After getting a refreshing night’s sleep, Carson, Brody and Jennifer wake up early after their first night in the new underground residence they’d been granted. Their bunker rooms were comfortable, and had all the essentials. The only downfall was the community shower room, which ended up becoming more like a locker room shower after Carson and Brody had gotten their hands on it – the two constantly throwing soap at each other as they attempted to dry off.
After the group washes up, they make their way to the top floor, squinting their eyes at the rising sun. Brody knew this was the day he had set aside to look at the signal app, trying to interpret the information they had received – and he was eager to get started. Walking to a small shack with a patio outside, Carson and Brody sit down as they look at the make-shift menus. The base had set up the tiny building to resemble a coffee shop. Sitting down at the table, Brody points to a teenage girl who’s walking around serving drinks and breakfast.
Carson, pointing at an older guy three tables down, disagrees. “Nope. Him.”
Brody’s pick approaches the table.
“Dammit! I’m like zero for the century nowadays.” Carson says as he throws a $20 bill at Brody. “Have fun spending that!”
He was being sarcastic, of course. Money meant nothing now. The napkins in front of them held more practical value than the twenty he’d wadded up. In fact, the girl taking their drink orders was doing so simply because that was the community role which she had chosen – making her contribution for the benefit of the base. Everyone had a responsibility, and each day they would take care of the task which they had chosen or been assigned. People worked in four hour shifts, then the rest of the day was theirs to enjoy. Everything was provided – food, water, clothing, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc., and was made possible by the collective efforts of each resident.
Seeing the pair under the umbrella table, little Caitlin runs up to them.
“HEY UNCLE CARSON! Are you gonna teach me a game today?”
“Good morning pretty girl!” Carson says as she plops herself in his lap. “I sure am!”
Reaching under his chair, Carson pulls out a Checkers game kit that he had brought with him in anticipation of Caitlin’s request.
“Alright Cait. You ready to learn the coolest game in the world?!”
“Yeah!” She says.
As Carson and Caitlin have their game of checkers, Brody stands up and walks over to Jennifer, who was drinking a cup of coffee and reading a book at a table by herself.
“May I?” He asks, pulling out a chair.
“All yours”, she says with a smile.
As he adjusts his seat, Brody looks at Jennifer. “So I know we haven’t really had a chance to talk…just the two of us I mean.”
Jennifer, setting her book down, quizzically looks at Brody. “Yeah?”
“Well, I really don’t want this to come out the wrong way. But…you know how you knew about the whole thirty-two month left to live thing and didn’t tell us?”
“I know, I know – just hear me out. I’m not saying you’re intentionally hiding stuff or anything. I just want to make sure there’s nothing else going on that you’re aware of that…you know…we may not know about.”
Leaning forward, Jennifer looks directly at Brody. “There isn’t, Brody. I promise you, there isn’t. And if I weren’t afraid that our lives were at stake, I would have told you about the timeline in the first place. I’m telling you, you have no idea what some of those people are capable of.”
Pausing for a moment to think, Brody eventually decides she’s being honest.
“Fair enough then. Because you know, that assassin chick has been on my mind lately. And I definitely wouldn’t want to put anyone in a situation that could be avoided just because of some loose ends or unknown drama, you know?”
After hearing this, Jennifer becomes slightly uncomfortable. To be truthful, she wasn’t sure what was going on with Yuri and his agents. For all she knew they could show up on her doorstep any day. No one had a clue how much of the communications grid was still up and running at this point, so it was possible that Jennifer could be located via satellite feeds or other mechanisms that were still active. It gave her a lingering fear of always having to watch her back. If Viktoriya had caught her off guard when society was functioning normally, there was no reason it couldn’t happen again during the collapse – in fact it would probably be easier, given all the confusion. Jennifer had to keep a constant guard up, unbeknownst to the rest of her companions.
“I won’t lie Brody, I don’t know what Yuri is capable of – but I would never want to put anyone in jeopardy on account of me.”
“Do you think they’d come after you again?” He asks.
“As much as I want to tell you they won’t, I honestly don’t know. I can’t think of a good reason for them to, though. After all, my work was basically done after we detected the thing – the rest was up to the analysts and NASA headquarters. That said, Yuri is an unpredictable man. You never really know what he’s going to do.”
Slightly reassured but not completely at ease, Brody sighs. “Well, I really appreciate you being honest with me, Jenn. I guess we’ll just have to keep our heads on a swivel. Come on, let’s go join the kids.” He says, laughing and walking towards Carson and Caitlin.
Approaching the table and taking a seat, Brody and Jennifer watch as the pair finished up their game of checkers.
“I win!!” Caitlin yells.
“What the?!” Carson says, pretending to be surprised. “Nicely done little lady”, he says, giving her a fist bump.
A faint yell echoes across the base. “Caitlin! Come eat your breakfast!”
“Coming Daddy!” Caitlin replies, standing up and running over to Shawn.
Smiling as he watches her leave, Carson turns back to Brody and Jennifer.
“Alright. Let’s look at this little message of ours.”
“FINALLY!” Brody says as he whips out his phone.
The three lean in and take a long look at the screen. The series of characters they had received were distinct, and clearly meant to represent a specific message. There were several triangular glyphs, pointing in different directions and occasionally accompanied by what seemed like random marks. It was completely foreign syntax to them.
After a few seconds looking at the message, Jennifer looks up at Brody.
“So do you have any clue whatsoever what in the world this means? Are you SURE this wasn’t mistakenly picked up from somewhere on Earth?”
Brody shakes his head. “No, there’s no way it could’ve been. We configured it specifically to ignore anything originating from here. My buddy helped us out with it; communications stuff is what he does for a living. And no, I don’t have any idea what this could mean.”
Carson snickers. “What if they’re saying surrender your horses and women?”
“Very funny”, Jennifer says, casually rolling her eyes. “But really, that’s actually a good point…what if this was a bad idea? Anything capable of this type of sophistication would surely be able to destroy us if they wanted to.”
Brody stifles a laugh. “Well, if that’s the case, does it really matter anyway? The world is ending, remember? Plus, I think death by alien invasion is a heck of a lot cooler than a stupid space rock. That’d make for a hell of an epitaph. ‘Here lies Brody Jenkins, pioneer of humanity and better looking than Carson. Killed by alien death ray. May he rest in peace and haunt them for all eternity.’”
“Valid point”, Jennifer says with a smile. “Well what do we do now?”
Before Brody puts his phone away, Carson takes one last look at the message. “Well, I think first we should look for someone who has experience in linguistics or code-breaking. Maybe there’s some sort of pattern we don’t know to look for.”
“And where do you think we can find someone like that?” Brody asks.
“Good question”, Carson replies. “Let’s ask Jacob. We are on a military base after all.”
Chatting for a few more minutes as they finish their coffee, the three leave their table and start walking around the base to look for Jacob. Finally locating him at the entrance to the hangar covering the underground facility, they approach him as he’s speaking to one of his officers.
Carson slowly walks in and interrupts the conversation. “Hey Jacob, do you have a sec by any chance? We have a question for you.”
Waving his hand to dismiss the marine, he turns to the group. “Sure thing Carson. Shoot.”
“Well, we were wondering if the base has a linguistics officer or something along those lines. Or maybe someone who does code-breaking.”
Jacob raises his eyebrow. “We have a language expert, yes. May I ask why you’re looking for one?”
Brody steps forward and shows him the message. “Well, this is going to sound pretty strange, but we sort of built a device awhile back that broadcasts a message to the universe in hopes we could signal some sort of…well, aliens. Man, that sounds freakin’ crazy now that I hear it.” He adds, laughing.
“Are you telling me you received a response??” Jacob asks, shocked.
Carson nods his head. “Yeah, we did. But we have no idea what it might mean.”
“That’s incredible…” Jacob says, still caught off guard. “If you guys are right about what you’re telling me and this isn’t a mistake, then this is the biggest news since…well, ever. We need to look into this immediately.”
Picking up his radio, he calls for his linguistics officer to report to the front of the hangar.
“’Toya, I need you to report to me immediately. It’s urgent.”
After a few seconds Lieutenant Latoya Franklin, the base’s communications and linguistics officer, answers.
“I’m helping a few new arrivals get settled in. Can it wait?”
Jacob responds tersely. “No, it cannot. I need you now.”
“On my way, sir.”
After waiting for several minutes, Lt. Franklin finally makes it to the tarmac. Walking up to the group, she pans over them, clearly confused.
“Reporting, sir. May I ask what’s going on?”
Before anyone can respond, Jacob steps forward. “Wait.” He says with his hand up. “Follow me.”
Walking down two levels, he turns and enters an unlocked utility room, devoid of inhabitants. The group follows him in as he closes the door.
“We can’t have this discussion in public.” He says. “If it is what I think it is, at least. Brody – show her.”
Handing his phone to her, Brody shows the message to the communications officer.
“What do you think ‘Toya?” Jacob asks.
Looking at the figures, Lt. Franklin seems enamored. “Well I think I know the language, but I can’t translate it. It…It’s an ancient language sir. Sumerian if I’m not mistaken. The same thing you always see in movies and whatnot.” Glancing up at Brody, she pauses, obviously thinking. “What was the origin of this message?”
Brody laughs. “Hell if I know. All I can tell you is that Carson and I slaved over that damn signal for weeks, until it was capable of blasting out every signal imaginable. My buddy also rigged it to receive anything that might be a response. Then it forwards the response to the app on my phone.”
“Would it help to check on the receiving unit directly? What if there’s something more complicated that the machine couldn’t translate? Would it still forward it to your phone?” Latoya asks.
“That’s actually a really good question. I don’t know. I mean we didn’t really know what the hell we were doing. And it’s not like we actually expected to hear anything back.” Brody says, confused.
“Well where is the point of origin – the source that received the message?”
“Nashville”, Carson says. “On the rooftop of the high-rise I live in. Or lived in, whatever.”
Latoya looks at Jacob, who nods in approval. “Get a team together. A small team – and keep it quiet. We’re going to Nashville.” He says.
Saluting him, Latoya smiles. “Yessir.”