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Okeefenokee Moon

December 31, 2047

“Dr. Sakai?” Miriam jogged up next to the director, flush and out of breath.

“Yes?” Seiji turned to see what was wanted.

“I know you've got a real important meeting, but I need five minutes to tell you this.” Miriam pushed some stray hair out of her face.

Seiji knew he wouldn't be bothered if it wasn't related to the anomaly. “All right. What do you have?”

“It's in position near Jupiter. Very close. Almost in the atmosphere. We've got the Galileos and Affies all over it.”

“That is significant. Do you have data with you?”

Miriam produced the folder she had schlepped all the way from her cubicle two blocks and 20 floors away. She pushed her glasses back up her nose.

Seiji flipped through the thick folder. He found positional charts. He studied them. “Do we have video of its movement?”

“Yes, but we can't release it yet.”

“Why not?”

“Air Force won't let it out.”

“We're no longer a civilian operation?”

“Not with their equipment.”

“See if we can get anything with private stuff. It's moving normally, right?”

“It's not blinking around anymore, if that's what you mean.”

“Yes. Quit using the Affies and use just what we own. Same goes for any other loaner equipment, not just the Government's.”

“All right. Nobody wants to move without your approval.” Miriam got her cell phone and started dialing.

Seiji held his hand out. “No. That can get monitored. No idea who's listening and we need to proceed carefully with this. Don't rush, act calm, but get back there and stop using the Air Force arrays and get as much of our stuff pointing at Jupiter as you can.”

“OK. I have contacts outside our group. Should I get them involved?”

“You mean outside the L5 Observatories or just outside the New York office?”

“Both. All the L5 people are on it already, so this would really be for outside L5, although the part about not using the –“

“No. Do not take this outside. The community should know about this, but not yet. I need to get into this meeting.”

“All right.” Miriam plodded off back to the L5 Observatory offices.

Seiji walked passed the armed guards and into the meeting, scanning through the contents of the folder.

Seiji came in late, but the meeting hadn't started yet. The US Secretary of Defense, Paul Waite, the only other participant in this closed session, hadn't arrived. Seiji took the time to read through the folder more carefully...

The thing's orbiting Jupiter. No question about it.

So was it going to make just the one planetary stop, or will it make a general survey of the solar system? Is it a robot or a manned vessel or… what? Are we actually going to see aliens?

Seiji shuddered at the implications. The Unknown quit lurking in the shadows and remote places and had just plopped itself on the front doorstep. The forest of space just outside the hamlet of Earth just acquired beasts, ghosts, goblins, even dragons. Grendel had returned to Hrothgar's hall and brought the Dark Ages mentality with him.

People would think of these aliens as angels and demons and everything in between. The imagination would supply the details left unsaid in the data.

I expect that's why Waite's late. Going over how they're going to handle things.

They can't keep this sort of thing quiet. Not with amateur astronomers and all. It'll be quite obvious to the whole world, very soon.

It's definitely an interesting time to be an astronomer.

Seiji was about to hunker down and pore over a complicated chart, but Paul Waite entered the room.

Paul grabbed a chair and brought it over to Seiji's table. Paul sat across from Seiji and got down to business. “It's in orbit around Jupiter.”

Seiji pushed the folder to his left. “Yes. It is.”

“I'm no scientist, but the whole thing sounds like alien intelligence to me.” Seiji nodded. “Once this is generally known, we're going to have all kinds of situations to deal with and contingencies to plan for. All things considered, I'd like to see the observatories break the news.”

Seiji nodded. That made good sense. People won't trust the government to tell the truth if it goes first. “Thank you, Mr. Secretary. How do you propose we break the news?”

“Tell them the Martians want our women.” Seiji and Paul had a good laugh with that one. “I don't know, really. Just about any way we can say it is bound to enrage somebody and throw someone else into a panic. As soon as you say, 'alien', people will stop listening and start imagining.”

True enough. Seiji said, “How about a very thick broadcast of the findings of this conference? Loads of terms, equations, charts, things like that. Turn a fire hose on the general public. Make this as boring as possible.”

“All due respect, Dr. Sakai, but this is the most exciting thing in history. How can it possibly be boring?”

Seiji held up a stack of charts. “With enough raw mathematics, anything can be boring.” Paul smirked in his consensus.

Paul said, “Sounds as good a way as anything. Full, boring disclosure.”

“Even the data from the military equipment you lent us and anyone else. It must be disclosed, all of it, with no cover-up at all, or someone will get wind of it and make this thing panic-worthy.”

Paul nodded. “We are prepared to go along with that. L5 didn't get to use our best stuff, so that's what we'll let go. Our own data stays our own.”

“I think we can all agree to that.” Seiji said.

“Excellent.” Paul rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. “Now we need to compose the official statement.”

“How about getting some lunch, first?”

“Sure. Chinese?”

“How about a pizza? I work better under pressure with a pizza.”

“Fine with me.” Paul got up and got a guard's attention. “Hey, order up some pizzas for us. We're going to be here for a while. I'd like a sausage and mushroom and the good doctor here will have…”

“Just cheese.”

“A plain cheese one. Get us some drinks and order some for you guys out here. Make sure I get the bill.”

“Yes sir. Bread sticks, too?”

“I don't see why not.”

The young soldier smiled at the Secretary of Defense and imagined the banquet to come.

Paul sat back down with Seiji and took his computer out of his briefcase. “Time to get composing the official cover letter. Have your people compile a ton of impenetrable charts. We can release the whole thing on Friday, after the markets close. We just need to get this done ASAP so our people can pick over it.” He turned on the computer and put his fingers on the home keys. “One hell of a New Years' Party we're gonna have, huh?”

“You type, I'll dictate.” Seiji smiled. Public speaking was a bear, but dictation rocked. He cracked his knuckles, then settled in his chair and closed his eyes as he started dictating what he knew would become one of the most important documents in human history.

Maybe they would finish in time to go get drunk. Seiji felt inspired by that thought. “Anomalous objects are actually common occurrences in astronomy, ranging from small asteroids on up to undiscovered galaxies of unusual characteristics…”