Coffee Break Read – The Only Planet?

Madelyn got comfortable in a chair as she watched the loading symbol swirl in a clockwise motion. The projection morphed, now displaying Hodgson’s bust.
“Miss Lawrence—I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally speak with you.”
“About that,” Madelyn said. “How the hell did you get my stream code?”
“It wasn’t easy, but I assure you, I will not retain the code any longer than needed.”
“That’s a bull shit answer.” Hodgson didn’t reply, and his expression remained eloquent.
“Anyway, I’m in the middle of some really important fieldwork, and it’s imperative that I’m left alone while gathering data for an ethnography. My work must be authentic and cohesive, or I won’t be able to publish—”
“Exactly.”
“Exactly?” Madelyn echoed, unsure.
“Yes, Miss Lawrence. Exactly. You see, the dedication you have for your craft became more than evident when I read the work you compiled in Africa. You spent eight years working on that book, and it is one of the most comprehensive ethnographies I’ve read—mind you that is saying something. I’m no stranger to the offerings of the world’s top anthropologists. Some truly remarkable works have been released over the last few decades.”
Such praise left Madelyn stammering. “I—uh—thanks. That’s quite the compliment.”
“I assure you, it’s not more than you deserve. Now, on to the reason I have contacted you. First of all, is there anyone who will hear our conversation from your current location?”
“No, I’m alone in my hut, and anyone that might hear us can’t understand English.”
“Good—because what I’m about to tell you is sensitive information.”
“Yeah, you said that in your message.”
“Indeed.” Hodgson’s hologram paused, as if taking a moment to consider what he was about to say. “You may be aware of the fact that I was at the helm of a project that sent the first satellites into interstellar space in 2174.”
“I am aware of that, yes.”
“Well, I know you will struggle to accept this, but in the first year, one of those satellites did what we so desperately hoped it would do. It discovered alien life.”
Madelyn laughed. Not only was this guy some kind of creep who could get her private number, he was also out of his mind.
“So let me get this straight, you’re trying to tell me you’ve discovered life on another planet?”
“Yes. And more to the point, we have confirmation that it is intelligent. Our satellites have been in orbit for nearly four years, gathering data. Being the hopeful type, I insisted that each satellite be equipped with a small rover drone in order to further explore any planets that showed promise. That decision has paid dividends. We now have hours of recordings from the planet’s surface, many of which reveal that the life forms have a language system of some kind.”
Madelyn shook her head. “This is crazy! I mean, shit—I’m just waiting for the punchline here. It’s not really easy to believe what you’re telling me.”
“I would be shocked if you didn’t have a hard time digesting what I’m telling you. Not many would accept such information without needing some kind of evidence or attempting some amount of rationalization.”
“I guess my question now is why? Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Oh, come now. Don’t insult my intelligence—or your own for that matter. You know exactly why I’m telling you.”
“But—I mean—it’s not like I can actually go there and study them.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Miss Lawrence. Ever since we discovered life, we’ve been laboring to finalize the project we already had in the works. The first passenger ship equipped to accommodate interstellar space travel is awaiting its maiden voyage.”
Madelyn covered her mouth. “You can’t be serious…”
“I’ve never been more serious about anything in all my life. I realize this must be a bit overwhelming for you, so I will give you a few days to think it over. We have already assembled a team for the first mission. You are the last one, and might I just say, the most essential. Had I been able to reach you when I first tried, you would have far more time to think.”
“Not your fault.”
“Unfortunate nonetheless… Either way, I cannot express to you how important it is to have a top cultural anthropologist on the team, and you are my first choice. Please give this opportunity your utmost consideration.”
A silent nod was all Madelyn could muster in response.
“I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
The projection faded, leaving the screen as blank as Madelyn’s thoughts.
She took a few steps toward the edge of her hut and surveyed the landscape. What she saw now was no longer just a valley in Peru. It was Earth: the only planet she had ever known to harbor life.
Until now.

From Contact (Instinct Theory #1) by Ian Bristow

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