My skin burns as I get out of the dark sedan and walk towards a ten story radio telescope out in the middle of New Mexico. The pebbles beneath my feet crumble with each step I take towards the closest telescope that forms part of the famous "Very Large Array." The large telescope sits on the sun baked brown desert ground, and beside it a woman who seems to have taken notice of my arrival begins to make her way towards me. The passenger door of my sedan slams shut, my partner walks next to me.
"I hate these assignments," he says.
"So do I, Ramirez, so do I," I respond.
"Hi!" the woman shouts out as she gets closer to us, "Who are you?"
She has two work gloves she just removed in her hands. Her light blue button down blouse is spotted with dark stains and her khaki pants are dusty. She breaths through her mouth and crinkles her forehead as she speaks with the sun in her eyes.
"I'm Agent Grant," I say and show her my generic Department of Defense badge, "And this is Agent Ramirez. We are with the Department of Defense."
"What can I do for you?" She speaks slowly and cautiously, must likely because she is confused.
"Doctor Miller," I say, "We need to talk to you."
"Preferably somewhere else, maybe somewhere cooler," Ramirez says loosening his tie.
"What for?" She asks and combs back her straight blond hair behind her right ear.
"It's a matter of national security," I say while opening the rear passenger door for her. She pauses for a moment and looks at me and then at Ramirez. A breeze begins blow the dust of the ground around her fight as they finally move towards the car.
"This better be good," She says as Ramirez and I get into the car, "I have to calibrate four telescopes before the end of the day."
"Oh but it is," Ramirez says with excitement in his voice, it's his way of making this a better experience. He's always like this, trying to make fun out of any situation. I guess it's not such a bad thing. Ramirez does make it easier to deal with the more mundane aspects of the job.
"Well?" She asks with a slightly pitched voice.
"Not yet," I say, "What we need to discuss with you is sensitive and thus requires special considerations. I assure you that it won't take long."
We drive for nearly an hour through the nearest town and park in front of a small house. There's another dark sedan parked outside. The two agents that travel in that sedan are instructed to keep the premises safe and secure. The air conditioning gets cut off once I turn off the car. The hot oven-like atmosphere rushes in when I open the door and step into the bright Thursday morning, it's just about noon actually.
"We can speak inside the safe house," I tell Doctor. She reluctantly complies and follows me inside the house. The house is cooled down by a few window air conditioners which have been modified to emit a louder hum as well as some jamming signals to ensure that any conversations in the living room will remain private. Doctor Miller takes a seat on a couch across a coffee table. Agent Ramirez and I sit across from her.
"Agent Grant," She speaks, "Are you going to tell me all the way too…Where are we?"
"Quemando," Ramirez says, "You should really get to know the layout of your work environment."
"Dr. Miller," I say, "You published a paper about anomalies that radio telescopes have detected in frequencies near the 1420 Megahertz range, correct?" She nods allowing me to continue. To do so I open up a file which contains the cliffnotes version of her research paper and read the highlighted portions to her, "You claim that the anomalies are related to subatomic bands of energy that resonate in some theoretical P-brane."
"It's the first empirical evidence of a P-brane," she says, "It'll put us one step closer to reconciling quantum mechanics and general relativity."
"Please take a moment to read this," I say handing over a packet that contains a gag order and a warrant for her offices, her lab, her home, and any other area she may consider private. It takes her a moment to read through it all. Her forehead crinkles roughly, she must be feeling violated in some way. Scientists can be real touchy about their work that way.
"We are confiscating your current research," Ramirez says, "Our scientists have provided an alternative research project to serve as a cover research. For matters of national security you are barred from discussing your real research on these special anomalies."
"This doesn't make any sense!" She speaks loudly and quickly, "Why would you do this for some research on string theory?"
"We are not at liberty to discuss that until you sign the none-disclosure agreement," I say. She flips through the last few pages of the packet.
"If you sign these and discuss your current research or anything you may hear from us with anyone else you will be charged with treason and we will make sure that everyone forgets that you ever existed," I say. It's hard to say these things to people who think they are only working for the greater good. Though to be honest, I never did understand what that meant. The only thing that is clear to me is that there are things that the public is not ready to know.
"And if I don't sign these?" She asks with quieter tone.
"If you don't then you will be discredited and your career will be ruined. Just ask Professor Ereditato how he was forced to step down as a head researcher at CERN after that whole Neutrino incident back in 2012," Ramirez says, "There's a reason why he never really published anything significant in the past ten years."
Dr. Miller sits back on the couch; her brown eyes are focused, on what exactly? I don't know. She crosses her feet at her ankles and takes a deep breath in and exhales. Hopefully she will accept and sign everything. Then we could give her some courtesy information and send her off on her way. She'll need to be observed, her emails read, and phone lines bugged. However, she'll be able to lead a normal life.
"No," She says.
"What?" Ramirez blurts out.
"You can't just push people around like this," she raises her voice and stands up poking her finger at us, "I know my rights."
"I really wish you would have signed those papers Dr. Miller," I say and standing up, "the gag order is legal and violating it will result in jail time at a federal prison. You're property relevant to your research will now be confiscated and you are now officially held suspect for possible espionage."
"What?" she shouts at me and takes a step forward. The coffee table seems to be the only thing preventing her from downright assaulting me. Ramirez also stands up, he probably thinks she'll take her chances with assaulting a federal agent versus violating a gag order. To be honest, I agree.
"Dr. Miller," I say firmly, "Take a step back or I will have you restrained."
"Unless I'm under arrest," she starts to say.
"Agent Ramirez will drive you back to the array," I say.
"I'll do what?" Ramirez responds refusing to do what I just say. She seems to pick up on it and starts walking towards the door.
"I'll get a ride myself," she says. It might be best to just let her walk it off; surely someone will be driving towards that area anyway. That doesn't keep me from giving Ramirez the stink eyes for his response.
A few hours pass by while I sit going over surveillance reports and read other reports logged in by our partner agencies. Some Astronomer in Brazil seems to be a little too interested in the orbit patterns of a few asteroids in the Oort cloud. The most concerning situation, aside from Dr. Miller, is a set of scientists in Japan working on a similar theory. Ramirez walks into the living room holding a new batch of equations that deal with inter dimensional subatomic particles and P-branes.
"Our feisty doc seems to be behaving," Ramirez says.
"What has she been up to lately? I don' recall reading anything about her leaving," I say. Ramirez flips through a few pages.
"Hmm…she seems to be doing a lot of reading on past literature on quantum entanglement," Ramirez says and takes a seat beside me, "And she's looking into various research networks from Russia to Japan."
I immediately look up at him. Something jumps at me. We were told that she was getting dangerously close to developing a way to receive transdimensional transmissions through a narrow band of what some scientists have called quantum space. I'm told that means that she'll be able to hear everything, and she is not cleared to hear anything.
"Did a team investigate the radio telescopes she's been working on?" I ask.
"No, that would be too conspicuous," Ramirez said, "Besides she only made a few modifications to the array…oh." Ramirez flips back a few pages from the file he is holding.
"The Tokyo university has been working on a new radio telescope design, has she visited their network?" I ask slowly making sure to enunciate each and every word.
"Yes," Ramirez answers without saying anything else. On my cue, we both run off to our car. Ramirez gets on his radio and calls in other agents as well as the surveillance team that's keeping an eye on her, this can't be good at all. I hit the gas hard and speed down the road towards the array. Through the rear view mirror I can see several cars attempting to catch up, for some reason they don't realize that speed limits right now are about as important as whether or not orange is the new pink. I never really understood what that meant.
"You don't think she managed to get one of those telescopes to receive transmissions from quantum space, do you?" Ramirez asks.
"What I think doesn't matter," I answer, "either way, she's digging into things that were listed in her gag order."
It takes awhile to arrive to the arrays. The Surveillance team says that she's locked up inside one of the rooms in the Operations Center. After stopping the car, I get out and meet up with two suited agents who report to me on the current situation. She managed to give a guard the slip and locked herself inside a room by propping a chair against the door knob.
Once we arrive at the entrance to one of the control rooms, two uniformed police officers are ready with a battering ram. Ramirez and the other agents draw their pistols; I do the same and nod my head at the two officers. They stand in front of the door and bust it open by slamming the battering ram into it. Immediately, I rush in with three agents following behind and aim my pistol at Dr. Miller who is sitting at a set of computer terminals.
"Freeze!" I shout.
"Step away from the computer!" Ramirez orders.
Dr. Miller turns around, the look in her eyes tells me all that I need to know, she knows too much. Two other agents drag her out of her seat; she resists at first but then just allows herself to be taken out of her seat. Right now the most important thing to do is damage control.
"Take the Doctor to the nearest meeting room," I order the two agents, "And make sure that it is secure." Miller complies with the agents' orders and allows them to take her away. That in and of itself is very telling as to what she knows. We really are too late.
"What now?" Ramirez asks facing me; all I can do is to return the same expression. A blank face while inside I am going over my options. Usually we get a person as soon as they start to breach their gag order. That way if they speak, they would know nothing and we will have enough room to ruin their name. That's what the Swiss government did to Ereditato. No one has ever managed to go this far before getting caught.
"Let's go see exactly how much she knows before we do anything else," I say. Ramirez nods. Another agent provides the local authorities with a cover story and instructions, so I don't need to worry about the damage done or our little scene. Inside the meeting room, Dr. Miller sits alone at the table with her hands on the surface. She sees me as Ramirez walks behind me.
"Dr. Miller," I say and sit down across her from the table.
"I heard it all," she says. She doesn't quite look at me; she just stares at the table as she traces simplistic random paths with her right index finger.
"Fifty years," She says with a husky voice, "Fifty years ago and you are still keeping it a secret." Her voice starts to get slightly stronger.
"We didn't know until only a few years back," I say, "What exactly did you hear?
"I recorded it," she says.
"Yep, I got the recording right here," Ramirez says and places a disk on the table. Another agent walks in with a disk scanner, Ramirez probably arranged this. He sets the scanner over the disk and the audio begins to play.
There's a light hum replaced by erratic static which then gives in to a nearly inaudible hum. Just as I expect, an audio plays. It's voice hard coarse voice speaking in a language that involves the use of what we would recognize as vowels above consonants. It almost sounds as if the voice is signing a vocal peace to a set of instrumental music without really saying any words. There are momentary pauses and then a slightly different voice responds. At that point the recording ends.
"Fifty years ago," I say, "by some fluke the Big Ear Radio telescope detected quantum static from this transmission."
"We didn't know what it was until the eighties, and then we didn't get a chance to hear it until fifteen years ago," Ramirez says.
"Five years ago we finally cracked the phonetics," I say, "What helped was that we picked up hundreds of other transmissions travelling through what we call quantum space." Dr. Miller finally makes eye contact with me. For some reason I begin to feel very uncomfortable. Perhaps it's because what she might end up saying is that people should know about this. In part I do agree, the truth can't be that harmful. With greater resources we might be able to trace the origins of these transmissions and even use the technology ourselves to unlock the secrets of interstellar space travel.
"What does it say?" She asks calmly.
"They are instructions," Ramirez says, "About finding worlds with resources to harvest. It seems that they are running away from something."
"How can you keep this from the public?" She asks.
"Those who we answer to do not believe that people are ready for such revelations," I answer her, "so until they change their mind it's my duty to keep this quiet."
To her credit she doesn't say much else. Maybe we should have invited her to join us instead of silencing her. There's something about her fierce reaction to our initial encounter and this that says a great deal about her. But now it is too late, she brook the law and there must be consequences.
"If people were to know right now what we know they would panic. Conspiracy theorists would practically riot and people would develop a million new reasons to kill each other. People have already concocted enough reasons to kill, we don't need to add anymore to that list," Ramirez says.
"How much worse will this be when those…aliens…find us?" She asks, "When we are not ready. No emergency drills or shelters. No united army, nothing."
There's a pause.
"So what happens to me now?" She asks.
"Now we make you vanish," I say, "If you're lucky we may allow you to join our team of scientists. Of course you won't have the same privileges as they do since they joined voluntarily."
Ramirez and I get up and start to walk towards the door. I turn around and face her before I leave and say, "Someone else will be here for you. My job doesn't involve dealing with these sorts of things."
We both leave her alone. Overall this past week hasn't been my
best week. What's worse is that unlike Ramirez, I think that she
does have a point. People need to know. We can't just continue to
underestimate their ability to handle these things and treat them
like infants. But there is a small part inside of me that feels
that Ramirez is right. Maybe humanity can't handle the truth,
that if they were to know these aliens wouldn't need to worry
about destroying us. We seem to be doing a good job at it