Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner
Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner
Dom Perignon flowed and beluga vanished. A chamber orchestra played Bach. Crystal chandeliers sparkled and gold-rimmed china gleamed. An indoor fountain sprayed upwards around an enormous ice swan.
The ITU knew how to party in style.
From a terrace kept comparatively uncrowded by the chill evening breeze off Lake Geneva, Dean Matthews observed the gathering. Inside the hotel’s Great Ballroom mingled dozens of international civil servants and hundreds of national delegates. There was an even larger number of “accredited industry observers.” Matthews was one of the lobbyists, representing NetSat, a broadband satcom company.
Completion of a World Administrative Radio Conference was cause for celebration. New wireless technologies, and the implacable growth of older ones, kept the demand for spectrum high. For reasons of historical interest only, many radio bands had differing uses in different parts of the world: a big problem as more systems went global. Users of old systems were entitled to replacement bandwidth when new applications supplanted earlier frequency assignments.
The International Telecommunications Union took the lead in reconciling the many competing claims. That made the ITU an essential, if underappreciated, part of the global economy. Multi-billion-dollar fortunes rose and fell with the outcome of ITU negotiations.
A waiter glided by with champagne. Matthews took a flute for himself and one for his companion. “Congratulations, Madame Secretary-General.”
They clinked glasses.
“You, too.” Fair enough: the WARC had just authorized a frequency range for new broadband services that was compatible with NetSat’s working prototype.
Bridget Satterswaithe, the Secretary-General of the ITU, turned to the lake. Great yachts bobbed at anchor, brightly lit by marina spotlights. She sipped her champagne. “Now that the conference is over, I look forward to some sailing. Maybe see my parents in London. Even a quiet…”
Buzzing interrupted her; she retrieved the cell phone from her clutch bag. She appeared surprised at the caller ID on the display. “Please excuse me—I have to take this.”
He took the stairs from the terrace down to the marina, giving Satterswaithe some privacy. Waves lapped peacefully against the shore. The wooden pier creaked under his tread. He, too, anticipated some well-deserved rest.
She rejoined him, sans champagne. She seemed shaken. “You’re not going to believe why you won’t be getting that bandwidth after all.”
* * * *
Dean held a PhD in physics and an MBA in international trade. With ten years of telecomm experience, he was, in Internet years, a grizzled veteran. As VP of Strategy and Technology for NetSat, his job entailed much more than lobbying the ITU and its national counterparts for bandwidth.
None of that experience prepared him for Bridget’s news.
She had insisted that they go first to ITU headquarters, and would not discuss it—whatever it was—in the limo.
She now leaned against a corner of her desk. “This all becomes public knowledge tomorrow. It’s been predistributed to governments and the appropriate international scientific bodies. I’m bending rules only slightly by telling you tonight. I’m doing so because, in one very narrow sense, the biggest impact will be on NetSat.
“Of course, life as we know it will also change.”
She had his full attention.
Her call had been from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, parent body to the ITU. The International Academy of Astronautics and MIT were co-hosting a press conference in the morning. Dr. Sherman Xu, the discoverer, would give the first public announcement of a confirmed radio signal indicative of extraterrestrial intelligence. The ITU would immediately initiate an Extraordinary Administrative Radio Conference to fence off the frequencies used by the extra-solar signal.
ET must be using frequencies near those sought by NetSat. Despite his months of effort to secure the desired spectrum, the professional and personal impacts seemed inconsequential. Intelligent alien life!
Satterswaithe extracted a decanter of amber liquid and two glasses from her credenza. “The formation of a UN task force will also be announced, reporting to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Since ET uses radio, I’ve been asked to participate on behalf of the ITU.”
He accepted a glass. “I have a terrific job at a world-class company. As of two minutes ago, that doesn’t matter to me. This news is epochal. I want to be involved.”