“Dr. Hill,” the woman's voice persisted over his official residency phone. Dr. Hill, awoken from a deep sleep, nearly dropped the cordless phone! “The President requires your service--”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Peter broke in; rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His nightstand clock read 2:47am! “Look, I'm just fifteen minutes from the White House. I'll just jump into the shower--”
“Doctor, the President needs you to hop onto Eagle Alpha, now!”
“What!” Peter froze on his bed. “Where am I going?”
“New Zealand, Sir...Operations will have your files and everything else in your van for you.”
The environmental scientist-turned-politician thought on what more clothing and other essentials he might need for such a long excursion. He was still getting used to the political lifestyle of being dragged all over the world by the mere word of the president of the United States. After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor of science in environmental studies and then receiving his masters and doctorate in Curitiba, Brazil, Dr. Hill became impatient with so many of the scientists in the world being held hostage to politicians in power that did not understand the sciences of the environment, and even those who did not believe in science at all! He figured the only way to beat them was to join them. “Ok...give me fifteen minutes--”
“Ten, Dr. Hill.”
He chuckled. “Right...”
The government-issued SUV sped up to the tiny hangar, just minutes away from the Baltimore-Washington airport. As Peter stepped out of the vehicle with his over-coat, computer tablet, and official papers poking out of his briefcase, several armed guards were there to greet him. As was his adjunct staff: Bianca Roland, Evan Buxtand, Charlie Dunz, and Patrice Wu. Like the Doctor, they were all under forty years of age.
Bianca was the supervisor of the tiny scientific crew, but Peter was charge d'affaires. He was the President's Special Adviser for Science and Space Affairs...which made Peter all the more worried that the mission was so immediate, given his position!
The pilots of the jet, already inside the cockpit, wasted no time. Within five minutes, the team was up in the air, on their way to New Zealand.
After flying for nearly half the day, Dr. Hill's team finally landed in a relatively wooded area, a couple hundred miles away from Tauranga, one of New Zealand's medium-sized cities. By this time, it was evening and there were no facilities around the area that Peter could see. Not so much as a landing strip.
“Dr. Hill,” Charlie, the youngest of the crew, said with apprehension upon seeing no one there to meet them, “what's going on here? With no disrespect to its citizens, but since when has New Zealand been at a top secret-level with the US government?”
There were nods of agreement from the other three scientists.
Peter was about to say some words of encouragement when he and the crew noticed a middle-aged man with cropped, gray hair approach the plane. Peter froze on the spot. It was someone he had not seen in years!
The man, dressed in business-casual with his Oxford shirt opened at the collar and not a tie to be seen, walked up to the plane and flashed a wide smile at Dr. Hill through one of the plane’s windows.
After giving a deferred look to the two pilots, Peter excitedly opened the door to the small plane and clamored down the short steps to meet the official. After the two men gave each other a business-type hug and exchanged words, Dr. Hill finally let his team in on the surprise guest, after going back into the plane. “Bianca, Evan, Charlie, Patrice; this is the Minister of Interior for New Zealand, Donald Rek. We've worked on several projects together going back ten years!”
There were pleasantries, nodded heads, and smiles from the small scientific team. Minister Rek reciprocated the greetings.
“So, during the flight, I take it that you've all seen it on your devices and reports?”
Peter's eyes said it all, while the others either whistled, pensively nodded their head, or simply sank into the bucket seat of the jet. Donald's demeanor had subsided. His eyes were looking down as he tried putting his words together. “From what you know so far, what do you think it is?”
Bianca looked around at the small group, waiting to see if anyone else wanted to respond. Not even Doctor Hill was willing—or up to—answering. “Well, it's definitely alien...aside from the fact that it's mostly a hydrogen-based composition that's mixed with several elements humans don't even have on the periodic table, no nation on earth even has the technology to build anything like that!”
“Totally seamless,” Patrice came in, her voice just above a whisper, though her eyes were somewhere else. “Something that size should have welding points, rivets, pressure points...I'd even take duct tape!”
“There is a lot of scorching and pitting from entering Earth, though,” Evan admitted from a corner in the jet. “Makes me wonder if Patrice's points about it all being one piece may be a simple matter of atmospheric-melding?” A shrug.
“As to what do we think it is,” Peter finally engaged; he, too, shrugged and shook his head. He looked around at his team, waiting to see who would brave a guess. There were no takers. “We can tell you an awful lot of factual things about it, but even that's from your government's scientists on hand...can't say it's the same as knowing what it is.”
“It's ok,” the Minister said with an understanding tone, “saying 'I don't know' is one of the best answers a scientist can ever give.”
“I'm sorry, my friend,” Peter went on, “but it seems like your government wasted your citizens' taxes bringing us here just to say, 'I don't know!' In these economic hard times, especially for the public sector, I'm not so sure your prime minister's constituents would be as understanding as you are, Donald.”
“Yeah, why are we here, sir,” Bianca asked the minister, with a bit of terseness to her voice, Peter noticed. “I can't see us trekking across the globe just to read studies that other scientists had conducted...what aren't you telling us?”
Peter started to scold his second-in-command, but Donald diplomatically held out a hand and chuckled.
“This one's perceptive, Dr. Hill...” He looked around at the American crew as he whipped out a communicator from his pilot-shirt's pocket. Before speaking into it, he addressed them. “The captain of the jet should be back with a jeep to take us there.”
The bumpy ride from the jet was a quiet one. Partially because the Americans were starting to suffer jet-lag—and that was in addition to all the research they were doing while on the flight; partially because Peter was a little upset with Bianca's challenge to the Minister about thirty minutes ago! Indeed, Peter was awoken by some jabs by Charlie and Patrice. He brought his body to a full-seated position in the jeep when his eyes were drawn to a patch-work of lights smudging the night sky, just over a hill topped by trees. But before the jeep even started up the hill, Peter could already see the very top of it...even at that distance from the area.
There were a few excited expletives from the US operatives. Minister Rek and the young pilot driving the jeep silently smiled to themselves...the site being old hat to them by now.
As the team topped the hill, Peter could see in person, now, what he only read about and saw on his computer tablet...the Object was slender and vertical, though it leaned just slightly, less so than the Tower of Pisa, but its dimensions were more like that of the Sears Tower of Chicago! Given it was in a somewhat sparsely wooded area of New Zealand with only trees competing for its height and not other skyscrapers, the Thing looked all the more immense! Just as the reports showed, there were, indeed, quite a few blackened and pitted areas of the dull-silvery Object from the entry—crash landing, perhaps?—on Earth.
Peter was surprised to see that there were a lot more jagged edges on the Thing than he realized from the reports he had read...as if it had broken off of something, yet, even grander! Other than the scorch-marks, the pitting, and the sharp edges, the Intruder was quite uniform. What really made Peter and his team curious was the minimal amount of a crater from something that big to have fallen from space! No doubt, for the conspiratorial ones among humanity, this would feed well into the alien-landing angel. But Evan guessed it had something to do with the nature of something shaped like a dagger crashing into Earth having less contact than, say, something shaped round like a potato—an asteroid or comet, for instance.
Then there was the human element. Perhaps hundreds of people rimmed the entire shallow crater! They were not curious civilians. Most of them were scientists, government operatives, and military in nature...Peter, having done this type of project for the US government for years, recognized the various attire and instruments that each respective group would normally bring along for such expedition. One thing of note that Patrice pointed out was the fact that of all the agencies at the site, not one of them had set up camp within the crater. Peter guessed, quietly, among the other Americans that none of the teams there, yet, fully understood the potential for radiation from the Object, so they most likely were playing it safe!
Minister Rek and the pilot was escorting Peter's team to an available spot on the Rim. All seven of them passed what seemed like a United Nations convention of various languages and ethnicity. Some greeted them while most were too focused on doing the science standing over a thousand feet before them!
Yet another curious scene was one team on the Rim that actually had something equivalent to a call center—with cubical structures and all! Peter payed close attention to them...was not this a secured site? Who in the world could all those people with their headsets and laptops be talking to this time of the early morning? Peter could have sworn they were telemarketers, but deep down inside he feared they were doing something a lot more shady than that...perhaps this was how governments around the world “controlled” UFO-sightings; by disseminate disinformation, in order to preempt anything reported by independent sources?
As they started to unpack their own gear and set up camp on the Rim, Peter saw that a few other teams were also finding a spot to conduct their own studies...again, more questions. And Peter could see it on his team's faces. Normally, the host-nation would have a more controlled system for scientists to do science. Much like archeological digs. Most nations allow only so many people—especially non-citizens—to dig on site...what was New Zealand's stake in all this? Aside from the fact that the Object was on their Northern island.
Minister Rek asked if he could speak with Peter alone while his team set up shop. Peter agreed to it. In fact, it was the perfect opportunity for him to ask the myriad of questions that had been bugging his crew and in his own mind. Donald left the pilot behind with the American scientists while he and Peter walked several yards opposite of the Thing. The Minister had a tablet tucked under one of his arms as they strolled.
“Go ahead, Peter...” Donald said this with an air of askance. They had worked together over the past several years in various countries, so they were well at ease with being frank to each other.
Peter scratched his forehead, not liking what was needed to be said. “You and Bianca may not get along the best, but I think she had some valid points...Your government has plenty of hard hitters without my team and I here. Obviously, It is alien,” he said, gesturing toward the Object with flinging arms. “You don't need us to verify that for your government...seriously, Don, what's going on?”
Pensively, the Minister lifted the cover from the computer tablet and did a series of commands. He then handed it to Peter without a word. Indeed, none was needed. For on the screen, there was a checkered-format of small pictures of about ten different places with similar Objects! But those other Objects came in a variety of shapes. A couple of them were more like a pile of interstellar trash, mangled from the burning entry into Earth. One was almost a complete sphere, but for a large, gaping whole off to the side. Another Object looked as if one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt had dropped from the sky and one of the pyramid's bottom-corner was slammed into the Earth two-thirds of the way into the ground! And like the camp site were Peter's team was, in each of those locales, hoards of people gathered around the Rims of each respective Object in all the pictures.
Peter's eyes slowly looked up from the monitor and met an all-knowing gaze from Minister Rek. “Before you ask, it is not an invasion...we haven't detected any dangerous levels of radiation or any other chemicals from any of the crash sites. No signs whatsoever of any life at any of the other sites. We're triple-checking for this site, just to be sure, but there's no reason to expect it to be any different from the other Shard-sites.”
Peter flinched, the tablet still firmly in his hands. “Shards...? Why, that implies that the Object is a tiny piece of something else!”
The Minister slowly nodded his head; his face stoic.
“Minister, is the Moon in any trouble?”
“Based on the composition of the Shards, Pete, the Objects aren't even from our own galaxy! Remember what Bianca said on the jet about those alien elements we don't even have categorized?” Peter then remembered, but waited to hear more. “Peter...the United States has a reputation for your deeply-held beliefs. We thought if we brought over a team from there as a vanguard, let them see for themselves...maybe you'd all be better-prepared than if you--”
“Is the planet in danger, Donald?”
Minister Rek reacted as if someone had splashed cold water on his face. “Oh, my, no, Peter! But many of your fellow-citizens' faith will be endangered...they're all pieces of a Machine, Pete.”
Peter's entire body froze, the buzz of activity behind them droning on. “A Machine...?”
Rek merely nodded. The American looked at the Object, then back at the New Zealand official, whom was ever so slightly nodding his head. He hardly had any emotion on his face. Peter then took a couple of steps as he studied the Shard for a long while.
“So what do you think your president will say about this when you report on it,” Rek finally asked.
Peter jerked out of his trance of thought and looked behind his shoulder, toward the minister. “Tell about what?”
The New Zealand interior minister had a lot more to show the American environmental scientist! But given the sensitivity of the issue at hand, Donald Rek insisted on going to his private tent-quarters so that he could show Dr. Hill. Before they left the rimmed area of the small crater, Peter went over to his team’s campsite and told head scientist Bianca where he was going. The little misunderstanding that she had earlier with Peter over his friend, the interior minister, about keeping secrets from the team was apparently forgotten since they had encountered the Object in person! She absent-mindedly nodded at Peter’s instructions and went back to her laptop of information while the other three scientists under her command didn’t even bother to look up, because they were so enthralled with the project! Dr. Hill and Minister Rek shared a smirk before walking off to his tent…
Peter found himself on a fancy, unfolded canvas chair inside Donald’s elite tent. It was equipped with pretty much most of the amenities one would find in a professional office of science. This suggested to Peter that Rek’s team had been at the Shard-site for quite some time…perhaps a couple of years, or so.
Donald offered Peter a beer and it looked as if he were going to get one out of his small refrigerator for himself as well, until Peter politely declined. New Zealanders had a reputation for being rugged, much like their counterparts in Australia and America. But even during a time of informalities, Donald knew the etiquettes of not taking a drink when your guest refused one. Peter was anxious to get to whatever it was that Donald wanted to show him, that much the interior minister could see. So without further niceties, Donald once again got out his computer tablet and swiped some commands on its surface and brought up an image of space—outer space.
Upon seeing the view on the tablet after Rek had given the computer to him, Peter frowned for lack of comprehension. He started to hand the computer back to his friend until the minister held up a hand.
“You'll need that to see why you and your team are here, Pete,” Donald said, his head tilted and his face having a knowing look about it.
Peter leaned back on his seat, saying nothing and letting Rek continue.
“What do you see there, Doctor Hill?”
“Well, space, of course,” he said with some impatience.
“Right...Space. Now,” Donald reached over and swiped several commands on the computer tablet, “filtering for radiation, selecting a wider band-width, and skipping normal naked eye indicators...”
And there it was!
To Dr. Hill, it looked like one gigantic factory machine with gears and conduits, only subtle against the blackness of space, even with all the filters that Minister Rek had engaged into the application. The images that humans had known as cotton-like, swirling galaxies and solar systems were actually mere gears to a superstructure so immense that it was like looking at a car factory through the viewing lense of camara! And some of the stars appeared to be something like rivets to this structure—this Universe Machine.
“My god,” was all that Peter could say upon seeing the fantastic image.
“And that expression, my friend, is what the governments of the various nations you see here today are worried about,” Rek said quietly; his eyes yet on the image before him. “Peter, if the masses of planet Earth were to find out the truth to what the universe really is, to say there'll be chaos would be one of the biggest understatements in history! One camp will be convinced of Intelligent Design—given that, without a doubt, the universe is a machine! And according to their logic, therefore, their god that they believe in, hence, created the universe! But then you'll have the other faction; given that the universe is a machine, how can one say that it's some kind of god that created it and this machine is not in our holy books!”
“Utter, global war,” Peter said under his breath as he looked away and thought more on the implications of this revelation! “Global war, but not like the first two...no, this global war would be fought to the very last person on Earth is left!”
“Indeed,” Minister Rek stated, “if we're are to look at the conflicts in Israel, or in Syria with ISIS, and with past wars like the Crusades, those will all be a game of Monopoly in comparison!”
Peter seemed to snap out of his trance and looked at Donald with a determined face. “What do you want my team to do, Minister?”
Donald slightly nodded to himself, with the slightest of grins.
“Dr. Hill, we need you to help make sure that this knowledge of the Universe Machine stays a secret. As you've said so yourself, Doctor, we don't want the ultimate global war to break out because of this! We need you to sabotage the satellites of the private industries so they cannot start putting two and two together, and, finally, detain anyone—and we mean anyone—who may get close to the truth.”
Peter and Donald locked eyes. Peter was not sure if he heard what his long-time friend had just said to him. But there was no mistaking it.
“Just out of curiosity, Don...given that my team and I are all among those who have now seen the truth, what would happen to us if we refuse to comply?”
Minister Rek said nothing. Dr. Hill, the politician, knew exactly what that meant.
“I see...Will we be one of those mysterious deaths we've read about in history when someone's about to blow the whistle on some government conspiracy?”
Again, nothing from Minister Rek. Peter took one look at the tablet's image of the Universe Machine and blew out a sarcastic sigh while shaking his head for the incredulity of what he found himself in. He thought about trying to break a run for it, but where? They were on a big island controlled by a government that was hell-bent on keeping this a secret!
“So, Doctor Hill,” Minister Rek finally said, “what's it going to be?”
Peter got up from his seat and paced. He happened to look outside Rek's tent and saw two soldiers standing guard just outside. He had not noticed them there upon entering the tent earlier.
What was it going to be for Dr. Hill and his crew, indeed?