Dispatch 4

¡Estoy vivo! I’m alive!

Well, just barely. After spending a couple of excruciatingly painful days of throwing up and stomach cramps I am happy to let you all know that I am drinking this alien water and holding it down. I’m very weak and I can barely move but the stomach cramps and the vomiting have stopped, at least for now. I didn’t think I was going to make it.

But here I am still wondering if it’s the air I’m breathing or the water I am drinking or if the lack of food is going to kill me. All I need now is for the aliens to find me.

I just realized that I haven’t seen much of a civilization around me except for the light tower connecting me to Earth. Not that I can see very far through the mist enveloping me but I have not seen or heard anything resembling technology or intelligent life for that matter. The strangest part is that it is deathly quiet around me. All I hear is my own breathing and my other bodily noises.

Si mama, ya se pórtate bien, mom I know, I should behave.

It is just strange how there are no sounds anywhere. As for animals, I have seen bug-like creatures scurrying around. As I have already written to you all, there is very little vegetation where I am at right now. All I have seen is some moss-like growth on the rocks. It is the greenest thing I have ever seen. So far, it is the only thing that is not grey on this planet.

As for the insects, some look like large dark grey spiders with eight legs. There are also some worm-like grey things slithering around all over the place. I have stepped on a few as I walk around since they are so difficult to see among the grey rocks. At first I didn’t even realize they were worms until I went to sleep the first night I was here and saw them crawling around in front of my eyes. They are not all over the place but I see them regularly when they are slithering around. When they are not moving, it is hard to notice them.

Yesterday, or what I think was yesterday on this planet, I was able to eat some of my emergency rations, but I am still very, very weak. I believe I have about ten days of emergency rations left if I continue to ration myself carefully. Eventually I’m going to have to figure out what to eat as my rations are not going to last. My problem now is that I need to get my strength back and the only way I can think of doing that is through eating.

I am too weak to wonder what I’m going to do about food after my emergency rations run out so for now I’m going to focus on getting my strength back and then I’ll deal with my food situation. I may have to start eating some worms.

I will send a more detailed dispatch later once I have gotten some of my strength back. It is too difficult to concentrate right now.

Foxtrot 238, signing off.

Go to Episode Index.

Dispatch 3

Creo que me estoy muriendo; I think that I’m dying.

About eight hours ago, I finally drank some of the liquid I think is water. Less than an hour later, I started violently vomiting. The liquid has no taste, no odor and it is clear, like water yet I am really, really sick. The vomiting has not stopped and I’m afraid it’s dehydrating me even more.

At this point, I am not sure what else to do. I have no water left and this liquid is making me sick. There is no vegetation that I can see. Everything around me is rocky, grey rocks. The ground has a sandy feel to it, almost like fine beach sand but instead of tan or white, everything is grey. I mean everything is grey, the sky, the ground and the rocks. There is no vegetation that I can see; therefore boiling the liquid is out of the question as I have very little combustible material. I haven’t seen any wood.

The liquid seems to be coming out of the ground in one of the corners of the cave I have been making my home in since I arrived on the planet. That is why I was hoping it was water. I still think it is water but it must have some alien bacteria or virus in it.

My stomach definitely doesn’t like it.

It is funny how the things I ignored in class are now slowly trickling in, and some people didn’t think I learned anything.

Tengo una sed que no se me quita; I am so very thirsty.

I am now very weak and it is getting harder to think straight. These are the classic symptoms of dehydration we all learned about in survival class. Because of my weakness and difficulty in thinking, I’m not sure I will be able to convert another message into binary code to send over to you.

I am going to drink as much of this water as I can, even though I keep throwing it up. I will die either from dehydration or from some alien disease, either way I have to try something. Besides, who knows what I’m breathing in, anyway.

I can see the astrobiologists salivating at being able to examine my body!

I am not sure if I’m going to survive much longer but I’m going to try to send at least one more dispatch before I die.

Mama, papa los extraño, I miss you guys.

Go to Episode Index.

Dispatch 2

Every day I keep asking myself if all of this is just some strange psych mind game that the Terra Defence doctors are playing on me. I figure it has been about 20 days since I had eaten any real food and breathed in some fresh Earth air. Why I’m alive on this planet is beyond me. I am down to my last quarter liter of emergency water. I have rationed as much of it as I can but it looks like I will probably finish it off later today.

¡Ay Dios, que sed tengo! I’m so thirsty!

I have been giving a lot of thought to how we were told, in survival class, that urine is supposed to be safe to drink. I remember that as we made faces and proclaimed we would never drink our own urine the instructors would remind us that we had a duty to hold out as long as we could – until help could arrive. “We’ve spent lots of money on your training and it’s your duty to survive” was constantly drilled into our heads. Besides, your families want you to come home was the closing argument.

Well it seems like my smug attitude of never being in a predicament of having to drink my own urine has finally come to haunt me. Frankly, I’ve decided not to drink my urine. Fact of the matter is that rescue is not a few days away it is never coming. I am going to die on this planet.

Mama, perdóname pero ya me conoces soy muy tonto, but remember los quiero mucho; I love you all.

I still have food, if you can call it that but water is a serious problem. The emergency rations have lasted me much longer than I anticipated because I am so thirsty that I can’t eat any food, although I force myself to eat some each day.

By the way, remember that diet I was always talking about? Well, I’m finally on it! LOL!

I guess I should let you all know how I ended up here, while I still can.

As you probably already know, our squadron had scrambled to intercept the unknown object that the early warning system had picked up. Space Command was able to get us on an orbital trajectory where the bogey was supposed to insert into Earth. But the bogey orbited the Earth twice and although our targeting radars would pick it up its orbit was too high to intercept it. We had been tasked to observe and intercept. Our targeting radar would not lock on and we soon lost the bogey. A while later Space Command vectored us into an intercept course as the bogey reentered our sector on its second orbit around Earth. Four other squadrons from around the world tried to intercept but their orbits were too low to reach it.

This time, the bogey deorbited away from Earth. Cmdr. Chen ordered the squadron to maintain orbital formation and said he would attempt a final lockup before the bogey left Earth orbit.

As you all know, I’m not much for procedures so I disobeyed Cmdr. Chen’s order and maintained a tight-formation intercept posture behind his Raptor. I know he knew I was there and he never ordered me to back off. We both burned off the last of our main engine fuel in an attempt to close up on the bogey and shoot it down.

I do not know if the bogey was aware of us or not but it was heading out into space. Either it knew we couldn’t catch it or it didn’t care because the bogey didn’t maneuver defensively at all, it just kept heading away from Earth. We did not attempt to communicate with the bogey; Chen and I were intent on shooting it down.

I was about to radio Cmdr. Chen when without warning my instruments suddenly went dead and Chen’s Raptor disappeared behind some weird haze that suddenly enveloped my cockpit. Everything disappeared behind the haze, including the bogey. I had zero visibility. The stick was dead.

I am not sure how much later I awoke from a black out. As I came to, my instruments were coming back online and the bogey was still in front of me, but Earth had disappeared. There was no moon or space station or any familiar stars. Instead, there was this giant hazy planet in front of me. The bogey looked like it was maneuvering into a deorbit burn.

As my instruments came back online, I tried to get a lock on the bogey but it was too far ahead of me. I soon realized that I only had fuel for the maneuvering thrusters as my main engine fuel was completely out. I had burned it off attempting to get closer to the bogey before everything went dark.

My engine and flight instruments seemed to be working but my navigation instruments and radios were completely dead. I wasn’t receiving any IFF telemetry at all. Not that there were any friendlies around, just a foe I couldn’t catch. Although my chronometer showed that a little over an hour had passed since I had blacked out, later, after I had ejected and retrieved my personal digital assistant, I realized that almost two days had actually passed since I had scrambled in pursuit of the bogey. I cannot explain how my oxygen did not run out but I finally understood why I was starving and dying of thirst when I came to.

I tried to raise Cmdr. Chen on the squadron frequency and even tried the emergency frequency. No joy, he did not respond. My Raptor was heading straight for the planet and I had no time to wonder about where I was or what had happened to Chen. I had only a few seconds to decide what to do next.

I settled on trying to achieve orbit around the planet but with no fuel other than my thrusters and with the momentum my Raptor was carrying, I wasn’t able to. Had I had time to think I may have not attempted to orbit as I might just as easily bounced off the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, my thrusters were not enough to slow down my approach and I came in too steep. Thinking about it now, I’m not really sure what I was thinking. I didn’t even know if the atmosphere was sufficient enough for me to attempt an engine out glide to ground, much less breath the stuff. I came in too steep and fast and my Raptor was burning up around me.

The only thing I had left was to attempt to punch out. I waited for as long as I could, almost until my Raptor burned to a crisp before ejecting. Do not bother asking me if I had given any thought as to whether I could even breathe the air on this planet because I really had no other options. I could stay with my Raptor and burn up or I could hope that I would at least survive the ejection.

Obviously, I’m sending you this dispatch so the question of me surviving the ejection and breathing the air is mostly moot now. As for what I am breathing, I have no way to test it. It is hard to breathe and I have been light-headed since I arrived. I am assuming that what I’m breathing has some oxygen in it or else I wouldn’t be writing you this.

Whether I’m slowly being poisoned with some unknown gasses is a moot point since I’m running out of water. I have decided to drink the last of my water later today and eat the chocolate bar I’ve been religiously hoarding for a special occasion. I guess dying of dehydration or from alien viruses or bacteria could be considered a special occasion.

I found a liquid that resembles something like water. It does not have any color or smell to it. I have no way to test it. When I cannot take it any longer, I’m going to drink some of it and see what happens. This will be my last dispatch before drinking the alien liquid. If I survive, I’ll send out another dispatch.

Mama y Papa, por favor no se preocupen de mi, know that you are in my heart and that I have done what I have always wanted to do. No tengo nada de que quejarme, I have no regrets. Siempre recuerden me, keep me in your thoughts and know that I love you all, los quiero muchísimo.

Adios… good bye.

Go to Episode Index.

Dispatch 1

I realize there are many questions that need to be answered, I just don’t know how much longer I can survive here. I think that I have been on this planet for about 12 days now, although it’s really hard to know for sure. My watch tells me that it has been twelve days but my PDA cannot synchronize with the worldwide network, for obvious reasons. I think I have enough emergency rations to survive a few more weeks but my water is dangerously low. I may only have a few days left.

Mama, Papa los quiero muchísimo, I love you Mom and Dad.

Although I’m sure there are many questions, I think the first question I should probably address is how I am able to send messages to Earth.

I am not exactly sure but it’s important that Terra Defence know that I think the worldwide network is being monitored by the enemy.

I don’t know why, although I am sure Cmdr. Chen would probably say it is because I refuse to follow the SOPs he constantly reminds me about, but I decided to turn on my emergency radio. Yes, I know five light-years away it is impossible that I would pick up anything on the radio. But, you all know me; I’m a stickler for following the rules, yea right.

Although the expected static was there, I also picked up some interference on my radio whenever I pointing my transmitter at a tower emitting some type of light towards the sky. Thinking that I had inadvertently stumbled upon some type of enemy communications, I tried different frequencies. I am not really too clear as to why I even thought the enemy would be using radios, like the ones we use on Earth, but hey, I’m way out here and you’re not.

Besides, my cockiness is probably the reason I ended up here, in the first place, behind enemy lines with no possible way to get home.

Since I am being so open about my lapses of procedure, I might as well let Terra Defence command know that I violated yet another one of those sacred standard operating procedures everyone is so happy to remind me to take seriously. I brought my digital assistant along with me. I am sure you can imagine, being written up by command isn’t exactly what I’m most worried about right now. I would happily stand at attention while I’m being reminded about SOPs instead of being stranded here five light years away!

After realizing the absurdity of thinking that the aliens would be using radios like ours, I finally realized that the tower was interfering with my radio. But why?

One thing about this planet is that it is excessively eerily silent. It is just too quiet. Even the tower is not emitting any noise, not even the hum of electronics. About the only sound, I hear is my breathing and my heart about to jump out of my chest, not to mention my growling stomach.

I was curious to find out why my radio picked up the interference near the light tower while there was only static everywhere else. It was only when I pointed the antenna towards the light that it reacted with bursts of noise, more like high-pitched crackling pops of sound.

I tried the different frequencies and every one of them reacted the same way, except no voices were coming through the speaker.

The only thing I could think of was that the light was emitting some type of electromagnetic radiation. It seemed similar to the optical communications systems our satellites use to transmit data back to Earth. Once in a while, on a flight, we would get a dose of high-pitched gibberish on our radios, courtesy of the satellite data bursts. That’s when it hit me; this could be like Earth’s Li-Fi network. This thing was emitting a pulsing light, too fast for my eyes to notice. This made me wonder if it was some type of binary code.

I set my radio up to transmit the noise directly to my PDA. Yes, I know what you are all thinking, why would I do that?

Because it’s not like Earth forces were suddenly to appear in the skies above me ready to scoop me up and take me home. Besides, what else was I to do?

It was actually pretty easy to convert the energy pulses. Although it was certainly a binary code of some type, it did not produce anything on my PDA, although clearly it was two different integers forming patterns of some type. I assigned one integer as a zero and the other as a one and wrote a quick script on my Personal Digital Assistant to convert the data stream.

It took a while and although patterns emerged, they did not make any sense to me. My PDA did not know how to display them. As the feeling of utter isolation started to engulf me, I set out to; at least hear something, anything even if it was alien.

I could either, go crazy before I died or I could play with the new thing I found.

As I continued to play around with the data stream, I eventually noticed images of people and places, like those you see on people’s online profiles. They were random images, hundreds of them. Although I had only captured a second or two of data on my PDA, I nonetheless had hundreds of images, Earth images on my PDA.

You cannot imagine the sense of elation I felt seeing those pictures. I did not know anyone but the pictures were an anchor to home, a home I am unlikely to ever see again.

I captured more data and eventually I realized that there were online ID tags in the data streams. They were clearly the ID tags we all use on the worldwide network. I was seeing streams from individual profiles from Earth. Periodically the Earth images and text disappeared and then reappeared.

At first, I didn’t know why and then I thought, what would happen if this was a two-way communication system, data comes in and data goes out. That would explain the breaks in data coming in.

I have no idea what the outgoing bursts are, but clearly they were going out.

It was unintelligible in that I couldn’t decipher them. However, they had a pattern to them. I assume it was some type of command and maybe it was even going out to Earth. Maybe, just maybe and hoping against all hope I thought that if the bursts are going to Earth then maybe I could get a message back to my family.

After I realized that the images I was seeing were coming from Earth’s online network and hoping that it was a two-way communication system I started planning on how to send one last message to my mom. I thought about injecting my own messages using binary code into the data bursts being sent out. At first, I had no idea how to target my message until I realized that I didn’t need to target my message to my mom’s profile at all. All I needed to do was tag my message with my online ID and if it ended up on Earth’s network, it would find its way to my profile.

Although I hadn’t deciphered the alien binary code, I saw no reason why my own binary code wouldn’t be recognized on Earth’s network, if I could get it there.

Even though Terra Defence intelligence is likely, freaking out over my lapse of military security my only thought was to get one last message to my mom.

Besides, what else could I to do?

Nothing made sense. The attacks and the fact that I was here, as improbable as it seemed made no sense. I didn’t even know how I was still alive. Probably not for much longer, though.

You cannot imagine my shock at seeing “authenticate code word” pop up on my PDA. I believe that the only reason I did not get a heart attack when I saw the message was because nothing else has made sense, even how I ended up on this planet.

With trembling fingers, I responded to the authenticator challenge by sending another burst.

As you, all know by now I am sure my transmissions are being monitored but that is not my concern at this point. Survival is. I would gladly stand before a court martial to explain my lapses of operational security rather than be stranded here.

Water and food are my biggest concern. As a soldier I understand two things, Earth needs as much information about the enemy as I can provide it and I must do whatever it takes to keep on fighting.

I am hoping that Terra Defence keeps my data feed open, as I have not found any other way to communicate. I would understand, though, if the worldwide feed were to be cutoff, after all, I, we do not know how much damage we are doing to Earth’s defenses by allowing the enemy to monitor the feed.

While it is open, I will send as much intelligence as I can gather.

I have not seen any aliens, or any signs of life for that matter. It is extremely quiet where I am. There is no sound; it is as if nothing is alive here. Can you imagine? I might be alive on a planet devoid of all life! Now that would be ironic.

As I better understand how to convert my messages into binary code and burst them over, I’ll add more details to my transmissions. I will keep my messages as small data burst for now so as not to bring attention to myself.

But, before that, I need to resolve my water situation because without it I won’t be alive much longer to be of any help. I will attempt at least one more message before I run out of water.

Foxtrot 238, signing off.

Go to Episode Index.

Dispatch 0.2

Foxtrot 238…Alpha, Lima, India, Victor, Echo…break…India, November…break…Echo, November, Echo, Mike, Yankee…break…Alpha, Charlie…break…Bravo, delta…break…authenticate one niner echo…deliver TD asap

Introduction

The year is 2114 and Lt. Mario Kelly is 4.3 light years away from home, the farthest any human has ever travelled. In fact, Mario is the first human being to have left Earth’s solar system. Fifteen years earlier, Earth had launched its first space probe using the Alcubierre faster-than-light engine to explore Earth’s neighboring solar system. Upon reaching the Alpha Centauri system, the probe suddenly stopped sending telemetry. The last garbled transmission seemed to indicate several previously undiscovered planets orbiting Alpha Centauri B, the second sun in the nearby solar system.

Although the last partial messages from the probe was distorted, some Terra Space Organization (TSO) scientists argued that the partial telemetry showed signs of intelligent life. However, the broader scientific community refused to accept those conclusions, arguing that it was an attempt by the TSO to divert more funds to the development of the faster-than-light Alcubierre engine. After receiving no additional telemetry from Proteus, the Centauri probe and man’s first attempt at using the Alcubierre drive, further exploration of the nearby solar system was abandoned as international space voyaging focused on intra-solar system exploration.

In 2102, three years after Proteus was lost, Earth was attacked with three nuclear weapons of unknown origin. The United States, North Eastern Europe and China were devastated by the attacks. After the catastrophic strikes, the remnants of the United States government stopped short of launching a retaliatory strike against China once the US government accepted the conclusions from the United Nations General Assembly that had determined that the attack could not have been launched from Earth.

The United Nations had established that the residual radiation from the attacks was extraterrestrial in nature. Not knowing who and what attacked Earth, the United Nations began the mobilization of the Terra Defence Forces (TDF), with each country contributing to the defense of Earth.

Previously human space exploration had focused on the moon colony and setting up the first Mars colony. Because of the loss of the Proteus probe, research into faster-than-light technology had been drastically reduced as budgets were redirected to solar system exploration. After the attacks, budgets were now focused on the defense of our planet and international cooperation intensified.

By 2110, the United Nations had conclusively established that the attacks came from the Alpha Centauri system, although it could not determine who, or why they attacked. In preparation, the TDF first focused on defending Earth by building a fleet of near-earth orbit spacecraft based on the American low-orbit Raptor fighter. Considerable resources were spent on early-warning listening stations in the Solar System’s asteroid belt and the development of faster-than-light weapons delivery vehicles and spacecraft were prioritized.

On January 30, 2114, the early-warning system detected an unknown object that suddenly appeared near the lunar orbit on a trajectory towards Earth. Low-orbit Terra Defence Raptors were scrambled in an attempt to intercept and destroy the unknown object. Among them was Terra Defence Raptor Pilot, Lt. Mario Kelly, a 25-year old from the Mexican states.

The object approached Earth from a polar high-orbit and after completing two orbits around the planet disappeared behind an unknown type of energy distortion. Two Raptors also disappeared in the energy distortion, along with it. TDF scientists later determined that the energy distortion was similar to the Alcubierre drive that the Proteus probe had used to get to the Alpha Centauri system, fifteen years earlier. What happened to Lt. Kelly and Squadron Cmdr. Chen was unknown until an update appeared on Lt. Kelly’s online page on February 6, 2114, his birth date.

It simply stated; “Estoy vivo, es mi cumpleaños“, it is my birthday.

Kelly’s family reported the message to government officials in the hopes of identifying the troublemaker who had hijacked Mario’s online profile. The message was devastating to them as they were still grieving from the loss of their son.

The next day, though, another message appeared on his profile.

Foxtrot 238…Alpha, Lima, India, Victor, Echo…break…India, November…break…Echo, November, Echo, Mike, Yankee…break…Alpha, Charlie…break…Bravo, delta…break…authenticate one niner echo…deliver TD asap”.

Foxtrot 238 obviously stood for Mario’s call sign for the day he disappeared. The rest of the message looked like a phonetically written message; “alive”, “in”, “enemy”, “ac”, “bd”, “authenticate 1, 9 e” and deliver to Terra Defence, as soon as possible.

It took a few days for Earth officials to accept that “ac” probably stood for Alpha Centauri and “Bd” signified a fourth planet in the system. They noticed the capital “B” and the lowercase “d” in the message. It was the universally accepted method of identifying planets in another solar system. “Bd” would have been the fourth planet discovered in Alpha Centauri B.

If the message was to be believed, there apparently is a fourth planet in the Centauri system.

But how? This was impossible. How could Mario be alive, his family kept asking everyone that would listen. They didn’t want to get their hopes up however, the messages, as disconcerting, as they were seemed like an answer to their prayers.

To Terra Defence officials this was also impossible; to them it had to be prank. What was difficult to dismiss was that Foxtrot 238 had used a secret authenticator that changed every mission. “19E” was the code word of the day the unknown object had orbited the earth, the same day Mario Kelly had disappeared, who was now presumed dead. If someone had hijacked his online profile, it would have to be someone in his squadron.

It didn’t make any sense, as his squadron mates were just as devastated as everyone else for the loss of their comrades. It would be sick joke that fellow pilots were unlikely to engage in.

Under pressure from the family and the public, incredulous TDF officials were convinced to test the theory of Mario being alive by challenging his authentication signal with a duress authenticator.

Duress authenticators have been used for many years by pilots to authenticate messages coming from behind enemy lines. Each pilot chooses two secret code words that are kept with their commanders in case the pilot is captured by enemy forces. One code word is used when the pilot is sending messages under duress, and the other one is used to show that the pilot’s messages are authentic and not enemy propaganda.

On February 8, a TDF official posted a comment on Mario’s online profile; “authenticate code word”.

For three days, nothing happened.

Then, on February 11, a message from Mario appeared. It simply stated; “borderbandit”.

Although still unconvinced, TDF command reluctantly acknowledged that the code word was authentic.

No one knows how Mario Kelly is communicating through unofficial channels and much less understand how he could possibly be alive almost five light-years away on a plant that hadn’t even been identified.

To say it was impossible was an understatement, but it could not be ignored.   There are many earth officials who believe that the messages are some type of sick joke, or worse an enemy trick. However, the United Nations Security Council has decreed that until more is known, a special online profile would be created and any messages directed to Mario’s online profile, initiated under his personal online ID, would be redirected to this government-controlled profile.

Go to Episode Index.