Summary: A simple consulting case turns into a matter of life and death for Charlie and Don.
Author's Notes: I have no idea where this came from. I just sat down at my computer one night and started typing, and this sort of happened. Really, it was a pretty interesting experience. I hope you enjoy it, particularly the end of chapter 6. ?
Charlie scribbled another note in his notebook, then set the notebook aside and began to flip through one of the textbooks surrounding him. He was seated on the floor in front of the coffee table in his living room; one of his favorite places to stretch out and do some work. He was working on a large project for his university, collaborating with several math and science professors. He hadn't said much on what it was about, but whatever it was, it was evidently important enough to take up all of his time on his summer vacation. Charlie only ate when his father reminded him, and was often found asleep on top of his notes and books. Alan had tried to coax Charlie into taking breaks, but Charlie had insisted that he was fine.
Alan now stood in the doorway to the living room, watching his youngest child working fervently on his project. He had tried every conventional means in his power to get Charlie to take a break, but nothing had worked. His next move was dirty- he knew it, but wasn't ashamed of it. His concern for his son overrode his conscience.
"Hey, buddy, haven't seen you in a couple of weeks. How're you doing?"
Charlie looked up in surprise as his big brother entered the living room and sat down on the couch beside him. "Don! Hi! What are you doing here?"
Don peered at the notes Charlie had been making. "Dad called. He said you've been working on a project for the last couple weeks, and that you haven't been taking care of yourself."
Charlie scowled. He glanced at the door where he had felt his father's eyes only moments before, but Alan was nowhere to be seen. "You didn't have to come down here. I'm fine. I'm just working on something for school."
"Oh yeah?" Don asked. "What is it?"
Charlie sighed. He knew that, with Don here, he wouldn't be getting too much else done. His brother was the only one who could distract him from his work. Everyone else, he could tune out. Charlie had a sneaking suspicion that his father not only knew that, but used it to his advantage.
"It's a consulting project, really, with a couple other schools and NASA," Charlie finally answered. "NASA recruited a bunch of us to help confirm something they discovered in space. They wanted to be absolutely sure before making an announcement."
"NASA?" Don echoed, incredulous. "First the NSA, then the CDC, and now NASA? Do they have you on some sort of list?"
Charlie shrugged, pulling another notebook closer. "Math is a pretty big deal."
"I guess so," Don commented. "Can you tell me what it is they discovered?"
Charlie looked at him as if to gauge whether or not Don was serious. Finally, he hunted around for something. Grabbing a textbook and flipping through several pages, he handed it to Don.
Don looked at the book. "Radio signals, EM emissions . . . I know what this all is, but what does it mean?"
"NASA discovered a signal overlapping one of their satellites," Charlie explained. "At first they thought it was just some background noise, the general clutter of what the universe usually puts out. But the intervals of some of the pulses were too distinct to have been random occurrences. They isolated the signal and checked and double-checked their findings, but now they want to back up their findings through outside sources. A contact of mine in Houston gave my name to the director, who contacted me a couple weeks ago, along with a couple professors I work with. They just got clearance to help me out last week. We're running on a really tight schedule, but we've managed to narrow down our findings to two possible scenarios."
"Which would be?" Don asked, intrigued despite himself.
Charlie checked his notes. "Either the signal is a transmission from another country, and it's relaying information illegally, or it's a signal not from this world."
Don stared at Charlie in shock for several moments before finding his voice. "You mean . . . you mean extraterrestrial?"
Charlie nodded. "That's why NASA wants us to help clear this up. We could be looking at the first sign of alien life."