Jericho felt like dogshit. His spring allergies had been especially rough, and that was before he got the call from the top. Before he’d biked home, his mind racing faster than his legs could pedal. Before he packed his shit, kissed his partner, and said, “I’ll call you when I can. Hopefully soon.” That was before the little plane, weighed down by too much equipment, bounced to a stop on the gravel runway in Nightmute in strong gusts, before the ride to the coast, and before taking the boat out to Nunivak Island over eight-foot swells. He was wet, cold, tired, and generally felt like a beach towel after the spin cycle. But he was still too shocked to be miserable.
The sea was an ominous green with angry whitecaps that slapped at the little boat as it climbed the crests of the waves. The array sat off the island’s southern coast. The harsh environment made it an undesirable destination for otherwise curious amateurs and suspicious journalists. But usually the skies were clearer than this.
Finally, through gray curtains of rain, Jericho could make out the first impressions of the array’s dishes. The skeletal lines of the trusses looked like toothpicks beneath the grandeur of the parabolas, but it was hard to tell how enormous the things were until you were upon them. The red lamps of the lead boat bobbed rhythmically in the chop as the ship peeled away, heading for the first dish, FCA1. Jericho’s ship was second in the little caravan. He’d get off at the next dish. He was grateful his boat wasn’t last; he couldn’t stand any more bouncing. Or any more waiting.
At last he disembarked and entered the tiny facility below the second dish. The operators here lived much like lighthouse keepers. Or at least they used to. He’d already gotten radio confirmation from over at FCA1, but even so, he didn’t fully believe it until he saw it for himself. Well, now he had to believe it. He spoke into his radio.
“Jericho here, First Contact Array number two. The stationkeep’s dead. Gunshot wound to the temple; self-inflicted. Same as FCA1.” There was a short silence.
“Roger that, Jericho. I’m, uh… I’m seeing the same thing at FCA3.”
The rest of the team would soon check in likewise from the other stations.
All the research, all the time and effort and money had finally gotten them what they were after: contact with a civilization not of this world. But when the first message came in, every last person who’d heard it put their sidearm to their head and…
What was it that they’d heard? And why did that pit in Jericho’s stomach fill him with dread rather than grief? Of course, he already knew the answer. It was because he knew that whatever they’d heard, he needed to hear it for himself.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Ellie Cooper, used with permission.