Authors: J J (John) Dreese
J. J. DREESE
Copyright © 2014 by John J. Dreese.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Any
references to real people or real places are used fictitiously. Character
names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination and any
resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely
No part of this book can be reproduced
in any form by any means without the express permission of the author. This
includes reprints, excerpts, photocopying, recording, or any future means of
Edited by Lee Luckeydoo, Jason
Defenbaugh, & Elena Greer.
Cover art by Elena Greer.
Amazon Kindle Version available from:
Published in the United States of
For Lee, Daniel,
Table of Contents
Good news is rarely born after midnight. A ringing
telephone cracked open the silence just before 3:00 a.m. It rattled on the
antique nightstand only an arm’s reach away from the most powerful leader of
the free world.
Hours earlier, President Daggett Jennings finished the
first campaign fundraiser of what was sure to be a long season. Collapsing poll
numbers forced the process on him much earlier than usual. When the event was
over, the president staggered into bed barely conscious; his head melted into
the pillow. Now the phone was ringing. That awful phone. The president’s hand
reached out of the bed to pick up the receiver and reluctantly brought it back
to his ear.
“Hello,” he groaned.
“Sorry to wake you at this hour Mr. President. The Director
of NASA is trying to reach you. He says it’s
Shall I patch him
through?” asked the voice of the overnight White House operator.
,” whispered the president.
“Excuse me, sir?” questioned the operator.
“Nothing. Please patch him through. Thanks.”
The NASA director was an old friend. The president had
to take this call. He heard the connection click sound, cleared his throat, and
then asked in a well-earned hoarse voice, “Chris, are you bleeding to death?
Because you better be to call me this late.”
On the other end of the line was the longtime head of
NASA, a short man named Chris Tankovitch who sported a full head of dark black
hair. He had a beet-red face and looked like the poster child for hypertension.
Chris was taken aback by the irritation buried in the president’s voice, but nothing
was going to stop him tonight.
“I have some incredible news that can’t wait until
morning. It’s going to change our lives
President Jennings let out a painful sigh. “Wait,
wait, wait. Is this about the budget meeting tomorrow? Because that can wait.
“No, wait, hang on! This is more of an
issue, okay? Look, I don't think the budget will be a problem after tonight.”
That caught the president’s attention.
“Okay, tell me what it is,” said the frustrated president
as he glanced over to see if the phone call woke up his wife. It did.
Chris smiled with anticipation. “It's something that I
have to show you in person.”
The president imagined Chris pushing his glasses back
up onto his nose as he was talking.
“All right, come on over. I’ll tell the guard shack to
The president hung up the phone. He leaned over to
give his wife a kiss on the forehead.
“I’ll be back in a little bit,” he whispered.
“Everything okay?” she asked with a groggy voice.
“Yah, it’s just Chris. He’s got another wild hare up
his butt that he needs to talk about.”
“I hope that’s figurative,” she said. “Go easy on
Chris. He’s the only reason you passed physics.”
The president chuckled and said, “Yah, I know, and
that’s why I made him the director of NASA.”
He sat up on the bed and put his feet on the floor
with hands on knees. His brain was still foggy from being in such a deep sleep.
The presidency had grayed his hair and drained the
remaining part of his soul which he hadn’t already auctioned off during his
rise to power. He breathed slowly, desperately wanting to close his eyes and
slam back into sleep. Still in his pajamas, he wandered haphazardly toward the
door, quietly opened it and disappeared down the darkened hallway.
Just outside the White House, the head of NASA ran up
the sidewalk after going through the security gate. The cool night breeze tried
to shake the papers out of his tightly gripped hands. It only managed to mess
up his hair. His cellphone was alive with beeps and glowing lights as messages
were rolling in for him even at this early hour. His expression was a mix of
determination and excitement.
Chris finally arrived at the main door. A Secret
Service agent let him in.
He stepped into the oval office where the president
was already sitting and sipping a cup of coffee. Chris was amped up and knew he
wouldn’t sleep for days. The president stood up and shook Chris’s hand in that political
two-hand type of shake with one hand on the elbow.
“Chris, you look like death warmed over,” chided the
“Well, it’s been a long night,” complained Chris.
The president pointed toward the sofa and said in a
fatherly voice, “All right. Have a seat. Have a seat right there. Would you
like some coffee?”
Chris declined with the wave of his hand. The president
motioned for the night butler to leave the room.
As they both sat down, the president said, “Please tell
me what all the fuss is about.”
“I’ll get right to it,
,” said Chris
“Stop right there,” interrupted the president. “Please
show some respect for this office. I worked hard to get here.”
The awkward silence that followed was a bookend on nearly
twenty five years of friendship that started when they both attended the Ohio
State University together. That was now the past and no longer mattered. Chris
,” said Chris
“See? That’s more like it. Please continue.”
, as you know we sent a rover
called Curiosity to Mars, right? Well, it's been driving around for years
digging holes and running tests with extremely advanced scientific equipment. It’s
found some evidence of ice below the surface and we’ve learned some amazing
things about the geology of the Red Planet. But with regards to life, it hasn't
really found anything but traces of organic gases.”
Chris’s arms shot into the air to emphasize his
The president nodded and said, “Yes, of course. I
remember when it landed. It was a proud moment for our country. That engineer
with the mohawk and all.”
“Yes, that’s the one,” Chris agreed with a head nod. “It
really was a proud moment. We sent all of that scientific equipment to Mars,
you know, to hopefully find signs of life, whether it be bacteria, or lichen or
something. Anything, really. It would be the greatest discovery of our lifetime.
But most importantly, it would justify my budget requests,” laughed Chris.
The president was shifting in his chair, obviously
getting more interested in what the NASA director and his former classmate was
itching to tell him. A similar meeting had taken place years before, but that
discovery hadn’t panned out. The president was still skeptical about what Chris
was about to say.
“Mr. President…” he paused.
“Mr. President, we just found signs of life. And ironically
we didn't need any scientific equipment. All we needed was a camera,” said
Chris as his serious face opened up to a smile and his arms spread out wide to
personify the word
The president sat upright.
“Well, what did you find? Plants? Animals? I thought
Mars was too cold for life. Speak up man!”
“No sir, we found fossils.”
The president’s brow furrowed and he said, “A fossil?”
“No, I said fossils.”
The president rolled his eyes at the correction.
Chris realized his social blunder and quickly said,
“Yes, but not the kind we had hoped for or ever expected.”
As Chris spoke so enthusiastically, he pulled out a
photo marked “D” in the corner and delicately turned it around to reveal a
black and white image to the president. The word fossil was reverberating in
both of their minds now.
The president took the photo and slowly sat back into
his chair to soak in the image. He took a long deep breath; his left eyebrow
lifted to show his skepticism.
“Okay, Chris, this looks like a picture of a big
“Look closer,” said Chris. He picked up the
president’s reading glasses from the end table and handed them to him.
The president put them on and then held the picture
closer. He stared at what he thought had been white streaks and then suddenly
realized what he missed. He narrated his own discovery.
“Oh my, that looks like the skeleton of a hand. Like
the bones of a human hand and maybe even an arm? What’s it holding? There’s a rectangular
object in one of the hands; it has some writing. Hard to tell though. Um, a
circle. Some lines. A cross or a plus sign? I just don’t get it. Exactly what
am I looking at here, Chris?”
Chris took a moment to form his answer. His fingers
were tapping nervously on the table edge. Then he responded.
“It’s some type of human-like hand for sure. However,
we don’t know what the object is. Or the symbols. Unfortunately, the object is
only readable in the ‘D’ photo that you’re holding. The other pictures just
show the fossils from different angles. We’ll have some paleographers at the
NSA look at this in the morning.”
“They study fossils, right?” asked the president.
“No, you’re thinking of paleontologists. Paleographers
study ancient written languages. The NSA keeps a group of them on staff just in
case the bad guys try to use ancient languages to communicate with their
The president nodded his head. He understood.
“We’ll find out if these symbols are letters or
numbers. We just don’t know right now. But the important thing is that they are
symbols of some kind. They are not random lines. Unintelligent life forms don’t
create symbols like this.”
Chris shifted in his seat and continued, “These images
started streaming into the branch office here in Washington, D.C. just a few
hours ago. We saw something shimmering next to a very unusual stone structure, like
a truncated pyramid of sorts. We drove closer and this gem-encrusted boulder
with the fossils was the first thing that we found. We had the Curiosity stop
there and take some pictures. And the results are just amazing. This is beyond
our wildest dreams really.”
The president stood up and walked over to the big
window facing the National Mall. He stared out at the night skyline in silence
just barely able to make out the silhouette of the Washington Monument. He
continued to talk to Chris while facing outward.
“Are you absolutely sure this isn't some joke your
engineers are playing on you?”
Chris craned his neck around to look toward the president
while he spoke to him.
“It’s no joke. There were three people on duty when
these images started streaming in tonight. I told the engineers not to talk about
it with anybody yet. We called in the head of security immediately and this is
for now. At least until you say otherwise.
Security briefed our engineers on this, but honestly, I wouldn't be surprised
if they've already told their friends.”
Rather than showing excitement, the president’s face
showed concern and puzzlement. He turned around and leaned back on the window
sill. He began gnawing at his finger nail. Chris spread the other three photos
out on the table like playing cards.
“Here are the other photos, marked A, B and C. These
show the skeleton fossils from a few angles, but none of them show the symbols
written on the object or even the building in the background. Photo D is the
special one for that. However, these first few photos do show something that
looks like part of a skull.”
“Do you have an estimate for how old the fossils are?”
inquired the president as he bit through the edge of a fingernail.
“The Curiosity has some analysis tools on board. Our
guys estimate they’re around 2 or 3 million years old. It’s a rough guess.”
The president ran his hand through his receding hair
to help get a grip on this avalanche of information.
“Look, I’m the president. I’m not a fossil expert. When
you said fossils, I expected seashells, trilobites, or even petrified dino poop.
But not this. I mean, do we even have human fossils that old here on Earth?”
Chris blurted out, “I hear what you’re saying. We do
have fossils that old here, but they aren’t exactly modern looking humanoids
like this one. We’re simply too new.”
The president lifted his coffee and took a big drink.
“So what’s the next step? Are there other fossils
nearby? Are you photographing those too? What about that pyramid structure?”
The smile on Chris’s face vanished. He thought
carefully before speaking.
“We can’t do any of that. The rover was already well
past its expected service life. Unfortunately, it stopped communicating after
these pictures were sent.”
“What?” gasped the president.
Chris explained, “We believe the RTG’s finally
exhausted themselves after that final data transmission.”
“Okay, what’s an RTG?” asked the confused president.
“Well, the Curiosity isn’t like the other rovers that
we’ve sent; it doesn’t use solar panels for power. Instead it has a tiny
radio-isotope thermoelectric generator. Big words, I know, so we call them
RTG’s for short.”