Rough Draft: “Exo: What Lies Beyond”


PROLOGUE: A Signal from the Stars

Location: SETI Observatory, California

Time: 3:15 A.M. Local time

Date: April 23, 2022 A.D.

“If this isn’t an insanely beautiful woman I’m hanging up…what did you call me about at three in the morning?” Dr. Allen Wilshire, chief of the SETI project based in northern California grumbled, rolling out of bed in his San Diego home. “Boss, listen to this.” the voice of one of his graduate students echoed loudly in his ear…followed by a very different sound. A loud, sustained series of beeps and whistles rang in his ears through the satellite phone’s speakers. “What is that noise?” “It’s a signal, boss.” “From where?” “We don’t know.” “Did you go through standard protocol?” “Yes sir…we scanned for any radio signals coming from Earth…nothing on Earth uses this frequency.” Dr. Wilshire’s heart started to pound. Could this really be it? “The odds are you discovered a secret military signal, there are some major defense contractors based up there…but since you called me at 3:15 A.M., I guess I can come up there and check it out in the morning.” Dr. Wilshire said, trying to temper his expectations. He had been director of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project since 2016, and just like every other scientist who had worked on the project before him, every time the massive radio telescopes detected a signal coming from space, it always turned out to be a false alarm, and the scientists who discovered it were left with the bitter taste of disappointment in their mouths. Dr. Wilshire believed that this instance would be no different. However, his employees did seem far more excited than usual. Had it only been a passing airplane or a military installation, surely that would have been detected during standard protocol, where the observers would sort through billions of radio signals on Earth, looking for a match. His employees said that there were no matches for anything on Earth. The more Dr. Wilshire thought about it, the more and more he began to believe that this was the real deal. Dr. Wilshire, a single man in his early 30s, stood up from his bed and hastily threw his clothes on, walking anxiously out the front door into the chilly, early-morning darkness. He jumped into his car, started the engine and pulled out of his garage; in his excitement, he nearly knocked the trash can at the end of the driveway over as he began the two-hour trip up to the observatory to meet the nightwatch team, monitoring the heavens for any sign of E.T. So far, the project had found nothing. However, that looked as if it was about to change.

“Wow, you showed up early.” Graduate student Darren McAllister said as Dr. Wilshire walked into the SETI offices near the observatory. “I was going to wait until morning, but I decided I couldn’t delay this. Where is the signal?” “Over here, Doc. We’ve been receiving it all night. The message just repeats over and over again. We’ve been printing it out on paper for the past 3 hours.” Dr. Wilshire walked over to the printer and observed the pages and pages of encrypted code being printed onto the paper. Indeed, it was the same message, repeating over and over again…thousands of times. The code read simply: “QQQQQXXXXXXXWW33” The signal was more than five hundred thousand times stronger than the surrounding static present throughout the Universe, indicating that it was indeed artificial. “What does that mean?” “We’ll have to run it through the decoder before we can actually read the message…I can do that right now…let me just stream the message through the decoder and…” McAllister tapped a few buttons on his keyboard and hit the enter key. In a few short seconds, the message was appearing on the printer paper in plain English. It read, as clear as day, “GodisNowhere” The scientists watched, puzzled, as the message appeared on the paper over and over again. If this really was a message from E.T., it was a very strange one indeed. “God is Nowhere? Are you sure this came from outer space? It seems more like you tapped into some atheist radio show if you ask me.” “We went though basic protocols, Doc. No matches for any frequency on Earth.” “That doesn’t make sense. The message mentions God, it had to have come from Earth. Run the scan again. I think you guys must have missed something…” Dr. Wilshire grumbled, feeling that bitter taste of disappointment begin to creep through his mouth. “We can do that. McAllister said. It will take us only a few minutes. Commencing global band radio scan.” McAllister keyed a few more commands into his computers and scanned the entire planet’s radio dial for a match to the “God is Nowhere” signal. Again, all signals were null: no matches. “See, Doc? No matches.” “Well then, the only explanation is that you found some sort of encrypted network, one not on any public radio channel. Any mention of God has to be from Earth. Still, I think the public is going to want to know about this. Prepare a press release, but DO NOT under ANY circumstances, mention the word “alien,” “UFO,” or “spacecraft” to the media. I don’t want to be responsible for creating a media frenzy unless it’s the real deal.” “Will do, boss.” McAllister said, promptly getting to work on preparing the press release to the public. Dr. Wilshire turned away and sighed. It wasn’t what he had hoped for, but it was something. And anything discovered by SETI was something worth getting excited about.

                    1. Phenomenon

The following morning, the press release went public with the “God is Nowhere” signal, allegedly from space. Though the SETI institute was careful not to assume anything in its report on the strange signal, the public quickly took it to heart. Social media, the ubiquitious Internet communication medium of the 21st Century, lit up with thousands of theories on what the signal could mean, everything from secret government codes to occult rituals near Devil’s Gate Dam were postulated, but few of these theories suspected aliens. After all, unlike the federal government, the SETI Institute had no reason to deceive the public on such a topic. SETI was privately funded. If there had been any aliens involved, SETI would have made it public knowledge immediately. To the masses this was just a flavor of the month story that would be forgotten again within a week. However, people always found it fun to speculate…however, that morning, something had reached the desk of SETI that gave Dr. Wilshire pause again. In an e-mail from a SETI colleague in India, he had asked Dr. Wilshire to interpret a strange series of events near Bangalore, a city in southern India. In the great fields of grain outside the city and across the Indian subcontinent, strange patterns had appeared in farmer’s fields overnight. The designs were incredibly intricate, it would take someone with a genius IQ to even comprehend such a design. The colleague, Dr. Sandeep Sinjar, was currently on a flight from Mumbai to Los Angeles to meet with him about the patterns in the fields, knowing very well what Dr. Wilshire and his graduate students had discovered the night before. “Apparently Dr. Sinjar thinks what we found is real.” Darren told his professor. “We can’t assume anything. A strange radio signal and some crop circles do not equal proof of aliens. I think this signal is just an invitation for jokers and hoaxers the world over to play one gigantic practical joke on the people of planet Earth. Think Orson Wells with his “War of the Worlds” broadcast. It was all a joke, but people believed it to be very real. Now, in the age of the Internet, starting a global hoax is even easier, this is like one of those chain letters from the MySpace era, one person does something clever, then another, then another and soon everyone on Earth thinks we’re being invaded by men from Mars. Those circles are pranks. They’ve already been debunked, a group of people can make a design like that in less than four hours using planks of wood and cord string. I’m not convinced. Still, it is interesting.” Dr. Wilshire said, looking out over the pine-studded canyons of Lassen National Forest, where SETI’s observatory was located. The location looked like a place straight out of a Tolkien novel, with massive pine forests and the shadow of Lassen Peak, a dormant volcano, towering over the forest. The morning sun shined radiantly over the pine forest, with fog rolling off the mountains…it was a truly beautiful place to have any observatory.


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