On the Monday morning following Al’s arrival, an unprecedented conference was taking place at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory facility in the Berkeley Hills overlooking the campus of the University of California. Some fifteen or twenty people were crowded around a long table in one of the lab’s conference rooms. There was a general buzz of excited conversation, which quickly hushed when the door suddenly opened and a tall gray-haired, bespectacled man entered, flanked by two beefy security guards in full weapons gear.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, sitting down at the head of the table and spreading several pages of notes in front of him. “A good morning to you all. I am Dr. Whitman, head of the research facility at Lawrence Livermore. I thank you all for coming to this conference on such short notice, and I apologize for any inconvenience our extraordinary security measures may have caused you. This, as you may have guessed, is a closed conference. No members of the press have been invited to, or even notified of, this meeting. You all should have been searched before entering this room, and if any electronic recording devices, audio or visual, have been confiscated from you, they will be returned to you upon your departure. This meeting is, however, being recorded by the facility, and the resulting record will be the sole property of this facility due to the extremely confidential nature of this conference. Furthermore,” he looked up from his notes and spoke directly to the invitees, “no one will be allowed to enter or to leave this room once the meeting has begun. Now, are there any questions before we proceed to the business at hand?”
The attendees cast questioning glances at each other but remained silent.
“Very well,” Dr. Whitman continued. “Each of you has been given a lapel tag on which is printed your name, professional credentials, and position in your various departments. Since most of you do not know each other, if you wish to speak, please stand up, and when recognized state the information on your lapel tag before continuing, so that everyone may know who you are.
“All right, then, to business. This meeting is now in session. The first item on the agenda is to inform you all of a device recently invented and tested by one of the scientists here at the University. Ladies and gentlemen, I direct your attention to the foot of the table.”
As he did so, a small elderly man in a rather severely tailored black suit, plain white dress shirt, and narrow black necktie stood up.
“Allow me to introduce to you all the respected Chairman of the Theoretical Physics Department of the University of California, Dr. Dieter Auslander.”
As Dr. Auslander picked up his notes from the table, the harsh conference room lights reflected off his completely shaved head. He then began to read from these notes in a thick German accent: “Ladies and gentlemen, you all know of the common device called the electroencephalogram, or EEG. It measures human brain waves and gives neurologists and psychologists an insight into the actual workings of the human mind. But what most people do not realize, and what I have been able to discover and prove after many long years of study and research, is simply this.” He rearranged his notes and looked at the attendees for the first time, speaking slowly and carefully as if ordering his thoughts at the same time. “There is a distinct pattern which is common to all human brain waves. Years ago, I discovered how to identify this pattern. But for quite some time I could think of no practical application for this discovery. Then last summer, purely by chance, I was attending a physicist’s convention in Chicago at the same time that the annual conference of SETI was being held there. In fact, there are two members of SETI here today.” He pointed at a man and a woman sitting on his right halfway down the table.
“Some of you may not be aware,” he continued, reading from his notes again, “of the SETI project or its purpose. The word ‘SETI’ itself is an acronym for ‘Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence’. After the closing of my convention, I had the opportunity to talk to some of the SETI delegates. It was an extremely enlightening session. Over and over, they expressed their need for some sort of device to discover and locate intelligent extraterrestrials, something much more direct and effective than monitoring for radio waves or other similar techniques. I thought immediately of my brain wave device. If intelligent alien life forms exist, I reasoned to myself, they may well have brains similar to ours. Similar and yet different. Within a few months I had altered my brain wave device to include a feature much like that of a primitive Geiger counter. A Geiger counter, as you all know, emits loud clicks when it is brought into the vicinity of radioactive material. My device theoretically does the same when in the proximity of brain waves which are not human in origin. What proximity, you may ask. My device now has a range of about thirty light years. And I am constantly working to find a way to boost its power.”
Professor Auslander had presented all of the preceding as if he were giving a routine lecture to first-year physics students. Now, however, he paused, rubbed his bald head, and returned his notes to the table in front of him.
“I mentioned the word ‘theoretically’,” he said dramatically, looking directly at his audience. “But within the last few days something so astonishing has happened that I have spent the last twenty-four hours without sleep, attempting to verify my data.”
He paused again, coughed slightly, and poured a glass of water from a pitcher on the conference table. After taking a few swallows he continued. “A few weeks ago, at my request, my device was installed in the huge observatory dome here at the research facility. It was mounted on a motorized crane which was programmed to sweep the skies in an arc from horizon to horizon every twenty-four hours. Theoretically it is able to search the skies for the presence of brain waves to a distance of thirty light years in any direction. A few nights ago, ladies and gentlemen,” he paused suspensefully and looked slowly around the room, “the first clicks were heard. They have continued for the entire weekend and are continuing as we speak.”
At this revelation there was a buzz of excitement and confusion throughout the room as several members jumped to their feet demanding permission to speak. Dr. Whitman recognized the young woman that Dr. Auslander had identified as being a member of SETI.
“Thank you, Dr. Whitman,” she began in a low melodious voice. “I am Dr. Singh, Vice Chairperson of Research at SETI. Dr. Auslander, can this be true? Have we really, after so many fruitless years of searching, definitive proof of the existence of extraterrestrials in some part of the immediate galaxy? And if so, where?” She sat down and waited attentively for his reply.
“Yes, and no,” Dr. Auslander replied slowly. “When the clicks began, our questions were the same as yours. Where was the data coming from? Where were the ET’s located? Only when we began checking the data did we discover how grave the technician’s error had been! The directional signal on the device had somehow been calibrated incorrectly by the incredible amount of 180 degrees. In simple terms, all these weeks when we thought we had been monitoring the heavens, we had in fact been monitoring the earth. And not the whole earth, either. Due to the placement of the device, the clicks must be emanating from a relatively small area. Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a louder voice as the excitement in the room was now very audible. He turned to the wall behind him and pulled down a large map of the State of California and then picked up a pointer.
“After painstakingly calculating the mathematical data, I would stake my reputation on the fact that somewhere between Santa Rosa on the north, Sacramento on the east, San Jose on the south, and of course San Francisco on the west, one or more extraterrestrial beings are to be found!”
After Dr. Auslander’s dramatic revelation, the conference at the Lawrence Livermore Research facility quickly degenerated into chaos. The attendees were arguing among themselves at the top of their lungs without any regard for orderly decorum. Dr. Auslander had sat back down silently in his chair at the foot of the long conference table and was watching the effects of his speech with equal parts amusement and dismay. Dr. Whitman, the conference facilitator, was standing at the head of the table, helplessly watching the confusion and disorder. He wished he had brought his gavel.
Reluctantly, he gestured to the beefy security guard on his right, who nodded and unholstered his 45-caliber automatic. He pointed the weapon at the ceiling and fired three quick rounds. The noise was deafening.
“Don’t worry,” said Dr. Whitman, now clearly audible in the stunned silence that ensued. “Those were just blanks. But now that I have your attention, let me remind you that this is a top-level security conference, not a Friday night football rally in the Bear’s Lair. We will have order. Anyone having any comments or questions for Dr. Auslander will raise his or her hand and follow proper procedure. No one is to speak until recognized by the chair. That’s better,” he said as a half-dozen people silently raised their hands. “You, sir.”
He pointed to a large, solidly built man with a steel gray buzz cut. He wore an army dress uniform with four stars on each epaulet and what must have been several pounds of combat ribbons and medals. “General George Armstrong, Joint Chiefs of Staff!” he barked out with military precision. “Dr. Assleander, are you trying to tell us that there’s space aliens running around loose in the Bay Area?”
“My name is Auslander, sir!” the doctor replied stiffly. “And yes, as I have indicated, my device reveals some sort of non-human intelligence somewhere within the area I just designated on the map.”
“Whatever,” said the general in a deprecating manner. “But how do we know this device of yours works? And how do we know what we’re looking for? Little green men or monsters or what?”
Dr. Whitman replied, “As to your first point, General, as there were obviously no alien intelligences on which to test Dr. Auslander’s device, it remains in the theoretical stage. But considering the doctor’s experience and reputation, sir, we at the facility feel that we must not fail to fully investigate this possible threat to our national security. As for your second question…” He pointed to a youngish black woman in a severely tailored dark suit sitting far down on the left side of the table. “Let me introduce to you all Dr. Shambala Johnson, Assistant Chairperson of the UC Berkeley Biology Department. Dr. Johnson is a specialist in the field of exobiology. Dr. Johnson.” Dr. Whitman sat down as Dr. Johnson stood up.
“Thank you, Dr. Whitman,” she began in a clipped precise manner with just a touch of a southern accent remaining. “We here at the University have long been studying the theoretical physical forms that an extraterrestrial being here on earth might take. Let me refer you to the file folders marked Confidential in front of each of you. You may open them now.”
Each of the conference participants obediently did as they were told. Inside the folders were a dozen or more artists’ conceptions of the various physical forms an alien might take. Some were wildly monstrous, others much more handsome looking than humans, but all were decidedly and recognizably alien. The attendees dutifully studied each and every picture for about ten minutes. Then Dr. Johnson spoke again.
“Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, these theoretical constructs, produced after years of the most extensive research and attention to detail, may not be of much help in our present situation.”
They all looked at her questioningly, then back to the folders marked Confidential. Almost in unison, they sadly closed their folders and looked back at Dr. Johnson.
She continued. “We know, from Dr. Auslander’s report and the tracking records of his device, that the first signs of extraterrestrial intelligence or intelligences was or were discovered at least three days ago. Yet there has been no public outcry, no rash of alien sightings. This leads us to believe that the physical form of the alien or aliens must be one of three types.” She held up one finger. “First, they might, at a casual glance, resemble some inanimate or non-intelligent object such as a rock or a tree. As the aliens are obviously highly technological and mobile (since they were able to travel all the way to this planet), this first possibility is not very likely.” She raised her second finger. “Second, they might naturally have, or at least be able to assume in some way, the appearance of a lower animal of some kind common to us—a cat, a dog, or even a rat. This is a more distinct possibility, but still, in our opinion, not very likely. Third,” she raised finger number three with a flourish, “and most likely, considering all the evidence, our alien or aliens must naturally have, or be able to assume, the form of a human being, or at least be able to appear human at a casual glance, perhaps with the addition of a little superficial makeup.”
A nondescript man in a San Francisco Police Department uniform raised his hand. When he was recognized, he stood up and said, “I’m Jordan Franklin, Chief, SFPD. My department is particularly concerned in this matter because of a small article in last Friday’s Clarion. He produced from his briefcase copies of the article, headlined “UFO’s in San Francisco?”, and passed them around the table. Each attendee took one and dutifully read the article. When they had all finished, Chief Franklin continued. “Since this is the only mention of any unusual activity of this kind within the specified area and time frame, we at the Department feel that San Francisco itself is the most logical place to begin this search.” He sat down to murmurs of agreement and polite applause.
Another man, bald-headed and bespectacled, quickly raised his hand. “Assistant FBI Director Jack Tanner, West Coast Region. Dr. Johnson, if this alien has all the outward characteristics of a human being, how can we possibly even begin to search for it among the millions of inhabitants of just the greater San Francisco Bay Area? What have we got to go on?”
“Allow me to answer that question, if you would,” said Dr. Auslander, standing up quickly. “My colleagues and I are working on a way to reduce the size of my device to something that can be held in one’s hand. We had not previously thought along these lines, because we could not foresee a need to do so. But my engineers inform me that it can be easily done, with very little reduction in reliability. One would only need to point the hand-held device in the desired direction and the existence of an alien intelligence will be verified by the glow of a colored light on the device. My engineers believe that the range of this device could be as much as twenty to thirty meters. We hope to have a prototype in a few days, and as many as six such portable devices within the week.”
“Thank you, Dr. Auslander,” replied Tanner. He then addressed the conference in general. “As the highest ranking FBI official in this area, I have full authority to head this operation, which I have code-named ‘Project X’. I will coordinate the efforts of the various local law enforcement agencies. Dr. Auslander, I ask you to please report your progress on producing these hand-held devices to me daily. As soon as you are assured of their reliability, you will have them delivered to my headquarters at the San Francisco Federal Building by heavily armed guards under the tightest security. I will then oversee the distribution of these devices to the various local law enforcement agencies as I see fit.”
Dr. Auslander agreed and Dr. Whitman stood up again. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he concluded. “I think we have sufficiently discussed the matter at hand and reached a viable method by which to proceed to the solution of this matter. I thank all of you for your attendance at this meeting and remind you that anything discussed here today involves the highest level of national security and is not to be divulged by anyone. To do so would constitute a felonious and traitorous breach of our national security and would be dealt with severely. This session is now officially adjourned.”
As the other attendees filed out, Assistant FBI Director Jack Tanner lingered for a moment. He wiped his bald head, which was sweating profusely, with a handkerchief, and gratefully downed a glass of water. The full import of his task was beginning to dawn on him.
Chapter 17 >>
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022