StrainSubmitted by skrapmetal at 2012-09-25 14:52:29 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 7 ratings (10 reviews) (V)
Frequency (Part 1) https://www.ubersite.com/m/126250
Wavelength (Part 2) https://www.ubersite.com/m/126295
Amplitude (Part 3) https://www.ubersite.com/m/128225
Phase (Part 4) https://www.ubersite.com/m/128227
Tension (Part 5) https://www.ubersite.com/m/128234
In the laboratory far out in the desert, Armstrong and Rhodes listened intently for any sound from the UVLD output. Exactly five hours ago the signal had faded, wavered, and gone silent. For several weeks it had been a steady repetition of the same phrase. “We are near. Death is coming for you. There is no hope. You who abandoned war will be spared. You who embraced war will be destroyed.” Now, the signal was gone.
“If our calculations of the ship's position was correct, there are still a couple days before our signal even reaches them”, said Dr. Rhodes. “They can't even know we've responded.”
Dr. Armstrong was pensive. “Yes, yes, but the signal ceased for a reason. Let's go back over the last few repetitions in the recording again.”
The Message played out several times, and faded out with “We are near. Death is ...”
“It doesn't just stop, does it? It sort of fades out, as though their emitter lost focus.”
“Yes, but I'm not sure how...”
The output from the UVLD had gone from quiet static to silence. Armstrong and Rhodes had both noticed it at the same time. And after a few nervous seconds, once again, the same chilling, unidentifiable voice emanated from the speakers. “We are near. Death is coming for you. There is no hope. You who abandoned war will be spared. You who embraced war will be destroyed.”
For the next nine hours and thirty-seven minutes, the Message repeated just as it had for weeks prior. It was recorded as it always was, and hearing it seemed to be almost normal in the lab, despite the terrible words that were being spoken. But at 20:47, the Message again stopped repeating. Analysis of the recording showed that the signal again faded out rather than simply disappearing, but in this instance it was between repetitions when it did so.
Dr. Armstrong was pacing the floor. He had not slept for thinking about why the UVLD signal was intermittent. Dr. Rhodes had offered explanations such as asteroids or dust interfering with the transmission beam, but those ideas could not explain the length of time the signal was lost. As he entered the UVLD monitoring room, he noticed the time. 09:20. Seeing the clock, he realized how tired he had become. Age, he mused, made staying awake all night far more difficult. As he stretched and yawned, the quiet static from the speakers was replaced by a moment of silence and then the sound “...oyed.” followed by silence.
“Rhodes! I think it's started again!”
Armstrong waited anxiously, glancing at the clock. Dr. Rhodes ran into the room and looked at the monitoring station.
Armstrong said, “It should start in a few seconds...”
The speakers came to life again. “We are near. Death is coming for you. There is no hope. You who abandoned war will be spared. You who embraced war will be destroyed.” And so it went, for another nine hours and fourteen minutes.
“Rhodes! It's not dust or asteroids! It's beam divergence!” Dr. Armstrong was shouting into the intercom. “Rhodes, get the General or whichever of his staff is awake and meet me in the conference room. Bring the latest location coordinates for the Ship and meet me in the conference room!”
Armstrong had the conference room table draped with coordinate printouts and hand sketches, and was intently conversing with Rhodes when the General arrived. The General looked groggy, and carried a large cup of coffee. “So you've determined why the signal is dropping off?” he said.
“Yes, General, I think we may have. If my hypothesis is correct, we will lose the signal again tonight around 21:00 and get it back about nine hours later. I think the reason it's happening is that our UVLD is passing in and out of the divergence cone of their UVLE beam.”
“How can that be?” asked the General.
“A laser cannot be perfectly focused, so there will be some beam divergence. That divergence is in the shape of a cone. On Earth over small distances the divergence makes little difference, but as in our test from Earth to Mare Crisium we had to adjust the focus for minimum divergence. The better the divergence control, the narrower the cone. Our UVLD receives the signal when it's within the divergence cone, but there's nothing to receive when it's outside the cone. Based on the location, direction, and speed of the Ship, as well as we can measure those, and our location on Earth, Dr. Rhodes and I have calculated some features of that cone. We will test the hypothesis tonight.”
The General was puzzled. “Why would a Ship capable of sending a Message like this one have problems aiming their UVLE so we could receive it?”
“I cannot postulate on that, General. Perhaps, if the test bears out, we will know more.”
At 20:00, the scientists and the General were all in the UVLD monitoring booth, listening. At 20:58 the static faded, and a short time later, the Message began again. Dr. Armstrong was elated, and clapped Dr. Rhodes and the General on the back.
“We have some calculations to do!” said Armstrong, motioning to Rhodes to accompany him to the conference room. “If we know we're at the edge of the cone, I want to know where the center is. That may give us some new information about the Ship and where exactly it's heading. The signal should maintain about nine hours. We'll see it that holds true.”
The General held up his hand. “Are you saying that the Ship may not be headed for Earth at all?”
“No, General I'm not indicating anything like that without doing the math first. It is only a possibility.”
“Dr. Armstrong, I believe you had calculated that our signal would be reaching the Ship about now, had you not?”
Armstrong seemed momentarily taken aback. He had nearly forgotten sending the Response. “Yes, General, if we aimed the UVLE properly it should be arriving there in... about four hours.”
The General stared at the scientist. “I hope that in sending our Response, we have not made ourselves an unintended target.”