“Sounds like a lot of garbage if you ask me…”
“No one was asking you grandpa. Now could you quiet down, I want to hear what they’re saying.”
Lenny turned the TV up, anticipating what the woman on the screen would say next.
“We received this transmission late last night at the Rocky Mountain Galileo Observatory.” Bianca Reutuer paused, took a drink of water, then continued: “The signal was also received from many of our partner observatories around the world. We are collaborating with leading world experts to gather more information as to what the signal might mean.”
“See! They don’t know anything, now go play so I can get back to the game.” Lenny’s Grandpa had taken back the remote from a transfixed Lenny. Lenny prepared to protest, thought better of it, and went outside to get his dog.
If Bianca could hear Lenny’s grandpa 4,000 miles away, she probably wouldn’t disagree. They had no clue what the signal was. The only thing that they were certain of was where it originated. Hell, saying ‘certain’ was a stretch.
Oh Lord, here comes the carnival.
Several news reporters and bloggers were pushing past the security rope to try to ask questions. Everyone wanted the exclusive soundbite that would reveal just how much the government was or was not hiding from the public.
Bianca turned to face the approaching crowd, clearing her voice to make a statement.
“The memo for this announcement specifically said that we would not be answering questions.” She paused a moment, looking over the faces, some disappointed, others sneering, already thinking how they would spin this against her. “Especially from people like you.” She pointed a finger at a man near the back, trying to hide now behind his phone. His name was Jeremy Moye. He had written more spin pieces and flat-out lies about Bianca’s department than anyone else in the press. She had no idea why.
Before anyone could protest further Bianca turned, swiftly walking toward her office.
Lenny reached into the cookie jar, keeping his eyes on his grandpa, now asleep in his chair.
Drat, he moved them…
Lenny hopped down from the stool, returning it to its proper corner by the stairs.
“Come on girl, let’s see what Frank and Tee are up to.”
Lenny, wrapped in his warmest coat, headed out the back door. He left a note on the table when his grandpa woke up.
The Alaskan air hit Lenny’s face just as hard as it had for the past three years. He grew up in New Mexico, but because of his father’s job, they had to move here. He didn’t really know what his father’s job was. Something to do with studying the environment or oil or something. The only thing that Lenny and his grandpa agreed on was that Lenny’s father had no business being in Alaska. Of course they both had different reasons for their feelings.
After ten minutes of walking, with one break to throw a frozen bone for Sasha, Lenny could finally see the lights of Frank’s house.
Frank was a fisherman’s son, a year younger than Lenny. He was Lenny’s first friend after they moved to Alaska. Frank lived in a modest house. There was a small basement that could only be accessed from outside. This is where Lenny spent most of his time when he wasn’t in school.
Lenny let himself in, first checking the main floor. No sign of Frank or his father. The lights were on though, so they must just be downstairs. Lenny took a moment to grab a glass of orange juice for himself and a fresh bone for Sasha. Frank’s dad loved Sasha. He said that she reminded him of his own childhood dog, so she was always welcome whenever Lenny came over.
Sasha, content with her bone settled into a corner in the kitchen. Lenny, content with his orange juice headed back out to the basement door.
The basement consisted of two rooms: the main room, currently occupied by three space heaters, an old CRT television, a Nintendo 64, a bag of potato chips, and one human named Tee. The second room was a small bathroom, which had been occupied for the past half hour by another human, this one named Frank.
Bianca shuffled some papers around on her desk, partly to get things organized for tomorrow and partly to look busy. Her boss, Isaac Rickson, was standing just outside her office. A quick look at her watch told Bianca that she only needed to get through another 45 minutes. She had already told Isaac that she would be coming in late tomorrow. It was the New Year after all, she had plans tonight, and nothing, not even a garbled alien signal would get in her way of enjoying herself tonight.
“Hey, Bianca, good work on the announcement.” Isaac had finished with whoever he had been talking to outside, and had let himself into Bianca’s office.
“Thanks.” she replied, unenthusiastically. Bianca knew that Isaac only came into her office when he needed something done. Something that, in this case, would probably keep her at work for another three hours.
“Don’t eat the potato chips. Frank thinks something is wrong with them.”
“There is something wrong with them! I haven’t been sitting here for the last hour by choice!”
“It’s only been 30 minutes you baby!” Tee threw the half empty bag of chips at the bathroom door.
Tee was Lenny’s age. Her full name was Theresa. She was half Inuit, half Russian. She and Frank had grown up together, their fathers both worked on the same fishing boat. And she quickly became Lenny’s second friend.
Lenny picked up the crumpled bag of chips, cautiously removing one, and, after smelling it, ate it. Tee looked mildly amused.
“Well, I hope you don’t mind running back into the cold when your bowels give out. Frank is probably gonna be in there for another hour.”
“See you tomorrow night Benny!” Bianca waved to the night-shift security guard as she walked to her car. He was cute, and she wouldn’t mind staying to talk if it were any other night. But tonight she had plans.
Her sister had gotten married just last month. Bianca couldn’t make it to the wedding. There weren’t any hard feelings. Bianca had deadlines to meet that couldn’t be pushed back any further, and the price of a plane ticket to London and back was more than she wanted to spend at the time.
Instead they agreed that after Jill had gotten settled into married life, she would take some time to see Bianca. They would celebrate her marriage the same way they celebrated all their major life accomplishments together: cheap alcohol and dumb television.
Jill had arrived in town around noon. She had a key to Bianca’s house, and had visited twice before, about a year ago. This meant she knew where all the best liquor stores were, and therefore was in charge of preparing for the party. If you could call it a party. Two women getting drunk and watching Battlestar Galactica reruns is not what most would consider a party, especially on New Year’s Eve.
“So did either of you see the announcement about aliens today?” Lenny waited till Frank finished clearing out his stomach to bring up the topic.
“Nope” and “Nuh-uh” were their responses. A moment passed before Frank asked “what happened?”
“My grandpa kept complaining, so I couldn’t hear it all, but I guess observatories and listening station all over the world picked up an alien signal.”
“Did they play it?” This time Tee was asking the question.
“Yeah, but it just sounded like a bunch of static and garbled noise”
“Hmm…so what do you think of it?”
“I dunno.” Lenny’s enthusiasm was draining as he realized there wasn’t much to be said about the announcement.
“So you just stayed?” Jill paused her interrogation as she downed another beer. “You need to stand up to that jerk. Spending time with your big sis is much more important than whatever project he has you doing now.”
“He isn’t a jerk. Just a workaholic, and he expects that the rest of us are too. Which to be fair to him, I normally am.” Bianca took a swig of her drink. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now, we’re both here, and th-”
Bianca was cut off by a loud ringing coming from her pocket. Her phone. It took her a moment to figure out why it was ringing and not vibrating. She never had the ringer on. She then remembered that emergency calls were set up to always ring.
“Bianca? Thank God.” It was Isaac. “You’re the only person who has answered”
Bianca was about to ask what was so important, but Isaac didn’t give her time.
“There’s a fire at the lab. Are you sober enough to drive up here?”
“Umm…” She glanced at the beer bottles scattered on the table and floor “…not exactly.”
“Fine. It’s fine,” Isaac seemed to be talking to himself as much as Bianca now. “I’ll come get you. Benny can keep things under control here till we get back. You still live on East Maple, right?”
“Yeah, but I-” CLICK
“That your boss again?”
“Yeah, a fire at the office. I don’t know what use I’m gonna be, but…” Bianca trailed off as she put on her hat and coat.
Jill, seeing how shaken up her sister was, didn’t protest. “I’ll just crash on the couch then. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah.” Bianca stepped outside to wait for Isaac. She looked for any reports on the fire on her phone, but no such luck.
Sasha had disintegrated her bone and was fast asleep by the time Lenny, Frank, and Tee came up for more food. Frank stood in front of the fridge while Tee juggled golf balls and Lenny watched.
“What are you hungry for?”
“What do you got?”
“Ham, pizza, wait, no. Not pizza.” Lenny heard several slices of pizza go into the trash. “Chicken nuggets, some waffles…That’s about it.”
“Chicken is fine with me” Tee replied.
“I second that” Lenny said, joining Tee in juggling, although doing a much poorer job at it.
Bianca, escorted by a fireman, gathered her things from her office putting them into a box. The fire was only in the basement, but the fire department hadn’t finished assessing the structural damage that it may have caused. She didn’t mind the escort. There was nothing she had that was classified, at least not in plain view. Some of the files on her hard drive had important info. Projects and papers that were not yet published. Data that, if a competitor got it, would set Isaac’s team back several months and almost a million dollars in paychecks and research funding.
She looked over the room once more, making sure she hadn’t missed anything. She generally kept her office fairly clean. Most of her work lived on the computer, and she wasn’t too big on personal decorations. There was a picture of her and Jill at Jill’s graduation from university, and an old cigarette lighter. She hadn’t smoked since moving to the states, but she kept the lighter, just in case.
Isaac looked relieved when Bianca returned, box in her arms, with the fireman close behind. She knew him too well to know he didn’t care about her, but about the hard drive that was safely in the box. No, that wasn’t fair. He cared about his team, but he had no reason to be concerned about her now. All that mattered was that their work was safe.
“You reckon this is related to what y’all reported on today?” This was the first time the fireman, Leland, the name tag on his uniform read, had spoken to Bianca. “I saw the announcement. Something about an alien signal?”
“I, uhh, I doubt it. Plenty of people have the signal now. It wasn’t a particularly isolated incident. And we have other more valuable work.”
“Guys, I think we should start heading back. The chicken is going to be done soon, and my dad said-” Frank was cut off by a snowball whizzing by his face. “Hey! Not cool!”
Another snowball, this one thrown too hard, went over Frank’s head. Lenny and Tee waited to see if Frank would retaliate. He glared at them for a moment, turned around, and started following their tracks back to his house. Tee glanced at Lenny, shrugged, then continued in the opposite direction.
Lenny weighed his options. Frank had food, and his house had much needed warmth, but he couldn’t let Tee wander around out here alone, especially in the dark.
“Tee! Wait up!”
This was the second time Bianca had to talk to the press today. They kept trying to get her to reveal something juicy about the fire.
“How far does this set you back?”
“Will repairs be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets?”
“Was it an accident or intentional?”
“Who might be responsible?”
Bianca had answers for most of these:
A month, probably. No, insurance and private investors would cover the cost. Intentional.
But “No comment” was all she said out loud.
On the way over Isaac told her what he knew so far. The fire was started by some sort of improvised explosive lodged under one of the lab tables. Benny hadn’t let anyone into the building after Bianca left. Security footage confirmed this, and showed no sign of someone breaking in anywhere else in the building. This meant that the bomb was placed there earlier in the day, possibly earlier in the week, no one was sure yet.
What bothered both Isaac and Bianca the most was that last question. Who was responsible? Neither had any idea.
Lenny saw it first, a soft glow hovering in the air. It was hard to tell how far away it was, but both Lenny and Tee were determined to see what it was. Frank was much more reluctant. The chicken would be done before long, and it was dark and cold outside.
Lenny was having second thoughts after Frank decided to turn back. Tee kept going though, either out of curiosity or stubbornness, Lenny didn’t know which. He suggesting going back a few times, at one point stopping to see if Tee would stop or even notice if she were suddenly walking alone. Her stubbornness won out though and Lenny caught back up.
Frank tried dismissing the light, he wanted to believe that it was the Northern Lights, but he knew that this was something different. The way it pulsed and shifted in the air was not natural. He tossed another chicken nugget to Sasha and nervously glanced out the window.
“We can’t even see Frank’s house anymore. And we aren’t getting closer to this thing either.” Lenny gestured at the light, his voice a mix of anger and fear. “Let’s just go back, get something to eat, and we can worry about this tomorrow if it’s still here.”
Tee silently agreed and turned around, pointed her flashlight at their footprints, and started the trek home. Lenny, feeling relieved, turned to follow. He took three steps before vanishing.
Isaac’s apartment was smaller than Bianca’s house, which surprised her, as she figured he made at least double what she did. She kept these thoughts to herself while he made coffee for them both.
“Sorry to interrupt your celebration. You said your sister is in town?”
“Yeah, but she will probably end up staying for a week or two, so it’s not a big deal.”
Bianca found the TV remote and began flipping between channels, curious to see if the fire was being reported anywhere. She stopped on a 24-hour news channel when a headline caught her eye.
THREE CHILDREN MISSING IN ALASKA
On the screen were pictures of the children, along with their names and ages:
Franklin Ernmill, 12
Theresa Kennedy, 13
Leonard Migson, 13