Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner

Radical_Dude: There’s common cause among world-government resistors, ET skeptics, and third-world advocates. Expect the UN to get a taste of what we gave the WTO in Seattle in ‘99.


Alex Klein had alerted Dean to the unadvertised coordination between the Russian and American militaries and the steering committee. One thing led to another, and now Matthews was at a Manhattan deli with a Russian general and ex-cosmonaut.

Vladimir Grigorivich Antinov began his career in the Red Air Force. He’d been an advisor to Hanoi during the Viet Nam War, a time he declined to discuss. He’d graduated to, and risen rapidly in, the then-Soviet strategic rocket forces. Combining piloting and missile expertise, he’d moved into the cosmonaut corps. He’d served two tours aboard Mir, one as mission commander. His English, from years of joint planning with NASA, was excellent.

After an exchange of pleasantries and the ordering of lunches, Dean got to the point. “To be honest, I’m surprised that the militaries care about ET.”

Antinov dumped sugar into his tea. “Our job is to worry.”

“About what? ET is far away.”

“That is an assumption it is best to validate.”

Arrival of their sandwiches gave Dean a chance to consider Antinov’s rebuttal. ET’s signal was quickly recognized as artificial because of the pi factor. That observed wavelength, however, depended on the wavelength originally transmitted and Doppler shift due to relative motion between sender and receiver. Lalande 21185 and the sun moved relative to each other. ET’s unseen planet must, like Earth, orbit its sun and rotate about its axis. The signal should have wobbled continuously around its “look at me” wavelength.

It didn’t.

Without any decoding of content, this observation showed that the message was intended specifically for Earth. It meant that ET saw Earth well enough to measure its orbit and rotation, and then dynamically tune his signal accordingly.

“In ten years we could have a telescope able to resolve Earth-sized planets of nearby stars,” said Dean. “NASA has requested funding for one for years. ET seeing Earth doesn’t require technology much past ours.”

Antinov waved over the waitress to refill his cup. “Or ET could be much closer. If he can correct a signal for planetary motions, his and ours, he can as easily compensate for blue shift to disguise transmission from an approaching vessel.”

“But why announce your existence and hide your arrival?”

“The message may announce a visit. We can’t read it yet.”

Might ET be announcing his arrival? Matthews shoved away his plate, half of a corned beef on rye untouched. He’d heard nothing like this from anyone on the task force. “Since we’re discussing this in a deli, you can’t be too concerned.”

“Did I have too much fun with you? I will explain what my people and yours are doing: probing with our most powerful radars along the signal path. These radars can detect the smallest bits of space junk in Earth orbit. We can track a dropped bolt that is hundreds of kilometers high. More than once,” the cosmonaut smiled, “that has been a useful capability. We would expect to detect a starship much farther away. As yet, there has been no return pulse.”

Matthews had never worked with military radar, but thought he could make an intelligent guess at its sensitivity from an understanding of radio telescopes. “If ET is coming, he’s still well outside our solar system. Or stealthed.”

Antinov winked at the mention of stealth. “I commend your newfound paranoia, though in this case such caution may be excessive. To visit us, a vessel must travel at very high speed through the scattered matter that makes interstellar space only a near vacuum. Could a ship maintain stealthiness against the ongoing particle bombardment? Would it not radiate, whether from collisions with such particles or some protective force field? We’ve seen no such evidence.

“We’ve even used the comet watcher trick of flipping back and forth between telescope photographs taken on successive nights of the same part of the sky. There are no unexpected moving objects, nor any unexpected occluded stars.”

“You have been busy.”

“We do only what your Space Command has done, I think.”

Matthews grabbed the check. “So are you convinced that the signal is genuine, and from Lalande 21185?”

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Categories: Edward Lerner