—A big one. I was hoping it would have some giant toes, but it looks more like a fancy thick-soled boot than a foot. It’s a beautiful piece though. Dr. Franklin said she had good taste in shoes.
It turns out flying higher is also a lot faster, the ARCANA dispersal pattern is much wider at high altitude so we need fewer passes to cover the same area.
—So you found five pieces so far?
—Six. We just found a thigh under the Tennessee highway. That thing is huge!
—How large is it?
—I’m not really good with measurements, maybe sixty feet. Big enough to make a hell of a mess, I’ll tell you that. The highway was completely destroyed for about half a mile. The way Dr. Franklin explains it, these things are buried very deep underground, around nine hundred feet deep, and they rise to the surface really, really fast when they’re turned on. I’m glad we’re in a helicopter. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be around when these things come up. It’s got to feel like the world’s coming to an end.
—Thank you, Mr. Mitchell. I just realized that, while Dr. Franklin talks about you on a regular basis, this is the first time you and I have met. It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.
—Thank you, sir.
—Tell me a little bit about yourself.
—There’s very little to say. I’m a soldier in the United States Army.
—I know you can do better than that.
—What can I tell you? I’m from Detroit. My father was in the Army. What else…I went to Henry Ford High. I played ball.
—Football, sir. Trojans. I was a cornerback. I enlisted after graduation.
—Was your father a helicopter pilot, as well?
—No, sir. He was a mechanic. I never had any taste for it so I applied to Warrant Officer Candidate School. I thought I could do something different.
—He must be very proud of you?
—Yes. His father was also in the military. It’s sort of a family tradition. I wanna thank you for taking me on board, sir. I know you didn’t really choose me, but I’m really glad to be here. I’m very grateful. This is more exciting than anything I ever imagined.
—I chose the both of you because of how well you complement each other. I would not have chosen Ms. Resnik had she not worked so well with you in Turkey. There is no need for you to feel any less deserving.
—It’s OK. I understand. I’m the co-pilot. She’s great. You were right to pick her.
—I will take your enthusiasm to mean you are adjusting well to your new working environment.
—Oh yes. Very well. Dr. Franklin takes very good care of us. We spent nearly a week with her before we flew anywhere. She brought us up to speed, showed us everything she’d been doing. She made us feel like we’re really part of the team, not just some grunts doing the legwork. That hand is amazing. Do you really think it came from…you know…out there?
—Dr. Franklin certainly thinks so. I have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to disagree with her.
—I wouldn’t dare either. She’s very motherly. I can’t imagine what she’d be like if she were mad. I’m sure it’s not something I want to find out. She’s very nice. And she’s incredibly smart. She tries to dumb things down when she talks about what she does, but there’s still a lot I don’t really understand.
—That is why we chose her. How are things in the laboratory? Is everyone getting along?
—Yes, sir. Dr. Franklin is in a great mood. Kara—sorry, Chief Resnik—and her, they get along great. It’s hard to tell at first, but they’re a lot alike. They have completely different manners but they both have that drive, that sense of purpose. I think they even look alike, when you get a good look at them together, like sisters, or cousins. They have the same dark hair, the same intense stare. They seemed to make a connection right away.
—I was told Mr. Couture has arrived.
—The linguist? Yes, he showed up. Some cocky French-speaking kid from Montreal. Vincent, I think that’s his name.
—Have you two had a chance to interact?
—Not really, we don’t see much of him. They moved the panels to another room; that’s where he spends most of his time. They say he’s real smart. I thought he would have a French accent, but it’s nothing like I imagined. He sounds…German, or something.
—He is Québécois, not French.
—I know where he’s from. I just thought they spoke, you know, French. He sounds funny when he speaks any language, actually. Dr. Franklin has him speak to her in French. She says she never gets to practice. Even Kara gets a word in here and there. I think I’m the only one who can’t understand anything he says.
—It sounds like you do not really like him.
—I wouldn’t go that far. We’re just very different people. He reminds me of the kids we used to pick on in high school. I don’t like to think about that.
—You are not proud of the way you treated people as a teenager? You do not strike me as someone who would take pleasure in bullying others.
—Well, it’s not like I beat up or tortured anyone, but I wanted to fit in as much as the other kids. Football team…you know how it is.
—I do not.
—The guys on the team used to make jokes about kids that were less athletic. They would pick on them in the hallways, any chance they got. I was smart enough to know it was wrong, but not brave enough to stop them. I didn’t stand up for the weaker kids and maybe I should have.
—You were a teenager yourself. It seems unfair to judge your actions through the eyes of an adult.
—Maybe. Look, I don’t lose any sleep over it. You just asked why I don’t…I thought it might…It doesn’t matter. I’m sure we’ll get along fine once I get to know him. Can I ask you a question?
—Why are we doing this?
—Do you believe that artifacts left on Earth by an ancient alien civilization are not worthy of our attention?
—No, I mean why are we doing this? I understand how amazing this is, and I can see why Rose is on board, but why is the military involved?
—First of all, the military is not. As far as the Army is concerned, you and Ms. Resnik are on a training assignment. But to answer your question, I feel a discovery of this magnitude might have repercussions that the scientific community is not best suited to handle. You saw what happened in Turkey. We needed crowd control, an extraction team, someone to handle the local authorities. I feel these are all things best accomplished by people with military training.
—Do you think what we’re after has military applications?
—That is not my primary concern. I do believe we might learn something—a lot, actually—from this discovery. Whether what we learn is of military interest or not, only time will tell. I am absolutely certain, however, that this project has a better chance of success with you and Ms. Resnik on board.
—Thank you, sir. I just don’t wanna find out I was part of someone’s secret agenda.
—Do you think I would tell you if you were?
—Then rest assured, Mr. Mitchell, we are all in this for the greater good.