Chapter 5: The Press Conference
Friday, June 13, 2008
Murphy decided to hold the press conference on the afternoon of Friday, June 13. Yes, it was a Friday the 13th. But that is not why he chose the date. Late news from the conference on a Friday afternoon would have difficulty making the weekend papers thus escaping close public scrutiny. At least, that was his plan.
Yet, as the reader well knows, the attendance at the conference far exceeded ASF’s expectations. The press room at the San Diego facility was filled with reporters from all over the globe. Dr. Polonski and his team, somewhat reluctantly, were seated on the platform with Murphy and Sanger. Dozens of microphones dotted the front of the podium bearing the ASF logo.
At the rear of the hall were television cameras, beaming the forthcoming events across the globe. Excitement was growing due to an increasing number of leaks throughout the week. Whoever the leaker was, they were flooding the press with their wild claims. Speculation over the forthcoming conference had already appeared in the papers.
“’Martians are HERE,’ says ASF” was a headline in the Friday morning St. Louis daily.
“ASF Claims Invasion,” carried a Miami weekly.
“Mysterious Object Delivers Mysterious Mail,” had caught the eyes of Memphis readers.
The latter headline had made the Tennessee paper a few days earlier and was too accurate for the comfort of the ASF Administrator. Government officials, including Sanger, did not want the “outer space” element of this story discussed or promoted.
“The word is getting out somehow, so we need to lead with what we know,” he commanded, emphasizing the final word. “Give them the facts,” he told the Project CB team, “not speculation.” He glared at Cantrell with his last remark. “You understand, Cantrell? Facts, not guesses. We don’t know who manufactured the capsule or the stones and we don’t know who sent them. Got it?”
Both Marx and Cantrell believed the public should be told the whole truth. An object launched from some unknown location in space had crashed on the earth bringing with it three artifacts. Sanger was certain the leaker was one of these two men, yet each man denied it. Nevertheless, he emphasized to all four scientists not to mention “space” until experts were one-hundred percent certain of that fact. In effect, they were under a gag order from their boss.
At precisely two p.m., Mike Murphy stepped to the podium and scanned the large gathering.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, to those who are present in the room and to those who are watching via television. I am going to turn this conference over to the American Space Federation’s Administrator, Dr. Brian Sanger, who will present a brief statement. Following his remarks, he and the project team on the platform, will take some questions.” He turned to his boss. “Chief Sanger”.
Sanger rose to his feet and strode to the podium with confidence in each step. He smiled at the crowd as he swooped his hand across his brow, straightening his coal black hair. As his eyes passed over his audience, he pointed at various reporters whom he recognized. Then he began his address.
“Thank you, Mike. And good afternoon and welcome to ASF San Diego! My name is Dr. Brian Sanger and I am the Administrator of ASF. As Mike noted, I will share a few remarks and then take questions.”
Sanger took a sip of water, permitting cameras to snap his picture, and to add to the drama of the moment. He cleared his throat and began the statement with his calm and authoritative voice.
“In recent days, much speculation has been shared by the media concerning some of the recent activities of ASF. I am here today to present to you the FACTS as we know them. Again, please do not interrupt and allow me to share all the information to you. After doing so, I will then take some questions.
“In July of 2007, an object fell from the sky through a residence in London, triggering a devastating gas explosion. The owner of that home, Mr. Cedric Cedarbrook, discovered the object among the ruins. The object was given to British authorities, and, after months of examination, transferred to ASF in San Diego.
“We assembled a team of our best engineers to examine this object known as the ‘Cedarbrook Capsule’. Leading what we referred to as ‘Project CB’, was Dr. Carl Polonski. His team studied the device for months with the following conclusions.
“The object was a shiny, metallic elliptical device. It measured 36-inches by 18-inches, six-inches in height in its center and weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces.
“The metal resisted all attempts of analysis.” A buzz circulated the room. “It could not be chipped or burned using every known technique. To be straightforward, it was unlike any metal we have ever encountered.”
“Was it man-made?” shouted a reporter near the rear of the room. Sanger, momentarily caught off guard, glared at the reporter then returned his eyes to his text. Behind him, Cantrell was moving his head slightly from side to side, silently answering the reporter’s question.
“On May 27th,” Sanger continued, “while investigating the unknown device, the CB team found it missing from one of our clean rooms. In its place were three artifacts…”
“Martian artifacts?” blurted Joseph Delaney of the Boston Weekly.
“Come on, Joe,” responded Sanger angrily. “Do you know how to identify something Martian?”
The room exploded in laughter as the embarrassed reporter attempted to hide from view.
“As I said,” he continued once the room had calmed down. “We do not know what has happened to the capsule. The three artifacts found in its place were named “alpha”, “beta”, and “gamma” by the project team. We do not know what they are, though, they appear to be made of the same metallic material as the capsule. These stones do contain markings when placed under spectroscopic analysis, but, at this moment, we are uncertain whether these markings are accidental or intentional.”
Hands bolted into the air and queries for recognition came from across the room. Sanger ignored all this activity and continued with his remarks.
“Our plans are to submit these three artifacts to three separate organizations for examination. ‘Alpha’ will be examined by Dr. Fritz Gerhard and a team in Berlin. ‘Beta’ will be sent to Dr. Boris Karpov’s team in Moscow. Finally, ‘Gamma’ will be handled by Dr. Matthew Lessing’s linguistics team in Dallas.
“That’s what we know as of today and that concludes my statement. We will now answer what questions we can.” Hands shot into the air and voices cried out for recognition. “When you are recognized, state your name, your employer, and to whom you are addressing your question.”
Seeing the hand of an older man he recognized on his right, Sanger pointed towards him.
“Thanks, Dr. Sanger. Hap Davis, Detroit Broadcaster. Dr. Polonski, can you give us any further information concerning the disappearance of the capsule? Was it stolen?”
“No,” Polonski replied as he walked to the podium. “It simply vanished.”
“What do you mean ‘vanished’?” shouted a voice from the middle of the room. The project leader appeared frustrated with the question and Murphy intervened, coming to his rescue.
“Come on, folks. Remember how we are conducting this question and answer.”
As he stepped back from the podium, Polonski saw the hand of a familiar journalist on his left. The bearded man with no hair on the top his head slowly stood.
“John Pinkerton, Chicago Record. Dr. Marx,” he said, having noted the professor’s disappointment over the refusal of Sanger to permit an answer to the previous question. Marx stepped to the microphone.
“Yes, Mr. Pinkerton.” Uriah Marx always gave the appearance of a man who had all the answers. His arrogance was well-known among the media. The agency’s leadership cringed, awaiting the forthcoming question.
“Would you explain what Dr. Polonski meant by ‘vanished’?”
“Of course,” Marx replied loudly, making certain everyone could hear him and that he had their attention. “It was strapped to one of our tables, changed color, glowed to a brilliant white, and disappeared.”
“You saw it disappear before your eyes?” How is that possible?”
“Yes, and I have no idea how.”
Sanger was ready to strangle the man. He motioned Polonski back to the podium while all the journalists were screaming for recognition.
“Yes, you, in the back.” Polonski recognized Susan Little of one of the local papers.
“Thank you, Dr. Polonski. Susan Little, San Diego Ocean News. My question is for Dr. Brandt.”
The short, young blond was startled by the reporter’s request to question her. She moved around her leader to the podium and was almost invisible standing behind the lectern.
“Dr. Brandt, did you witness this disappearance, and, if so, have you ever seen anything like it before?”
“Yes, Susan,” she began, carefully choosing her words. “I did watch it happen. The only other time I’ve witnessed such a mysterious event was when ‘The Magical Man’ performed a similar trick in Vegas, causing a rabbit to vanish before my eyes.”
Once more the room erupted with laughter. While everyone was chuckling over Brandt’s response, Jeff Truitt, sitting to the far right of the podium in the second row, was screaming for recognition.
“Mr. Sanger, Mr. Sanger,” he shouted, waving his hand back and forth vigorously. Sanger saw and heard him, stepped to the podium, and pointed his finger in his direction.
“Hi, my name is Jeff Truitt with the Freedom Broadcasting Network. My question is for you, Chief Sanger. Has any geo-political nation or space agency taken credit for the capsule?”
The room became deathly silent once more.
Marx and Cantrell glared at the back of Sanger’s head, awaiting his reply. Polonski gulped and Brandt sighed. Sanger took a moment and then spoke with a clear, authoritative voice.
“Well, Jeff, to date, no political power has taken responsibility for the capsule. All space agencies have denied any involvement…” Gasps were heard throughout the room. “Hold on, folks. All agencies except the Chinese Space Agency has denied responsibility. They have not given us an answer.”
“So,” Truitt quickly responded, “you think the Chinese may be behind all of this?”
“That’s not what I said, Jeff. What I said was no one has claimed any involvement in the Cedarbrook Capsule affair except the Chinese and they have said nothing to date.”
Again, hands were outstretched throughout the conference room. Sanger pointed at a young man seated on the front row to his left. Nervously, the young reporter rose to his feet and took the microphone handed to him by one of the ASF media personnel.
“Johnson Stegall, Helena Press. My question is for Dr. Cantrell.”
Surprised at receiving a question, Cantrell slowly moved to the microphone. Uriah Marx saw the hair on the back of Sanger’s neck rise. Sanger questioned his own wisdom for demanding the CB team be present at this conference.
“Dr. Cantrell, was this CB capsule and its artifacts sent from some alien world?”
The room grew quiet. All eyes were glued on Cantrell who cleared his throat and quickly considered how to reply honestly within the administrator’s clear demands.
“Can’t tell,” he snapped. Quickly, Sanger’s eyes caught those of Murphy. The media man rushed forward to the podium as dozens of hands bolted into the air and voices raised to their highest volume of the afternoon.
“That’s all for now, folks. Thank you so much for attending.” As the ASF members departed the room through the door behind the podium, journalists continued to plead for recognition.
Of course, the major headlines in the next day’s papers read: “Aliens? Cantrell ‘Can’t Tell’”.
When Sanger was given a paper the next morning, his face became a deep purple, crumbling it between his hands, he threw it across the room and said, “I could just kill that man!”