Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner

“A UN spokesman confirmed that its task force had been seeking an independent validation of a similar translation. The spokesman would not speculate what answer the task force might recommend, or even whether a response was under consideration.”

—GlobalNet Evening News

* * * *

With time running out before a pre-reply COPUOS review, and the authorization vote Alex Klein predicted the task force would lose, Matthews widened his search for ideas.

After hours of chat-room exploration and web surfing, Matthews encountered “A note on amplifiers in the Lalande 21185 transmitter design” by a Joachim Frisch. Dean clicked on the URL and started scanning. As an aura of professionalism emerged, his reading slowed down. Searching on the author, Dean found nine papers in refereed engineering journals, although the most recent was ten years old.

His second review was very slow and deliberate. He was reminded of, and thought deeply about, Vladimir Antinov’s comments about Mir.

It was early evening in Frankfurt. Hoping that Herr Frisch was not out enjoying the Oktoberfest, Dean started to dial.

* * * *

From the SETI Conspiracy chat room.

Suspect_Everyone: So now there’s a pressing deadline to answer ET … Who else smells a six-legged, bug-eyed rat?

42_is_true: How convenient! ET spies on us for 30+ years and we get a few months to reply. What’s the rush?

Suspect_Everyone: The rush, my naive friend, is to stampede us. Remember that the UN already pushed through a treaty allowing only *them* to answer ET. The vote to reply will be one more pretense why we “need” world government.

Remember_Seattle: They’ve made a losing gamble. Once we delay them past the deadline, the whole pretense lapses. Join Earth First at the barricades in NYC.


The stretch limo of the American UN mission was twenty minutes late in retrieving Matthews. Traffic crawled, snarled by picketing Earth Firsters. Despite the unruly crowds, Dean could have made faster progress on foot.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice. I appreciate your flexibility, since my calendar doesn’t offer much.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Ambassador. What can I do for you?”

“Please, we’re alone. It’s just Alex. I wanted to advise you of an issue in regard to your recent inquiry.”

Matthews didn’t speak diplomatese, but in his experience an issue was never a good thing.

ET’s shopping list and catalogue, when decoded, had been much alike. All sixteen entries on the shopping list were related to chemical reactions and materials science. The catalogue hinted at fifteen catalysts and materials; the sixteenth entry promised a superior optical telescope design.

It was commonly interpreted that ET would swap any item from his catalogue for any item we supplied from his shopping list. The problem was with comparative skill levels: ET’s wares and the new solutions he sought were both mostly unfamiliar to the task force’s chemists and chemical engineers. Lots to ask for; nothing to trade.

ET’s shopping list included catalysts for fuel cells. There had been a long-shot chance that the US national labs had related unpublished work. Alex’s office had agreed to expedite a DoE query for Dean.

“First off, no luck with the national labs. I’m told, in fact, that the example ET used to define ‘fuel cell’ is potentially better than anything we have.

“On the other hand … my good friend, the Secretary of Commerce, was contacted discretely by two key constituents, if you know what I mean. The corporations they represent may each have one of the catalysts sought by ET. The research is not yet ready for patent application.”

Key constituents, presumably, were campaign contributors. “Will they share information with ET? Do they understand the impracticality of obtaining payment from him?”

They grabbed armrests as the limo braked suddenly. Three protesters in bug-eyed-monster masks with Devil’s horns had darted in front of the vehicle. Their waving placards asked, “Do I look trustworthy?”

Klein grimaced at the street theater. “Barter is awkward, as is the delay. Sixteen years round-trip? That’s not the real issue, however.

“Sending technology to ET means a turnover to the task force for encoding and transmission. Neither company trusts the UN to keep proprietary technology secret here on Earth.

“Federal purchase of the technology has been mentioned, but we’re talking billions. A purchase probably couldn’t happen in time, even if it were the right thing to do.”

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Categories: Edward Lerner