Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Short Story: Clear Signals

Signals from space but not from space. Always a fascination of mine, plus the twisted story ideas always just came easy to me. Here is my short story of discovery, illusion and, yup, signals from space.



Clear Signals
by Paul Darcy


What really happened remains unknown. How it could have happened is a matter of conjecture. The facts are few, the findings at the scene even fewer. The device used was one designed to eradicate all traces of itself and the equipment around it. As far as could be determined no such device existed. Yet the devastation was undeniable.

Douglas Harting had been up for too many hours and felt as though he had even less idea of what had happened than the day before. His friend Charles had left hours ago after they had discussed every conceivable explanation for what had happened again. Organizing his discs and papers, Douglas took a quick shower and went to bed. What Charles had ultimately proposed was as absurd as their findings. Douglas, and open minded individual could not and did not want to accept what Charles had proposed. That truth, if such it was, lead to insanity.

Sleep did not come easily, but when it overtook him he was completely in its grasp. He had to file his report the next day with local authorities, but organizing it and making sense of it was still eluding him, despite Charles’s ultimate explanation. He wasn’t exactly sure any more what really happened anyway.

His mind would not let it go of events...

***

...Thunderstorms raged across the tropic land. Great sheets of water cascaded from the skies. It was almost like being under a waterfall. Douglas turned the Hummer’s windshield wipers on high and squinted to see through the downpour. He was trying desperately to make out the road before him. Dawn was approaching, but the heavy grey sky cloaked the sun’s attempt to illuminate it. For all intents and purposes it was still the dead of night. This rain and dark were making a fast ascend difficult if not dangerous. Douglas, impatient and half asleep, drove the Hummer less carefully than normal. Douglas was reacting to a frantic call from his good friend Charles Prigham, director of the Choupan Observatory in Venezuela. He had said he had discoverd something unbelievable and needed Douglas’s opinion on the matter immediately. He had sounded extremely agitated and on edge. Something this important, Charles urged, could not wait.

After several near accidents and minutes which seemed like hours, Douglas finally pulled in beside his friends truck outside the Choupan Observatory. Not long before he had passed through the cloud layer and the storm was left behind. Strange. It was like climbing through cloudy skies in a plane and breaking through into sunshine. Leaving the keys in the ignition, Douglas bolted from the truck and made for the Observatory’s entrance. Though it did not rain at this altitude, a steady moist wind blew strongly, buffeting him.

Douglas was looking forward to returning to dry Arizona and doing without rain for a while. Douglas creaked open the door which, once he had stepped inside, slammed behind him blocking but not completely stopping the winds insistent thrashing. Hastily tossing his coat on a hook, Douglas ascended the stairs leading to the Observatory’s control room. Charles should be there waiting for him.

"Charles," Douglas called reaching the top of the stairs. Computer monitors shed the only light in the control room casting an eerie glow. Projected stretched shadows of equipment decorated the walls. Douglas was reminded of the X-Files. Silly really, but that’s what came to mind. He could see the huge telescope dimly through a large pain of glass. It was a thirty two inch refractor build decades ago but still in perfect operating condition. They eyepiece for the telescope was still available, but nobody looked directly through it anymore. The human eye had been replaced by CCDs, infinitely more capable of detecting minor fluctuations in radiation. Douglas moved clear of the stair landing and into the control room proper. All of the chairs were empty.

"Charles," Douglas tried again louder this time. Still there was no reply. He must be in the washroom. Douglas sat down in one of the control chairs and viewed the terminal’s display. It was a fluid graph repeating waves on a scale. The computers speakers were turned down low and he could hear some sound accompanying the images. A series of sky coordinates were displayed in the upper right of the screen; it would indicate where the telescope was pointing. Douglas turned the computer’s volume up. Clicking, squealing noises increased in volume and corresponded to the rising and falling of the wave patterns on the graph.

"Something’s out there, Douglas." Charles voice boomed from directly behind.

"For Christ’s sakes, Charles," Douglas jumped. "You trying to give me heart attack?"

Charles slapped Douglas on the shoulder. "Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Doesn’t really matter anyhow. Any idea what you are looking at here?" Charles pointed to the screen.

"It’s a pretty strong clear signal. Repeating. Satellite?" Douglas guessed.

"Right you are, Douglas. Only one problem."

"What’s that?"

"No satellite’s in that part of the sky. Actually, nothing at all in that part of the sky. A totally black zone. Should pick up only background radiation from the big bang." Charles smiled. "The big bang. But, this signal is coming from there, I have no doubt about it." Charles’s smile broadened. Douglas thought he looked deranged.

"Maybe a weird bouncing signal from high level clouds? The storms pretty bad out there." Douglas tried another explanation.

"Douglas, I thought of that. I thought of every conceivable explanation and there isn’t one. There just plain isn’t one. I thought I was going insane out here alone. So, I called you. I want you to verify what I have already checked. Because if I am wrong, I will be a happy man. If I am not, well. I would say the world will change. But it won’t. Not in the least"

"Okay, you’ve got my interest. What the hell is going on? If this is some kind of joke? I’ve known you for a long time, Charles, and quite frankly, this is not your stile. So come clean. What’s going on here?"

Charles tapped his finger to his chin as if in deep thought. "What if what I was about to tell you would negate everything you have ever believed your whole life? What if I could convince you of the simplicity of everything you see around you. What if I told you all this was not real?" Charles had a strange look on his place. It was haunted, angered, disturbed. Douglas looked at the computer screen, then back at Charles again.

"Well if you were to tell me all those things, Charles, I would expect a great deal of proof. A computer malfunction or a ghost signal is not really going to cut it, if you know what I mean."

"Oh, I know what you mean. And I don’t really have undeniable proof. The clear signal is coming from a location of space where there should not be any such signal. Have you checked the location for yourself yet?" Charles leaned forward as if to peer at the coordinates displayed on the screen again.

Douglas looked to. "Yes, and I confirm what you are saying. However, it is not the first time signals have been misinterpreted. Charles, you sounded frantic on the phone, like your life was in danger or something. Yet you seem much more composed now, even if you are acting strange. Okay, lay it on me. I have always thought of myself as having an open mind. Whatever it is you have to tell me can’t be that shocking."

Charles sat down in a free control chair and grinned again. "You know, we really have been fooled. You and I and all the others. All the others that really exist I mean."

Douglas held up a hand, "Wait a minute. What do you mean the others that really exist at all?"

"Well, quite plainly what I mean is our whole life is a lie. A carefully crafted, almost impossible to penetrate lie. You see, it finally dawned on me when I was desperately searching for a reason why a clear signal should come from someplace it could not come from."
"And the reason is?" Douglas prodded.

"The reason is, it is coming from outside our reality, or the reality constructed for us. Absolutely simple really and it took me a lot of thinking before you arrived to piece together why it should be so."

"Charles, if you are trying to tell me we are in some Hollywood production of the Matrix or Vanilla Sky, count me out. This is stretching things too far into the realm of science fiction. I mean, sure, we can’t absolutely prove anything because you can always ask the question why one more time until eventually you reach a non-determinable answer. But, come on Charles, do you actually believe we are in a simulation of some sort? This sounds too close to religion to me. God out there turning the dials, tweaking our lives or at the very least setting the program in motion and letting it run its course. Actually, now that I think about it it sounds more like Douglas Adams to me."

"I understand your reaction. We are both scientists. We should both be rational, but I have changed this night, Douglas. The things which always struck me as not quite right fell into place after I picked up and analyzed the clear signals. We have been guided into areas of science, not through our own ingenuity, but through a sense of purpose and I think I know why. How long I will be allowed to talk to you about this is not certain so I’ll try to explain as briefly as possible. What I truly believe now is that the reality we know is a construct. Its purpose is either for amusement, or to solve problems. I think it’s for the latter."

"You know, Charles, this is really getting far fetched. Intellectually interesting, but outside the realm of possibility surely."

"Can you be so certain, Douglas. Consider. How long have you been alive? Forty years. What were you doing before then? Nothing, right. You didn’t exist, conscienceness came when the complexity of your cellular structures reached a certain concentration. Well is it not as easy to say you were placed here, inside this grand illusion, to live a life. To live for a reason, a possible purpose? Do you really know the dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago? Were you there first hand to witness it. I know, I’m sounding like a nutcase, but hear me out. Our experiences are mostly learned from others or what we have been told. Sure there is plenty of hands on, but that is so easy to program into a simulation. Consider the advances in electronics and computers we all know about. We are being manipulated into understanding how things work. A thought like this a hundred years ago would not even have occurred except for philosophers perhaps, if there even was a hundred years ago at all."

Douglas rubbed his eyes trying to keep an open mind but almost ready to laugh out loud. "So, Charles. If you are correct, all of the existence we know is not real, but created. To solve a problem or as amusement you said. Like the Truman show. That would be a grand joke wouldn’t it?"

"The joke depends on what the purpose is, Douglas. I think we are entities placed into this simulation to collectively solve problems and possibly generate amusement at the same time. We are being taught about computers, artificial intelligence and many other advanced concepts in preparation for extraction. We are so close to a unified field theorum and I believe that is one of the things we are here to discover. We are advancing, or are being shown advances, in computers everyday. Think of the realistic computer simulations already available. Extrapolate that into a hundred years from now, a thousand. I think it’s already happened, and we are in the product of the future. A simulation like the life we lead today is easily obtainable with that kind of technology. Consider our minds don’t really process direct stimulus from outside. Only the brain interprets input from the senses. Senses we already know can be altered through any number of means. I say we are inside that simulation to solve the great problems for those outside. Once all the superstring theories are combined, I think the plug is going to be pulled and we will be going home, wherever that is."

"Uh, Charles. Have you ever considered that you have been spending too many late nights alone here at the Observatory?"

"May be, Douglas. But for whatever bizarre reason I feel absolutely compelled that this is the truth. This clear signal from nowhere, I believe is a leak or a flaw in the system. If, as we are lead to believe, computers are as fast at calculating then this entire concept of time we perceive may be a construct as well. For all we know we may have only been in this created world for seconds in a vastly fast complex program. That hole will be plugged or programmed out soon. I know, call the men in white coats."

The door to the observatory slammed downstairs. The wind was not strong enough to have caused it. Both me jumped. "Who the hell could that be?" Douglas asked.

"Whoever it is has traveled a long way on a bad night to get here. You were the only one I called and nobody else is expected today. Any guesses?"

The signal abruptly stopped. The computer monitors displayed blank screens. Both men waited nervously. Douglas silently cursed Charles for filling his head with wild nonsense. It wasn’t making this situation any easier to take.

Douglas was suddenly blinded by a bright flash of light. He stood up, held his arms to shield his head. The chair tumbled behind him. His eyes adjusted somewhat and he could make out a sphere of light. Ball lightning. He knew all about it just never experienced it first hand. It was one of the leading culprits for alien abduction theories. Christ what was he thinking. The ball came closer. Douglas blacked out.

***

When Douglas came to he was in a hospital room. Charles was in the bed next to him. A doctor strode in at that precise moment. "Ah, good." The doctor consulted a chart at the end of Douglas’s bed. "You are actually free to go. We thought it best if you stayed the night here, just for surveillance purposes. If you will just sign here."

Douglas received the clipboard from the doctor and signed under his name. He got up, dressed at the same time as Charles.

"Charles?"

"Yeh, Douglas."

"We were at the Observatory last night, weren’t we?"

Charles gave Douglas the weirdest look Douglas had ever seen. "You okay Douglas? We were in a car wreck on are way to a sky trip in the Himalayas."

"What the..."

"Just shitten ya, Douglas. Of course we were at the Observatory, where else would we be listening to a clear signal from an empty sky."

Douglas had a sudden urge to strangle Charles. "I think I liked you before this simulation theory. Damn will you stop trying to give me a heart attack."

Douglas and Charles went immediately back to the Observatory. The computer memories were wiped. The magnetic recording tapes were clear. When the telescope was trained to the same place in the sky where the night before it had captured a clear signal, all it picked up was background radiation.

They went back to Douglas’s place and talked long into the night. They needed to make a report of the damaged and wiped equipment. It didn’t make sense. In fact it made as much sense as being in a simulation to begin with. Damn, this was totally silly. Charles left. Douglas had a shower and went to bed...

***

The alarm went off at ten. Douglas slapped at the clock in irritation. It never seemed that he got enough sleep. He got out of bed, dressed and shaved and headed into work. Once there he stepped up to the counter. The smell of pepperoni hung in the air. "Hey Charles, any deliveries yet?

"Ah, not yet. Might as well grab a coffee."

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