched on his terminal.

Doctor Susan Richards was not very happy. She was hardly what people would describe as a joyful person in normal times, but today she was already in PMS-mode before seven o'clock. She was thirty-four, a small figure along with blond hair and a smattering of freckles on a sun-shy, pasty white skin. Not exactly the image that commands respect, especially when she had her bottle-bottom glasses burdening her slightly large nose. That image had bothered her during her whole school life, and getting her doctorate in gravitational physics at MIT had given her only a very brief respite.

She had been working for two whole years on GravNet. It was her baby, and she knew every part of it, down to the last lock on the door of the most remote detection facility. It had long galled her that more than half of her time had been taken up on finding and keeping the funding for it, instead of actually working on the project, but she had understood that this was one of the trials of success. Science programs that succeed do so because the candidate is sufficiently convinced by it to devote his life to it until it is finished. You had to prove your devotion, and you did so by charming the revolting snake that was the people with budgets.

And she had done it. She had run the course, jumped through the hoops, toasted those ignorant rich savages until they almost passed out, but she had always managed to go foreward until Project GravNet had finally materialized, to be denied by no one any more.

And now those despicable Space Marines (her personal derogatory term) were trying to kill her baby. They had been at it for months now, and it had only been worse the last few weeks. Not a day went by without a "Support Call" (their term, she called it the Slave Bell), or a "Request for Clarification" (the RTFM note). And now, they actually had the nerve to tell her that her baby didn't work. That it was broken. Broken ! The mere thought enraged her a bit more.

As she slammed the front door of her small, three-room appartment, her rage was so blinding that she forgot to lock the door. She stomped off to her car and tried starting it. As usual, it took three or four tries to get it to work (why didn't the garagist FIX that, instead of laughing at her troubles and charging her outrageous sums for "work" he never did ?), and she finally started out to Space Marine HQ at seven thirty. She was seething.

The desk phone rang and Lieutenant Morse jumped on it. "Morse here."

"Thomson. When did you say the Doctor would get here ?"

"She should be here already, Sir. The mail was flagged as Urgent and sent largely on time for First-Hour support. I'd guess that she's on her way."

"And late. And probably volcanic, too." Chief Thomson observed dryly.

"Ahh, do you want me to ring her mobile ?" Lt. Morse asked, praying that the answer would be a negative.

"No, let's not uselessly add to the long list of wrongs we have inflicted on that poor woman." answered Thomson, a tad ironically. Lieutenant Morse silently breathed a sigh of relief. "Just notify me the instant her car pulls in. I'll try to get to Reception before she does."

"Will do, Sir." The line went dead, leaving Lieutenant Morse with a brief moment to reflect over the personality of Dr. Richards. Physically, she wasn't that bad, he decided. Honestly, she was in good shape, and he found her freckles rather cute. The only problem with her was when you looked above the freckles, into those deep brown eyes that hid a current of explosive lava. You never knew what remark might trigger a killer eruption, sometimes even remaining silent couldn't keep you safe. Her temper was worse than the Krakatoa. The less he had to do with her, the better he felt. And he'd not feel too good when he'd be called into the Chief's office to explain what happened this morning, no siree.

He decided he'd better check that he had all the data ready. He ruffled through his papers for the fourth time, carefully verifying that each piece of data, however obscure, was presented in an orderly manner.

This insistence on thoroughness was almost his undoing that morning. It was by pure chance that he looked up at the right time and caught sight of the rear end of a worn-out, dirty white Fiat Pinto disappearing on the left side of the parking entrance camera. His panic did not keep him from shooting his hand to the phone, but it did make him miss the handpiece and bowl the phone over. With split-second reflexes he righted the phone, simultaneously pressing the speed dial for his Commanding Officer.

He had a half-second respite to compose himself, and when he heard Chief Thomson's voice, he calmly said "She's here, Sir". The line went dead again, rather quickly he thought.

She walked towards the glass box with a repectable amount of fury still coursing through her veins. She had made it almost halfway across the hallway when a door opened and that despicable man came walking out. With his air of calm superiority, he had never failed to irritate her to the highest point. He seemed to be callous and oblivious of her arguments on purpose. She hated him, and she was sure he hated her. But he was the Customer, and she was obliged to do whatever necessary to keep her baby from being condemned to the confines of burocratic oblivion.

That thought added another dose of anger to her current state. Her pace quickened, and her body automatically targeted the source of all evil. She walked towards him, her mouth a grim line.

"Good morning, Doctor Richards." ventured Chief Thomson. He had notified the guard that this person was under his personal authority - not that the guard was particularly inclined to insist in this case. He had heard what had happened to his collegue when the latter had tried to stick to procedures. The earful that that guard had got that day was well under way to becoming legend among his fellows. The current guard was grateful for the direct order the Chief had given, having no inclination to see if he could top that today. He just jotted down the data in the log book, and kept quiet.

With no response forthcoming, Chief Thomson continued his one-sided dialog. "I'm glad to see you here, Doctor. As you know, . . " he was abruptly cut off.

"I know that you have yet again unjustly accused the GravNet Project of being a worthless piece of crap." snapped Richards, stopping to face her tormentor. "I have no doubt that I will find that everything is in perfect working order yet again, and I will be forced to leave with ridicule hanging at my shoes." Her anger was almost palpable.

Chief Thomson was loathing every second of this. He had spent his morning on the GravNet issue - first by spending a few minutes reading and approving the report, then by spending the rest of his time wondering how on Earth he would manage to not get her to overflow. With disgust, he realized that it had been a futile attempt from the get-go. This was NOT going to be a good day at all.

"Now, please Doctor, let me explain the situation." Chief Thomson gestured towards his office, and the pair resumed a fair pace.

"Yes, let's see what you have found this time." answered Doctor Richards, her voice dripping with venom.

Chief Thomson repressed a movement of irritation. Lord in Heaven, why did THIS ball of malcontent have to be in charge of this project ? And to say that today wasn't even a Monday. Suddenly, Chief Thomson had an idea. "Well, Doctor Richards, I think you'll find the data interesting." he said with a straight face.

Susan Richards was caught off guard. She was expecting him to be thoroughly bone-headed as usual, but instead of that normal behavior, he had displayed an expectation of understanding. Her mind raced along the possible causes and consequences of this unusual attitude. The couple took a few steps in silence, allowing them to reach the Chief's office. He opened the door and strode in, leaving her to follow. She noted the return to normal with iron-bound resistance. He would not get the best of her today, she vowed. She pushed her glasses farther up, and entered the office.

Lieutenant Morse saw the Chief and the Dragon (her nickname among the men) go into the Chief's office through the glass windows. Expecting to hear the usual sound of vocal disagreement, he turned back to his console and applied his attention to it, hoping to tune out the clash of discord. After a few minutes of intense concentration, the Lieutenant suddenly realized that there was nothing to tune out.

Cautiously, as if a sudden movement could ignite the unwanted fire, he looked back at the glass window of the Chief's office. The Dragon was sitting, and neither she nor the Chief were red-faced, nor were they even politely telling each other off. Impossible though it may seem, all indicators were pointing to - a conversation.

"This is unbelievable !" the Lieutenant thought. To have the Dragon in the Chief's office and have a normal conversation AT THE SAME TIME. It had never happened before, simple as that. The Lieutenant was mightily surprised. Then he started wondering what would happen this time, when he recieved his summons to place himself in harm's way. For once he might be able to live through the experience without needing to shut himself up in the silence of the bathroom for half an hour afterwards.

Still, he rechecked his data, just to be sure. If there was no explosion now, it was out of the question that he be the one to kickstart it. After having done so, he started scouring the various databases for other tidbits, links, anything that could help delay the inevitable eruption. Some miracle had prevented the Dragon from spitting fire at the get-go, but the Lieutenant was not foolish enough to actually think that it would last. He just hoped that he wouldn't be around when the situation finally broke down.

The Chief had been locked in with the beast for almost half an hour before the Lieutenant's phone rang. It was time.

As the Lieutenant came in, Chief Thomson was careful to hold himself in check. The past half an hour had been as emotionally stressful as some of his days back at boot camp. However, he was rather proud that he had managed to play a card that seemed to be a winner. In any case, he had won thirty minutes of audible peace for his men, and by the look on Lt. Morse's face, he realized that this victory would be commented on for quite some days to come. It was all a question of approach, he said to himself, motioning the Lieutenant to give the Doctor his data.

Doctor Richards was in turmoil inside. Maintaining her composure had always been a trial in front of Chief Thomson, but somehow, this time, he was almost bearable. On the other hand, the report he had given her was most perplexing. It is true that the GravNet was a very delicate and rather complex assembly of top-of-the-line scientific equipment still in its infancy, so brief measurement errors were to be expected.

Still, up to now these errors had always been quite short, in the order of minutes, even seconds. It was all part of the process of trial and correction that was the lot of any first-time full-scale implementation of a lab experiment. But today was entirely different : the error was persistent and, more intriguing, stable. That was enough to take the edge off Susan's somewhat temperamental attitude. When the Lieutenant came in, she was so intent on seeing the data that she stood up and practically took the sheaf of papers from the Lieutenant's hand.

Reseating herself, her attention focussed intently on the data available to her eyes. The Lieutenant, nonplussed, nodded toward his Chief and attempted a hasty retreat. To his dismay, Chief Thomson did not leave him off the hook so easily, and gestured for him to sit on the other chair. Resigned, Lt. Morse closed the door and sat himself down.

They sat in silence for a full four minutes before the Doctor raised her head and looked around as if she was coming back from some far-away plane of comprehension. After repositioning her glasses on her nose, she finally noticed that the Lieutenant was there. She turned her attention to him. "You were the one who noticed the anomaly first, am I right ?" she asked.

"Yes, Doctor, that is correct. As you can see in the report, I noticed the anomaly at a little after four thirty this morning, and I traced its occurence to about four minutes prior to that." he answered, imagining that he was being interrogated by his Master Sergeant again.

"And what is the first thing you did when you found this discrepancy ?" pressed Dr. Richards.

"Of course I checked with the individual station feeds to ensure that this was not a transmission error. Then I recompiled the data streams from all stations to ensure that the result was indeed the one being displayed on the console, and finally I ordered a recalibration of all stations to ensure that no one station was acting on false detection data and polluting the streams, which was not the case." Lt. Morse began to think that this was actually becoming easy.

"And you did not find any error in the transmission protocol, or in the remote stations operational status ?" asked the Doctor.

"No, Doctor. All stations respond to all queries promptly, and they all report optimal functional status. There is no equipment malfunction to act on in this case." stated the Lieutenant in a matter-of-fact voice.

Pursuing her interrogation relentlessly, Doctor Richards repeatedly probed the Lieutenant about the three stations that had been behaving somewhat erratically in the past month. There was a known issue with Station 23 (the next maintenance tour was scheduled to start in six weeks), but the Lieutenant was able to convince her that he had indeed operated the fallback procedures correctly, and taken into account the proper variance on the statistical analysis of the data stream from that station. The Lieutenant even surprised her by extracting from the sheaf the two printouts that he had made to study the impact of maximum statistical variance on the stream from Station 23.

She ended the interrogation, satisfied that the Lieutenant had done a good job. Of course, he hadn't done as well as she would have, but his willingness to confirm admittedly shaky data with additional effort was something that she would not forget. For once, it would indeed seem that the Slave Bell had rang at an appropriate time. It was really up to her to find out what was going on.

"So, Doctor, what do you suggest ?" asked Chief Thomson, to break the silence.

"Well, I think I'm going to have to go through the program again." Dr. Richards slowly answered after a few more seconds. "At first glance, it would seem that everything is working correctly, but the anomaly should not remain stable in that case. There has to be something that triggered a bad reading, then something happened to make the error remain as normal data. I can't see what would do that, but I can't see any other explanation either."

The Lieutenant suddenly spoke up : "And what if there really was an increase in mass ?" he asked. Immediately after speaking, David wondered why he hadn't kept his mouth shut.

Doctor Richards surprised him with her answer. She actually smiled before saying "An increase of more than ten billion metric tons does not just happen like that. Actually, it could happen, but it would have to be an asteroid that hit the moon, and we would be detecting the asteroid and looking for its position, instead of looking at the moon and wondering what made it grow fatter."

"Could we have missed the asteroid ?" asked Chief Thomson. "With the troubles we've been having lately, I would not really be surprised that it managed to slip through our fingers." Suddenly, the ambient temperature dropped noticeably.

"May I remind you that GravNet has been functioning as intended for the past six months ?" Doctor Richards answered, her tone icy. "The only real troubles have been disrespect of documented procedures, as well as three equipment failures, probably due to sloppy handling by careless brutes." She continued, her anger rising again. "I had to spend days in each case to personally go and repair the failed equipment, which have been running fine since my intervention." Susan Richards was mightily annoyed again, but she held herself in check. She really did have work to do now, so there was no time to waste. She stood up abruptly.

"I'll be in the server room." she said, and stormed out of the office.

Both men had sat stock still during the outburst, none of them so much as moving a muscle. Chief Thomson berated himself for having mangled the situation again. Yet, he still did want an answer to that question ; could there have been an asteroid that they had not detected ? Jupiter is pretty far away, he mused. And ten billion tons of rock may seem pretty impressive, but at a billion miles away, it's still just a speck. With a sigh, Chief Thomson turned to his Lieutenant.

"Well, looks like things are back to normal, doesn't it ?" he said with an ironic half-smile.

The Lieutenant grinned. "At least, this time she actually has something else to chew on besides us." he answered.

Chief Thomson chuckled at that. "Right." he said. "Okay, while she's cooped up, let's try to get the next step rolling."

"Next step ?" queried the Lieutenant.

"Yes," said the Chief. "We have a confirmed anomaly, and per procedure SAC-SD must be notified. But that's my job. Has anything else happened this morning ?"

"Aside from the earthquake we just measured here, nothing." replied the Lieutenant with very dry humor.

The Chief smiled again. "Right, well then, carry on."

"Yes Sir."

As the Lieutenant returned to his post, the Chief reflected that, all in all, this day just might be interesting after all.

The day went by quite quickly for Susan Richards. She was working intently, as usual, but as the hours went by collating data and comparing code, a certain fever grew in her mind. She refused to let herself be taken over by panic, and pressed on doggedly. Something was deeply wrong, and she intended to find out what it was, even if that meant that she had to personally go before her peers and tell everyone that she had made a big mistake. Somehow, she unconsciously refused to envision the consequences of not being wrong.

She finally realized that the day had gone by when Chief Commander Thomson entered the server room with a tray. She noticed that the tray had some food laid out on it, and then she felt an alarming increase in the moisture level in her mouth, accompanied by a sudden growling in her midsection. She was famished. She hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, and now it was . . . "What time is it ?" she asked, eyeing the tray.

"It's past both our bedtimes, Doctor, and you have been holed up in here for the past twelve hours straight. I thought that you might be hungry, or at least locked in and dying to get out, so I got this together and came to see if you were still conscious or not." Chief Thomson ended his words with a smile, to show that it was just a bit of friendly banter.

"Well, thank you. You could have come by sooner, though" said Dr. Richards, her gratefulness taking the sting out of her tone.

"I actually did, around seven p.m." answered the Chief good-naturedly. "You were so taken by your work that you didn't even notice I was around, so I thought I'd better leave you to it, and I left."

Her mouth being full, Susan voiced her surprise with a muffled croak. While she finished wolfing down the sandwich, she observed Chief Thomson who looked over the screens, and the papers on her desk. Emptying the glass of water in one gulp, she got herself ready for the inevitable questions. She was suddenly a bit uneasy, not being quite sure of how to expose the situation. Her blood pressure rose again, due to nervousness this time.

"Well, looks like you don't waste time with food, hmm ?" said Thomson, trying to continue the friendliness routine. It was new for both of them, and he hoped he wouldn't destroy it again. "Have you found anything yet ?"

"I'm going to need more time before I can give you an answer to that question." answered Richards, trying to keep her tone level.

"I'm asking because the General would like to have an update on the situation." said Chief Thomson cautiously.

"What ! What General ? What does a General have to with this now ?" her anger had come back full force. Couldn't these robots give her a bit of time, for Heaven's sake !

"Standard procedure, Doctor." Chief Thomson tried very hard to calm her down by the tone of his voice. He was willing her anger to subside with all his might. "We have an anomaly in a critical component of our Threat Detection Net, and Strategic Air Command must be notified in order to have time to prepare any necessary countermeasures."

Turning her head in disgust, her anger at the boiling point, she made a heroic effort to calm down. These are just drones anyway, she thought to herself. No use getting upset over useless twits. Somehow, that thought did not give her the cold, reasurring peace of mind she expected it to.

"So, what now ?" she asked sterly, turning back to face her opponent.

"What do you mean <what now> ? Nothing." Chief Commander Thomson was getting annoyed. Why couldn't she chill, damn it ! "You keep doing what you do, we need you to tell us what is the cause of our measurement anomaly. I'm just saying that I have to give General McWinter regular updates on the situation, and he's getting a bit tired of hearing me say that nothing is new yet."

Doctor Richards was on the verge of exploding, but Chief Thomson's last phrase hang in front of her conscience like a bright, blinking red light. Her anger was drained in a second, as her attention was brought back to the problem at hand like a nail laying next to a working industrial magnet.

Chief Thomson saw her eyes go out of focus for a few seconds. Miss Richards was obviously having a brainstorm of epic proportions, given that he had felt the tension drain from the atmosphere like fog under an air-conditioner. He kept quiet, waiting for the moment to pass and wondering what would come of it.

Susan Richards came back to reality in a state of agitation that had nothing to do with anger. It was as if all these hours of pooring over signs printed on paper or displayed on screen had been destined solely to prepare her for this moment. During all that time, her subconscience had been at work, rolling, stretching and puttering along by itself, and although she had already forgotten the words that triggered the reaction, her conscience had suddenly been swamped by her subconscious self, updating her thought paths and placing her in an entirely new direction. She suddenly knew what she had to do, and she felt that she had the power to do it. The agitation passed as that realization put herself into a state of mental calm that she had rarely experienced. She took a deep breath.

"Chief Thomas, I have the notion that you will be able to tell your General something very interesting tomorrow." she said, in a very calm voice. So calm that the Chief had trouble believing what he heard.

"I'm sorry ? You've found something then ?" he asked, a bit confused.

"I believe I have, but I'll need a bit more time to prove it." she answered confidently. "If I say what I have to say without being able to prove it, you'll think I'm certifiable."

Well, we knew that already, Chief Thomson thought, and he immediately bit that remark back. Then his mind registered what she had just said, and a warning flag went off somewhere, deep down inside. "What is it you have found ?" he asked in a low voice, almost not wanting an answer.

Susan Richards was amused. She had followed the Chief's thought process as if she had been reading a book. He had suddenly became so transparent ! This was quite different from the world she was used to. He was still incomprehensible, but she felt as if she could at least see what was going to happen. Better than to just bang her head against invisible walls, now she could see the wall coming. It gave her a sense of power that she never felt. It made her almost giddy.

It was in that semi-euphoric state that she gave her answer. She was even more amused to see the Chief's face blanch. She actually smiled while he turned and, without a word, left the server room.

She turned back to her monitors and papers. With a great, sweeping move of her arms, she pushed all the papers of the desk, recovered the keyboards and mice that had been disturbed by the commotion, and looked at the phosphorescent tubes for a few seconds. That old data had served its purpose, but for what she needed now, it was useless. She needed something else, and she needed a new program to get it.

With renewed energy, she set herself to the task of giving herself the tools to prove the impossible : that the human race was no longer alone.

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