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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Supreme Breakthrough: A Science Fiction Story

Dave was madly in love with Sandra, and he boldly asked her to marry him. But Sandra had a reservation.

"Dave, you know I adore you," said Sandra. "And it's been wonderful dating you for the past six months. But marriage is a big step."

"But we're so right for each other," said Dave. 

"I'm a little worried about whether you can provide me with the kind of financial support I would like from a husband," said Sandra. "Your current job situation sounds a bit precarious."

"But Sandra, I have a good job as a radio astronomer," said Dave. 

"Yes, but you admitted that you rely on some funding that will run out at the end of the year," said Sandra. "What will happen then? It sounds like a radio astronomer has to live from one little research grant to the next. It doesn't sound like a very stable income." 

"Sandra, let's make a deal," said Dave. "If you come and visit my research office, I will remove all doubts you may have about my future career success."

Sandra agreed. The next day Dave drove her to his research office about 60 miles north of New York City. Sanda had never seen it before. She was very impressed by the big radio telescope dish next to the office. 

"I analyze data picked up by that giant radio telescope dish," explained Dave.  Dave took Sandra into his office near the radio telescope dish.  The office had a big screen that looked like a TV screen. 

"Let me play you something," said Dave. 

The big screen showed what looked rather like scenes from some big-budget science fiction movie. There were stunning scenes showing what looked like some city on another planet, a planet with an orange sky.  The city was populated by strange creatures that looked like very tall blue humanoids that were kind of half electronic. 

"Why are you playing some science fiction movie at work?" asked Sandra. "You might get in trouble for loafing."

"What you are seeing is no science fiction movie," explained Dave. "This is the real thing. These are images from another civilized planet."

"Are you joking?" asked Sandra.

"No, I am not," said Dave. "I told you I was involved in SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.  The search has finally succeeded. I've picked up radio signals sent by a civilization on another planet." 

"But the screen doesn't have sound -- it has images," said Sandra. "How could you have got such images by radio?"

"You can send images by radio," explained Dave. "It just requires a coding scheme in which particular radio blips represent pixels on a grid. I had to play around with the data in 1000 different ways before I finally discovered the coding scheme the radio signals were using. Then, poof, I was able to transform the radio messages into images -- images from another civilized planet."

"Whoever discovered this must be a genius," said Sandra. 

"I'm that genius," said Dave proudly. "I made this discovery all by myself. I pointed the radio antenna at the right star, a star 500 light-years away. I figured out the algorithm that would transform what seemed like meaningless radio blips into stunning images of a civilization on another world. No one knows about this discovery but you and me."

"Why didn't you tell anyone else?" asked Sandra. "Why did you keep your discovery secret?"

"I'm waiting for the big scientific SETI conference next month," explained Dave. "I'm going to spring this sensational result on all the scientists who come for that conference. What a surprise that will be!  By next month, I'll be world famous. My picture will be on magazine covers, and my name will become a household name. I'll be a cinch for the Nobel Prize. This is the greatest scientific discovery in history.  My work finally proves there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe." 

"It's clear I was all wrong about your prospects," said Sandra. "Come to think of it, I would be a fool not to marry you."  Dave and Sandra enjoyed a long passionate kiss. 

"Now that I've come to your workplace, maybe you should come visit my workplace," said Sandra. "It's worth coming just to see the breathtaking view from my office." 

Dave agreed to visit Sandra's workplace the next day. After taking an elevator high up to the top of a very tall skyscraper, he met Sandra at her office.

"I can't believe the fantastic view you have from your office," said Dave. "What's that really tall building I see out the window?" 

"That's the other World Trade Center tower," explained Sandra. "We're in the North Tower, and that is the South Tower." 

It was the morning of September 11, 2001. 

Suddenly there was a very loud noise, and everyone on Sandra's floor felt a tremendous jolt. Dave looked out the windows and saw all kind of flames, sparks and smoke.  A hijacked jet had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, the tower Dave and Sandra were in. 

"Let's get out of here!" screamed Sandra. "Head for the stairs!" 

Dave and Sandra entered the stairwells, and tried to walk down to the ground level. Before they could go very far, they found the stairwell was blocked by massive destruction.  The two tried another stairwell, and found that it also was blocked by the destruction caused by the collision of the hijacked jet. 

Very worried, Dave and Sandra went back to Sandra's floor. They soon found that a nearby fire was spreading.  The floor was starting to fill up with smoke. 

Dave got some office chairs, and smashed open a window. The fire continued to spread.  The fire engulfed more and more of Sandra's floor.

"We're trapped!" cried Dave. "There's no way out!"

"We'll have to jump," said Sandra. "It's better than burning to death. Maybe the fire department will have some rescue nets below." 

Dave gave Sandra a final kiss. Holding each other's hands, the two lovers jumped out the window. When they hit the pavement far below, they both died. 

The two lovers got a burial, but one stranger and sadder than any they imagined possible. The South Tower was also hit by a hijacked jet, and both of the World Trade Center towers collapsed entirely, burying the bodies of Dave and Sandra in a huge heap of dust and rubble. 

The only people who knew of Dave's epic space discovery had died. But there was still one hope that the greatest discovery in science history would not be lost to posterity. There was still a record of Dave's monumental discovery on the computer in Dave's office. That computer had the image files Dave had shown to Sandra, the images showing extraterrestrials and their strange cities on a distant planet. 

A week later two scientists spoke about what to do with Dave's computer. 

"It's so sad about Dave dying," said the first scientist. "When I heard he left a message that he would be at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, I could hardly believe it." 

"So what do you want to do with Dave's computer?" said the second scientist. "Do you want to examine his work by looking at the files on his computer? Or should I just erase all his files right now?"

"Well, I just started a kind-of-silly busywork project that requires lots of disk space," said the first scientist. "I sure could use all that disk space on Dave's computer.  So why don't you just erase all his files right now, so that I can use his computer for my crummy little chore." 

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