When Ellie Arroway and the crew of the Inspiration were returning to Earth from Nesr asteroid (Contact Episode 4: Hail to Vega) the space shuttle Atlantis went on a week-long mission to the Moon and conducted an investigation of a mysterious source of hierion-based communications signals.
Space shuttle Atlantis was retrofitted with Machine technology, including a V2 (“version 2.0”) antimatter-powered propulsion system. Some people have proposed using positrons as the energy source for an antimatter-powered spaceship. For the Contact television series there will be a more exotic form of antimatter. The Machine technology allows for production of hierions, a type of matter unknown to current Earthly science.
What type of container will hold the antimatter fuel? Magnetic confinement will be used, but hierions again offer a big advantage over conventional magnetic confinement. The Machine’s rotating rings can produce hierions, and one type of matter composed of hierions can allow construction of an antimatter containment “bottle” that is light enough for use in spaceships.
Unlike the original antimatter-powered engine of Inspiration, which used a miniature on board rotating rings system to generate antimatter, Atlantis used the newly developed magnetic confinement system to hold a supply of antimatter that had been produced at Area 51.
Contact Episode 5 starts with a conference held at the White House about the newly discovered Moon Base. Ellie and Palmer Joss attend the conference and listen to a summary presentation given by the crew of Atlantis. Having been equipped for a vertical landing on the Moon, Atlantis landed near a construction/tunneling debris field close to the source of hierion communications signals. Atlantis crew members were able to walk to a nearby airlock door that is built into a cliff face. The door is large, and it is apparent that spaceships even larger than space shuttles could fit through the open door, but no way was found to open the door. The door seems to be made of the same material as the Machine’s transport pod (IPV). After exploring the area near the mysterious door for a week, Atlantis returned to Earth, arriving two days after the return of Inspiration.
At the end of the summary presentation Ellie asks, “How long has this construction site been on the Moon?”
A geochemist (NASA scientist Gerald Dhuley) responds. “My lab has so far only had one day with the samples brought back by Atlantis, but based on indicators such as solar radiation-induced weathering, some of the debris could have been dug up and dumped on the surface quite recently.” Ellie senses that Dhuley has more to say, but an aide to the president calls a halt to the discussion.
Ellie contacts Dhuley and gets the rest of the story: the rock samples collected from a second, more westerly debris field show much more weathering. Dhuley’s best guess is that those rocks were quarried out millions of years previously.
Ellie asks, “Does the President know this?”
Dhuley: “He knows. The decision has been made to keep this quiet until we have more information. The president feels that there is enough anxiety among the masses who think aliens have never been close to Earth than Vega. The official press release on the lunar construction/tunneling site will suggest that it was a secret Hadden Engineering project.”
Ellie: “Nobody will believe that. Even if Hadden Engineering had a fleet of spaceships, which it does not, those ships would have been detected going to the Moon.”
Dhuley winks: “You’re not taking into account Hadden’s cloaking device.”
The Atlantis will be returning to the Moon equipped to gain entry to the cavern that lies beyond the sealed door in the cliff. During this time, Inspiration is equipped with an antimatter storage system.
Ellie starts thinking about the implications of there having been aliens on the Moon for millions of years. She discusses with Palmer the idea that aliens might have created the human species as a kind of “domesticated ape” that would be able to eventually accept the idea that, as a biological species, it had been created by aliens.
Palmer wants to know how it would be possible to prove that there had been intelligent design of the human species by aliens. Ellie suggests that the aliens have been on the Moon observing Earth and guiding human evolution for millions of years. “The aliens must have records, observations of the entire evolutionary history of the human species.”
Palmer says, “I assume you want to go to the Moon in search of such records”
But Ellie has an intuition about Moon Base Alpha. She has been studying the pattern of hierion communications signals in the Solar System and come to the conclusion that the signals originating from the Moon Base are little more than a copy of the signals being generated on Earth. “No, I don’t think these records are on the Moon. I’m willing to bet that there are no aliens on the Moon. Maybe there once were, but now this Moon Base is just an automated relay station.”
Palmer asks, “Relaying what?”
Ellie replies, “There is an intriguing pattern of signals that originates on Earth. We need to figure out where those signals come from and where the information goes to after it is relayed through the Moon Base. The problem is, somebody does not want us to know. The signals are encrypted and I can only detect their points of origin, not their destinations.”
Palmer: “About the source of the hierion signals…the NSA has used the new hierion detector that works within Earth’s gravity well. They claim that every time they move the detector close to a signal source, the signal winks out.”
Ellie: “What does that mean?”
Palmer: “Somebody is hiding from us.”
Ellie: “Aliens on Earth?”
Palmer: “You tell me.”
Ellie goes back to Area 51 and works with Dr. Shella Wye: they perform research studies of the spare transport pod. Dr. Wye previously played an important role in the research project that discovered how to use the Machine’s rotating rings as a source of hierions, including the antimatter fuel now used to power Atlantis.
Shella and Ellie know that hierion communications signals travel faster than the speed of light. They analyze data from the Inspiration’s mission to Nesr asteroid in an attempt to understand if the hierion communications signals have a finite speed. They eventually notice that there is a slight delay in the speed of transmission when the signal being sent is more complex. This observation, together with what has already been learned about hierions allows Shella to propose a third type of matter (the first two are the conventional matter of our everyday experience and hierions). Shella calls the third type of matter “sedronic matter” and she proposes the existence of unseen “sedrons” to account for phenomena such as the relationship between information density and the speed hierion communications signals.
Dr. Shella Wye
Shella’s theoretical analysis suggests that the Machine transport pod can act as a receiver for both hierions and sedrons. However, while some types of hierion particles can exist in our three dimensional space, sedrons can only exist in the compact spaces.
Ellie asks: “So, these theoretical sedrons are of no practical value?”
Shella: “Well, theoretically, if you transmitted sedrons into the Machine transport pod they would, um -transmute- into another form of matter. Conventional matter.”
Ellie: “And you could transmit sedrons just like we transmit radio waves and hierion communications signals?”
Shella: “Theoretically. But you’d need a huge amount of energy to create the sedronic signal.”
Ellie: “Then what you are describing is a way to convert energy into matter.”
Ellie: “But you could transmit…project?…teleport that matter to a distant location!”
Shella: “Yes, theoretically, but it would be a very expensive process.”
In a later episode we will learn that there is a “trick” by which the needed energy for teleportation can be obtained by “disintegrating” the object to be teleported.
The name “Dr. Wye” (pronounced “why”) is a tip of the hat to both Dr. Who and Isaac Asimov. In Prelude to Foundation Asimov imagined that one of the regions of Trantor is called “Wye”. Rashelle was the daughter of the mayor of Wye, and that motivated my choice of “Shella” for Dr. Wye’s first name.
Backstory. Dr. Wye is an artificial life form from a distant planet in our galaxy. Dr. Why is from a civilization that long ago went through its own “first contact” with the Huaoshy. Dr. Wye likes to visit worlds like Earth and help species like humans navigate through their “technological adolescence”. Dr. Wye sometimes provides help to Interventionists like Hadden. Dr. Wye is a hybrid cellular/nanite organism.
In Episode 5, Ellie and Shella are trying to understand how the nanocircuits that are built into the walls and hatch door of the Machine transport pod can almost instantly fuse at the atomic level when the hatch is closed. [Shella already knows how the hatch seals, but she uses the Socratic method in order to allow the humans she works with to figure out their own solutions to problems]. Kate Robinson, Shella and Ellie frequently share meals and discuss their research projects. Prompted by the Hadden nanites inside her brain (she keeps muttering, “look closer…look closer”; Hadden is only slowly learning how to influence Kate’s thoughts since Kate’s brain did not develop in close association to nanites), Kate realizes that the Machine transport pod is a sedronic receiver and that it acts as a teleportation pad where alien nanites can be materialized. The nanites are able to perform atomic level repairs to the hierion communications circuitry that is built into the walls of the pod. Shella helps Kate design a “nanite trap”: a modification of the antimatter magnetic confinement device that they use to search the spare Machine transport pod for nanites. Initially they find none, but then after supplying power to the pod, they find that it contains nanites.
Kate realizes that the suspected “alien” computer equipment from the Nesr asteroid is probably “inert” unless first activated by nanites. She asks Shella to help her study the “alien” nanites with the goal of learning how to control nanites. Listening to Shella and Kate discussing nanites causes Ellie to become increasingly ill. Ellie feels like she should contact her doctor, but she only feels a sense of foreboding when she thinks of Zelter. Ellie contacts Palmer and he comes to Area 51 from Washington. Palmer tries to get Ellie to either go back to her SETI work in New Mexico or come to Washington for a vacation.
Dr. Zelter arrives at Area 51 and tries to use her Overseer nanites to make Shella, Kate and Palmer forget about nanites. Palmer goes back to Washington and Zelter takes Ellie back to New Mexico. As soon as they leave Area 51, Shella’s more advanced nanites inactivate the Overseer nanites and Kate continues her nanite research (with Shella’s help).
Contact television series Cast Members:
Eleanor Arroway – SETI researcher who discovered the “message from Vega”
Palmer Joss – Presidential advisor and Ellie’s soul mate
Karen Zelter – Ellie’s personal physician
Theodor Schwartz – Director of Security at Area 51
Reggie Banning – Air Force Captain and NASA astronaut; commands Inspiration
Kate Robinson – NASA engineer, crew member on Inspiration for the mission to the Nesr asteroid.
S. R. Hadden – Died in the movie, Contact, but still able to communicate with Ellie using “alien” technology
Dr. Shella Wye – an alien visitor to Earth pretending to be human, “she” (actually an alien life form that is neither male or female) is often described by fellow engineers as “Hadden’s X” (meaning she is like Hadden, but with an X chromosome in place of Hadden’s Y chromosome) or “Sell the Y” (implying that Hadden would sell anything to make more money, and Shella is what you get after Hadden sells his Y chromosome). Even after spending several centuries interacting with humans, Shella has only a theoretical undertanding of human emotions and sexuality.
Images. Top: LRO image. Antimatter rocket technology. Moon rock. Rapid evolution of human miRNA. Altered expression of proteins for synaptic plasticity. Another image of “Thirteen” from “House”. It would be fun to have Olivia Wilde play the role of Dr. Zelter in the Contact television series…..
Next: Contact Episode 6: For Carl