February 15, 2048
Dale Berkner tried to wake up his daughter. “Shelly? Shelly? Come on, get up. It's time.”
Shelly fussed in bed. “Mmmmmfffpphh…”
“Come on, honey. It's time to see the spaceship.”
Shelly rubbed her eyes. She wasn't a cute little kid anymore, but a young woman just over the threshold of adolescence. Dale remembered how she used to bound out of bed each morning to wake him up. Now it was a struggle to get her to move before noon on any particular day. Given today's reveille call at 2AM, Dale struggled harder than ever to rouse his daughter.
He had to. It wasn't just because of the significance of the events at hand. It wasn't just because he needed to spend more time with her. She had to get pictures of the thing for her science class, or she'd flunk this grading period. “Shelly, get moving. Do you want to be grounded?”
Shelly started to sit up. Dale kept pushing. “Come on. You don't have enough time for the other projects. Get this over with and you can sleep easy.”
“I'm getting up!”
“Not fast enough. Come on. It's Saturday, you can go right to bed after this is over.” Dale tugged on Shelly's arm.
“Make that noise again and I'll ground you from something for a week!”
“All right, you're waking up. Let's get something warm on, honey.”
“OK, OK, OK.”
Dale left Shelly's room and went into the kitchen. The coffee brewed on. The smell should help get Shelly up. Dale leaned close to it and inhaled deeply. Ahhhhh.
Shelly thumped into the kitchen just as the coffee finished brewing. Little Miss Sunshine grumbled at the world beneath her messy hair and from behind half-open eyes. Dale said, “It's not my fault you didn't tell us about this until yesterday, with everything due Monday. If you had told us three weeks ago, when your teacher announced the projects, you could have done a model of a cell. That's easy. Now you gotta work hard to get a good grade.”
Shelly just yawned and started to peel a banana. Dale shook his head and sipped his coffee. Bless her heart, but she's a pain to wake up. He smiled and took another sip.
Outside, the world rested peacefully as Dale set up the telescope and camera. Shelly stood a few feet off, shivering. It wasn't that cold, but Shelly always tended to be a drama queen when it came to issues of personal discomfort.
“Can't I do the marble maze instead?”
“No. We'd have to mess with wood and stuff and you have no idea how to use the tools. I don't have either the time or the inclination to do it for you.” Dale adjusted a lens.
“You're doing this for me.”
“I'm setting it up and coaching you on it and you're taking the pictures.” Dale made sure the thing was in focus.
Dale stood up to look straight at Shelly. “Because we can. We're out here in the country, away from city lights, and we've got an amazing view without any light pollution. The spaceship is up there and we have a telescope that can bring it into view. You take the pictures and write a little something about it and get a good grade on an assignment you should be flunking because you started working on it at the last minute.”
“Now come on over here, so you can get your hands dirty.”
“Not like that. I mean actually use the technology.”
“Oh.” Shelly shuffled over to the telescope, getting dirt all over her bunny slippers.
“OK, now you look in this lens here.”
“Why not the one at this end?”
“There isn't one at that end. You use the one up here at the front.”
“Oh.” Shelly shuffled a few feet to the front of the telescope.
“Don't put your hand there. You might smudge the front lens. Put it behind your back if you need to rest it.”
“OK.” Shelly took her hand off the front of the telescope, brushed her hair back, and looked through the lens. “Wow. It's bright. That's the spaceship?”
“Yep.” Dale watched his daughter lovingly. “It's in transit from Jupiter to Mars. Don't know why it's doing that and not coming here, where all the life is, but maybe they have their reasons.”
“Maybe there's life on Mars.”
“Maybe. Or maybe they're just taking in the sights. Who knows?”
Shelly kept looking through the telescope. “Will they come here?”
Dale looked up at the stars. “Don't rightly know. It's not like we can expect them to change their schedule for us.”
“Yeah, but aren't we sending up messages to them?”
Dale picked up the camera and got it ready. “Well, we are. Don't mean they're going to respond to them.”
“It's really fuzzy. How come I can't get a picture like what the observatories get?”
Dale tapped Shelly on the shoulder and she stood up. He fastened the camera to the telescope and stepped back. “Atmosphere. It distorts light. The observatories are on satellites and such, where they don't have to contend with air. Now take some pictures and we can finish the rest of the research later on.”
Shelly used one hand to take the pictures and the other to hold her coat tighter.
Dale asked, “Why do you suppose it's so bright, Shelly?”
Shelly kept clicking.
“Come on. Why do you suppose it's so?”
“I don't know.”
“Come on. Think.”
Shelly kept clicking the camera as she shrugged. “I don't know.”
“Aw, Shelly, it's not that early in the morning. Come on, what else is shiny like that?”
Shelly frowned and quit snapping pictures. “Do I have enough, dad?”
“Well, how many did you take?”
“I don't know.”
“Well, look at the camera. How many pictures are left?”
“OK, so that means you took fourteen pictures. Let's take this inside.” Dale took the camera off the telescope. He handed the camera to Shelly as he secured the telescope. “And Shelly?”
“Hmm?” The sleepy child didn't even bother to turn around as she walked toward the house.
“You're still going to have to answer that question when you wake up again. Keep thinking about it.”
“MMMF!” Shelly stomped, rather than shuffled, her way back inside.
I guess this alien thing isn't a big deal for everyone…Dale put the telescope away. When he got back inside, he sat and thought a while, speculating about what was in that fuzzy, bright blur hurtling through space toward Mars.