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November 2009 Volume 11 , Issue 11 submit to us!
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Outside+Help
by Andrew Males -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

"Is it true, Mr President?" asked a voice at the back, as every reporter in the room leaned forward with their Dictaphones, camera flashes everywhere. The President paused for effect, looked straight ahead and answered.

"My team of top scientists have confirmed to me in person that yes, the signal we received four nights ago is indeed a message indicating intelligence originating not from this planet." A small smile appeared on his lips; he'd been practising that line ever since he'd heard the news. Not even Kennedy or Reagan had a line in their history to trump that. The room exploded with a bombardment of questions from the men and women in front of him.

"So it's from aliens then?" said one woman, shrieking above the rest and penetrating clearly to the President's ears.

"It is from extraterrestrial beings, if that's what you mean." He had been carefully briefed not portray the perception of little green men, even if he had been imagining shaking the hand of an alien in that very image all day. He answered a few more inane questions before holding his hand up, signalling one last statement.

"That's all for now. The teams are still working on the decoding of the message. Once we have the successfully translated it, I will share it with the entire world."

Back at the computer labs, the teams only needed three things: time, computing power and caffeine; luckily, the latter two of these were in plentiful supply. In fact the teams could have asked for the purest cocaine right now; anything would be granted if it meant a breakthrough. They all knew it would come eventually, but the race was on to be the one to tell the president what the message was contained within the strange mix of symbols.

"You bozos still relying on Pietersen's dated algorithms to crack this alien code?" said Marshall, barely out of his teens, as he leapt over a desk next to a huddle of middle-aged men.

"It's tried and tested," replied DeWinter.

"That maybe. But I bet you haven't already got a couple of words like we have." Marshall danced away, recklessly spilling his coffee as he returned to his team, feeling the jealous glares in his back. He knew they were close.

The President could not imagine wanting a door to open as much as he did right now. Rumour had it the labs were near to success. Much waving of hands had been reported through the glass windows, and although secrecy surrounded the sealed rooms, it was obvious that someone was going to emerge soon. The President had confidently called for a press conference.

Staring hard, he willed for the knock to come, the one that would bring forth the person with the greatest answer in the history of the world. Like a kid, he'd decided to prolong the excitement just a little more by not accepting he be told over the phone. Something as critically important as this, he argued, was meant to be done in person. What luck, he thought, to have this come up just before the election. He played through the rest of his triumphant career in his mind. Galaxy Commissioner, he said aloud, both inventing the position and crowning himself simultaneously.

Finally, the knock came. The President rolled his shoulders, straightened his tie and took a deep breath. "Enter."

Marshall appeared, nervously fiddling with a piece of folded white paper in his hand.

"Do you have the deciphered message?" the President asked in his best official voice.

The man-boy nodded.

"Can you confirm that it's from another race? An intelligent signal?"

"Err . . . yes, sir, I can. Only - "

"Is it hostile?"

"Well, no sir, not at all, but -- "

The President waved a hand to silence him, before holding out the other, gesturing for the piece of paper. Marshall paused, before giving it up and backing away. There, now, in the President's right hand was proof of intelligent life. Without looking at it, he pressed a button on the intercom. "Lucy? Are they ready for me?"

As one, the press corps moved swiftly in response to the slightest of change of movement ahead of them, like a herd of wild antelope. Many just followed their instincts and grabbed their equipment at the sight of others doing so, while the lucky few at the front craned their necks to the stage wings to see if the show was about to start.

Outside the briefing room, the President stood shaking his legs, as if about to start a marathon and waved the paper at each and every person in the room, accompanied by a huge smile. After making Marshall swear not to reveal anything -- even to him -- he'd decided to milk the moment. He was about to read the most important discovery in human history, and wanted to share the moment with the world. Documentaries would be filmed about this very moment. When the call came, he gave a little skip and strove up to the podium.

"Ladies and gentleman. People of the world. Our world - Earth." A small pause to give the photographers a good shot. He held up the piece of paper. "I have a message. A message from intelligent life whose origin is not -- I repeat not -- from this planet."

The watching billions held their breath as the President unfolded the paper and triumphantly read aloud:

"Want to enlarge your reproductive organs? Then come to Cosmic Growth, Planet 3192, in sector 4.21 of your galaxy. Directions are as follows . . . "

The sound of camera clicks ceased as the room paused to digest the words. The President stared at the sheet in his hands, his body rigid. His advisors had nothing.

"Umm . . . any questions?"

 
 
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Features -- November 2009 -- Beginning Month Issue