The House That Jack Built
Ultimately, it’s more of an inconsistent cry into the void than the conversation starter it could have been.
[Editor's note: This is a continuation of a story Roger was working on when he passed away. This ending is one of many we received. To read Roger's beginning to the story, from the end of which each entry picks up the thread, go here. Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.]
Kimberly Ikemori writes:
Claire handed back Mason's iPhone.
"Don't get me wrong, I think you're onto something. But let's think about this more, before we come up with anymore crazy theories. Like anything else, we need evidence," said Mason
"Why—do you have a better theory? Care to share it with the rest of us?" Regan said.
When suddenly there was a text message on Mason's phone alerting him to another pattern that had come through. This one was different than the first, a low hum followed by buzzing sound. Mason and his team at the lab spent hours upon end looking into patterns and variations. After a night at the lab he finished work and headed home. He turned on the news as he cooked his dinner. He only half paid attention to what was on screen, the report spoke of computer security. All it takes is a simple code of binary to bring down a security system? thought Mason. When he was suddenly hit with an idea. Mason dropped what he was doing and set his iPhone in the dock as he piped it through the speakers of his apartment. He could hear the low hum and buzzing sound soon after. It was all clear, something we humans could understand he thought. He immediately grabbed his white board off his desk and began to transcribe what he heard. A few hours later he found himself staring at the series of 0 and 1's that filled the entire space of the white board. It was a message, he was certain of it. But who was the message intended for? thought Mason as he fell back on to his couch and stared up at the ceiling of his apartment.
The next day at the lab began like all the rest. Mason decided to keep the information to himself until he was able to discern the message. If in fact there was one and he didn't know for sure at the moment. But he couldn't wait until he got home.
"I don't know what to make of it," said Regan. "I mean the first one is clearly music, the second one is nothing but gibberish," He could hear her but his mind remained elsewhere.
"Hey, are you listening to me?" asked Regan
"No, you weren't." said Regan
"I need some coffee," replied Mason followed by a yawn. "I'm headed to the cafe, do you want anything?"
Later that night, the series of 0 and 1 began to take form. There was yet another series of numbers hidden within. Many were in pairs. He wondered if there were another pattern hidden deeper in the numbers but fell short. This time he needed help and decided to go to his colleagues. He presented his finding at the lab.
"Well, from what I can see," said Elliot "You've got a lot of numbers in what looks like a random order but, I managed to cross reference them and I came up with a location,"
"A location?" echoed Mason
"Those numbers coincide with the coordinates to a specific location," explained Elliot
"Where?" asked Regan excitedly
"Pack your bag kids, we're going to New Mexico," said Elliot.
Mason always knew the three of them made a good team. Using some of the money from the University the team packed up and headed out to investigate the meaning of the coordinates.
Mason found himself checking into the local Holiday Inn. He checked into his room and began laying out equipment to calibrate it for their journey into the desert. It would take them three days to get out to the middle of nowhere and had rented a jeep. They would get an early start by piling all of their equipment into the jeep at 4am. Elliot had suggested that they take shifts in order for them to maintain their stamina for the road ahead.
Mason had arrived his GPS pointing to the exact position. They had come upon a flat desert. He was clearly disappointed spouting off expletives to the sky.
"Are you sure this is the place?" asked Mason
"Yes, triple checked in fact," said Elliot
"We can't be wasting grant money on this wild goose chase. If we don't find anything, payment for this trip is coming out of our pockets," said Regan who sat upon the jeep's hood. They parked beneath a mountain and there was nothing but desert for miles and the sun was just about to set. They would be spending the night in the jeep.
"This is not how I imagined spending my time. Sleeping in a parked car with the two of you," Regan said turning over in her sleeping bag. Mason was unlucky enough to get the trunk space while Elliot slept up front.
The sun crept through the windows of the jeep and it was the start of a new day. Mason turned in the cramped space, while his neck hurt from his sleeping position. He turned his lazy gaze toward Regan, who had taken out some of their equipment to take some readings in the area. Regan was using ground penetrating radar to see beneath the dirt.
"Guys, come over here," said Regan. He got up from the back and walked over. The dirt seeped into a dark hole, Mason looked curiously at it and shoved more dirt down with his shovel. He saw it went down far and decided to widen the hole. He and Elliot chipped away at the loose rock as the hole was now wide enough for a single person to pass through. Elliot passed his flashlight to Mason who took his flashlight down into the hole. It was so dark that his beam of light did not reach very far. He grabbed a nearby stone and tossed it down into the hole. The stone took a while but the sound bounced off the floor of the newly discovered cave.
"We're not going back empty-handed," said Mason who went to the back of the jeep to grab his climbing gear. Regan and Elliot rigged him up as he descended into the hole. Only armed with a small pack and a flashlight he repelled down to the cave floor. Mason was careful to watch where he stepped. The cavern opened up to a wide open space, when he shined his light against a grey object that appeared to have a metallic finish. He traced his light around the object when he came across a set of symbols. It was in a type of script he had never seen before and wondered if it was in fact alien in origin. Mason retraced his steps and radioed back up to the surface.
"You're not going to believe this," Mason said excitedly
"What is it? What did you find?" asked Regan
"You're going to have to see for yourself. Come down, I'll send a feed up to Bruce," said Mason. He unzipped his pack and pulled out his video camera and turned on the switch to the light at the top. Mason hit the little red button to the side and began to document his findings.
"Can you see it?" asked Mason
"Amazing, I can't tell what it is yet," said Elliot, his signal was a bit garbled due to an interference. Mason figured it could be because of the object. He was greeted by Regan, who had just made her way down into the hole.
"Holy smokes, what IS that?" asked Regan as she made her way over to Mason. "I know it sounds crazy so I'm just going to come out and say it. It's a UFO isn't it," stated Regan
"Well, it's not from around here," replied Mason
"Document everything we'll analyze it back at the lab," said Elliot
"Don't you want to come down and see this?" asked Regan
"To be honest, I never was fond of heights. I'll pass," said Elliot
Mason had almost circled the craft when his camera battery began to blink it was already at 10% power.
"What the hell? It was fresh battery. Regan, give me another battery I'm out," said Mason
She handed him all the battery packs, and Mason started to replace the dead one.
"They're all dead. Please, tell me you charged them last night," said Mason
"I charged all of them. They should all be a 100%," said Regan
"Then why don't they work? I've tried every single one," said Mason in frustration.
"It's the craft," said Regan staring up at the metallic object before them. "It's draining our batteries. But why?" Mason had no answer to her question and the lack of batteries cut short their trip and they headed back up to the surface.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR SUPERCOMPUTER APPLICATIONS
It had been two days since he had gotten back from New Mexico and he was reviewing what footage he was able to gather, when there was a knock at their door.
"I'll buzz them in," said Elliot who turned and left. Mason returned to the footage. Regan was on e-mail waiting for the results of their soil samples she sent to the chemistry department. The doors opened and Elliot was followed by five men in black suits, who appeared to be working for the government. Mason immediately turned off the screen and faced them.
"May I ask why the Federal Government has now taken a keen interest in our work here?" asked Elliot
"There's a van waiting for you out back. Pack quickly," said the man in the black suit.
"You're not going to take us out there and shoot us out back are you?" said Mason, only half joking. The man in the black suit gave him nothing more than a blank stare.
"Okay, I'll get ready then," said Mason nodding to Regan in the back. Elliot turned to grab some of their equipment in black cases to the waiting black vans below. Mason sat uncomfortably in the van next to the man in the black suit.
"Where are we going?" asked Mason cautiously. The man gave no response. He turned to look out the window as he passed by the residential areas. Soon after he realized they were headed to the airport. About an hour in, the vans pulled out onto the tarmac. There was a waiting jet with no discernible markings. He was hesitant upon entering the private aircraft but reluctantly stepped forward. Mason was followed by Elliot and Regan who took their seats and kept quiet.
"What do you think they want with us?" whispered Elliot
"It's because of what we found. The UFO," said Regan
"Keep your voice down," said Elliot
"Like they don't already know," said Regan
Mason knew she was right in her assessment. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and popped in his headphones. Mason was awoken by Regan who nudged him awake. He looked out of the window as they flew over the bright lights of a city. Mason saw an Egyptian Pyramid, Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower; they were flying over Las Vegas. The bright lights clued him in, narrowing the places significantly. Could it be? Area 51 thought Mason.
They had touched down on the tarmac and circled until they had reached a hangar bay. After the jet had touched down they were lead to a secure facility. The room was brightly lit and filled with people surrounding a craft of alien origin. It was only then when he realized the black triangle before him was the object he had only a glimpse of in the cavern.
"Lovely, isn't she?" asked the man who appeared to be a senior scientist. "Roy Lazar," he said holding out his hand to Mason
"Mason Kellogg, like the cereal. Over there is Regan Kimura and Bruce Elliot,"
"Nice to meet all of you. You're probably wondering why you're all here," said Lazar "We've been trying to crack this thing open for near 20 years now and so far nothing,"
"Is this craft—," asked Elliot when he was cut off by Lazar
"Like the one you saw in New Mexico, yes, identical in every way. We've got a team down there in fact,"
"Then what do you need us here for?" asked Mason
"There was a message from Titan," said Lazar
"It was just a set of coordinates," said Regan
"Then another came in from SETI, originating from the same point a few days ago. We'd like to know if you wanted to take a crack at it since you guys seem to have had more success," explained Lazar
Mason was more than just a little excited at the chance to work with an alien spacecraft. No one back home would believe him. He had always thought of aliens akin to ghosts, that he wouldn't believe it until he had seen it with his own eyes.
"So, what do you say?" asked Lazar
"More importantly, how much are we getting paid for this?" asked Regan; she was always the practical one. "Rent doesn't pay itself you know," Mason could hear her as he walked beneath the black triangular craft as it hovered in midair. He was mesmerized by the symbols that ran along it's sides that was written and looked almost beautiful. Mason didn't need motivation or money to take on a project of this magnitude.
"When do we start?" asked Mason to Lazar.
"Okay, here's the lineup," explained Elliot as he and Regan looked at the monitors of the different patterns. "Now, the first one is the message we received, the second was the one with the coordinates. The third one is the one from SETI's computers,"
"I guess we can start by figuring out the third one," said Mason who looked over to Regan twirling her pen in her fingers.
"Do you think if we played with the frequency we could get some results?" asked Mason
"It's possible, which one?," said Elliot, he handed the headphones over the Mason
"Queue up one, please," said Mason as it played back in a slightly higher frequency. It was then when he noticed his cup of water vibrating to the sound. It made ripples across its surface. He took off his headphones and walked over the cup of water that sat on the desk. Mason walked over and touched the craft. He could see small ripples in the metal that were so small that you had to up close to look at it.
"I have an idea," said Mason, they experimented with different frequencies the craft's outer surface began to look like waves in a dark metallic ocean until a section of the bottom of the craft opened up. The scientists gathered around the craft's open doorway. Immediately a team wearing hazmat suits entered the doorway. Within 20 minutes there was an all clear. There appeared to be no threat for the moment.
"Can we go inside?" asked Mason to Lazar
"Let's have a look," said Lazar as they entered the craft. As Mason entered the craft's controls looked alien.
"Don't touch anything," said Elliot looking over to Regan, who made a face. They had reached an area with nothing more than light blue shape that danced in midair. Mason thought back to something he had once heard from one of his former professors at the University. It was by English writer Arthur Young that said:
God sleeps in the Minerals,
awakens in Plants,
walks in Animals,
And thinks in Man.
Mason was unsure why the thought had crossed his mind at he stared at the blue 3D shape. It changed frequently and looked like nothing more than a tangled mess. But he quickly dismissed the thought, figuring his mind was moving a mile a minute. He was inside an alien spacecraft, and it was first contact for him. He didn't need to see an alien to know it was real anymore. He stepped out the craft and set out to work on the pattern they had received from SETI. As he stared at the pattern his confidence waned. He could be here for another 20 years. He glanced over to Lazar, but Mason wanted to learn its secrets now.
Several weeks had passed without any results. The craft remained opened but the systems appeared to be offline. The third pattern had given them nothing but sleepless nights and theories boarding on the absurd.
Elliot joined Mason for a break as they stared up at the craft.
"What if we can't figure out the third pattern?" asked Mason
"Sometimes it's good to step away. We'll take a look at it later," replied Elliot. He knew Elliot was right, it wasn't giving up. His brain if anything needed to shut off.
"And it's movie night," said Elliot
"I'll be right over," said Mason who hoped for a moment of inspiration but knew that it would not be coming tonight.
The next morning the team walked inside of the craft looking once again for clues. They had hoped they had missed something the first time. Mason could see Regan staring at the blue 3D projection moving as she fiddled with her iPhone. Through the iPhone's speakers she played the unmodified version of the third pattern. The 3D projection maintained a static shape, the moment she turned off the volume. The projection was nothing more than a tangled web.
"Get me some speakers up here," yelled Elliot to the people below. He and Mason immediately hooked up the speakers and played the third pattern that appeared to be reacting to the technology. He reached out to touch the projection and grabbed it. The object that now took the form of what Mason knew as Metatron's Cube. They stared at the projection's shape wondering what to do next. Suddenly a voice came in an unknown language that seemed to fill the space.
"Place it in the compartment over there," said a voice speaking English.
"Who was that?" asked Regan
"Me, I'm speaking from the ship's computer, 12 light years from Earth,"
"What happens when I do?" asked Mason
"It would help you to see more around you,"
"How are we able to understand you?" asked Elliot
"I can see and hear everything. It's ok, I'm not here to hurt you or your people," Mason gently placed the 3D projection into the space. Soon after there appeared a holographic projection of a person who appeared male with tan skin and dark hair. To Mason he looked human in every way.
"I'm from a race called Atlan," said projection
"What's is this ship used for?" asked Elliot
"It's a research vessel, I was gathering items from your planet. Thank you for repairing my ship, Mason,"
"How do you know my name?"
"My ship is capable of many forms of communication. I'd like to show you something." They followed the man's projection up to a door that they didn't even suspect was a door until they entered. It was a an area filled with trees, animals and flora and fauna from Earth.
"Has this been here the whole time?" asked Regan
"I've maintained a stable atmosphere and recreated your cycles here on Earth. This ship is pre-programmed for the place you know as Titan. We are building a colony for you,"
"For us? Why and how do we get there?" asked Elliot
"It is not completed yet, but it will be a lifeboat for your people. When it is finished,"
"A lifeboat why?" asked Mason when the projection turned toward him.
"The end of your planet,"
"What! Are you going to destroy us?" shouted Regan
"No, but your sun eventually will,"
"I don't have kids," said Regan
"He was referring to our sun. S-U-N," said Mason
"Our sun's going to turn into a red giant," said Elliot
"Yes, and the Lifeboat must be finished before that happens," said the projection. "I thank you, people of Earth. I will not forget. I shall return in 3 years of your time. Look to the sky." Mason got the hint and exited the craft, followed by Elliot and Regan. The craft's door closed and the metallic exterior surface moved in waves. The triangle shaped craft moved silently overhead and exited the hanger. Lazar, ran outside the hanger beside Mason as it rose into the sky before taking off into the stars. Three years wasn't long thought Mason. He was happy to share this moment with his friends knowing they weren't alone in the Universe. Mason looked up at the night sky, imagining for a moment the ship traveling far away from Earth. Suddenly Regan snapped him out of is trance and called him inside. But not before he had taken a final glance above at the moon, he smiled and followed his friends inside.THE END
The staff choices for the best films of 2018.
A review of Fallout 76.
The ten best films of 2018, according to Glenn Kenny.
The ten best films of 2018, as chosen by Peter Sobczynski.