The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Twenty-seven: Debut
The prime-time NASA
press conference promised to draw more national and
international attention than the agency had attracted since
Apollo 11. The fever pitch of leak-fueled speculation guaranteed
record ratings, and every network on the planet planned to be on
the air live with what surely had the potential of being the
most sensational news event imaginable. There was by now no
doubt in anybody's minds that this was about contact with
Little green men.
Bug-eyed monsters. E.T. on a bike. Space invaders. Inhuman
beings. Almond-eyed grays. Benevolent gods. Denebian
slime-devils. Cosmic avatars. Tentacled ammonia-breathers.
Angelic messengers. Insectoidal nightmares. Pointy-eared
Vulcans. Robotic warriors. Supermen. The Blob. Creatures of pure
energy. Uncle Martin. Leather biker-babes from Venus. Ming the
Merciless. The Coneheads.
sources gave wink-and-a-nod confirmation to the basic substance
of the upcoming NASA announcement, but refused to elaborate,
neither confirming nor denying rumors, speculation or wild-assed
guesses. Unofficial sources remained vague as well. Basically,
no politician in the know had the slightest idea how this was
going to play with the public, and none of them wanted to take
responsibility for what might turn into panic in the streets.
Let NASA do it, see what happened, then pick up the pieces. This
is called 'leadership'.
The day finally
arrived, one chosen carefully to have no conflicts with major
sporting events or other distractions. The world's attention
turned to Houston.
In the large
auditoreum at JSC, stage hands set up a podium to the right of
center stage with a long, blue draped table to the left and a projection screen
in the center, above and behind. Chairs and microphones
were set for nine panelists, each place labelled with a name
plate and equipped with paper and pencils for notes, water
glasses and icy pitchers.
The section of
writing-desk seats for the working press was flanked by open
areas filled with technicians wielding every kind of camera,
recorder and gadget imaginable, boom microphones waving like a
sea of metal reeds above them, straining toward the brightly lit
stage. Cables crawled in an unruly sprawl, ready to snare the
feet of the unwary. Lights winked and glared. Bag-encumbered
still photographers sat cross-legged on the floor in the wide
aisle in front of the stage, carefully measuring and remeasuring
focus and exposure, impatient fingers twitching on well-worn
As each representative
of the various media networks, syndicates and publishing empires
entered, they were given a press kit and led to their assigned
seats. A few of them were fussed over by attendant techs who
scurried to make necessary connections and insure that their
hair was crisply perfect. There were no stringers or local
bureau reporters in this crowd — the biggies were here in
person, and each one of them was laying to be the one who made
everyone else's news with the killer question that defined
a story. None of them had a clue as to what it might be.
The gallery of VIPs,
NASA bureaucrats and scientists filled the theater seating in
the back. Alex's influence only managed to get seats for
Dinah, Jimmie and Lanna. He gave up his own seat to Mrs. J and
claimed a stool in the wings behind the curtain, just outside
the green room door. He was wearing his 'It's OK, I'm with
the Band' t-shirt and had a broken Clear-Com around his neck
and a clipboard so that he would look like a proper stagehand. A battered lighting tree on a pole
the network pool guys had brought in — over-extended and
top-heavy with too many Par cans — was perched precariously
behind the edge of the curtain, surrounded by a tangled pile of
thick electrical cables around its weighted base. It provided
perfect cover with an excellent view. He was happier this way
and nobody bothered him (Silvers had
seen to that).
About fifteen minutes
before showtime, Steve Astin amiably wandered into the humming
melee of the fourth estate, greeting everyone easily and
familiarly, making small talk and shaking hands all around. He
ignored the occasional preemptive questions from the inevitably
impatient, and casually tossed out a carefully chosen joke or
two to lighten the mood. Before climbing up on stage, he made
the rounds of the cameramen, engineers and crewmen, slapping
hands and calling most of them by name.
With five minutes left
before airtime, he took his place as Master of Ceremonies behind
the podium mic. The restrained clamor subsided.
His gaze swept the
room as he began, "You're probably all wondering why we
called this meeting." He paused as a slight but
appreciative response chuckled around the auditoreum.
"Well, we won't
keep you in suspense much longer. You'll note in your press
packets that a great deal of supplementary material will be
released simultaneously beginning at midnight, Houston time, on
the Internet and through the usual peer-reviewed channels for
later publication in the journals. I want you to note that
everything prepared to date by this project's scientific team is
in the nature of very preliminary reports. This whole effort was
literally thrown together at a moment's notice on an essentially
volunteer basis and is not yet part of any appropriated program
He paused for a
moment. "I know there are going to be a lot of questions
about what some of you may perceive as unnecessary secrecy,
withholding information in the public interest from the American
people until we felt like having a press conference.
Believe me, this briefing tonight is the earliest possible time
we could announce what little we have learned to date. Anything
we could have released before now would have been completely
premature — perhaps even irresponsible. I hope each of you can
communicate some appreciation of why it was necessary to delay
full disclosure of what you are about to learn until we had a
chance to have some idea of what we were dealing with
He motioned to the
right side of the stage where Alex was lurking. The panelists
filed out of the green room and quickly took their seats. The
parade o' docs was expected, but Sara's appearance caused a
none-too-subtle murmur to swell through the room. She was
wearing her blue NASA flight coveralls with the 'Susan P'
nametag and not trying very hard to look serious. She took her
place at the far end.
Who's the girl?
whispered through the press corps and echoed through watching
newsrooms everywhere. Some kind of kid genius?
some wondered. Nah, lookit the way she's dressed, said
others. No way she's an astronaut, a few observed. Think
she found something? was another guess. Maybe she's a
channeler, opined some others. One of the SETI
volunteers, seemed to be a reasonable theory. Maybe it's
the Flying Girl…
In Norfolk, Virginia,
a whole shipload of watching sailors let out a gang-whoop of
recognition. In a bar ashore, a certain Marine gunnery sergeant
peered hazily at the TV, shaking his head, his drink
Astin outlined the
sequence of events. "I will introduce NASA Director Dan
Silvers first. After his opening remarks, each of the
representatives of our scientific team will give a brief
presentation. We'll conclude with a limited — limited —
question-and-answer session. I know that it won't be enough
time tonight, but there will be quite a lot of information
available to you after this is over. You'll have other chances
to follow up when you have caught up on your reading and know
more — and we know more."
The stage manager held
up his hand. Astin nodded at him and then leaned over the
podium, grinning down at the assembled reporters. "I know I
don't have to tell you this, but I'm going to anyway. Y'all
behave y'selves, heah?" he said, in perfectly affected
There was brief
laughter. He was so good at this.
said the stage manager, "four, three…"
Nothing happened for a
full minute while anchors around the world announced the
preemption of regularly scheduled programs for a special
presentation from Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
On cue, Astin began,
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Steve
Astin. On behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration and the United States of America, I'd like to
welcome our distinguished guests, members of the media and our
viewing audience. I am honored to be your host and moderator for
this brief presentation. NASA Director Dan Silvers will make an
Astin sat down while
Silvers strode onto the stage and planted himself behind the
"From the moment
mankind realized that there were other worlds than this one, the
cradle of our species," Silvers began, "we have, in
our literature and in our imaginations, contemplated the
eventual possibility of someday visiting these worlds and
meeting their inhabitants — or of receiving a visitation
ourselves. For if we have begun to accomplish the ancient dream
of being able to leave this island Earth and conquer the vast
distances of space, then it would seem to be a certainty that
there must be other intelligent life on distant planets who can
do the same. Surely, some civilizations must exist that mastered
starfaring science and technology long before our earliest
ancestors first turned their wondering gaze upon the
"The heart of the space program has always been a search
for other life, for other habitats that can support life, for
the understanding of how life interacts with the universe, for
discovering the means of transporting the life of our birth
planet to new worlds. Our robotic missions to Mars always asked
the questions, 'Is there life here? Could there have been life
here in ages past? Could life survive here in a possibly
terraformed future?' Hubble peers into distant nebulae to look
for the elements that can support life and watches the birth of
new stars, surrounded by dusty disks of matter that may coalesce
into new Earths where life may begin anew. SETI — the Search
for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence — turns the
attention of a worldwide network of listeners, professionals and
amateurs alike, whose myriad computers sift through a cosmos
full of static, noise and the 'Music of the Spheres' in search
of signals of intelligence. Our far-flung probes leave our
solar system carrying messages, images and sounds from all the
peoples of Earth to those who may in some distant corner of the
universe know that we send our greetings."
He paused for a moment
to emphasize his next statement, then spoke very deliberately.
"Four months ago,
this agency received an answer to the age-old question of
whether there actually is intelligent life on other worlds — an answer, as you will learn, that raises a great many other
questions. We quickly assembled a scientific team to conduct a
preliminary examination that has confirmed — beyond any
shadow of doubt — the authenticity of the existence on our
planet…" he paused for effect, "Of an artifact… Created by a technologically
advanced… Extraterrestrial civilization."
Silvers knew that
would require translation, but he wanted to be precise.
He went on, "This
artifact was deliberately crafted to superficially resemble a
human being in appearance and communicate with us in our own
Silvers could see the
eyes of many of the reporters flicking two-by-two in Sara's
direction. They're not so dumb, he thought.
artifact was endowed with a highly advanced artificial
intelligence — and personality — that is to all
extents and purposes indistinguishable from that of any normal
human being. So much so that it is inappropriate to refer to
this artifact or address it by anything other than — her
— chosen name."
"Would you mind
standing up, Susan, so everyone can have a look at you?" he
beckoned. Sara bounced to her feet, smiling brightly as the film
cameras whirred and clicked a mechanical symphony.
her. "Miss Susan P is the de facto representative of an
extraterrestrial civilization that created her and sent her to
our world. I'm sure you will discover, as we have, that she is a
charming young lady, whatever her origins. It has been a
pleasure for all of us to work closely with her these past few
all-too-short months. Susan?"
Silvers moved to the
side as she made her way to
the podium. Rather than adjust the mic down to her height, Sara
simply rose about eight inches off the stage, as if — as far
as anyone in the audience could tell — she had stepped up on a
short riser. She just wanted to avoid the obnoxious amplified
grinding noise the gooseneck made when it was moved. From his
vantage point in the wings, Alex smiled to himself, hoping she'd
remember to 'step down' when she was finished. Maybe Susan never
forgot anything, but Sara sometimes had to be told to come in
out of the rain.
When the susurration of rustling and whispering
noises died down, she put on her sternest expression and intoned
into the microphone, "People of Earth…" The echoes
reverberated through the auditoreum.
She stopped for a
moment, then broke out in silvery, childlike laughter.
"Boy, did that sound silly!" she said, and laughed
The audience, at first
taken aback, soon joined her. The rising tension produced by
Silvers' speech was completely forgotten.
She began again, unselfconscious and totally at ease. "I thought
about making some kinda really boring statement or whatever, but
finally decided that it wouldn't be too cool. I just want you to
know that I'm not here on any kind of weird mission or anything.
Mostly, I just want to get to know what your really beautiful
planet is like and try to meet as many people as possible. I
hope I make a lot more friends and maybe have a chance to help
out whenever I can."
"I hate to say
this," she admitted, "but there's a lot of stuff I
don't know, like where I came from or who built me and sent me
here. I'm just glad that they did. Whoever they were pretty much
just dropped me off like I was a foundling, except that they
found a good home for me. But I didn't really know anything,
'cause I was like brand new and didn't wake up 'till after I got
here. I guess they didn't want me to know too much so that I
wouldn't mess things up, y'know, like violating some kinda
'Prime Directive'. So I haven't really been all that much help
as far as being able to tell anyone anything about my home
planet. Sorry about that."
really not a whole lot I can tell you right now. As far as I'm
concerned, this meeting is more for the scientists to tell you
what they found out. They're the ones who really did all
the work, so I'm gonna turn you back over to them. I'll talk to
you later some time. Nice meeting you. Bye."
Without further ado,
she turned and began to walk off the stage, waving cheerfully at
the cameras — sure enough, still eight inches off the floor. A
little detail that nobody missed.
Too late, Alex waved his arms
to try to get her attention, slipping off of his perch on the
stool. The clipboard fell from his lap and tangled his feet,
causing him to stumble into the pile of wiring, which
propelled him heavily into the lighting tree. Trailing cables,
Alex and the disintegrating collection of light fixtures hurtled
onto the stage straight at Silvers, who was waiting to escort
Sara to the green room.
Deftly, moving almost
too fast to follow, Sara caught the end of the pole inches from
Silvers' head with one hand, and with the other, neatly juggled
the loose cans to a relatively safe landing on the stage.
Flicking her wrist slightly, she raised the far end of the pole
off the floor, dumping Alex from the base
just before a severed wire arced across it, showering sparks. It
made a great picture.
She quickly restored
the now-useless lighting tree to its original position, helped
Alex to his feet, and disappeared into the green room with
Silvers. The whole impromptu show hadn't lasted fifteen seconds.
For a moment, the audience was stunned.
Then, like a single
organism, the pack of newshounds leaped to their feet. The
biggest quarry they had ever encountered was getting away from
them. Just like that. They were simultaneously dazed and
frantic. They milled and clamored, gesticulating furiously.
Oh, the humanity.
Astin was as surprised as
everybody else. All he could do was take his
place behind the podium and calmly wait for the tumult to
subside. Gradually, the shouts
faded to grumbles and — trying not to look embarrassed at
their unprofessional outburst — the
ladies and gentlemen of the press took their seats. Their
thoughts were black.
What the hell just
happened? An alien. We just
saw a fucking alien. For what, two minutes? Was she walking on
air? Is this some kind of trick? Jeez, she handled that damned
light pole like a toothpick. And is she fast, or what? Then she
just walks away. Not one goddamned question. And now we're stuck with a
bunch of fucking chromedomes.
Astin decided that the
rest of the show would go as planned and cleared his throat politely. They glared at him. He
smiled slightly and introduced the first panelist as if nothing
had happened. As if they were here to discuss an interesting
sample brought back from somewhere in space.
Dr. Uwuwu (pronounced
'ooh-YOU-woo'), a chemist, addressed what they had learned — or guessed
— about her physical composition. Excerpts:
"It was immediately obvious that she was composed of some
extremely dense material outside our experience… It
proved to be impossible to obtain any kind of sample for
analysis, and conventional methodologies such as spectroscopy
and reagent tests, and even x-rays, were useless… We
were able to obtain useful imagery and data from a scanning
electron microscope, which — as you can see in the next slide —
shows a very complex topograpy at a sub-molecular level,
which almost certainly extends to even finer reticulations going
down to sub-atomic scales… Integral 'software'
management of the arrangements of these folds produces the
appearance of surface coloration and texture… Though
we were unable to peer inside her, seismic studies indicate that
she is essentially hollow, comprised of an extremely thin,
crumpled membrane of possibly degenerate material that, if
'smoothed out', might resemble an approximately kilometer-wide
To their credit, most
of the reporters followed this and were intrigued in spite of
themselves. They got the essential point — that she only looked
human and was made of something with which NASA's scientists
were completely unfamiliar. Something definitely not of this
Earth. But why? their instincts screamed.
Dr. Best, the
physicist, showed her 'rubber-sheet-and-bowling-ball' program on
the overhead screen and talked about very, very large masses
carefully counterbalanced between opposing forces of gravity and
antigravity. Her excerpts: "We do not yet understand the
mechanism for her being able to control and manipulate the
relationship between these two forces… Her effect on
satellites indicates a rest mass equivalent to billions — thousands of millions
— of tons… Similarly, her
power source is, for now, presumed to involve nuclear — as
opposed to chemical — processes of an unknown type… Simply knowing that such an effect is possible will inform
They understood this,
too. Levitation. And power. Whoa…
Dr. Wong was a
computer scientist. His excerpts: "As biological organisms
have as their basic unit of construction the protoplasmic cell,
so too does it appear that she has as a basis at least the
analog of nanomolecular computing units linked together in a
massively parallel matrix… This would indicate that
she employs something like quantum gates, or even something more
exotic… It appears to be trans-binary… Essentially, this would be the equivalent of of a very
large mountain of Pentium-zillion chips running under a
millionth-generation operating system with practically unlimited
The somewhat ditzy
girl was a computer? Did that make her some kind of
android? (Or, technically, gynoid…)
Dr Azimov was a
roboticist. Excerpts included: "This gives her the capacity
to very precisely control her physical attributes to simulate
normal movement, emit photons with incredible accuracy and
speed, and manage her suite of electromagnetic sensing and
communication capabilities at almost countless simultaneous
frequencies… These AI virtual agents are like
internal clones, numbering potentially in the millions, and each
capable of executing highly sophisticated semi-autonomous
routines under a sophisticated hierarchical management
Photon emission? Laser
beams? What electromagnetic sensing and communications
capabilities? Radar? Radio? Millions of clones?
Dr. Taumbaugh was an
astronomer. Excerpts: "We only regard such materials as
exotic because of their scarcity on Earth… The total
mass of such highly dense degenerate matter in the universe far
exceeds that of the relatively insignificant dregs of stellar
formation — rocky planets… The physical properties
of the bulk of the matter that makes up the cosmos are
completely unknown… Therefore, we have not the
slightest clue as to her point of origin… Since we
have been able to learn nothing about them, we have come to
refer to the unknown entities responsible for her manufacture as
Why would mysterious 'Cryptoaliens' just drop her off without
the slightest hint of who they were, where they came from or why
they did it. It doesn't make sense…
Dr. Zagan's specialty
was cosmology. His excerpts: "Out of the uncounted billions
and billions of stars in this galaxy — which is itself only
one of billions — the independent development of life that we
now know is a certainty must have been repeated countless times
throughout the billions of years since its formation following
the Big Bang… Even allowing for the seeding of the
interstellar medium with heavy elements by countless supernovae,
the first great starfaring civilization may have matured
billions of years before our own star was born… We
have been provided with a glimpse of the almost unlimited
potential that intelligence can eventually master."
Is that it? This girl
is an just an example of what is possible? Without
instructions? So that we humans can figure it out for ourselves? What
good is that? Maybe this'll just show us how stupid we are.
Dr. Belloes discussed
her psychological makeup. His excerpts: "Obviously, she is
not a biological organism, which means she does not have the
chemical and hormonal variations that influence our own day-to-day
behavior, and furthermore, lacks the animal drives which compel
us to satisfy physical needs and urges… She has been
provided with what amounts to programming that simulates these
processes… I do not believe it is possible for a
psychological practitioner who is unaware of her unusual
physical attributes to determine that she is, indeed, the
product of an alien manufacturing process… She
exhibits remarkable stability — evidently, her mental design
is as indestructable as her physical design… It will
be interesting to see if her personality matures — especially
as her physical body evidently does not… The only
appropriate characterization I can give is that I consider her
to be… A human being."
A human being. Made,
for Christ's sake, who-knows-where by who-knows-what
Astin wrapped it up.
"So you can see that we've been busy. I think it's
appropriate for NASA to focus on what the agency does best, which is deal
with science and technology. That's what we've done — and we
are not even close to being finished. The evaluation of the data
already gathered will consume countless man-hours and it would
appear that we have only scratched the surface. Our presentation
today was as brief as we could possibly make it and is
supplemented in much greater detail by the written material that
will be released at midnight."
He looked directly and
pointedly at the reporters below him. "I hope you can
appreciate that this kind of background is necessary in order to
understand the phenomenon that the public will want you to deal
with. Susan — as she prefers to be called — will be
available at a later date. When she is, you'll know a lot more
about her than we did a few months ago."
He opened it up for
questions. It was like dynamiting a dam. Everything came rushing
out at once.
"How long has
NASA been supressing evidence of alien spaceships?"
"How many more of
these aliens are presently on our planet?"
infiltrated the higest levels of our government?"
"What kind of
fuel does she require?"
"Can she change
"Can she read our
"What does the
'P' stand for?"
"Where was she
"How long has she
been on our planet?"
"Will she meet
"Will she address
"Where does she
"How can she be
"Does she have an
"When will the
American people learn the truth about Roswell?"
"Is she a scout
for a possible invasion?"
"Will there be an
immediate follow-up press conference?"
"Is she in
contact with others of her kind?"
"When will we see
"Is she still in
"Why can't she
"What are you
Sighing, Astin looked
at his watch. When the torrent had run its course, he said,
"How about if we start with a question for Dr. Uwuwu."
There was a long
chemistry might be appropriate," he prompted.
There was a shuffling
of program notes. Finally, a correspondent in the first row
raised his hand.
"Ah, yes. Mr.
Steve Astin earned his
salary that night.
Chapter Twenty-eight: Singapore
© Patrick Hill, 2000