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.

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