(A story about a missed connection and its consequences)
Jay Starkey checked his data. He ran his hand through his hair and licked his lips.
“Holy Shit,” he said under his breath.
He typed in a renewed command and checked the resulting data on his computer again. When the same results rolled over his screen, he sat back, staring at his computer. Nothing changed for a few moments.
Suddenly, Jay noticed the time display at the bottom of his computer screen.
“Shit, shit, shit!” he said to himself as he jumped up and grabbed his jacket. He was nearly out the door when he halted. He ran back to this computer and hit the print button. Slowly the printer started up, making its rattling noises.
“Come on. Hurry up, you stupid, slow thing!” Jay was not a person to be easily phased, but this was a crucial moment and time was of the essence. Jay was an astronomer, paid by NASA to do some research on a nearby, possibly habitable planet. He wasn’t earning big bucks with it, but it paid the bills and kept him off the street. Nobody thought he would actually come up with something. It was more a courtesy to his professor at Stanford University who had mentioned the potential of Jay to his peers at NASA that got him hired.
When the paper rolled out of the machine, Jay’s heart sank. He had forgotten to change the ink cartridge last time when he had noticed the machine was running out of ink. He yanked the machine open and pulled the empty cartridge from its belly. He chucked it over his shoulder, not taking note of the stains it made when it hit the carpet. Yanking open at least three drawers of his desk, he found the new cartridge and frantically tried to open it.
“Fuck, fuck, fuckeryfuck!” he yelled, now looking through his drawers for scissors to open the hard-plastic cover containing the cartridge.
When he finally had the printer going again, the so desired results of his calculations appeared black on white and it took a tremendous effort on Jay’s behalf not to yank the paper out of the slow machine too early. He folded the paper and stuffed it in the pocket of his jacket while he ran to his car. Hitting the gas pedal like Dominic Toretto, the car sped out of Saturn Drive.
“Steve, this is Jay. I need you to stop the landing!” Jay knew it was illegal to use his cell phone while driving, but this was a matter of life and death. “Steve, can you hear me? You’re breaking up!”
Jay looked at his cell for a split second and saw that the reception icon was not showing any bars.
“Motherfucking useless piece of shit!” He threw his cell onto the passenger seat and pressed his foot on the gas pedal a little further to the floor.
It didn’t take long before a flashing light appeared in Jay’s rearview mirror and a police vehicle ordered him to pull over. Jay thought for a split second on what to do. He could drive on and risk a hefty fine after being gunned down by police, or pull over and convince the police officer to give him a police escort.
The police officer sauntered over to Jay’s vehicle.
“Come on, hurry up!” Jay said under his breath while maintaining his hands on his steering wheel.
“License, please,” the officer said when he had reached Jay’s window.
Jay pulled out his wallet and gave the officer his license card.
“Officer, I am an astronomer working for NASA and I have vital information regarding a landing that they need to have as soon as possible. Can you please help me get there in time?” Sweat was now forming on Jay’s brow.
The officer looked at Jay through his reflective glasses. “We’ll see,” was all he said, and he sauntered back to his vehicle. There, he reached into his car and as he leaned on the door frame, he began talking through his radio.
Jay drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He remembered his cell and grabbed it again. Still no reception. He really needed to get a better provider. Trying to find the police officer in his rearview mirror, his heart stopped for a moment when the man suddenly appeared beside him.
“You seem to be legit. Follow me,” he said. Jay let out a sigh of relief.
The officer pulled out in front of Jay, siren blasting. Jay followed him as close as he could. The ride was fast and without further delays. When they reached the gates of the Johnson building, the police vehicle pulled to the side and Jay made a quick salute as he passed the officer.
Ned, NASA’s gatekeeper, let Jay through without a hindrance and Jay sped to the building’s entrance where he left the car open and running. He raced through the corridors of the building. Out of breath, he stumbled into the mission control room.
Steve stood looking at the center big screen. He had one arm resting on his ample belly, hand cradling the elbow of the other, whose fingers were pinching his lips. Everyone in the room was watching the center screen on which only static was visible. The tension in the room was almost palpable.
“Steve, you’ve got to stop the landing!” Jay yelled as he made his way to Steve. He had taken the piece of paper from his pocket and pushed it under Steve’s nose. Steve took the piece of paper and unfolded it.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they’ll die if you don’t. We may all die if you don’t,” Jay said. He flumped into a chair and looked up at Steve. His lungs were burning as if someone had poured acid into them.
“You’re too late,” Steve said. “The landing has just begun. They’re currently entering the atmosphere and we have to wait until they reach the surface before we have contact again.” Steve now read what was on the piece of paper. “Is this a joke?” he asked Jay, who sat with his face in his hands.
“No, it’s not. It’s a translation of a signal I picked up from the planet,” Jay said. His voice was hardly audible.
“What’s does it say?” asked Steve’s assistant. Steve sighed and read the text out loud.
“Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”
Copyrighted (c) by Jacky Dahlhaus