art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by k. b. dalai
Roger swiveled his chair to gaze out his study window, half-seeing his wife's garden bloom into spring, relishing the down time. The doorbell rang and Roger smiled, listening to his wife Ann plead to their ten-year-old son to quit stomping down the stairs three at a time. Five minutes later, Mike Watson, Roger's boss at the National Reconnaissance Office, walked into the study and plopped a bulging attaché case on Roger's desk.
"No way, Mike, this is my first weekend off in over three months."
Mike cleared his throat nervously. "I know, Roger, but you're my best analyst on intercepts, and this comes from a pay grade much higher than mine."
"Ms. K. Shaw herself, right?"
Roger blinked. The only person the agency chief reported to was the president. Mike leaned closer and lowered his voice.
"Roger, this is off the clock. Any notes go on the enclosed flash drive. Otherwise, nothing on hard disc or paper, no memos. I don't know what it is, but whatever you find, you'll report verbally in person. And as of now, no one else is in the loop, including me." Mike paused to let the implication sink in that Roger Newman, junior NRO technical analyst, was going to brief the President of the United States. "Let Ms. Shaw know when you're ready, and she'll set up an appointment. Code word is 'WOW.'"
Mike shrugged. "I'm just the messenger." He turned to leave and paused at the door. "Good luck, Roger. And sorry about your weekend."
"Yeah. Right," Roger snorted as the door closed.
Ten minutes after Mike left, Roger discovered the code word's meaning. An old computer printout had the alphanumeric string 6EQUJ5 circled, and the word WOW!! written beside it. Roger suddenly realized that he was looking at years of intercepts from NASA, SETI, and other astronomical sources.