*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK”
Megan’s trailer rocked from the heavy knocks at the door. She rushed to the door and opened it, but stumbled backward as the morning sun blinded her.
“Elevator’s leaving in five minutes. We’d like you to join us,” Commander Tate commented through the open door then turned to walk away.
“I’ll be there!” Megan yelled behind him. “Shit,” she cursed the jet lag and grabbed her jeans from the floor. Five minutes later she was in a small, sinking elevator with commander Tate, a burly grey man, and two other scientists she did not know. The tall one was fatter than the short one. After a few minutes of silently descending commander Tate decided to make introductions. He caught Megan’s eye and gestured at the other two men in white lab coats.
“The fat one’s Rogelio, the short one’s Isaac. Rogelio’s our linguist, and he knows I’ll punch him if he makes any cunning jokes. Isaac’s our historian.” Megan offered Isaac a hand, then she shook Rogelio’s after.
“I’m Megan,” she smiled at them. Each nodded, but the elevator ride continued. After a few minutes of awkward silence Isaac asked Megan a question.
“Why’re you here?”
“I found this place,” she said.
“She’s just the radio tech that was on watch when the signal came through,” Commander Tate said. Megan’s eyes darkened and she glared at the commander.
“I found the coordinates hidden in the message!” She said. Her exclamation was punctuated by a sudden stop. The elevator reached the bottom.
“Our guys would have found it eventually, you just happened to see it first. Be thankful you’re here to see this.” He opened the elevator door and allowed Megan to step out of it first. She gave him one last glare before leaving the elevator. She stepped out into a well lit cavern. She looked down the cave and realized that the lights grew brighter further ahead.
“Your guys work fast,” Isaac complimented the commander. It was also the first time he and Rogelio saw it.
“Not my team,” he said. The commander pointed ahead at the brighter area. “See where there’s more light? That was already there when we got here.” He walked forward after his explanation and the three scientists followed him.
The commander stopped and pointed at the ground. Megan looked down and noticed the stone floor of the cavern transitioned into a shiny metal like surface. Brilliant lights dotted the walls at regular intervals. A large metal door stood at the far end of the brilliant hall. Intricate carvings were engraved in the metal around the sealed door.
“Alright boys, get to work,” Commander Tate pointed the men to the door. Rogelio and Isaac walked forward, but the commander stopped Megan with a hand on her shoulder.
“You’re on the nickel tour, this is as far as you go.” He pointed at the end of the stone floor.
“Dad!” she hissed in a low whisper, but the commander shook his head.
“You have every right to be here, I’ve never given you any special treatment. If I let you go further, that will be special treatment,” he said. “I’ll let you know if anything exciting happens.”
“But why?” Megan looked around the empty cavern. Rogelio and Isaac were having a very animated discussion in front of the door. “No one’s here!”
“I’m here,” He said. “These are my rules, but I have to follow them like everyone else.”
“We got it!” Rogelio yelled. “Come on we’re gonna open it!”
“Oh. Damnit.” Commander Tate chuckled to himself and grabbed his daughter’s hand to pull her along. “I didn’t expect them to open it today. The rule was just to keep you out of the way, but it’s a moot point now,” he said while they walked down the hall. He turned and looked at his daughter while they walked and gave her a goofy grin.
“You didn’t really think I was going to let you miss it, did you?”
“Yes!” she complained, but that only made the commander laugh harder. They reached Isaac and Rogelio by the door. A small circle glowed with yellow light where a door handle would be.
“Press that and we’re in,” Isaac explained. Commander Tate stepped forward and pushed the circle. The door dissolved into shiny metal dust instead of moving in any direction. Megan tried to see anything, but the interior of the new room was pitch black. Suddenly a yellow glowing figure appeared. Everyone jumped back, including commander Tate.
The lit figure was translucent, she appeared to be woman wearing some sort of gown. The holograrm looked through the door at them and smiled.
“You’ve found us, welcome! Come in!” Yellow light filled the room. Megan saw dozens of chairs in front of dozens of screens with several larger monitors up on the walls, it reminded her of a mission control center. Commander Tate stepped over the threshold first, but after taking a look around he motioned for the rest to join him.
“What year is it?” The woman asked.
“2050,” Commander Tate responded. The translucent figure nodded, and one of the larger screens flickered to life.
“Who are you?” He asked, hoping the information exchange went both ways.
“I am an artificial intelligence programmed to watch over the signal.”
“What signal? The one we got?” Rogelio asked. “That one came from space,” he laughed and Isaac joined him. The hologram’s eyes narrowed.
“And what did the signal say?” Isaac gave Rogelio a friendly elbow in the stomach.
“She’s supposed to watch over it and she doesn’t even know what it says,” they both laughed harder. Megan stepped forward.
“It said, ‘You are alone.’” The figure nodded, then glared at Isaac and Rogelio.
“Exactly. If you’re alone then of course the signal originated from Earth.” The two men stopped laughing, but only Isaac was brave enough to admit he was lost.
“Huh?” he asked.
“I intercepted the signal myself, there’s no way it came from Earth,” Megan said.
“It did,” Commander Tate answered. He had been staring at the monitor while Isaac and Rogelio argued with the computer.
“What?” Megan asked, but she was surprised to see her father sitting down. He never relaxed on the job, and he considered “comfort” relaxation. However instead of meeting her eyes the commander stared at the yellow woman.
“So I guess we’re number 23?” He asked. She nodded. Megan rushed to his seat and knelt by him. Rogelio and Isaac started another conversation with the A.I., but she whispered anyway.
“Dad? 23 what? What’s going on?”
“You’re smart, so you’ll probably understand it faster than me,” he said. He placed a rough hand on hers and looked into her eyes.
“The universe dies eventually, right?” he asked. She nodded her head. “It’s a cycle. Sometime after it dies, another big bang starts it all over again.”
“Sure, I guess. But where did the signal come from?”
“The signal is designed to lead people to this place, it’s full of information that it wants people to find. So it broadcast the signal.”
“Dad,” she lowered her voice. Rogelio and Isaac seemed to be very interested in the yellow woman, but she did not want to risk them over hearing something they didn’t know yet. “That signal came from another galaxy. I checked it a million times before I brought it to anyone’s attention.” Her father shook his head.
“It came from Earth. 22 universe ago. That signal repeats every time the universe starts again, to lead us here. We can learn from the past and share information with the next universe. There’s no one out there but our echo.”