Signal

24 08 2009

The bridge was just one deck up and straddled the centerline of the ship. She opened the hatch and stepped inside, carefully balancing herself and trying not to spill her coffee. The compartment was about the size of a large office. The center of the room contained a flat table that holographically projected a star chart above it. In each of the corners opposite the hatch stood desks with portable computer interfaces strapped to them. Along the starboard bulkhead was a bench that doubled as a cot for the man-at-watch. The rest of the compartment was covered with instruments. Jason was distracted enough not to notice her entrance. He and Manuel were huddled around the star chart studying its holographic image. “There is nothing there.” Jason was saying emphatically.

“Listen, I’m just saying we should have a look. It shouldn’t delay us more than a day.” Manuel straightened up and folded his arms as if it had been decided. Jason noticed her standing just inside the door. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Manuel followed Jason’s gaze to her. “Morning, Atlanta.”

“So what did you find, Manuel?” Atlanta asked, transiting the room.

“We came across an anomalous signal this morning. I’m trying to convince Jason that we should investigate. Jason doesn’t want to delay our transit to Earth.” Manuel raised his eyebrow at Jason.

Jason shifted uneasily not wanting to appear overprotective of Atlanta. “I don’t see the value in it. What would we accomplish? It means nothing. Besides, why postpone our arrival at Earth?”

“Well, what kind of signal are you talking about? Was it a distress signal?” Atlanta asked, ignoring Jason’s agitation.

“It was a radio signal. It was a repeating series of rhythmic pulses on a continuous loop. Listen to this.” Manuel moved toward the radio and flipped a switch. The sound of alternating electronic chirps and blips filled the room.

“Sounds a little like Morse Code. What does it mean?”

“I don’t know. It isn’t Morse Code by the way. If you notice, there are three distinct tones.” He keyed the speaker again. “It doesn’t sound like any coding that I’ve ever heard, except maybe a 20th century modem perhaps,” he added with a chuckle. Manuel noted the interest in Atlanta’s demeanor and pounced on it. “It is intriguing though, isn’t it? A mysterious message coming from an uncharted sector of space.”

Jason could see that Atlanta was mulling it over and recognized the look in her eyes. She had always been one for adventure and he had always felt guilty for being overprotective of her. He wanted her to be happy. But he also didn’t want to see her get hurt. It was a fine line to walk. His instinct was to keep her confined in the safety of his arms. But he knew in his heart that if he tried to hold her back, she would be miserable. Jason also realized that Manuel was aware of this dynamic and felt frustrated when he used it to manipulate the situation. “I just have a bad feeling about it,” Jason finally said in defeat. Manuel really was incorrigible.

“You were saying it would only delay us by about a day?” Atlanta asked setting her coffee on one of the desks. Manuel nodded. “I don’t see the harm in it, Jason,” she said in an earnest voice.

Jason’s acquiescence was complete. “If it is something you want to do, then I guess it will be alright, my dear.”

Manuel could see that he had won and smiled with some swagger. “Let’s change course then.” He clapped his hands together and turned to make it so.

Jason and Atlanta’s eyes met and she flashed a smile at him. He figured it would be okay. It really wouldn’t delay them that much and it would make Atlanta happy. Jason smiled back at her.

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