'Eve, you awake?' said her dinner plate. 'There's something coming in on the screen, it looks really weird – wake up!' Eve frowned at the dinner plate. Previous experience had taught her that dinner plates were surfaces on which food was placed to be eaten – not talking ceramic discs. 'Shh! I want to eat in peace!' she sternly told the plate. 'EVE! WE'VE GOT A SIGNAL!' her plate screamed, as it squirted gravy at her face – rather hot gravy in fact. The chair which had been holding her fell to the floor as she squealed from the hot coffee splashing her in the face, carrying her barely conscious body with it. 'JESUS CHRIST FRANK! You're supposed to splash COLD water on somebody's face to wake them up, not fucking hot coffee!' Her rage at the dinner plate was such that the painful burn of the hot coffee (hadn't it just been gravy?) was barely noticeable. It was then that she noticed that standing in front of her was not in fact a dinner plate, so rudely acting human, but the short, pudgy figure of Frank Alvarez, her co-worker and researcher at SETI. His tiny brown eyes were pointed at the floor, and he was holding his arms behind his back abashedly, as if doing so would cover up the fact that his coffee mug was visible and still dripping. 'Sorry Eve, I just got excited, I mean, we have a signal!' He looked up at her, a small smile touching his mouth. 'OK Frank, but we get signals all the time, they're always something else, you can be calm about it. I know you're new, and this is very exciting, but for the love of God, don't pour coffee on anyone to wake them up. Ever. Now go get me a towel.' She looked down at him, and pointed towards the bathroom. 'Go!' Frank's smile disappeared, and he scrambled over the chairs and desks to get out. 'Don't break anything!!' She yelled after him. 'And get some cold water too!' She touched her face lightly – it hurt, but as much as she expected it would. Must not have been new coffee, at least. She surveyed the room – like most of the older SETI offices, it was extremely disorganised, papers, coffees and beer cans strewn about, trash cans overflowing. She wished she could be in one of the new offices, with the nice servers and cleaners, where all the other radio astronomers worked. One of the old machines was beeping at her, pointing out a regular signal. They'd just upgraded the machine's software with a new program that rather intelligently picked out standard noise and supposedly only reported extraterrestrial signals. Of course, lots of things bounced around in orbit, and so the software still picked up the occasional TV show, distress beacon or even telephone call. Still, it was better than before, and had saved them a lot of money – which was good, because funding for the SETI program was at an all time low – Frank's “new employee” status was due to the fact that he was willing to work for almost nothing. She wiped her face off in her shirt and stared down at the screen. It looked like a standard distress beacon, from a ship or mountaineer – a jump in power, signalling a beep, every few seconds, except for the fact that whatever was emitting this particular signal was exerting as much energy as three aircraft carrier reactors just to push out one beep. Jesus she thought this thing could be heard by anyone on earth listening to the right frequency. She turned on the volume on the computer. The first beep sounded through. It wasn't like a regular distress beep, whose signals were high pitched and a single tone. This one began as a low D minor, raised itself up to a C major, and dropped back down to D minor within one slow, three second long beep. Booeeoop. Booeeoop. Booeeoop. What the fuck is this? A loud crash broke stole her attention away. Frank had just returned with a towel and a jug of water, and had managed to slip on the coffee that now covered her workstation. 'Oww...' Frank groaned and tried to stand up, but his hands pitifully slipped again on the coffee. Eve sighed, and walked over to him. She extended her hand, and as he grasped it he blushed terribly and looked up at her shyly. 'thanks' he mumbled. 'Come, on, lets triangulate this signal, forget the mess.' Frank didn't respond, he was still in mild shock at the fact that he was touching her. Eve was an attractive woman, with short black hair that cupped her face like a cloak, dark brown skin inherited from her Indian father, green eyes from her Irish mother, and a perfect BBC British accent. Frank worshipped her, and she knew it. 'Frank. Come on. Let's find out where this is coming from.' She pulled her hand away, wiping his sweat off on her khaki shorts. Cause I want you ba-a-aby yes you know its true I love you baaby... the song softly could be heard coming from the back of the room. 'Shit! That's my cellphone!' She scrambled over to her backpack. 'Shitshitshit' She rummaged around and snapped it out of the bag. 'Hello? Eve Darcy speaking' she gasped. 'Eve? This is Philippe Carson, from the, uh, Europa team?' said the low, French voice on the other end of the phone. 'Right, Philippe, nice to hear from you! What's going on? She'd met Philippe once, when the Europa probe had been launched – he was a nice guy, funny without the usual dry personality associated with Astronomers and Physicists. 'Well, I believed you would want to know about this – the Europa probe has been picking up some extremely powerful radio signals coming the moon.' Eve felt her jaw drop. 'You're sure its Europa – its not just a reflection off the moon from some quasar or something?'
'I am very sure, the probe is in orbit around the moon, taking radar images and it comes off very strongly around Quadrangle 8.'
'We've been picking that signal up for a while – just a regular, slow beep, yeah?'
'The probe cannot tell us what the sound is, but it has been receiving it often, so I would assume this is it.'
'Jesus Philippe, this doesn't make any sense – Europa is a damned iceball! If there's life there at all it would at most be a few crabs and fish, not a god damned TV culture!'
'I do not know what to say – but perhaps we should talk to our colleagues about this – I will start making some calls and we will organise a meeting. I will call you back soon.' He hung up. Eve could barely believe what she had just heard. I can't get too excited, its possible that there's something else. Cause I want you ba-a-aby yes you know its true... Her phone began yelling at her again. She glanced down at it: Number Unknown. “Dr. Eve Darcy speaking?” A small pause, and she heard some papers being shuffled. 'Dr. Darcy – this is Admiral Harrison. Every single Coast Guard, Navy Station and all the boats in-between are picking up some sort of distress beacon, but we can't pin down a location, and it's not coming off of any civilian frequencies, so we thought we'd give you radio freaks a call.' Eve hated the reputation SETI carried. Calling SETI for an anomalous signal was fairly down on the Pentagon's call tree, which made her more willing to accept the Admiral's condescending tone.
'You mean its a US military vessel?'
'We would say so, but the beacon doesn't sound like any beacon we have, it just managed to set off all the alarms because its being broadcast on precisely the right frequency. Now, its not a secret entirely what frequencies used by the military, but... this signal isn't on those. This signal belongs to a set of frequencies reserved for, well, we call them “weather balloons.”'
'Weather balloons? What, you mean like Roswell? UFOs? Alien spaceships?'
'Anything experimental that we put in the air is just called a weather balloon. Nothing special, anything from a toy helicopter made of clear plastic to a robotic high altitude spy camera array.'
'So what's the problem? Did you lose one?'
'Well, no. That's the problem – all our projects are accounted for. And the range is immense – its broadcasting at the same rate and same time all across the globe.'
'What's the frequency?'
Eve stared down at her computer screen. The signal was blasting out on a number of frequencies – but none low enough to register on the usual HAM frequencies or civilian channels. It was quite possible that it'd activated the distress beacons, but she'd have to make sure. 'You're sure you didn't lose one?'
'Positive – it'd've been reported to me immediately. I head our Special Projects Search and Recovery team. I know when and where something goes missing almost before it goes missing.'
'You're not going to like my answer.'
'What, the Chinese are using the same frequency? It's a solar flare? Some jackass programmer set up about a thousand HAM radios across the globe? Just tell me what it is. You know, don't you? If you don't, let me off the phone so I can find someone who does.'
'It's coming from Europa.'
'Europe? Some rich Swiss asshole? A bunch of French guys? What do you mean “Europe?”'
'Not Europe, Europa. An icy moon orbiting Jupiter.'
'I swear to God Dr. Darcy, don't shit with me.'
'Our system's been picking up this signal for a while now, and the actual Europa team just called to tell me that the probe is picking up strong radio signals from Quadrangle 8 on Europa. We just started receiving it here, but...'
There was a pause, and then 'You're sure.' He sounded uncertain.
'It could be a reflection of a pulsar or quasar, but its extremely unlikely – the moon is in constant rotation around Jupiter, and the probe is in a short term orbit around Europa, and they say its not coming from anywhere besides Q8. In a few hours we'll know for sure that its not a reflection – it will have orbited so much that there is no chance it will be reflecting anything. It will have to be coming from inside the moon itself.'
'So there's something inside Europa sending out a distress signal that just happens to be on the exact right frequency as US special projects?'
'Yes and no, it's broadcasting on a range of frequencies, so you guys just got lucky, or unlucky, however you prefer to see it. Just in case though, I have to ask – you guys, um, didn't send anything there did you?'
'Not to my knowledge – and that covers everything. But I'll make some calls. What does it mean if we didn't send anything there?'
'Two options: Somebody else did, and they wanted to freak us all out and make for a global scandal or... there's some sort of intelligent life on Europa. Or at least some other intelligent life form sent something to Europa.'
'The first one seems more likely – I'll make some other calls. Keep watching this signal. If it is the second one, I'm sorry about the budget cuts.'
'Admiral, if it's another life form – we need to get out there. We need to communicate with it.'
'So try calling it back – in the meantime, I'm going to talk to our friends in the EU, Russia and China. You talk to our friends from way out of town.' A click told her the conversation was over. 'umm, Eve?' she jumped – she'd totally forgotten about Frank. 'Yeah Frank? Sorry, what is it?' Her heart was pounding. There's no way this is a reflection, the magnitude of the radio signal makes it nearly impossible to come from any sort of satellite, unless someone's developed a miniature nuclear power plant and shot it into space – which would have been detected by NORAD. 'Well, um, what's going on? This signal isn't really coming from Europa, is it?' She looked at him – his hands were shaking, wringing the towel he'd brought her, and his eyes were wide open. He looked like he was going to have a panic attack. 'Right now, that's what it looks like. Are you ok? Why don't you sit down, have some water.' She walked over to him, put her hand on his shoulder and sat him down in one of the chairs. 'Right now, we don't know what it is, so don't get too excited – it could just be an anomaly. Now, can you tell me when all this noise started?' He looked at his feet and tugged on the towel. 'Um, well, see, I'm not sure... I was in another room when it started, and as soon as I came in and saw it on I, um, tried to wake you up.' She looked at him sternly. 'Well, whatever, just check the records and see when exactly it started and if it looked the same this whole time or if something changed. I want to know everything about it when I get back, and you better not wander off.' He nodded rapidly and turned towards the computer station. 'Um, Eve?' He turned. 'What are you going to do? What if it is something alien?' She stopped, and sighed. 'Frank, I'm going to change my clothes and shower, because if I don't, then I don't think I'm going to be able to keep the thought that we may have just gotten the first real sign of alien intelligence in my head without collapsing. Besides, this could all still be a hoax of some kind.' I swear I'll kill Phillipe if he's pulling my leg. She walked out the door into the hallway. The hallway was extremely short, and only attached to three other rooms – a bathroom, a meeting room and a small personal office where Eve essentially lived. She slumped down the hallway, speaking softly to herself 'don't get too excited – it's probably nothing, there have been mystery signals before and nothing's come of it – remember the Wow! signal? That was never confirmed, this could be something like that. Just gotta work through it, figure it out... I wonder where I put all those contingency plans for contact? Her thoughts began wandering – she believed in wandering thoughts, felt it helped bring those Eureka! moments more easily than focused thought. She pushed the door open to the bathroom and flicked on the light. The bathroom itself looked like something from another world – pristinely clean in the surrounding mess and disorganisation of the office. The toilet was as clean as it had come on the first day, the sink had a brand new bar of Dove soap and her toothbrush and toothpaste neatly placed on the countertop and the small shower in the corner was pristine and white. This is why I'm such bitch about bathroom cleanliness. She smiled. Cleaning was sort of a ritual for her, and rejuvenated her spirits – but she had to bathe in a perfectly clean environment for the ritual to work – otherwise she never felt clean and would remain in a bad mood until a suitable shower or bath could be acquired. She stripped off her clothes and threw them into the clothesbin she kept by the door. Closing the glass door of the shower behind her, she turned it onto her favourite temperature – blazingly hot. Everyone who knew her thought her crazy or suicidal with the temperature water she used for bathing – especially in Nevada. The near-boiling water ran over her skin, and she shivered with pleasure. The hot water relaxed her – helped her think. She stared down at her feet as the water pounded on her head, thinking. We have to get to that moon – if we don't, we won't ever know for sure what the hell is going on there. I just hope they don't decide its crap before we bother trying. A smile crossed her face. At least this will probably let me get away from Frank for a while – this worship is getting to be too much to bear. 'Europa... I hope they change the astronaut requirements – either that or I'm getting a pilot's license now.' she sighed. She reached for the shampoo, and suddenly stopped 'what the fuck am I doing in here? Showering? Relaxing? There's no god-damned time! Aliens, woman! Aliens! Your whole life leading up to this point, your raison d'etre fulfilled! Fuck being clean, time to become the most famous woman in history!' The shock of what had actually just occurred nigh-slapped her in the face, and she realised the actual situation she was in. It was the Admiral's call that had set her down this depressive path – his assumption that it could be a human hoax was blasphemous! She slammed the water off, and leaped out of the shower. She grabbed the towel and pressed it to her face. Time to find out if we're really alone! She looked in the mirror. You're about to change the world – lets find out what that signal is! Then the door slammed open. Frank, sweaty and gasping for breath lurched into the bathroom with a phone headset in his hand. 'Eve! Something's going on! The signal's started repeating much more quickly! It's fluctuating too and there seems to be something interfering with... it...um...' He stared at her naked body. His plump face turned dark red and his eyes went wide. 'Me Madre! Sorry Eve!' He almost fell out the door, slamming it behind him. Eve barely noticed. More signals? Is someone else communicating with it? Astronomic phenomena interfering? She grabbed her shorts and a shirt and lurched out into the hall, throwing them on, running into the data room. The speakers were emitting a rambunctious cacophony of tones, ranging from every scale and chord. What is this? Close encounters of the third kind? And who the hell is talking to it? 'FRANK!' she turned towards the door 'When the hell did this start?' He came stumbling back into the room 'I came to get you just after it started! Honestly! I was in the room trying to find out more about the signal and it went crazy!' She frowned. 'Did you, well, do anything? Ask anyone to do anything?' He shook his head rapidly. 'I didn't do anything – I was just analysing the data.' She picked up her cellphone and dialled Phillippe. Beep. Beep. Beep. 'Allo? Pardon, but is this important, I am extremely...' Eve interrupted. 'Phillippe? It's Eve. The signal's gone insane over here, what's going on?'
'We are not sure, but the signal has become totally fous – the signal has gone crazy, and the probe itself has started acting strange – it has begun a slow descending orbit over Europa – eventually it will hit the surface. Another thing – it is sending out a signal towards the moon itself, and indicates that it is receiving additional signals. We are trying to stop this behaviour, but nothing seems to be working – it is just not listening to us.'
'How long do we have before it crashes?'
'Well, it is looking like whoever is causing this wants the probe to land lightly enough to almost be recovered – so it will take a while for it to slow down enough – we've probably got a month or more.'
'Can you figure out where the second signal is coming from?'
'Maybe, but we will need more time to triangulate it, see what the moon passes behind so we can see what blocks the signal. It's still communicating fully with us, so we will know everything that it is doing.'
'Ok, well, keep on that and I'll investigate around here and see if I can't dig up anything from our data. Call me if anything changes on your end.'
'Of course.' The click of the conversation ending sounded almost indignant and Eve stared at her phone, suddenly distrustful of it. This wasn't quite what she'd had in mind with joining SETI - her dreams were filled with hearing some sort of distant signal, barely coming through with some strange alien tongue that only she could decode. She would work feverishly around the clock trying to understand their speech, and after figuring out the secrets of their language, would send a message back saying 'We are here! We want to meet you!' It would take decades to reach them, of course, but in that time they would pick up more signals, and would learn untold amounts about their extraterrestrial friends. They would be socially advanced, and have very little hatred or crime, even though they all looked very different from each other and had different cultures. Eve, understanding them the most, would be elected as an international diplomat, who would change the world and make it far more peaceful and understanding, so that when she was old and grey, and her message was received by the aliens, she would be remembered as the woman who united the world and made the first steps towards intergalactic contact. This was not her dream. It was not that the situation was awful, but that it was just so different from what she had imagined. The Cassini team would be the highlight, with their probe being somehow controlled by entities unknown, and the whole thing could all just be one big hoax. And the signal itself wasn't any radio station from a distant solar system, it was all some beeping coming from an icy moon that should have just had a bunch of space lobsters on it! It was all too strange. She shook her head. This wouldn't stop her – she could still be someone who changed the world. She sat back down at the data station and began to tear apart the signal.
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