—Journey to the center of the Earth?

—Jules Verne is one way to go. To get this type of metal in massive quantities, you’d either have to extract it thousands of miles deep or be able to mine in space. With all due respect to Mr. Verne, we haven’t come close to mining deep enough. The deepest mines we have would look like potholes next to what you’d need. Space seems much more feasible. There are private companies right now hoping to harvest water and precious minerals in space in the very near future, but all these projects are still in the early planning stages. Nonetheless, if you could harvest meteorites in space, you could get a lot more iridium, a whole lot more.

—What else can you tell me?

—That pretty much sums it up. After a few months of looking at this with every piece of equipment known to man, I felt we were getting nowhere. I knew we were asking the wrong questions, but I didn’t know the right ones. I submitted a preliminary report and asked for a leave of absence.

—Refresh my memory. What was the conclusion of that report?

—We didn’t build this.


—Interesting. What was their reaction?

—Request granted.

—That was it?

—Yes. I think they were hoping I wouldn’t come back. I never used the word “alien,” but that’s probably all they took out of my report.

—That is not what you meant?

—Not exactly. There might be a much more down-to-earth explanation, one I just didn’t think of. As a scientist, all I can say is that humans of today do not have the resources, the knowledge, or the technology to build something like this. It’s entirely possible that some ancient civilization’s understanding of metallurgy was better than ours, but there wouldn’t have been any more iridium around, whether it was five thousand, ten thousand, or twenty thousand years ago. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t believe humans built these things. You can draw whatever conclusion you want from that.

I’m not stupid; I knew I was probably putting an end to my career. I certainly annihilated any credibility I had with the NSA, but what was I going to do? Lie?

—What did you do after you submitted your report?

—I went home, to where it all began. I hadn’t gone home in nearly four years, not since my father died.

—Where is home?

—I come from a small place called Deadwood, about an hour northwest of Rapid City.

—I am not familiar with that part of the Midwest.

—It’s a small town built during the gold rush. It was a rowdy place, like in the movies. The last brothels were closed when I was a kid. Our claim to fame, besides a short-lived TV show on HBO, is that the murder of Wild Bill Hickok happened in Deadwood. The town survived the end of the gold rush and a few major fires, but the population dwindled to about twelve hundred.

Deadwood sure isn’t thriving, but it’s still standing. And the landscape is breathtaking. It’s sitting right on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, with its eerie rock formations, beautiful pine forests, barren rock, canyons, and creeks. I can’t think of a more beautiful place on Earth. I can understand why someone would want to build something there.

—You still call it home?

—Yes. It’s part of who I am although my mother would probably disagree. She appeared hesitant when she answered the door. We barely spoke anymore. I could sense that she resented the fact that I never came back, not even for Dad’s funeral, that I left her all alone to cope with the loss. We all have our way of dealing with pain, and I suppose that deep down my mother understood that this was just my way, but there was anger in her voice, things she would never dare to speak out loud but that would taint our relationship forever. I was OK with that. She had suffered enough; she was entitled to resentment. We didn’t talk much the first few days, but we quickly settled into some form of routine.

Sleeping in my old room brought back memories. When I was a child, I often snuck out of bed at night and sat by the window to watch my dad leave for the mine. He would come to my room before every night shift and have me pick a toy to put in his lunch box. He said he would think of me when he opened it and come spend his lunch break with me in my dreams. He didn’t talk much, to me or to my mother, but he knew how important little things can be for a child and he took the time to tuck me in before every shift. How I wished my dad were there so I could talk to him. He wasn’t a scientist, but he had a clear view of things. I couldn’t talk to my mother about this.

We’d been having short but pleasant discussions for a few days, which was a welcome change from the polite comments about food we’d been exchanging since I arrived. But what I did was classified and I did my best to steer our conversations away from what was on my mind. It got easier with every week that went by, as I found myself spending more time reminiscing about childhood mistakes than I did thinking about the hand.

It took nearly a month before I hiked to the site where I’d first seen it. The hole had long since been filled. There were small trees starting to grow back through the dirt and rocks. There was nothing left to see. I walked aimlessly until nightfall. Why did I find the hand first? Surely there must be other structures like the one I fell in. Why did no one find them? Why did it happen on that day? The hand had been dormant for millennia. Why did it happen then? What triggered it? What was present twenty years ago that hadn’t been for thousands of years?

Then it hit me. That was the right question to ask. I had to figure out what turned it on.

FILE NO. 004

INTERVIEW WITH CW3 KARA RESNIK, UNITED STATES ARMY

Location: Coleman Army Airfield, Mannheim, Germany

—Please state your name and rank.

—You already know my name. You’re staring at my file.

—I was told you would cooperate with this process. I would like you to state your name for the record.

—Maybe you could start by telling me what this “process” is about.

—I cannot do that. Now, state your name and rank for the record.

—“I cannot do that…” Do you overarticulate everything all the time?

—I like to enunciate things. I find it allows me to avoid misunderstandings. If there is one thing I loathe, it is to repeat myself…

—Yes. My name. You can say it, if it’s so important to you.

—As you wish. You are Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kara Resnik, and you are a helicopter pilot in the United States Army. Is that correct?

—Was. I’ve been removed from flight status, but you probably know that already.

—I did not. May I ask what happened?

—I have a detached retina. It doesn’t hurt, but my vision is affected. I’m scheduled for surgery tomorrow. When I asked, they said there’s a reasonable chance I might be able to fly again…which sounds suspiciously like “no” to me.

What did you say your name was again?

—I have not.

—Then why don’t you? For the record…

—There are many reasons why, some more relevant than others. From your perspective, it should suffice to know that you would never be allowed to leave this room alive if I did.

—You could have just said no. Do you really think threatening me will get you anywhere?

—I sincerely apologize if you felt threatened in any way, Chief Resnik. It was never my intention to make you uncomfortable. I simply did not want you to think I was being coy.

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