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Authors: Neal Wooten

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BOOK: Pit Bulls vs Aliens
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“What is it, you crazy dog?” Darren tried to get him to come back to bed, but it was clear something had spooked him. “Wait a minute. Did you hear something? Is that it?”

Darren looked at the printout. Nada. There were no peaks or spikes on the computer screen, just the low fluctuating line that represented normal static noise. Darren sat in front of the computer and looked at his dog. “You did hear something, didn’t you?” He stopped the rotation of the dish and programmed it to go back the way it had come. He sat there several minutes listening.

“I must be crazy,” Darren said and got up to make a cup of instant coffee. “But of course I knew that when I chose this profession.” He sat back down and turned up the cup to his mouth, then almost choked as Roscoe started barking again.

“What?” Darren stared at the screen and placed the earphone on his head. Nothing. Then he saw a very thin line appear and disappear on the screen. “Wait. What was that?” He adjusted the dish to go back. There it was again. He stopped the dish.

Could it be?
he thought. It was so faint that he could not hear it, but the screen was clearly picking up a weak signal.

He located the area of space where it seemed to be coming from and began the painful task of cross-checking all known sources from satellites and quasars. It didn’t match anything. He looked at the time—3:35 a.m. He signed on to the computer and pulled up his list of all known SETI observation sites in the world and e-mailed them all the coordinates.

“Holy moly,” came the e-mail back from Sydney, Australia. “Is this real?”

Soon other locations were chiming in with the same excitement, and before long, they were all referencing the “Mitchell Signal.”

At six o’clock that morning, there was a pounding on the door. Darren was still so excited he didn’t even think and simply flung open the door. It was his boss.

“Well, are you going to invite me in?”

Darren laughed and stuck out his hand. “Of course, Dr. De Luca. Please come in.”

Dr. Vincent De Luca was an older gentleman but kept his thick hair and mustache dyed jet black, perhaps in an attempt to retain his youth. He was shorter than Darren, only five feet even, and walked with a serious limp. No one had ever asked why. He wore his standard work clothes: an older brown corduroy suit with a bright-red bow tie.

Roscoe barked for attention as the two SETI guys sat down to compare notes.

“So that’s how it works, Darren? I send you down here to get rid of you and in only two weeks you make the discovery of the millennium?”

Darren blushed and nodded.

“Well,” his boss said, “people have been working on this for the last two hours. Tell me what has been learned.”

Darren opened a manila folder and began to read. “It’s definitely not a star or satellite. It has a mathematical repetition that repeats itself every two hundred twenty-seven seconds. The signal is directed toward the oceans.”

“The oceans?” his boss interrupted. “Why the oceans?”

Darren shrugged. “We don’t know. But the signal has actually been around for years. We’ve just now discovered it. But several other dish locations have gone back through records to search the same area that the signal is coming from and have found evidence of it.”

“How is it we never heard it before?” his boss asked.

“It’s too faint. You can’t detect it with the human ear. They’ve had to find times when certain dishes were tuned to this area, feed them through an amplifier, then break down the recordings into digital conversions.”

“Then how did you—” his boss began.

Darren smiled and pointed to Roscoe.

His boss laughed. “You’re kidding. Maybe we need to put dogs in all the stations. Well, like I said, kid, this is the biggest thing to ever happen and you’re going to be in on everything. Who knows where this will lead.”

Darren stopped smiling. “There’s something else.”

“What?” Dr. De Luca asked, seeing the seriousness on Darren’s face.

“We’ve determined that the signal is continuing to increase in strength. The results from today are definitely more pronounced than those three years ago.”

His boss considered the ramifications. “So you’re saying the signal is getting louder?”

“No, sir. Not louder—closer.”

Chapter Six

“It’s like talking to a group of kindergartners,” one woman said.

“Worse,” the other replied. “I’ve spoken to kids in kindergarten and had better results.”

“Good point,” the first woman agreed. “I mean, seriously, what’s the purpose of preparing all of this information if they’re not even going to believe it?”

“Exactly. How insulting was that? I wanted to slap the guy from Georgia.”

Dr. Stephen McNair sat on the bench and watched the two women walk past him carrying briefcases. They had just left the same room he would be entering, and they had addressed the same people he would be addressing, the same people who had aggravated these women so successfully. Other pedestrians filled the long hallway, and it dawned on him he should probably stop staring at the tight-fitting dresses around the gracious curves of the women walking away.

He looked at the floor and waited to be called. He sat motionless, his breathing heavy, like a man sitting in a sauna filling his lungs with hot, stagnant air. His belly formed a round pooch that interrupted the skinny construction of his tall, slender frame.

The dimly lit corridor was void of decorations and seemed like a tomb to Dr. McNair. His collar was itchy and uncomfortable as his hands rested on a copy of his report, the report that had already been provided to members of the Congressional Oversight Committee. He hated addressing Congress, and he knew the findings of his latest report would spark the inevitable childish arguments from these top political figures.

He took his handkerchief and wiped away a bead of sweat from his pale forehead. His salt-and-pepper hair showed the signs of the last two missed barbershop appointments and hadn’t yet seen a comb today. It might have looked in style for a kid, but on an older man it was just messy. He wore a light-blue button-up shirt with short sleeves, khaki pants, and a navy-blue sweater vest. Had he remembered that today was the day he was supposed to come here, he might have added a tie. Of course he never wore one to work, so why would he wear one here? This was work after all.

Often he had regretted taking this government-funded job and missed the expeditions that working for MIT had allowed. He wished for one more adventure outside the office before he retired, but the possibilities of that looked bleak. Now he spent all his time in a lab and office, and he felt like it was slowly killing him. Of course, according to his latest report, that might be moot.

He looked at his watch. It had a cartoon likeness of Albert Einstein, and the arms spun around and pointed out the time much like a Mickey Mouse watch. It hadn’t run in years, but it was the last Father’s Day present he ever received from his daughter, so the sentimental value was what kept it on his wrist. After he and his wife divorced, the relationship between him and his daughter deteriorated as well. She was now a senior in college, or maybe she had graduated, but he hadn’t heard from her in a long time. Ironically, the job he missed so much, which might find him drilling for ice samples in the Arctic or releasing weather balloons in Ecuador, was perhaps the biggest factor in the divorce. Although he loved the work, he always felt that was what drove his wife and daughter away.

The door opened and a middle-aged woman in a dress suit appeared. “They’re ready for you, Dr. McNair.”

His bones creaked and moaned as he stood, raising his six-foot frame up from the low metal bench. He followed her inside and paid no attention to where she was motioning. He had been here before and knew where to go. He walked to the table in front of the raised platform where the five senators were poised and ready for their interrogation and took a seat. The chair was padded but still hard on his slender haunches. His stomach was growling as if wondering why he hadn’t sent any food its way all day.

The senators were all deep in their own thoughts, so Dr. McNair waited patiently. A shadow made him suddenly realize there was a presence behind him. He turned with a jolt. There stood a woman he guessed to be around fifty years old, tall, stern, with gray hair and haunting dark eyes.

“I believe you have my seat,” she said.

Dr. McNair was taken aback. Although there were many seats in the room for public viewing of some issues handled by this committee, the public was never allowed for his visits, much less someone demanding his chair.

“Are you sure?” he asked politely.

The woman stood unflinching, so he got up and moved his briefcase to the end of the table and pulled up another chair. The woman sat and stared straight ahead.

“I’m Stephen McNair,” he offered in truce.

She offered a slight smile. “I’m Glenda Eagle. Sorry about this. I shouldn’t be long, but this is very important.” She turned her head back toward the committee, then back to Dr. McNair. “What’s your stuff about?”

Dr. McNair smiled. “Just the end of the world.”

Glenda chuckled. “Well, I guess that might be considered important too.”

He laughed at her semi-imitation of an apology.

“Okay, let’s get started,” Senator Elaine Biddle from Arkansas said. “Dr. McNair, if you don’t mind, we promised Ms. Eagle ten minutes this morning and she flew all the way from Los Angeles.”

“No, ma’am, I’m fine with that.”

“Very well, Ms. Eagle, you have the floor,” Senator Biddle said. “We haven’t had time to go over your entire report, so why don’t you sum it up.”

Glenda stood and looked each senator in the eye before beginning. “The bottom line is, senators, we have to do something. There are over one-point-five million pit bulls put to death in this country every year. And those are conservative estimates. Plus, these numbers are only for those euthanized in the larger shelters. A lot of the smaller shelters don’t keep records. And this doesn’t include dogs killed in the fighting rings, or as bait dogs, or the strays that die of disease or starvation.”

“Are these numbers real?”

Glenda looked at Senator Butler from Georgia. “I assure you they’re real.”

“I thought the shelters took in most of the dogs not wanted,” Senator Biddle said. She glanced at the report in front of her. “Your organization . . . what’s it called?”

“The Pit Stop,” Glenda said.

“Yes,” Senator Biddle said. “Aren’t there a lot of shelters that take in pit bull dogs? Don’t you have a large shelter?”

“There are, but nowhere near enough to save them all. I have a very large shelter. We can house almost a thousand dogs. But it still isn’t enough.”

“But you get government funding for this, no?” Senator Butler asked.

“No! I do not get a penny from the government,” Glenda snapped. “All of our money comes from private donations.”

“So what do you propose?” Senator Weingold from New York asked. “Should we outlaw pit bulls? I mean, haven’t some towns done that already because of how vicious they are?”

Glenda’s face turned red. “Senator, pit bulls aren’t vicious, people are. There is no evidence to suggest that pit bulls are more violent or more aggressive than any other breed. In fact, pit bulls have never made the top-ten list of most reported dog bites.”

“But haven’t there been more fatalities with pits?” Senator Casey of Vermont chimed in.

“Yes, there have.” Glenda was honest. “I’m not saying pit bulls are not stronger than other breeds. It’s like asking which car is more dangerous: a minivan or a Ferrari. Neither is dangerous, but if you wreck a minivan going forty miles per hour and wreck a Ferrari going one hundred and fifty miles per hour, one is likely to have a more serious outcome.”

The senators were all quiet. It wasn’t clear they understood the analogy.

“Look,” Glenda said, “the problem is not that people believe the horrible things that are said about pit bulls. The problem is that they don’t believe them. People have come to know pit bulls as loving, gentle, loyal, protective members of their families. They are in big demand. As much damage as the fighters do, the more serious problem is the backyard breeders flooding the world with more pit bulls than we can find homes for. They have to be stopped.”

“Wait,” Senator Butler said. “Aren’t there laws against that now?”

“Yes,” Glenda scoffed. “It’s a hundred-dollar fine. It’s a joke. The breeders can get up to a thousand dollars for one puppy, so the fine means nothing.”

“So give us your summation,” Senator Biddle said.

“We have to come down hard on breeders. We have to also make it mandatory for anyone who gets a pit bull as a pet to have it spayed or neutered. We have to attack it from this end if we want to start making a dent in this one-point-five-million-a-year number.”

Senator Weingold raised his hand. “Uh, excuse me, but if we make all breeding illegal, won’t pit bulls become extinct?”

The other senators nodded in agreement as if wishing they had thought of that.

Glenda stared at the panel in disbelief. “No, senators. There are still millions of strays in this country. They estimate fifty thousand in Los Angeles County alone. There will still be more pit bulls bred every year than we can handle.”

“There you go,” Senator Butler said. “If someone wants a pit bull puppy, they can find a stray. Right?”

Glenda knew he was being sarcastic, but it made perfect sense to her.

“Ms. Eagle,” Senator Biddle said, “we will discuss this at length. I assure you it will not be taken lightly. There are a lot of dog lovers in Congress.”

“Thank you for hearing me today.” Glenda gathered her things and turned from the table.

Dr. McNair watched her stride out and envied her passion. Nothing had moved him like that in years.

“Thank you for coming, Doctor,” Senator Biddle said.

Dr. McNair simply nodded.

“Well,” the senator continued, “we’ve been looking over your last report and to tell you the truth, it’s rather confusing.”

Silence.

The senators all looked at one another. Senator Weingold from New York spoke up. “What she’s trying to say is that it doesn’t make sense. We don’t understand what the report is saying.”

BOOK: Pit Bulls vs Aliens
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