A sixteen year old girl ran frantically down an empty, paved road in the foothills. The green pines and grass were a blur as she raised her hand to her face and checked the monitor she clutched tight.
It was less than a mile now, but time was running out. She desperately picked up her pace as sweat stung her eyes. The black tar of the road clung to the soles of her shoes in the Alabama heat, and she could smell the jasmine on a slight breeze. It was pretty, she thought.
Faster now, she made her way up an incline and felt her muscles stretch like elastic bands. In the distance, she could see a farmhouse and a pasture with horses; down the drop to her left, a creek. The yellow fog; she could taste it on her tongue. Something was wrong.
She stopped. The girl fell forward, placed her hands on her knees and struggled to catch her breath. She brushed her hair away from her eyes and looked at the monitor one more time. 1:45pm. She glanced up and saw no cars before her in the distance. She spit on the road and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. The calculations were off. Perhaps she was early.
At Noon, Central Standard Time, the studio monitors crackled with static and Graham began to fade the end of a John Mayer track. He placed a pause in the automation software and, for a few moments, dead air hung on the frequency. He set the volume on the board and removed his headphones. There was nothing more to do. He sank back in his chair and waited with the rest of the world.
In the next room, formerly a production studio, a gang of men and women monitored their computer screens, documenting all activity from this point forward. They recorded the silence with precise care and watched the real-time monitors of seismic and atmospheric activity. Outside, the small town of Tuscumbia, Alabama had become a parking lot. Station vehicles representing every major media organization could be seen for miles. It was unclear why a fifty thousand watt FM radio station in Northwest Alabama had been chosen as the flagship for this broadcast, now being beamed worldwide. For the moment, however, it was the most listened to transmission in the entire universe, and as the radio-silence blanketed the airwaves, the blinking lights on its tower measured the heartbeat of every man, woman and child on the planet. Finally, a familiar voice broke through the static.
“Good day. We thank you for your patience. It is our pleasure to be with you. Foremost, allow us to state that we mean you no harm; quite the contrary. For today begins a great evolution in your world. We bring glad tidings and offer you peace.”
With this, one could feel a great, collective relief as those huddled to hear this message grew ever calmer. The voice penetrating the air was reassuring. It was friendly, and it sounded as if it were smiling. The voice had been heard before. It had been analyzed, reversed, and synthesized. Yet, only now did the voice seem to embody a sentient, living being. Reporters that had been typing feverishly at first now stopped and simply began to listen.
“Many of you are confused, and you do not understand. Some of you are frightened. Still others possess great confidence that may now be misplaced. Please know that these are all valid emotions. It is in your very nature to fear that which you cannot explain. Our advice to you is to go inward now. Listen. Become like a child, full of wonder. We shall explain to you the great changes taking place in your world but first your history must be atoned. Do not fear this. As we have assured you, the Dark Age is nearly complete, and today begins your reawakening.”
Graham looked outside his studio window. Amongst the crush of media, he saw pockets of citizens. He recognized a woman as one of the check-out girls at the local grocery store. She stood with her young son held close as tears streamed down her face. A man next to her knelt on the ground praying. Two men behind him stood, arms-crossed, with pistols strapped to their belts. Two teenagers sat on a blanket in the grass, holding hands. Above them all, a great tear in the sky; a deep, black rip through an otherwise blue canvas that had centered above them only days before. The voice continued.
“As you live in a world of polarity, it must be understood that with great leaps forward come the great responsibility of knowing. Your world is poised to undertake its most profound evolution. There is no one among you with the knowledge that today will be shared. But soon, your very existence will become clear. You are on the precipice of your enlightenment. We invite you to embrace this. We will teach you the great way forward.”
No one was working now. The reporters stood motionless, and the scientists abandoned their statistics as the computers processed seemingly inconsequential data. The mild vibration that had engulfed the Earth since the rip appeared remained the only constant. It felt as if all life stood atop a purring engine, now transfixed on a hole in the sky and a disembodied voice; a vibration itself. Was this the voice of God, extra terrestrial life, a conspiracy? It didn’t matter for the moment. A powerful connection seemed to overtake all humanity.
“The genesis of your world is not for you to know today but you will understand this very soon. Know that when we speak of your world, we speak of your universe. You occupy but a small space in your vast, ever-expanding world. Your world is your very creation, but you do not remember. Fear not. In time, you will. As the Dark Age leaves you, so shall your amnesia. The planet on which you live is the womb. And just as a child has no memory of its conception, so you cannot recall your origin. Your great teachers have taught you the story of your creation. You may rest assured that these stories are rooted in truth. Have faith, for you have not been misled. Yet, your history has evolved into many stories. It is time now that all souls know their very origin.”
A cell phone rang in the distance. The voice continued.
“You exist as one universal mind; a collective consciousness that spans your dimension. You have had among you from the beginning great, ascended masters. These masters have placed upon you the path of ascension and led you to this very moment. You have once before been in this moment. In that instance, you did fail. It is now evermore critical that you succeed. Soon you will understand. Today begins your great step forward. You will be guided, but before your new birth can begin; your world must first straighten its spine. The universe will now exhale. The Dark Age is nearly complete. You will soon be counseled further. For now, it is time for celebration! Enjoy the music.”
The message ended abruptly. Dead air. Graham instinctively rushed to the board in his studio and fired off the next song: “What I Got” by Sublime.
“Early in the mornin’. Risin’ to the street. Light me up that cigarette and I’ll strap shoes on my feet...”
Graham cringed. Somehow this song didn’t seem appropriate, given the gravity of the situation. Yet it was being broadcast worldwide to millions. His heart sank with the revelation that this song would be forever remembered as the one played immediately following contact with aliens or God or whatever had been speaking to humanity only moments before. He blew it. Just as his mind began racing to think of another, perhaps more thought-provoking track, a collective roar could be heard outside the building. Graham walked to the window and watched as the world danced in celebration as it had been instructed. In a way, he thought, it was apropos.
Outside, amidst the dancing revelers and within the swarm of reporters, the Alabama National Guard joined the local and state police in monitoring the crowd. Now, there were fewer of them than ever. Since the appearance of the tear, many officers and soldiers had abandoned their positions. Some left to be with their families. Some left to drink. Others left to pray. Throughout the world, this was steadily becoming an issue of concern. Despite governments urging their citizens to maintain their daily routines, in the weeks leading up to today’s invocation, shops had gone vacant, and crime had increased. While it could not be said that anarchy reigned, one could sense that chaos might be only a few steps behind.
The news media speculated as they will often do and this day would be no exception. Milan stood in a dollar store parking lot just blocks away from the radio station, staring intently at the tear in the sky. He knelt to the ground as people danced above him and he felt the Earth, the hum that now emanated from the ground and clung to air. It felt to Milan as if he were wearing a light jacket of elements, walking through a vibrating breeze. He stood up and was immediately summoned from the doorway of the dollar store.
“Milan! Two minutes, man! Get in here!”
It was the producer. Milan walked toward the entrance of the dollar store, which had been commandeered by the news network and made into a makeshift studio. It was the closest location they could find to “ground zero,” and word was that the network had paid an incredible sum of money to broadcast their 24 hour news coverage from a position still littered with generic colas, cat litter, and dandruff shampoo. Milan excused himself amongst the dancers and made his way inside. The producer gently shoved him in the direction of the cameras. He sat down next to a gorgeous redhead, professionally attired, with flawless skin. She smiled at him as Milan attached the lapel mic to his jacket.
“Isn’t this exciting?!” she nearly giggled.
“Yes,” Milan agreed. “This... is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
“Biggest news story ever and I’m on the front line,” she whispered. “It’s a career maker.”
Milan stared at her for a moment, but before he could respond, the on-location director began the countdown. “We’re live in five... four... three...”
“We’re in a commercial break? Who’s sponsoring the end of the world?” Milan wondered.
The graphics on the screen in front of them exploded, and the music crescendoed. The anchor in Los Angeles began his solemn recap. “Just moments ago, all of humanity came face to face with an other-worldly life form, or the OWL as it has come to be known...”
“OWL? What the fuck is OWL?” Milan thought, “And it wasn’t exactly ‘face to face’.”
“We’re joined now by our panel of experts alongside the most trusted news team in America as we bring you this world-changing news story. We begin with Alicia Parker, joining us live in the small town of Tuscumbia, Alabama where this first contact has remarkably taken place. For starters, Alicia, what is the mood at Ground Zero?”
The director pointed to the redhead next to Milan. Her school-girl composure suddenly evaporated as she took on the air of an accomplished professional. “Jim, right now it’s pure elation; there is a literal ‘party in the streets’ atmosphere as citizens of this tiny hamlet celebrate. They are dancing and singing and enjoying themselves. We’re seeing this happen world-wide as the OWL suggested that all Earth’s residents quote enjoy the music end quote.”
The director gave a signal and the red lights atop the cameras fixed on Alicia and Milan went out.
“We’re in a cut-away? It’s a cut-away?” Alicia asked and the director nodded as she quickly reached for her bottled water, and took a drink. She then fixed herself in the monitor and straightened her jacket. On the monitor, Milan watched as the network replayed the final moments of the invocation. “You will soon be counseled further. For now, it is time for celebration! Enjoy the music.”
The monitors now segued to footage of world-wide celebrations. Italy. China. Scotland. Egypt. The red lights on the cameras lit up again. Milan and Alicia sat up straight, and the anchor posed another question.
“So, did these alien beings travel light years to begin a worldwide dance party?” he laughed. “What is their motivation? For insight, we turn to Dr. Milan Janáček, a world renowned theoretical physicist, futurist and author. Doctor, why are the aliens here?”
“Well, foremost, Jim, I don’t think that we know that this is, in fact, contact with an extra-terrestrial life form; at least not in the Hollywood sense.”
“Expand on that, please, Doctor.”
“It seems more logical to me that what we’re experiencing today is contact with a life form in another dimension. Perhaps a fifth or sixth dimension based entity. The tear that we see in the sky may, in fact, be the opening of what is known as a traversable wormhole; a tear in dimensions. This could represent contact with a parallel universe.”
“Kind of like Star Trek?” Jim asked.
Milan took a deep breath. “Kind of like Star Trek, yes. But, again, I don’t think that Hollywood has really prepared us for what we may witness going forward. What we are seeing today is unlike anything we have ever experienced in terrestrial or extra terrestrial science. It’s quite remarkable.”
“I see. Let’s take a listen to the speech from the OWL once more.” The lights on the cameras went off, and the network began a replay of the invocation. Milan and Alicia each took a sip from their bottled water.
“The OWL,” said Alicia. “Who the hell came up with that?”
“I know, right?” Milan smiled. He was glad to hear that the sensationalism of this important event was not lost on her.
“It’s fucking genius. Was it Anderson?” she asked the director. He shrugged.
Or maybe not. The replay ended; red lights on. Jim, the anchor, picked up his cue. “Our military expert, Retired Colonel Patrick Nelson joins us now as well. Colonel what do you make of today’s events?”
“I can’t make heads or tails out of the speech, Jim,” the Colonel grumbled. “I think, without question, we have to be on guard. While it was a lot of mumbo-jumbo, I think that there was a clear indication of a threat. I don’t know whether the threat is from the OWL or if they are invoking our assistance in some way to fight an outside threat. That may-”
Milan had to interrupt the Colonel. “With all due respect, Colonel, if we have made contact with an inter-dimensional entity, it is not likely that they require our assistance.”
“How so, Doctor?” asked Jim the anchor.
“If this entity does, in fact, occupy a parallel universe and they have found a way to make contact with us, then their intellect and technology is far superior to our own. It’s not likely that we would have anything that they need.”
“The OWL mentioned a failure in our past and that we must now reconcile that failure with victory,” the Colonel misquoted. “That, to me, sounds like a call to arms.”
“I don’t think that’s what the voice said,” Milan corrected.
Jim grabbed his notes and read aloud. “The actual quote from the OWL was ‘In that instance, you did fail. It is now evermore critical that you succeed. Soon you will understand.’”
“There was more to it than that, Jim,” said Milan.
The Colonel agreed. “There certainly was. I guess we just heard two different things. And what about this constant buzz? It feels like we’re on the verge on a massive quake of some kind. We need to talk about that.”
“Colonel, the vibrations we’re feeling could be the result of a dimensional tear. String theory suggests that each dimension is a string or a membrane if you will. If they have breached our ‘string’, it would be equivalent to plucking a note on a guitar, for example. We could be feeling the reverberations of that note being struck. That may be why they told us to enjoy the music,” Milan said, giving a nod to Alicia.
“Interesting indeed. Let’s bring in our theology expert,” the anchor swung around in his chair to face his new panelist. “Dr. Robert Pembrooke. What did you hear today?”
Dr. Pembrooke paused for a moment. “I heard the voice of God. And I would suggest you stop calling Him ‘Al’.”
Milan couldn’t help it. He laughed out loud, on camera. Dr. Pembrooke smiled at him through the monitor as Jim quickly gave a summation and went to commercial. The red lights went out. The director gave an all clear, and the producer began to shout to the team.
“Okay, we’re done here for now, people. Let’s get some new footage of the tear and the town. Milan, can I see you?” The producer walked to Milan as he removed his mic. He was anxious to get back outside. “L.A. would like for you to do more about string theory. We have something in the can that you did last year with Larry. Do you remember that?” the producer asked.
“Faintly,” Milan said as he briskly walked to the door.
“Can you be back in an hour to talk with Jim about the advances in the theory since last year?”
“Advances?” Milan checked his cell phone. He had no signal. It was working before he thought.
“Yeah, like... has anyone solved it?” the producer said, his voice shaking. Milan looked up from his phone and saw the middle-aged man brush tears from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. “What’s happening?” he asked, trying to catch his breath. The producer had now thoroughly broken down and was crying as silently as possible, so not to attract the attention of his staff.
“No one really knows at the moment,” Milan said, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder. “But we’ll figure it out. Let me see what I can find out at the site. I’ll come back in about an hour, and I’ll try to explain things further, okay?” The producer nodded and worked to regain his composure. “Walk outside with me,” Milan told him. “Get a little air, clean yourself up. You’ll be okay.”
“I can’t even call my family,” the producer said.
“I’ll try to see if I can make arrangements for that, okay?”
Again, the producer nodded. Milan began to walk away toward the radio station, disappearing inside the crowd dancing now to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. It was ridiculous. Milan left him with that. He felt terrible. He didn’t even know the producer’s name.
Alicia made her way past the remaining aisles of goods in the dollar store to her makeshift office, which consisted solely of a desk and her iPad. She took off her jacket and draped it across her folding chair. She checked herself in the reflection of the computer screen and tapped a key to wake it up. First stop: Facebook. She had thirty friend requests. Not bad. She updated her status. “It’s a party in Tuscumbia, Alabama! Crazy here. Going to talk to the locals. Will update more details as they happen. Stay tuned to Triton! Blarrgh! Need coffee!!!”
She then surfed to the competing networks. CNN had a terrific shot of the tear. “God, they’ve got the best graphics,” she thought as she made her way to Fox, then ABC, CBS, and finally MSNBC. No one had anything new. This was good. Everyone was focusing on ground zero, the radio station. She needed a different angle. Maybe she’d go for the fringe. “Oh, wait,” she thought. “Mama fears for her family. Sweet!” She’d find a rattled backwoods family and do a piece on them and their response to the aliens. Southern kids had adorable accents. This was Alabama. There had to be some dust bowl-era-looking barefoot family somewhere. Potentially hilarious. Perfect.
“Brady!” she shouted.
“Yeah?” was the response from the wash room directly in front of her desk.
“I’m taking a dump, babe.”
“Hurry up. We’ve got to go.”
“You got a lead?”
“I’ve got an idea, yeah. Finish jerking off and let’s get out of here.”
“I love it when you fantasize about my junk.” The toilet flushed, the water ran and Brady emerged drying his hands with toilet paper.
“Are we out of paper towels?” Alicia asked.
“I couldn’t find any.”
“We’re in a fucking convenience store, Brady. Aisle six.”
“This is a fine.” Brady tossed the wet paper in the trash can. He stepped to the corner and picked up his camera and remote bag. “Where are we going?”
“To the sticks. We need to find a redneck family.”
“Can’t we just do that in the parking lot?”
“No, no. I want to find a dilapidated house. No running water; that kind of shit.”
“It’s Alabama, Ali, but I’m pretty sure it’s not 1936.”
“You know what I mean. Let’s go. You got the keys?”
“We’re good. I don’t know how you think we’re going to drive through this mess.”
Alicia and Brady walked toward the exit. Alicia stopped at the cold remedy aisle. “Wait a minute.” She found a box of generic Sudafed, ripped it open, popped four red pills from the blister pack and swallowed them down. She put the rest in her pocket and made her way to the door. They took two coffees from the hospitality table on the way out.
Outside, the music was deafening. Alicia led the way and shoved past the revelers to the back of the building and the rented SUVs. They got in, Brady fired up the truck, and they began the slow trek out of the parking lot. A sea of people eventually parted to let them through the city streets.
“What do you know about this Milan guy?” Alicia asked.
“I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve met him. Seems like a good guy. Why? You crushin’ on the geek?”
“Whatever. I’m not that kind of horny. I think he slighted me in the last break.”
“He’s smarter than you, Ali. Get over it. He’s not the only one.”
Brady glanced over to Alicia in the passenger seat and noticed that she looked a bit sad. This was rare. In the year that they had been partnered together, he had only known her to be a brash, hard drinking, pill popping, redheaded, wonderful nightmare. He was somewhat surprised to see her ego, which was epic, deflated.
“Hey,” he said, gently punching her in the arm. “You can’t be the prettiest girl in the room and the smartest chick. Leave a little something for the rest of us, huh?”
“Fuck you, Brady” she said, punching him harder. “I’m smart.”
“Never said you weren’t.”
“Maybe not doctor-of-fucking-physics smart but smart enough to win a Murrow.”
“Oh yeah? When did that happen?”
“It’s going to happen. It might just be this story.”
“Fuck yeah,” Brady smiled. “Let’s get it.”
They were a solid pair, albeit a mismatched one. Brady was an overweight, balding 37 year old industry veteran. He had shot film in both Gulf Wars and on 9/11. His wife hated his job and worried that he put himself in harm’s way far too often. After all, he had two young kids at home in Colorado. Truth be known Brady would rather have been playing golf but as he often told his wife, “golf won’t pay the bills.” He ate too much junk food and was probably one cheeseburger away from his first heart attack.
Alicia, on the other hand, was 10 years his junior, stunning and an upstart in the business. She landed at the network a year prior after cutting her teeth in Portland and Seattle, first as a beat reporter and then an anchor. Brady often thought that she was meant for another time. He was a fan of old movies, and she reminded him of Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. She had a dignity about her. She could be competitive to a fault though, which alienated much of the staff. Alicia was driven, and Brady sometimes worried that the work consumed her. He didn’t dare tell her to slow down. It was like working with a woman possessed, and she would have ripped his head off. Still, he knew a side of her that most missed. She was genuinely charming when she wanted to be and she made the work exciting.
“Jesus Christ, this place is weird. Everyone here is drunk and packing a gun,” Alicia said.
“Then there’s that whole alien thing,” Brady shot back as he navigated through the crowd, periodically honking the horn.
“Yeah, there’s that.” Alicia paused. “Is that what you think this is? Aliens?”
“Who the hell knows? What? Are you worried you’re going to get probed?”
“It might be the best part of the trip.”
Milan made his way through the streets. The radio station was only a few blocks away from the dollar store. A month prior, he suspected that he could have made this walk in fifteen minutes or less. Now, he struggled to move a few feet per minute. The roads were just packed. It was like navigating through some insane street festival, he thought. The music was incredibly loud, and every kind of crazy was represented here. The whirling hippies, the religious zealots, the tin-foil hat crowd. This coupled with the presence of armed police, news media of all sorts and ordinary civilians sipping beers and talking about their mortgages amidst a dimensional crack in the sky was a new sort of surreal. He pressed forward.
Nearly a half hour later, Milan finally made it to the block where the station was located. The military had barricaded the perimeter several days before. Milan knew that getting past would be a challenge. He approached a soldier, flashed his press credentials and waved the gentleman closer. They would each have to shout in each others’ ear to be heard.
“No press!” the soldier yelled.
“I understand! I’m a scientist! I’m not a reporter!”
The soldier looked him over for a moment and finally shouted “Stay here!”
With that, the soldier left the line and walked behind one of the armored trucks that guarded the city block. Milan saw snipers on the surrounding buildings. Behind the line, ambassadors from throughout the world, military minds and scientists like him huddled in the old Victorian home that doubled as the radio station studios where this entire debacle began weeks before. Milan desperately wanted to be a part of whatever was happening behind those closed doors. It was moments like this, however, that he cursed the day his agent had talked him into signing the consulting agreement with the network. Sure, the money was fantastic. The shot to his credibility amongst his peers, though, made it hardly worth it. He had become a “Mr. Wizard”, as his colleagues often joked. It was unfair. His credentials were impeccable. They knew this.
One of the soldier’s superiors appeared from behind the truck and approached Milan. Since his arrival in Alabama, earlier that morning, Milan had detected a palatable fear in the eyes of everyone he encountered. Even the new age freaks welcoming their new, next dimensional masters with drum circles and crystals held a spark of terror in their gaze. This man’s cold stare was fearless. Something about that was reassuring to Milan who was, admittedly, as nervous as the next by-stander.
“What is your business here, sir?!”
“I want to help! I’m a doctor of physics! I have a few theories about what is happening!”
“We have plenty of physicists working on this!”
“I can’t imagine that one more would hurt! My name is Dr. Milan...”
“I know who you are,” the man interrupted. He paused for a moment and finally waved Milan through the gate. “Follow me.”
Behind the perimeter was a flurry of military activity. There were several tents set up and Milan could see a number of personnel working diligently at their computers. It was a relief to leave the mass of people behind. Milan followed the man down the block and up the concrete steps of the yellow house. On the porch, they were greeted by two armed guards who parted immediately at the sight of Milan’s escort, saluted and opened the double doors to the home.
Inside, the house boasted high, ornate ceilings. An elaborate chandelier hung above them in the entryway. A mahogany staircase to their right was full of traffic as people ran up and down the stairs, carrying files and various pieces of equipment. To the left, was a conference table now occupied by a number of dignitaries, apparently awaiting a presentation of some sort. The soldier told Milan to stay put, and he vanished around the corner, into the conference room.
He emerged a few moments later, this time accompanied by a familiar face. “Milan! Welcome to the war zone,” he said. It was Dr. Charles Trumboldt, an astrophysicist. He and Milan had attended several conferences together in the past. Both were in-demand speakers. Milan smiled and shook his hand.
“Let’s hope it’s not a war zone,” he joked.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s debatable. You have to admit, though, it does feel like something out of H.G. Wells. Are you in town with the network?”
“Yes. I just arrived this morning.”
“I’m surprised they let you in. No one here wants to leak anything to the press until we have a better understanding of what’s happening.”
“I understand, but I’m not here as a reporter. I want to assist in any way that I can.”
Charles knew that Milan would bring a unique perspective to the assembled group. He was, after all, an accomplished physicist. His theories were sound and, truth be told, he might be useful as a trusted spokesperson should the need arise. Still, Charles had been given strict orders to avoid leaking information. That said he felt he could trust Milan.
“You’ll have to quit the network. Effective immediately. No more reports.”
Milan didn’t hesitate. This was the chance of a lifetime. “Consider it done.”
Charles shook his hand again. “Welcome aboard. Come on back.”
Milan followed Charles to the conference room. Along the way, he removed his press credentials and tossed them in a nearby trash can. He simply wouldn’t return in an hour as he had promised. This probably wouldn’t come as a shock to the network as they had employees abandoning their jobs by the hour. What were they going to do? Sue him? Milan was pretty sure he would win whatever court battle he’d be facing given the circumstances. In fact, it was strange, he thought, that this concern even crossed his mind.
Almost immediately, Charles and Milan were stopped. A stern-looking woman with piercing eyes halted them as soon as she caught sight of them. “Where’s this man’s clearance?” she demanded.
“He’s only just arrived. This is Dr. Milan Janáček. He’s a respected theoretical physicist. His input will be very helpful. We’re fortunate to have him,” Charles pitched.
She paused and seemed to quickly size up Milan. She didn’t appear to sense a threat. “I’ll need to run him through,” she concluded.
“I’m sure that will be fine. Milan can you please follow Ms. Hendrix? She needs to run a background and security check on you.”
“Certainly. That will be fine,” Milan smiled. Ms. Hendrix didn’t smile back but waved him into an adjacent office.
She instructed Milan to have a seat and he sat on a couch amidst boxes of what appeared to be radio station business. Commercial orders and spreadsheets were messily stacked in white cardboard, labeled with black marker. His OCD kicked in. He felt a compelling urge to begin organizing the files but that would be clearly inappropriate. Instead, he folded his hands in his lap as Ms. Hendricks sat in front of a laptop computer and began asking him questions: full name, social security number, address, etc.
“Where were you born, Doctor?”
She began to read from her computer screen. “Your parents were Czech immigrants; your father a pianist, your mother a home-maker. You received your B.S. in physics from Columbia College in 1976 and your doctorate in theoretical physics from The Rockefeller University in 1981 under Professor Spalding Ianthe. You later worked with Professor Yashmir Andropov of Tel Aviv University. You’ve since authored ten books, numerous articles on quantum mechanics. Your books are equally praised and criticized for their informal style, and you are routinely credited by both fans and critics as having a talent for communicating highly abstract scientific concepts in ways that are accessible to everyday readers. This talent led to your being hired as an on-air science consultant for the Triton Broadcasting Network. You currently hold the Ivan Acker Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at City College of New York, where you have lectured for more than 20 years.”
“Wow,” Milan laughed. “All of that from a few keystrokes. Are you in some sort of government database? At least it’s all good, right?”
“It’s Wikipedia. You were arrested in 1982 for driving under the influence, you have five outstanding parking tickets in three cities, you have three active memberships to online adult websites including...”
“I get it. Wait. That’s on Wikipedia?”
Hendricks shook her head ‘no’ and just then Charles ducked his head into the room. “We’re ready to begin. Are you finished, Ms. Hendricks?”
Hendricks continued typing on the laptop and spoke as her eyes darted around the screen. “He looks okay. No major criminal history. I’ll give him a pass.”
“May I go?” Milan asked.
She nodded, and he got up to follow Charles. The conference room was now especially crowded. Milan vaguely recognized a few faces in the crowd, but this didn’t seem to be the right time for introductions. The shaking air was beginning to irritate Milan. It was as if he were surrounded by sub-woofers, all rattling out the same silent, steady bass note. The curious thing to him was that this nonstop vibration did not appear to influence sound waves. He would assume that this should somehow affect the way he heard noise; the rate at which the voices in the room would travel. Also, the hum appeared to create an illusion that the oxygen in the room was heavier than it had been prior to the rip. The vibe was just an irritant, albeit one that had appeared to increase its velocity in recent moments.
The general that had escorted Milan to the house stepped to the front of the conference table. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready to begin. I believe a recap of sorts is in order.” The lights in the room dimmed, and a power-point presentation began with the general narrating each slide.
“On May 22nd, the radio station which we now occupy began experiencing signal interference. This began as minor static charges inhibiting their broadcast. A local radio DJ reported the discrepancy to the station’s engineer. Upon investigation, no equipment failure was found nor did there appear to be any local interference from other licensed stations. As the engineer continued to search for the issue, the interference became stronger until finally a voice appeared on air. Here is a recording of the voice that most of you are already familiar with.”
The sound clip played from the laptop computer. It simply sounded like a long distance radio broadcast bleeding into the station’s frequency, but what the voice was saying was clear: “The Dark Age is nearly complete. Stand by.”
The general continued. “This occurred on May 24th. The following day, the local DJ was engaged in conversation by the voice on-air. The voice was much clearer now. Again, many of you will recognize this recording.”
“Graham, we can hear you.”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re interfering with our station. This is an FCC violation.”
“We look forward to your return.”
A new slide appeared on the screen. It was a photo of Graham on the cover of a radio industry trade magazine, ten years old. The general explained that Graham Barry was once a successful major market radio disc jockey, popular in Detroit and Dallas. At the height of his fame, he developed issues with alcohol which eventually led to him losing his job, etc. It was a typical fall from grace story. At 35, Graham eventually landed in Tuscumbia, Alabama five years ago, settling for a much lower paying job as the afternoon drive talent and Program Director for a Rock station.
“These brief conversations continued in much the same way for several days,” the general said. “The community began to take note, and it was assumed that this was some sort of radio stunt being executed by Mr. Barry. He assured the radio station owner that this was not the case. It was the following exchange that began to alarm citizens and began the official FCC investigation at the request of the radio station owner.”
The general played the recording as a transcript appeared on the screen:
Graham Barry: Where are you located?
Voice: Just as you are located in your universe, we are located in ours.
Graham Barry: So, I’m speaking with a voice from outer space?
Voice: This is inaccurate.
Graham Barry: Well, if you’re a space alien how do you know our language?
Voice: You know our language.
Graham Barry: We speak your language?
Voice: This is correct.
Graham Barry: Mind blowing. Dude, seriously, I hope you understand that there are huge fines and even jail time associated with this kind of...
Playback was interrupted, and the General advanced to the next transcript slide. “The next exchange brought the communication to the attention of Dr. Trumboldt as the assumed pirate broadcaster revealed an equation considered to be of great scientific value. During this broadcast, it should be noted, the local DJ took a call from an audience member who asked the voice how one might travel at light speed...”
Voice: Travel at light speed is not possible. Your theory of relativity is correct.
Graham Barry: Well, thank you. Score one for Einstein!
Voice: Universal law dictates that if one were to travel at light speed, the mass of your traveling vessel would increase exponentially over time. It would cease to exist prior to reaching your destination. This is not practical.
Graham Barry: I would agree. Ceasing to exist prior to arrival would take all of the fun out of traveling.
Voice: Interstellar travel is best facilitated by bending space. This is perhaps better known to you as warp speed.
Graham Barry: Okay. So, how do we do that?
Voice: You are not prepared to utilize this information.
Graham Barry: Spill it. What’s the harm in passing it along? You said we’re evolving. Give it up, man.
Voice: It is predetermined. Consider this:
Graham Barry: Okay. That meant nothing to me. Next caller.
The General began speaking again, “Of course, it should be noted that Mr. Barry, at this point, still assumed that he was speaking with a pirate broadcaster. As stated previously, the FCC began an investigation and could not determine the origin of the broadcast. Over the course of two days, the incident was picked up by a popular national late night radio talk show, Graham Barry was interviewed, and worldwide interest in the story spread, leading to coverage on a number of news outlets and widespread chatter on the internet. At this point, however, it was still assumed that this was a hoax executed by Mr. Barry.”
Milan had thought this as well. Why would an extra-terrestrial being choose to make contact via one radio station in one town? Why radio at all? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take control of one of our communications satellites or, for that matter, the Internet? A colleague had sent Milan an email about the events in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and the two had scoffed about it, making jokes. The aliens must have made an unfortunate, wrong turn to end up in Alabama, they laughed.
“Contact was lost until May 31st,” the General stated. “On that day, Mr. Barry was once again briefly engaged in conversation.”
Voice: Do not fear this. The Dark Age is nearly complete.
The recording ended, and the next slide occurred. It was a photo of the tear.
“Thereafter, what we assume to be an inter-dimensional tear appeared in the north-east sky above Tuscumbia, Alabama,” the General explained. “Clearly, this is related to the transmissions, but we’re not entirely sure how. The voice was heard once more prior to today simply indicating that it would address the world at noon on June 2nd. The tear is only visible here. So, if this is an inter-dimensional rip, it is, for some reason, centered here. Again, we don’t know why. The tremors in the air that seem to be associated with the tear can be felt worldwide. You’re all here today to hopefully assist us in answering some of these questions. So, let’s begin the conversation.”
The lights came up, and immediately hands were raised. The General began taking questions from the assembled group. “Am I correct in understanding that we cannot make contact?”
“That’s right. Our efforts to contact the voice have been unsuccessful. We seem to be at their mercy for contact.”
“Why have we not yet explored the vortex?”
“As we speak, pilots are preparing to visit the tear.”
The room began to grumble. Milan spoke up. “Forgive me, sir, but isn’t that incredibly dangerous? If this is, in fact, a traversable wormhole, we don’t have ships capable of entering it. That’s a suicide mission to say the very least.”
“We don’t intend to enter it. We simply want to get a closer look.”
Another scientist spoke up. “That’s just the thing, General. This isn’t an ‘object’, per se. It’s not something tangible. It is literally nothing. You’ll be trying to get a closer view of...”
Suddenly, the hum in the air became almost unbearable. The Earth began to shake, and screams could be heard both inside and outside the building. It lasted for less than thirty seconds, but it felt like an eternity. When it subsided, it was utter chaos. Shots could be heard outside; more screaming. Everyone at the table followed the General outside to the front porch of the house.
In the sky, what appeared to be a bright, yellow cloud was emerging from the black tear. Very slowly it began making its way across the sky. A soldier came up to the general from inside the house.
“Sir, Mr. Barry has contact.”
The shouting outside began to silence as Graham’s voice could be heard over the loudspeakers as it had been before. “Will you please explain to us what is happening? What is this yellow cloud?”
“Soon, we will be visible to you. Your world must first be cleansed. Do not be afraid.”
“But what do you mean ‘cleansed’?”
“An elemental rain will fall. Bathe all biological life in this rain.”
“Everything? Animals, plants... people?”
“All that wishes to progress forward.”
“What will become of anything that doesn’t get washed in this rain?”
“These things will not advance.”
“You mean these things will die?”
“There is no death as you believe it, but these things will not coexist.”
“When will this rain fall?”
The transmission concluded, and silence fell over the planet. Within hours, the world would be plunged into war.