7. Upheaval

Control freak

Friday, February 5th, 2010

As Spegg and I neared the small cove, a bewildering cacophony of grunts, hoots, and wails bellowed on the wind, echoing off the jagged, icy outcropping that surrounded the inlet.

The giant fish stopped and removed from his pocket a small white device that I immediately recognized as the instrument he had paralyzed me with in the science laboratory.

I stepped back.

Spegg shook his head. “No. Take it,” he said.

I gave him a skeptical look and quickly snatched it out of his hands. It was about the size and weight of a television remote, and had no visible seams or fixtures—a simple looking device with rounded edges and one small clear, round button in the center.

“Just point and click,” he said.

I did. Spegg instantly collapsed.

“Whoa!” I shouted.

The device buzzed lightly in my hand, nothing like the swarm of bees I experienced when I was on the other side of the thing. I bent down and lifted Spegg’s long, thin arm then let it fall limply into the snow. His black eyes stared blankly at the sky. I snapped my fingers and waved my hand over his face, but nary a muscle twitched. “Can you hear me, big guy?”

I stood up and clicked the button again. Spegg suddenly gasped and grabbed his head, howling. He glared at me then snared a fistful of snow and lobbed it at my feet. I danced out of the way, chuckling.

“Serves you right,” I said, twirling the device.

“Be careful with that, you fool!” He spouted. “You could drop it and paralyze us both.”

“Oh? You mean like this?” I clicked it again and Spegg fell face first into the snow. I giggled and thumbed the button once again. The giant fish lifted his nose out of the powder and shook it off like a wet dog.

“I hate you,” he grumbled.

“Well at least we have something in comm—”

Suddenly a terrible squeal came from the behind us. I spun around, whipping the device toward the location of the sound. There, perched on one of the larger boulders of the outcropping was a dark, bulky figure. My mouth dropped open. The thing hooted loudly, then slowly backed away, and disappeared into the shadows.

Lariat

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Spegg reached the cove before I could. I was well behind, slipping on patches of ice that he simply bounded over with his long, sinewy legs. Gasping for breath, I finally caught up with him at the mouth of the inlet and collapsed at his feet. He had taken cover behind a boulder, and if he was at all winded by the sprint, he didn’t show it.

Spegg turned and shook his head at me. “You could use a few upgrades, human.”

The way he said “human” sounded repulsive and I scowled at the new moniker, true as it was.  “I’m fine with the upgrades God gave me, thank you very much.”

Spegg tweaked an eyebrow, or what would have been an eyebrow if he didn’t have the head of a goddamn carp. “No such thing.”

“Maybe not for you.”

Spegg twisted his fat lips into a petulant smirk and turned away. He pointed to a cluster of rocks on the far side of the cove. “He’s there. Ready the EMD. Unless you think your god will protect you.”

“I’m not having this conversation with a fish.” I stood up and removed the white remote from my jacket pocket. As soon as I gripped the cool metal, the button began to glow a dull amber color and slowly brightened.  “Ready.”

We entered the cove. The creature immediately saw us, loosening a wicked shriek, and broke across the beach in our direction.

“The range on the EMD is only about 5 meters,” Spegg said. “So wait until he’s close.”

“Now you tell me.”

The beast bounded toward us, favoring its legs, but tagging the ground with its forearms every five or six steps. It hooted in sharp bursts as it neared and I extended the EMD with my right arm, my thumb trembling on the button.

“Don’t miss.”

“Shut up, Spegg!” I put my weight on my back leg and dug in as the thing scampered closer, its breath like puffs of smoke from a locomotive, solid in the cold Antarctic air. “Now?”

“Wait!”

It was nearly on top of us. I could hear its breath clearly, and its heavy feet crushing the ice pack. Its eyes were a bright yellow, its flesh brown… thick with muscle. “Now?!”

“Not yet!” Spegg said, taking a step away.

I held my breath, grabbed the remote with my other hand to steady it, and locked eyes with the monster as it lunged into the air.

Spegg screamed, but I had already thumbed the trigger. The remote buzzed. The beast’s eyes whirled. And suddenly it was on top of me, a blanket of thick, heavy skin, a putrid stink of death, and a flash of light as I slammed to the Earth under its weight.

Chi

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Spegg shoved the thing’s limp body off of me and I turned over and let the blood run out of my mouth.

“Ow.” I touched the part of my face where my nose can typically be found and cringed in pain. It was crunchy, sideways, and gushing.

“Your nose is broken.”

“Wow, you fish are quick.” I spat as I propped myself up on my hands, marking the ground with a splash of blood. More streamed out of my nose and mouth, pooling and carving miniature, crimson estuaries into the snow. I took off my gloves and wiped the blood from my eyes, then frowned at the lifeless beast lying next to me. “Christ.”

Its body was roughly human, hairless and brown, and packed with muscle under thick, wrinkled flesh. Its legs were short and stocky and its feet were sturdy, short flippers that I would have guessed would be completely useless on land if I hadn’t seen the damn thing cover about two hundred yards in less than twenty seconds.

The beast’s hands were more human-like, although its fingers hung limply from the second knuckle, deflated, as if the bones had been sucked out. It had an oblong head with high, mottled yellow eyes, like curdled milk, and a ghastly proboscis heaped atop his nostrils that curved inward toward his gaping mouth where four spiky canines split and towered above a full set of human teeth.

“Ugly son of a bitch,” I said, coughing.

Spegg grinned. “You know he’s your—”

“Save it,” I snapped.

“Very well.” Spegg shrugged it off and took from his pocket a familiar syringe, filled with the same pink liquid he had injected me with. He popped the safety cap with his thumb, and offered it to me. “The Lilith,” he said. “It will calm him when he wakes.”

“Yeah, I remember how it works.” I snatched it and tried my best to stand. On the ground I noticed the white remote that I had lost in the fall. It was damaged—crushed against a rock just inches from the bloody imprint of my head in the snow; but it was still buzzing. Without thinking, I bent over to pick it up.

“Robertson, no!”

The remote went silent in my hand, gasping a wisp of electronic smoke. I looked at Spegg.

“Shit.”

There was a flash of brown flesh in my periphery. I wheeled around. The beast howled, baring its canines, and lunged at me. I sucked in a sharp breath, then instinctively drove my right hand forward, punching the needle deep into the bastard’s neck. The Lilith automatically discharged and monster stumbled sideways, its eyes drowning.

The thing staggered away, fumbling with the syringe, trying to get a handle on it with its rubbery fingers. I glanced at Spegg, who was casually drumming his fingers on his cheek. The beast quickly gave up on the needle, shaking his hands like a frustrated child. He turned in circles, whimpering, stared at the sun for a good ten or fifteen seconds, then shambled over to the outcropping where he found a nice, comfy rock and took a seat.

“He’s definitely his father’s son,” Spegg said, tittering.

I smirked. It started raining.

Late lunch

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

I walked over to the half-seal, half-Wayne Robertson hybrid thing and sat down. It grinned blithely at me, then dropped its head back and tried to catch the rain in its mouth. I scrutinized it for any speck of familiarity and found nothing.

“I definitely see a resemblance in the nose,” Spegg said.

“Yeah, you’re hilar—” I broke off, frowning at Spegg who was standing in the rain, peeling away the corner of a silvery package. He smiled and took a bite of a dark brown rectangle inside.

“Fish food?” I said, pulling my jacket hood over my head.

“LMO supplement.”

“Looks like a chocolate Pop-Tart.”

Spegg shrugged and took another bite.

“Give me some of that. I’m starving.”

“You don’t want it.”

“Yes I do.” I got up.

“Alright, then.” Spegg waved the package under my nose and I recoiled from the smell, even with a busted nose.

“Christ, it smells like a corpse!”

“Told you.” Spegg held the bar in his mouth and fished around in his pocket for something. “Eat,” he said, and tossed me a Ziplock baggie stuffed with raw bacon.

I opened it and cringed. “Jesus, Spegg. It’s not even cooked. How long have you had this in your pocket?”

“Twelve hours.”

“Disgusting,” I said, and pitched the bag on the ground. Suddenly the seal LMO hooted, leaped up from his seat, and pounced—devouring the bacon in one swift bite—bag included. It grunted, rooting around in the snow, sniffing and licking the ground for any last remnant of flavor.

“Wow. We’ve got a real winner here, Fish. A veritable Einstein.”

Spegg bit off another chunk of the supplement bar, then tossed the rest on the ground. The beast ravaged it.

“They’re all like this in the beginning. He must be Enlightened before he is of any use to us.”

“And how exactly do we do that?”

Spegg brushed a few crumbs off his chest and shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Clarion

Monday, February 15th, 2010

We walked back to the station together. Einstein shambled along, leaving flipper prints in the snow. I stepped in and out of them, noting that his feet were roughly the size of mine. Spegg walked ahead, occasionally sniffing at the air. The rain had stopped and there were a few flakes milling about—it was evening and getting cold.

We scaled the foothills back into the valley. Spegg led the way, his hands buried in his pockets, managing the slope without any visible degree of exertion. Einstein handled the terrain better than I thought he would have, in a zig-zag sort of fashion, using the back of his wrists to brace himself against the craggy terrain as he bounded upward. He occasionally stopped and looked back at me as I slipped and cursed my way to the top.

Spegg summited first, and when Einstein reached the top, he glanced back a couple of times, and then they both disappeared over the other side. I stopped to rest, breathing hard through my mouth, my nose a mess of broken cartilage and sticky blood. The snow was falling harder in the foothills. I took off my gloves and breathed hot air into my hands. And that’s when I heard Buzz.

I trained my ear toward the summit. He was barking ferociously. Where the hell did he come from? I stuffed my gloves in my pockets and scrambled up the edge, grabbing onto the volcanic rock with my bare hands and wrenching myself forward. His barking got louder and louder, panicked, angry snaps. Only a few feet more to go and I crested the foothills, barreling over the top and down the other side into the valley.

Spegg and Einstein were a few hundred meters out under the shadow of one of the radio antennae, and Buzz was nearly upon them. When I hit the valley floor I broke into a sprint, waving my hands, yelling Buzz’s name, but he ignored my calls and lunged at the new LMO.

“Buzz, no!” I screamed.

Einstein went down. Spegg leaped away and scampered up the dish’s ladder.

“Buzz!” I tried again, waving. “Jesus Fucking Christ! Buzz!” Nothing. Blood spilled into the snow.

I roared and tackled Buzz, detaching him from the LMO. There was a yelp, followed by the sharp, heavy agony of his teeth on my arm, and then he was back up and on top of Einstein. My arm grew warm under my jacket as the blood spilled out.

“Buzz, stop!” I screamed from my knees. Buzz tore a chunk out of the LMO’s proboscis. Einstein’s limbs flailed, batting at the dog, and Buzz ravaged those as well. Blood spattered the ice. My own blood slithered onto my left hand and dripped into the snow. It was the same color. I suddenly remembered Einstein’s face as he looked back at me on the slope, like a child checking up on his father. And now pieces of that face were being ripped apart and scattered in the desert. Anger welled up from dark places I did not know existed.

I reached for my lockblade and pounced on the husky.

Ascension

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Buzz’s limp body fell aside. Below him, the new LMO, the transgenic combination of my genes and the local fauna, gurgled blood into the snow. His flesh in ruins. I called his name, regretting that it had been more of a joke than a true name. Einstein. An ironic name for an idiot. I had made light of his weakness before he even had a chance to prove himself. Filth. That is what I am.

His eyes glassed over. Suddenly he was still.

“No!”

Hard snow fell in clumps as I screamed. I shook him and begged him to fight. “Come back!” I yelled. “Don’t do this!” I shook him and screamed until I was horse. Shuddering, and bent over his lifeless body, I brushed the fresh snow from his chest, and started weeping. “I’m sorry,” I told him, cold tears streaming along my cheeks. Gently, I drew my hand over his eyes, closing them forever. I rocked back into the snow and palmed the tears away

I let my gaze fall to Buzz. A pool of blackness around his neck, his eyes still wide, his blood stained teeth eternally bared. I reached to touch him, but stopped short. I had broken a contract. Whatever I was, I was no longer the man who landed in this desert three months ago. The Lilith had changed me. So easily, so cunningly, that I hadn’t even recognized it. I didn’t feel any different, but my actions made it obvious. And Buzz had sensed that. He knew it. Buzz had ripped into my flesh just as easily as the LMO’s. He might have torn us all apart if I hadn’t….

Spegg’s shadow crept into view.

I glowered at the long, inhuman figure. “You did this,” I breathed, raising my eyes.

“You have completed the Ascension, Wayne Robertson.”

I leaped to my feet and pointed the blade at his neck. “I should kill you where you stand,” I growled, miming a rage that I could not summon.

Spegg gently touched my forearm and lowered the weapon. “You could no more kill me now than you could kill yourself. We are bound.”

The knife dropped into the snow, my quick breaths freezing into little clouds.

“The Lilith is not a drug, Wayne. It is a process. My life and your life. We are wound together. Imprinted, if you like. This is the strongest bond two beings may have.”

Spegg laid a hand on my shoulder. He gestured to the bodies of Buzz and Einstein.

“And this tragedy was the culmination of that process. A necessary step to seal our lasting bond. As horrible as it may seem, it had to be done.”

I gasped. “Wait. Are you telling me that you set this whole thing up?”

Spegg cast his eyes down, for a moment, then returned. “The LMO was malformed. He never would have Enlightened. His body and his mind. He was simple and weak. I knew it would be true, even before I created him. We simply do not have the proper tools in this place to create a superior Transgenic.

“As for Buzz,” he continued, “The dog who you loved, who you cared for, your companion… severing that kind of attachment in a manner such as this has a profound emotional consequence. It could take a lifetime to erase the guilt from such an event. But the Lilith has exploited that guilt. Consumed it, and supplanted it, for the sake of this trust.”

I turned away, the snow coiling around us.

“We will move on, Robertson,” Spegg continued. “There will be more LMO. Many more. And you will father them all.”

I looked back at his long, bizarre face, his dark, bulging black eyes that never blinked. He was right. I felt a profound connection with him. I would follow him. I would do whatever he wanted. And I knew he would do the same for me. I nodded, lost in thought. This was a new beginning. The future suddenly unrolled and glimmered before my eyes. You will father them all.

Suddenly there was a crack of thunder. We jerked our heads toward the sky. It was filled with fire. Ships. A dozen… or more, screaming through the atmosphere, thick, black smoke roiling in their wake.

“Oh, my God.”

Spegg looked back at me and grinned. “Brother, our people have arrived.”

Congress

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Spegg had asked me to stay back after the pods crashed into the Array. We had taken cover in the foothills and I remained as he went down into the valley to greet the LMOs and get them up to speed. He figured this would be the best way, considering the circumstances. Every one of the LMOs most likely suffered the same kind of disassociative identity disorder that Spegg had, and their immediate feelings toward any human would likely be… negative, to say the least. I didn’t argue the point.

From my vantage I had a good view of the massive pods. They were fairly similar in shape and size, but some were sleeker than others, four rows of venting instead of two, hard or soft angles, various shades of black and gray, and a single red pod lying in the twisted wreckage of dish twelve had a pair of narrow fins which swept along the ship’s edges like budding wings. Their impact craters were identical to Spegg’s original crash site, wide, deep bowls of densely packed ice slathered with that pinkish goop which absorbed the force of objects like nothing I’d ever seen (and frankly saved my ass from a blast that should have easily shattered my spine).

There were 19 ships in all. One for each dish. The Array was obliterated. I caught myself feeling sentimental, but quickly brushed it off as a prelude of bigger and more interesting things to come.

Spegg waved me down when he had everybody out safely and the situation was explained. I walked down to join him, trying my best to appear friendly and natural. The LMOs curled around, nodding at Spegg as he introduced me. They were all clearly bred from fish, and a couple of them looked remarkably like Spegg, but the others, well, didn’t. I immediately noticed a grouper in the crowd. He was short, fat, and had spotty, mottled flesh and thick, spiny hairs on his neck and arms. His lips were obnoxiously large and matched the pattern on his skin, tiny black dots and random splotches of yellow and white. I couldn’t look at him for long without feeling ill, but he was by far the most talkative and asked the stupidest questions and I naturally glanced over when I heard a voice, then swallowed and looked away, trying to conceal my revulsion. He didn’t seem to notice.

A salmon, one of the taller LMOs, had shiny, metallic skin and a compact, ruddy face. His arms and legs were thick and muscular, by far the strongest LMO in the crowd, and he stood at the front of the group in his clean, black, one-piece uniform with the startling confidence of someone who led men into battle. Apparently he was from the hot rod ship and even though we were all supposed to be on the same page, he stayed quiet and regularly fired a skeptical glance at me, making no secret of his suspicions. I unconsciously leaned a little closer to Spegg and tried not to meet his eyes.

When Spegg winded down, the crowd started peppering me with questions—big questions—such as the population of the Earth in this parallel, military weaponry, and the extent of our space programs. Spegg cut them off before I had a chance to answer, telling them that Earth of 2010 was a technologically primitive culture, practically the dark ages compared to 2176, and that once the LMOs were settled, they would have all the advantage. To point, he followed with a description of Station 151’s Array, its mission, and its technology, and the crowd of LMOs had a good laugh. I smirked and glanced at Spegg, who made a reassuring gesture that set me at ease.

I badly needed sleep and a meal so I headed up early while the LMOs salvaged the contents of their ships. The plan was to move the empty pods to another location and bury them under the snow just in case we got any unwanted attention. I had been out of touch with Telders—the money behind Station 151’s multi-million dollar operation—since the McMurdo team arrived, and I couldn’t imagine that he’d stay quiet for much longer. Plus, I was a little worried about the sheer size of this landing. Spegg’s arrival could have been easily dismissed as a meteor strike, but I had my doubts that this latest event wouldn’t raise an eyebrow or two in Washington or Moscow.

I just didn’t realize that it would be so soon.

Raid!

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I awoke to the sound of shouting. My quarters were off the rec-room, up a small flight of stairs near the back of the station. It sounded like the voices were directly below. I shrugged into yesterday’s clothes, and quickly, but quietly, descended the stairs, pausing about three steps up to listen.

One of the voices was clearly Spegg’s, the other I couldn’t recognize. The only obvious one would have been the grouper’s, given his penchant for hair-brained questions in yesterday’s round-up, and it wasn’t his.

If you’re not going to do it, I will! I didn’t dive into a goddamn wormhole just to be dissected by a bunch of apes! The human set us up!

There were a couple shouts of agreement.

No one touches Robertson! I’ll tear out the throat of anyone who goes near him! Especially you, Larst.

A few more shouts of agreement followed, different voices, from a different part of the room. I knew Larst. He was the Salmon. The beefy, shifty-eyed motherfucker from the hot-rod ship. He growled furiously.

There was a lull in the argument—muffled voices, someone spitting in disgust, and the sound of footsteps shifting on the floorboards. And it was during this brief pause that I heard a dull roar somewhere outside of the station. A mechanical noise. The distinct, distant chop of… helicopters. Oh fuck.

I flew down the steps and into the rec-room to find Spegg and Larst surrounded by the rest of the LMOs.

“Chikushou!” Larst snarled. “Traitor!”

He lunged at me. Fast. Before I even had a chance to think, he was on top of me.

“Kill him!” I heard one of them shout between the sound of fists on my skull. And then just as quickly he was off, wrenched away by two or three LMOs, one of them Spegg.

“Hold him!” Spegg ordered, and he grabbed my arm. “Come on Robertson! No time for this!”

Spegg yanked me out of the room, but not before I caught a glimpse of the choppers descending on the station through the window. All military. Fuck fuck fuck.

Spegg tugged me down the stairs and ushered me into the science lab where we had first met.

“Spegg, what the—”

“Get in the cage!”

“I—”

“No time!” He shoved me down and inside, and slammed the door.

“I don’t understand,” I pleaded.

“This is the only way,” he replied sparking the welder.

I watched as he drew the fiery blade along seam of the door, his face grim and determined. What the hell was the point of locking me up? I was useless in here. I went crazy wracking my brain and was about to start arguing again, when suddenly it dawned on me: Look like a victim. Look like a hapless bystander. They’d ask a few questions and let me go and I’d be free to find Spegg and the others. Maybe expose the story. Start a conspiracy. Anything was better than being locked away and tortured for information for the rest of my life. I nodded solemnly and Spegg made what looked like a tiny grimace of understanding.

“But how will I find you?”

He cut off the flame, the fresh weld glowing orange. “Don’t worry. I will send you a message.” Then grabbed my arm through the cage bars and squeezed. “Goodbye for now, Brother.”

And he was gone.

A few minutes later there was a crash and the sound of heavy boots on the floor. Then human voices shouting commands, a scuffle… and gunfire.

Paruski

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Russians.

For some reason I assumed Americans would arrive before anyone else. Call it national arrogance, American chauvinism… who knows. It didn’t matter now. They were in the halls, kicking in doors, shouting as they searched the station. I could only assume that they were informing the other soldiers that the rooms were clear, because unless they shouted da or nyet, I had no idea what they were saying.

Another door slammed open. Probably the supply room. Another door. The bathroom. More Russian. The sound of their boots grew heavier on the floorboards, their husky voices booming louder in the hall. Slam Slam Slam.

Slam.

He was just a kid. Eighteen, nineteen, perhaps. He didn’t notice me at first. He looked around, behind the tables, then turned, sweeping the room with his pistol, and his eyes suddenly widened. He straightened his arm, shaking nervously, and I was sure I was dead.

“Don’t shoot!” I said, showing him my hands.

He said something like “ehh”, then called out to the other soldiers. Shouted the same thing two or three times.

Two other soldiers rushed in and they started speaking frantically. They were all about the same age and none of them looked like they outranked the other. I thought I heard the word English, or something close to it. One of them bent down and grabbed the bars. He had light blue eyes and smooth skin, and looked as if he should be in high school. He ran his finger over the weld, then turned to the others and said something. They nodded and the kid who had first entered the room said, “Who are you?”

“Da, da.” He turned back to me. “Who are you?” He said in a thick, Russian accent.

“Yes. My name is Wayne Robertson. I’m the operator—”

“American,” he told his comrades. They had a few more words and the first kid bolted from the room.

“Look,” I continued. “I’ve been held captive here for weeks. I’m the operator of this—”

“No English.”

I settled back in the cage and sighed. Moments later the kid returned with what looked like his superior officer. He was older and was carrying his helmet in the crook of his right arm. His sidearm was holstered, unbuttoned. The kids stood aside, tucking their pistols away, and he bent down. He had short, blonde hair, and sharp blue eyes, darker than the other soldier’s, but far more intense. He smirked at me, drumming on the cage bars with his gloved hand. His breath smelled like candy mints.

“You look like shit,” he said, his accent a bit lighter than the kids.

I ignored the compliment. “Please, can you get me out of here?”

He scanned the cage, rolling a piece of candy around in his mouth. “How long you been here?”

“I’ve been locked in here for almost a month. My name is Wayne Robertson. I’m the operator—”

“Enough,” he said, scratching the gray stubble on his chin. He rattled the cage door and drew his finger along the weld, just as the kid had done. “Bad for you.”

“Wait, what? What does that mean?”

The senior officer bit into the candy, chewing it up, and quirked an eyebrow at me.  Then he got up, barked some Russian at the kids and they stormed out of the room.

“Goodbye, Wayne Roberston,” he said, and strolled out.

“Wait!” I screamed. “What do you mean bad for me?! Don’t leave me in here! Open this thing! Hey! Nyet! Nyet!”

Nothing.

“NYETTT!”

I heard his boots on the stairs, then there was more shouting and more heavy footfalls. I thought I heard one of the LMOs scream. They were leaving.

“COME BACK! COME BACK! DON’T LEAVE ME IN HERE! “NYET! NYET!”

A few minutes later the helicopters spun up and the sound of the aircraft gradually slipped away.

I screamed until I lost my voice.

Backpedaling

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The cold wind seeped into the room from the open door upstairs, as I waited for something to happen. The sound of the Russian helicopters was the last thing I had heard. It had been a full day. No phones rang. No voices in the hall. I was alone in a cage as far as you could probably get from civilization. Lots of time to think. I thought about the people I had met, the choices I’d made, and everything that had led me to this. It started with my friend Michael Telders, the financier of Station 151.

Michael Steven Telders III, as he is known in the newspapers, is the only son of a former British viscountess, Marjorie Attridge, and American billionaire Michael James Telders II. Both of his parents, two pilots, and another couple were killed in 1999 when their private jet crashed en route to China, on the western slope of the Ural Mountains. As the only heir, Michael inherited everything. At first he was devastated. But like most young men with loads of money and no parental counsel, Michael did what he wanted to do. He immediately dropped out of the Yale School of Management and threw a party that lasted half the decade. Having been Michael’s roommate while I was working toward my two graduate degrees at Yale, I occasionally dropped in on him. He had run of the Connecticut mansion, where celebrities were common, clothing was optional, and there were never fewer than a twenty people in one or more of the swimming pools—most of them female.

I never stuck around these parties for long. While I’ll admit that I regret not taking a few more risks back then, I genuinely felt out of place in that kind of atmosphere. I guess the decadence didn’t suit me. So, my visits were typically reduced to a few sips of Cristal—from the bottle, of course. In return, I would get a high-five and an animated, often hilarious, telling of Telder’s latest tales of debauchery. There was also threesome, the foursome, the ninesome…. the model, the twins, the celebrity’s wife—the latter of which wrote a tell-all book that Michael was quite proud of. He highlighted the passages that included either himself or some part of his anatomy. Back then, the party never ended around Michael.

My friends are your friends. Hang out for a while, let loose, get a little crazy. It just didn’t appeal to me.

Eventually I graduated and took a position at Yale’s center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Life was good. The science was cutting edge. I worked with brilliant researchers who all seemed so much more talented and sharper than I was, but I hung in there, worked hard, and eventually garnered the respect of my peers.

Years later, I was surprised to get a call from Michael. His voice sounded darker and more determined than I remembered from his party days. But he was my friend and I politely listened to what he had to say. He’d just turned thirty, and divorced Catherine Devoue, a popular independent film actress. And because of his wild parties and vast wealth, Michael had become a bit of a celebrity himself. But after the news of his multiple affairs got out, the media stalked and destroyed him. Of course I had seen it all. It was impossible not to. His face littered the tabloids: he was labeled a cheater, a philanderer… devil. It was on the news, on talk radio, and provided endless fodder for late night comedians. Day in and day out, paparazzi photographs and video appeared of Telders in his car, with his lawyers, through his mansion windows—always juxtaposed with images of his wife with her face in her hands, or slumping in an SUV, perpetually alone. I tried not to pay attention, but it was everywhere.

Michael told me that he wanted to get serious. He’d taken some time to think, traveled in India for a few months, and had come back enlightened. He wanted to do something important, something people would remember him for—instead of the reckless womanizer who wasted billions on nothing and would eventually die in a pool of blood, vomit, and semen. His words.

I listened. Regardless of his lifestyle, Michael had the smarts, the guts, and the money to make things happen. We spoke about various charities, causes, world hunger. Perhaps he could donate to cancer or AIDS research. No, no, no, no. Something bigger. I don’t want to just keep a few thousand people alive for a little longer. I want people to remember me. I want to change the world.

I was in. Sign me up.

And so, Michael put his big plans into high gear and Station 151 would become one of 250 leading-edge radio astronomy observatories spanning the globe. Once online, they would work in concert as the biggest and most powerful interferometer the world had ever known. At that time there were only a handful of observatories in existence, each plagued with their own set of budgetary and bureaucratic problems. And most were used exclusively for astronomy and other hard sciences. Only SETI and a few smaller, independent groups spent any time at all trying to find signs of intelligent life in the universe. And Michael wanted to be remembered as the man who did.

Soon, Telders was back in the news. Shaved, suited, and sober, he could be seen routinely dismissing questions about his affairs, the trial, and his ex-wife, and spoke passionately about the need to focus on bigger, more meaningful things: broadening horizons, contacting new civilizations. And he had the money to do it. The media ate it up.

Michael did what smart guys with money did. He amassed a team of the most-brilliant astronomers and physicists from around the world. He had originally slated me to helm Station 130 in New Guinea, but negotiations with the Indonesian government had stalled construction and I, enthralled with the romantic images of a barren, snowy desert virtually untouched by human hands, begged for Antarctica.

A year later, I left for what would be six months of science and solitude as I waited for the other stations to come online. It was to be the beginning of something the world had never seen before. But in a very short time, I had destroyed everything. I haven’t spoken a word to Michael about the events of the last three months. If the real story ever gets out, my career—my life—will be over.

But I may not even live to see it.

Next: Chapter 8. Kindling