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Proof of Life, Part 31

5 Oct

October 3, 2131

Hidaya sent a remote video probe to examine the asteroid. It looked pitted and scarred and old, but the chemical signature was unmistakable. After examining it closely, she decided it was not natural.

“This was obviously made, Memre’. But why? To what purpose? As a joke? A time capsule?” She snapped her fingers. “That’s it! There must be something inside. Maybe a time capsule or a coffin. Who knows? Can our scanners pick up anything about the asteroid’s center?”

“Something at the center of the asteroid seems to confuse our scanners.”

“I guess we’ll have to get a look at it another way.”

She sent a second, laser-equipped remote to gradually heat up the asteroid’s exterior, boiling the elements away. Inside was an odd, metallic spiral.

“What is that?”

“Unknown, Captain. Sensor readings do not match any material in our databanks.”

“Hmmm. There’s something about the shape, too. That spiral reminds me of a seashell.” She directed the video remote to move in more closely.

“What can the sensors tell us, Memre’?”

“The object is a golden mean; it rotates pi times; and it seems to have fractal edges at the wide end that my instruments can’t accurately measure.”

Hidaya started to tremble. “That banded exterior, Memre’, could have been somebody’s practical joke, but that shell thing –“Her voice broke, but she forced herself to continue her reasoning. “It’s probably alien, right? I mean, our fancy, high-tech scanners don’t recognize the material. It’s math inside and chemistry outside: the same kind of thing we put in our early messages to the stars. With that gaudy exterior, it clearly was meant to be found.”

She waited, hoping Memre’ would contradict her. Memre’ didn’t: “This is beyond my programming, Captain.”

Goosebumps rose on her arms. “That object could be a bomb, a piece of art, a scientific monitoring device, or something we have no word for.”

Her legs felt rubbery, and the blood from her pounding heart roared in her ears. She leaned against a cabin wall. “The universe just shifted.”


“I’ve come a long way toward overcoming my fear of people, but aliens?! That’s different by a whole order of magnitude! Consider what humans do to each other, regularly committing atrocities. How can we expect that aliens, with whom we will share no common bonds, will treat us better? And how will people react to this proof of other intelligent life in the universe? We have a deep-seated need to think of ourselves as the center of creation, as Galileo found out all too well.”

Her legs gave way, and she sank to the floor. “This find will not go over well back home. I have a big decision to make.”

Proof of Life, Part 30

2 Oct

October 2, 2131

“Captain? The scanner readings on a small asteroid ahead are very unusual.”

Hidaya looked up from her dinner. “Unusual, how?”

“Readings indicate that one end is lithium. Next to the lithium is a band of beryllium, followed by bands, in order, of boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and fluorine. Sensors indicate all seven elements are in pure form, and in relatively equal amounts.”

“Impossible!” Her mind struggled for a logical explanation: “Maybe early asteroid miners made this and shot it out toward the edge of the solar system.”


“Tag it, and set a course to match its orbit and speed.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Proof of Life, Part 29

1 Oct

September 13, 2131

“It’s been six months, Brother. So far, this belt has more icy asteroids and fewer metallic ones than the Mars belt does. The overall density is less. That, plus the travel time involved, means it won’t be immediately profitable to us. I’ve tagged about nine asteroids that were spectacularly valuable. One appeared to be mostly scandium. Another had an interesting mix of vanadium and germanium. I’ll leave speculation about its origins to the experts. My attached report includes all the information I’ve gathered so far.” She sighed and continued, “I will of course fulfill my contract for a ten-year survey, but I expect it will be more of the same.”

Proof of Life, Part 28

27 Sep

April 9, 2131

Hidaya watched the video Nassor sent of the news conference announcing her success. Her image, in a carefully draped hajib, occupied the top right corner of the screen. She straightened her spine when the reporter linked her name with those of Columbus, Magellan, and Armstrong. She, Captain Hidaya Tsuvecki, a female Muslim from Kenya, had earned a place in the history texts.

Proof of Life, Part 27

26 Sep

April 4, 2131

The Motherlode crossed Neptune’s orbit and officially entered the Kuiper belt.

“We’ve done it, Memre’! We’ve reached the Kuiper belt!”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Let’s send Nassor confirmation. Then we’ll slow down and begin the survey.”

Proof of Life, Part 26

24 Sep

June 26, 2129

“I’m over eight years into this journey, Nassor. It’s been much harder than I expected. Because people make me nervous, I thought I’d be fine alone. Dr. Nwosu has helped me see that my avoidance is a coping strategy. I still need people to, well, avoid or push away. That makes me feel in control, I guess.” She sighed. “We still have lots of work to do. Sometimes, though, I worry that if she cures me too soon before I get back, I will go crazy from the solitude.”

Proof of Life, Part 25

23 Sep

June 26, 2128

“Nassor! I found my old counselor, Dr. Nwosu! She assures me it is possible to root out even neuroses as deeply planted and long lasting as mine. We’re starting with my earliest memories, when I still thought the universe a good place. She has me doing sensory meditation exercises about my family and early childhood. I remember the sound of Father singing in the shower each morning. I remember how our mothers smelled: Maamaa smelled of sandalwood and patchouli; Min of cinnamon, cloves, and curry; and Mathee of the rose petals she scattered in her dresser. ”

Proof of Life, Part 24

22 Sep

April 7, 2128

“Another response came to your search for Dr. Nwosu, Captain.”

Hidaya was working in the ship gardens. “Read it aloud.”

“Yangu Kipanya! My Little Mouse! It is very good to hear from you. I’ve often wondered how you fared after you left my care. I apologize for not responding more quickly, but I caught ImmunoDef4 this winter. I spent months in a slow recovery, but I’m better now and would like to know how you are doing. Tutaonana!”

Hidaya laughed, “That’s my old doctor! No one else ever called me Yangu Kipanya!” She inserted a transplant into a larger holder, tenderly spreading its roots for maximum exposure to the nutrient spray. “I’ll finish up here, Memre’, before replying.”

Proof of Life, Part 23

20 Sep

February 1, 2128

The standard filters sifted out responses from the lewd and fringe elements, but Hidaya still had over a hundred replies — thirty-three from personal injury attorneys. She was tempted to have Memre’ follow up on those with a nasty virus, but it was Ramadan. None came from her Dr. Nwosu.

Proof of Life, Part 22

18 Sep

January 29, 2128

On the first day of Ramadan, Hidaya settled into a comfortable lotus position and began to meditate. She considered her deep-seated anxieties. Since the riot, she’d avoided relationships with people other than Nassor and his family. She avoided physical contact because she knew that other people were dangerous and unpredictable. Out here, alone in space, without people to invoke her flight-or-fight response, she recognized that she was lonely. Perhaps now, with her mind clear, she should finally do some mental housekeeping. She sighed at this thought, because she knew she couldn’t do it alone.

“Memre’, send a query to Earth for Dr. Neema Nwosu, last known residence – Nairobi. Phrase it, ‘Captain Hidaya Tsuvecki seeks the Dr. Neema Nwosu, formerly of Nairobi, Kenya, who treated her from 2087 to 2089. Please respond.’ Attach a standard filter and secure path for responses then send it out.”

“Yes, Captain.”