Home > The Atlantis World (The Origin Mystery #3)

The Atlantis World (The Origin Mystery #3)
A.G. Riddle

PROLOGUE

Arecibo Observatory
Arecibo, Puerto Rico

For the last forty-eight hours, Dr. Mary Caldwell had spent every waking second studying the signal the radio telescope had received. She was exhausted, exhilarated, and sure of one thing: it was organized, a sign of intelligent life.

Behind her, John Bishop, the other researcher assigned to the observatory, poured himself another drink. He had gone through the scotch, the bourbon, then the rum, and all the other booze the dead researchers had stockpiled until he was down to the peach schnapps. He drank it straight since they had nothing to mix it with. He winced as he took the first sip.

It was nine A.M., and his revulsion at the liquid would only last another twenty minutes, until his third drink.

“You’re imagining it, Mare,” he said as he set the empty glass down and focused on refilling it.

Mary hated when he called her “Mare.” No one had ever called her that. It reminded her of a horse. But he was the only company she had, and the two of them had reached an understanding of sorts.

After the outbreak, when people across Puerto Rico were dying by the tens of thousands, they had holed up in the Observatory, and John had promptly made his first pass at her. She had brushed it off. The second followed two days later. After that, he made a move every day, each more aggressive than the last, until she had kneed him in the balls. He had been more docile after that, focusing on alcohol and snide remarks.

Mary stood and walked to the window, which looked out on the lush, green Puerto Rican hills and forests. The only hint of civilization was the satellite dish that lay recessed into a plateau in the hills, pointed straight up at the sky. The radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world, a triumph of human engineering. It was a marriage of sciences that represented the pinnacle of human achievement embedded in a primitive landscape that symbolized humanity’s past. And now it had fulfilled its ultimate mission. Contact.

“It’s real,” Mary said.

“How do you know?”

“It has our address on it.”

John stopped sipping the drink and looked up. “We should get out of here, Mare. Get back to civilization, to people. It will do you good—”

“I can prove it.” Mary moved from the window back to the computer, punched a few keys and brought up the signal. “There are two sequences. I don’t know what the second one is. I admit that. It’s too complex. But the first sequence is composed of a simple repetition. On-Off. 0–1. Binary digits.”

“Bits.”

“Exactly. And there’s a third code—a terminator. It appears after every eighth bit.”

“Eight bits. A byte.” John set the bottle aside.

“It’s a code.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know yet.” Mary walked back to the computer and checked the progress. “Less than an hour before the analysis is complete.”

“It could be random chance.”

“It’s not. The first part, what’s decoded, begins with our address.”

John laughed out loud and grasped his drink again. “You had me for a minute there, Mare.”

“If you were going to send a signal to another planet, what’s the first thing you would put in? The address.”

John nodded as he dumped more schnapps into the glass. “Uh huh, put the zip code in too.”

“The first bytes represent two numbers: 27,624 and 0.00001496.”

John paused.

“Think about it,” Mary said. “What’s the only constant across the entire universe?”

“Gravity?”

“Gravity is constant, but its measure depends on the curvature of spacetime, how close one object of mass is to another. You need a common denominator, something that any civilization, on any planet, no matter its mass or location, anywhere in the universe would know.”

John looked around.

“The speed of light. It’s the universal constant. It never changes, no matter where you are.”

“Right…”

“The first number, 27,624, is Earth’s distance from the center of our galaxy in light years.”

“That distance could apply to a dozen planets—”

“The second number, 0.00001496, is the exact distance of earth to the sun in light years.”

John stared straight ahead for a long moment, then pushed the bottle and half-empty glass out of his vision. He focused on Mary. “This is our ticket.”

Mary bunched her eyebrows.

John leaned back in his chair. “We sell it.”

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