Coffee Break Read – Madelyn Lawrence

Dense morning fog cloaked the vast mountains that flanked Madelyn Lawrence’s wooden hut. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and drew a long breath of the Peruvian air she had grown to love. In her eleven years as a cultural anthropologist, she had never known a more peaceful place than the Ashaninka village.
Moving to the edge of her hut, where one facing was open to the world, she looked out upon the landscape. From her location on the outskirts of the village, she could see the dozens of huts similar to her own that spackled the lush valley she had called home for the last two years. A profound sense of contentment made her smile. Early morning was her favorite time of day. Nothing but nature’s rhythmic song to accompany her thoughts. Would she ever be willing to leave this place once her research was completed? It wasn’t altogether uncommon for someone in her profession to remain living amongst the people they studied. Many cultural anthropologists had done so from the earliest days of the discipline.
A shrill dinging sound ended her musings. She glanced over at the tablet she kept on a stand next to her bed. The screen flashed once, then went dark. Madelyn frowned—the one piece of modern technology she had brought with her; it was as foreign here as her hut would have been back in Seattle. A small blue light near the top of the tablet blinked on and off in short intervals, leading her thoughts down a difficult path.
Moments ago, she had contemplated staying here with the Ashaninka people, completely disregarding the promise she had made to finish the work she needed for her ethnography and return to her fiancée, Jonathan, within three years. What would he say if he knew? Guilt constricted her throat. He had been nothing but supportive of her taking the trip that would steal three years of their relationship.
Sure, they had realtime chats at least once a day, but that wasn’t the same.
She made her way over to the tablet.
“Check messages.”
“You have one message from Jonathan.”
“Play message.”
The hologram of a well-built man projected from the screen. “Hey, Maddie, I know you don’t really want me to bother you about calls you get while you’re in the field, but I think the message I got last night might be really important. It was from some guy named Mathew Hodgson with the International Space Federation. He said he’s been trying to reach you via email for weeks. He didn’t say what he wanted, but it sounds like the Federation is really interested in contacting you for whatever reason. You might want to inquire. Love you.”
The message ended and Madelyn stood still, her eyes fixed on the tablet. Someone from the International Space Federation was trying to contact her? Why on Earth would they want to contact a cultural anthropologist? She played the message again, more to buy herself time to think than anything. After it ended, she decided to research the man.
“Search Mathew Hodgson of the International Space Federation.”
“Mathew Hodgson is an aerospace engineer and physicist who is best known for his work on the ground-breaking efforts that sent the first satellites into interstellar space in 2174. He is also known for his—“
A famous engineer and physicist was trying to contact her? It had to be a mistake. She put the thought out of her mind and busied herself with fixing breakfast.
Sitting down to a plate of sliced fruit and mixed nuts, she noticed there was still a blinking light on her tablet. Had she somehow managed to miss her realtime with Jonathan? She checked the time. It had only just turned 8:00 a.m. He was two hours behind her time zone, so it was only 6:00 a.m. there. He wouldn’t take lunch for another three hours. It wasn’t like him to contact her while he was on the job.
Curious, and a little concerned, she said, “Check message.”
“You have one message from unknown contact.”
“Play message.”
The hologram of a man she didn’t recognize materialized above the screen. “Hello, Miss Lawrence, my name is Mathew Hodgson. I apologize for this intrusion, but I feared I would not reach you in time if drastic measures weren’t taken. I have been trying to contact you for several weeks now. Please respond to this message as soon as you can. I would love to offer you a brief amount of information about my motive for contacting you, but the information is sensitive, and I would much prefer to relay it to you on a private stream. I hope to hear from you soon.” He finished by giving his private stream code.
The projection retreated into the screen, and Madelyn was staring at the place the man’s image had been. Had she even blinked? What the hell was going on? Words like ‘reach you in time’ and ‘the information is sensitive’ made her uneasy.
How had Hodgson gotten her stream code? She’d given it to Jonathan and her best friend Ashley, no one else. She could hardly fathom the idea that either of them had given out the code.
Mind still churning, she made a small fire under her clay burner so she could brew a cup of tea with the hopes of easing her anxious thoughts, but that did little to help.
It wasn’t long before she gave in to the inevitable.
“Contact Hodgson on the number he left me.”
A holographic loading symbol appeared. “Contacting—Mathew Hodgson.”

From Contact (Instinct Theory #1) by Ian Bristow

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