Mission Outreach Gurgoji
By Robert Steele
Huff looked at the hurled noise of the video screen. He thought if he looked hard enough he’d be able to see something—a ship, a piece of metal, maybe something belonging to the Gurgoji. But there was just the noise. The fuzz of it was so intense that it hurt Huff’s eyes. He had to blink a few times just to clear his vision.
“Well that was a waste,” said Amber, the project lead. “Basically we spent millions of dollars just to get what amounts to a television with bad reception.”
“Maybe,” said Huff. “But I’m hoping maybe we’ll get a response from the Gurgoji. Maybe to them this is mission accomplished.”
Amber slammed her fist on the table. Her red-rimmed glasses bounced up on her nose. “We might not find out for decades. I could be dead by then.” She took out the elastic from her ponytail, letting her dry, brittle curls settle across her shoulders. She rubbed at the crow’s feet around her eyes.
The six others around the oval oak table looked tense. Their shoulders were scrunched up to their necks. They were important people—heads of engineering, research, construction. But they all spoke carefully around Amber.
“Turn it off,” said Amber. “It’s just annoying me having to watch this. My life’s work. Putting together the right team. What a waste.”
Huff rolled his eyes.
She saw him. “What the hell was that?”
“We need to be patient. If there’s a time to be patient, it’s now.”
Amber stood and walked around the table keeping her eyes fixed on Huff. She held up a finger. “I have waited fifty years for this moment. I was a little girl when the Gurgoji landed. There was absolute panic. The military put everyone on lock down. I was young then, but I remember seeing the looks on my parents’ faces. The absolute horror. But when we found out they were doing what amounts to a handshake, there was complete joy. I wanted to make my parents proud by reaching out to the Gurgoji. I have spent fifty years trying to do so.”
“You don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly understand. You’re twenty-five.”
“Yes I am.”
“Genius out of school, right? You’ve spent half as long trying to accomplish this feat. Do you understand why I might not be as patient as you are?”
“Yes,” he said. It was easier to just agree with her and move on.
The coffin-like MRI machine scanned Huff’s body. It made a hell of a racket. Huff didn’t consider himself claustrophobic, but he was starting to rethink things during his scan. The red button was there to press if he felt panicked. He made tight fists instead.
As the machine opened up, Huff felt relief wash over him.
He saw Dr. Medlin, his bald head shining with the bright lights of the room. “I didn’t see anything abnormal,” said the doctor. “We’ll run some more looks at it, but nothing popped out at me.”
Huff nodded. He wasn’t sure when all the bloating started, probably during the weeks leading up to Ecstasy’s arrival at the wormhole. He was sure it was an ulcer due to coffee and stress, but Dr. Medlin ruled it out.
After his appointment, Huff headed back home and flipped on the live feed of Ecstasy. It had been three days. Still nothing but static.
Huff looked over the Gurgoji’s specs. They were pictorial, and with mathematical calculations, but no written explanations. On the math side, everything had gone according to what the aliens suggested. Experts at USP had checked over the math, giving him absolute assurances that everything was correct.
There was one thing he was never sure of. Why did the Gurgoji want humans to contact them via the wormhole? Was it a test just to prove that humans were intelligent enough to work with them? Was it just to build a back and forth relationship? He thought it was silly to even ask himself such questions. It was impossible to rationalize with the Gurgoji, they were so foreign that even logical ways of thinking could be different.
On a separate device, Huff flicked on old videos of the Gurgoji. He watched the military guards taking aim at the two strange beings as they stood peacefully, their frail, peach bodies swaying with the outdoor winds.
One Gurgoji then used the tips of his webbed hand and burned a black line into the concrete. The military stepped back, shouted to one another and looked ready to unload gunfire. Thankfully they didn’t. The Gurgoji drew an intricate picture of both a human and a Gurgoji holding hands.
More and more pictures. Intricate. Details showing what their world looked like, with hovering buildings and massive auditoriums.
An alert popped up on the screen. It was a message from Amber.
Dear Huff Smythe,
Thank you for your contributions to the team. Mission Outreach Gurgoji was something that fell into our laps. Even though it lasted only five years, its true inception was with the initial Gurgoji contact fifty years ago. Putting together a project like this was always going to be difficult. It was an unprecedented feat involving using our technology within territories unfamiliar to us. It was indeed the square peg in a round hole type of problem.
I personally chose you based on your outstanding research into Gurgoji wormholes, and your previous work with the Unified Space Program. I have no regrets. In the past five years we came closer to making contact with the Gurgoji than ever before.
Unfortunately, Mission Outreach was ultimately a failure. For this reason we have removed you from the Gurgoji Communications team. We have also terminated your contract with the Unified Space Program. We have done so believing that your talents are better suited outside the organization.
Thank you again for your contributions and hard work with our team. We wish all the best of luck in your future endeavors.
Gurgoji Communications Lead
Unified Space Program
Fired. At least he had time to relax. Maybe get his health in order.
He hadn’t much desire to begin a teaching job, but now could be the time. He could seek out companionship, settle down, have kids, let the contact with the Gurgoji settle itself.
He could only look at the numbers so much. The Gurgoji were supposed to accept the unmanned entering ship into the wormhole and create a link, sending communication back to earth. This was supposed be within the hour. Certainly not three days later.
It was frustrating to fail and to not know why.
The teaching position at Frankfurt University paid well. The campus was bold architecture with gardens between the walkways. The young students were generally kind and curious. Huff would go to the graduate pub and drink with them. He’d talk about his work at the Unified Space Program.
The Tipsy Scholar was the campus pub. It was polished wood. On the walls were fake degrees, listing all sorts of outrageous studies. Tom Foolery, Bachelor of Arts – Beer Pong. And others along the same lines.
Roger went after class and was joined by a stubble-faced student named Roger who sipped on a stout. “Wouldn’t you rather be back working with them, sir?”
“It’s good to have a break,” said Huff. He never mentioned that he got fired. “You can get in to routine, and then you get stuck in a place where you’re no longer learning and growing. That can happen even at USP.”
“Would you ever go back?”
“Maybe,” said Huff. “Is it somewhere you’d be interested in working?”
“Absolutely,” said Roger. “But I’m not too sure.”
“If they’d have someone like me. I’d be in over my head. I know my limits.”
“You have the brains for it. I’ve enjoyed your papers. You just lack confidence. If you fix that, you can work anywhere you want.”
Roger looked around the room, bobbing his head very slight to the beat of the music. “How do you gain confidence?”
Huff laughed. “I don’t know. It’s something you can only really build by doing. Either that or stay drunk all the time. There’s plenty that do that.”
“More than you’d imagine,” said Huff. “You can be high-functioning at any profession. Not that I recommend it.”
Huff started to feel the pain in his gut. Something stabbing into his stomach. He felt bloating and swelling. He pushed away the beer.
“Is something wrong, sir?”
“Just some pain. It will go away in a few minutes. But I should probably finish drinking.”
“Oh okay, sir.”
“Listen, if you’re really interested in a job at USP, I can write a recommendation tonight.”
A big smile ripped across Roger’s face. “That would be great.”
Huff hadn’t spoken to Amber in six months, not even through any type of correspondence.
He thought about sending an e-mail, but had no desire for an immediate response. Amber was the type to respond right away.
So Huff penned a formal letter instead, old fashioned, hand-written, something he’d need to put a stamp on.
Dear Amber Lennox,
It has been awhile since we have spoken, and I hope all is going well at the USP, and with Gurgoji Communications.
I am writing this letter with respect to a student of mine at Frankfurt University. His name is Roger Andar, and he is one of the most passionate students at the university.
I think Roger would be a great fit for USP. He has not made any formal applications at this point, but I have encouraged him to do so.
Roger has a particular interest in Gurgoji technology, penning a few papers on it this past semester. This would make him an ideal fit for a position to work on any projects involving Gurgoji Communications.
Nonetheless, I know that a position within GC is highly desirable and I’m sure that Roger would be pleased working with USP even in a traditional space exploration role.
On a personal note, I am sorry about the manner of my departure from USP. I completely understand your position regarding my termination, but was sad that our last face to face conversation was not on better terms. I value all the time I spent working on Mission Outreach, and was disappointed that we did not yield better results.
Enclosed is Roger’s paper on Gurgoji spacecraft and how they could be designed specifically for wormholes.
Huff rolled on the floor in agony. The pain in his upper abdomen was so sharp and intense that he could no longer breathe.
He reached up for his phone to call for an ambulance. Before he could, the phone started ringing. He didn’t recognize the number and it wasn’t one of his contacts.
Huff answered it. “Hello?”
“Hello Mr. Smythe,” said the voice. “This is Craig Aardsma. How are you doing today?”
“Not well,” said Huff. “You caught me at a bad time.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I won’t take up much of your time.”
“Are you trying to sell me something?”
“No, not at all. We need you Huff.”
“Who needs me?”
“Well, the Gurgoji need you the most. But because of that, we need you.”
Huff pushed his fist into his stomach, which somehow made the pain feel slightly better. “And you are?”
“I work for I.S.E.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“We’re small and new. And we’ve kept things quiet. We formed two months ago. Independently funded. The International Space Enterprise. We’re not too different from USP, but with one key difference.”
There was a long pause. “I don’t have time for drama,” said Huff. “Not at the moment.”
“We’ve been able to get in touch with the Gurgoji.”
Huff sat up and yelled in agony. “What?”
“It’s not the contact they were looking for. We haven’t hooked into the live communication link up that they requested.”
“Well, it’s hard to explain. If you can come to our facility tonight.”
“I’ll be in the hospital tonight.”
“Are you working in medical now? I wasn’t aware.”
“No. I’m just in excruciating pain.”
“Well, I’m sorry. But we really need you here. Perhaps one of our onsite doctors can have a look at you.“
“Why do you need me?”
“We don’t, Mr. Smythe. It’s the Gurgoji. They specifically want you.”
Huff awoke inside a medevac chopper, the sounds of the blades cutting through the air was kind of soothing. But it could have been the drugs—probably morphine. A pale yellow bag hung for an I.V. drip.
Medics in orange and white helped a doctor in blue scrubs. The doctor was finishing up stitches across Huff’s stomach.
“You woke up at the perfect time,” said the doctor as he held up his hands to show his bloody gloved hands. “All done. That was a hell of a blockage you had there, son.”
“Who are you people?” Huff asked. “And why am I in a goddamn chopper?”
“We work for ISE. I’ll be honest Mr. Smythe we pretty much needed to kidnap you. Mr. Aardsma said you passed out while on the phone. So we sent our medevac.”
“How much money does this company have?”
The doctor laughed and pulled down his cloth mask. “Loads. Some billionaires think they can make a lot of money trading with the Gurgoji.”
“No one put much money into such a project before.”
“Well, they figured it was a pipe dream. Failure after failure with USP and they started to lose faith. And when faith goes, so does the money.”
“Mr. Aardsma had been working on getting investors. When you can show tangible data, you can get investors.
As the helicopter landed, the medics put Huff into a wheelchair and pushed him toward the building.
The building was large, even bigger than the main building at USP. It was ivory with smooth contours, and layers of circles for the roof.
A man in a suit with a skinny blue tie and spiky black hair came to meet Huff before they entered the building. He shook Huff’s hand. “Craig Aardsma. Good thing you snore. I heard you scream in pain then pass out.”
“Thanks for the treatment,” said Huff. “Now let’s see what all the fuss is about.”
Craig wheeled Huff to a communication room with large screens and big desks with plenty of switches. It was clean and impressive. A true control room, not the old fashioned mess over at USP.
“So you’ve been in contact with the Gurgoji and this hasn’t made news?”
“We’re very quiet with our press releases. And it’s not the contact you might be thinking of. We’re contacting the Gurgoji from the past not the present.”
Huff raised his eyebrows. “Okay, show me.”
Craig flicked up some switches and the three largest screens illuminated pale white. A peach figure appeared. A Gurgoji. It drew pictures in the illuminated white surface where he was standing. As it drew, its fingers created sparks, leaving a trail of indented gold lines along the white surface.
The image was a planet, with cities spread across the surface. It was not too unlike the drawings the Gurgoji had made while they visited earth.
But then the Gurgoji drew with quick, hard strokes, and its body language seemed angry as its thin limbs tensed. It drew what looked like spacecraft over the planet. They were ellipses. It drew hundreds of them. Arching lines came down from these ellipses.
The Gurgoji flicked its hands and the sparks made it look like the building exploded. The cities in the drawing turned black.
“When is this from?” asked Huff.
“That we’re unsure of. We know it is the equivalent of a live feed from two years ago. They’ve had this feed on loop.”
“Did you respond to it?”
“Our communication involves hacking into their streams. We believe this is something they broadcast on purpose. We can’t respond with back and forth communication without that uplink.”
“We followed their instructions,” said Huff. “I’m certain that we did it right. They never patched us in or responded.”
“We got another message,” said Craig as he hit a switch to change the feed. The same Gurgoji drew a picture. It squatted low in a sort of curtsey movement required for how the Gurgoji bend. It drew an image of a face carefully. It was a detailed face, impressive given the speed of the drawing. The brush-cut hair, the stubble of beard, the narrowed eyes. It was Huff.
“I told you they needed you,” said Craig.
“But I came. I worked on their communication plan. It failed.”
“This was received two years ago as well. While you were working on the project, but before you began the launch.”
“How would they know me?”
“They can see us. They can see our media. They follow the stories. We can’t directly communicate, but they can see our transmissions, just like we can see theirs.”
Huff rolled his wheelchair up a ramp to the high part of the control room. He threw his hands up. “So now what?”
“They want you, Huff. They need your help. We looked over your implementation and we agree with you that it should have worked. It was right to the Gurgoji specs. But something happened. We think it’s likely what we saw in the images. War, maybe.”
Huff looked at the Gurgoji drawing his face, shading in his eyes. “I’m not sure how I can help them.”
They set Huff up with a nice on-site living quarters. Good thing he had nothing to look after back at his home—not even a pet.
His quarters had a large living area with a one-step drop, and a spacious kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. In was nearly the same size of his house.
An e-mail alert popped up from Amber.
Let’s try to keep this a little less formal this time. My apologies for not getting back to your last correspondence. We hired on your student, Roger. He’s not working for GC, but we’ll see how his performance results show while he works with the general research team.
The reason I haven’t got back to you is because I didn’t know what to write. To be honest I regret that you were terminated the way you were. We should have discussed it face to face. But things were tense.
I hear you’re working with ISE now. They are very secretive, not allowing much communication with media sources, but I do understand they have large financial backing. While I have no issues with them at this time, I question their reluctance to not share any information with USP. Maybe you can help them improve in this department. You were always a bit of a media darling. (Smiles).
Anyway, let’s keep in touch more often.
Your dear friend,
Huff spent the day meeting with the mission team. They had talented people, much younger than the team at USP.
Huff walked with a cane at his request to get rid of the wheelchair. He followed Craig into a medical room.
“And you know Dr. Flynn from last night,” said Craig.
Huff lifted up his shirt and looked at his stitches. “Are these ready to come out yet?”
“No,” said Dr. Flynn, “certainly not. We need to do some tests.”
The doctor swabbed and stuck a needle into Huff’s arm, drawing some blood.
“What’s this for?” asked Huff.
“Blood test,” said Dr. Flynn.
Craig put his hands together at the tips of his fingers. “We need to make sure you’re healthy enough.”
Craig directed both index fingers upward.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Huff. “I’m a ground researcher. Ground is good. Right here I’m fine.”
“The Gurgoji need you.”
“They’re in a war. What the hell am I going to do to help them?”
“We’re not sure. But if we send you inside that wormhole—”
“So, you send me into a wormhole and see what happens? Is that your idea?”
“We need to see what happened to the Gurgoji. We planned on manning a mission before we saw this video of you. It was the next logical step. It only makes sense that you go with them since they are requesting you. You saw the video, right?”
“I saw it. It doesn’t mean that I’m going on a suicide mission.”
Craig looked over at the doctor. “You’re on a suicide mission here,” said the doctor. “We want to run some tests, see how far the cancer has spread.”
“I removed a tumour last night. It was pushing into your organs. We need to do further work to see if anything else has spread.”
“I’ve had tests. They did an MRI.”
“It was missed,” said Dr. Flynn. “It could have been obscured, maybe not as visible at the time.”
Huff took a seat on a bench and put his head in his hands.
It had been a full eight months since Dr. Flynn diagnosed Huff with cancer. He’d struggled with illness and didn’t think he’d manage to make the launch. But Dr. Flynn was great, as was the rest of the staff. He’d bought into going to space, being the first to meet the Gurgoji on their soil. He’d be a piece of history as long as he didn’t die.
Friends and family came to the launch. Roger was the only one from USP. He thought Amber would show, but she didn’t. There was a bit of a rivalry between USP and ISE. USP didn’t like the idea of sending a human to space for such a venture. The Gurgoji specs said nothing about manned craft, for one. And the uncertainty of putting humans at risk was viewed as reckless by some.
But now Huff was here, only a day from the wormhole. Still living, and actually feeling quite good.
Eight crew members manned the VanGogh IV. It wasn’t just Huff’s life at risk. He felt guilty that the other healthy and brilliant minds might die with him. They weren’t sick like he was.
He wished it could have been a solo mission, but Craig planned it differently. He wanted no foul ups along the way. He wanted a sizeable craft built to maintain potential trauma from the wormhole. The large crew was needed for daily inspection and repairs.
In the evening, Craig put through a message from Amber. “I don’t care to send you this,” said Craig. “It’s not helpful. But it’s from a friend of yours, and I won’t censor anything. Just remember, this is your decision and no one else’s.”
So much for keeping in touch, huh? This is a hard message for me to write. We’ve been following your mission closely. It’s impossible to avoid in the news coverage and everyone at USP is monitoring despite their disagreements with the mission.
I don’t share their disagreements. I think this is an important mission. I think a manned craft mission needed to be done. We need witnesses to the wormhole. I just don’t want that witness to be you.
We’d grown close over the time spent with Mission Outreach. It may not have seemed like it to you. I was always arguing, always disagreeing, but that is my nature with everyone. I’m getting old. I should be up there, not you. You have so much of your life ahead of you.
Just remember, you have the power to abort this mission at any time. The provision allows any of the eight crew members to abort and return home. I don’t want to lose a friend. I would like you back at USP, working alongside me and my team. I want you to achieve your life’s full potential.
I’ve wasted my life trying to contact the Gurgoji. Don’t waste yours too. I know you’ll make the right decision, whatever that may be.
Your friend forever,
With how well Huff was feeling, he thought maybe the cancer had somehow gone away for good. Maybe he could abort and go back to living a normal life.
He thought about speaking to the captain of the crew. He thought about speaking to Craig. What would it mean to abort this mission? Would he save the lives of these brilliant young men and women?
Craig’s voice sounded. “It’s up to you, Huff.”
Huff thought about what Amber would do if she were on VanGogh. It seemed the most sensible way to approach the dilemma. “There’s no point in aborting it now,” he said. “We’re right next door.”
Huff didn’t sleep at night, he floated around the cabin, rereading Amber’s message in his head. Now the moment was here. He was ready to see the inside of the wormhole, or die in the process.
The wormhole wasn’t visible until they were nearly upon it. Then it looked like a florescent web, glowing in the darkness. It was pinks and purples and blues.
VanGogh shook violently as they approached. The ship rumbled like it was sitting on the back of a flatbed truck.
A high-pitched squeal sounded as they entered the wormhole. The crew in the ship spun around inside, tumbling. Different ship indicators and chimes went off.
And then, stillness. Absolute silence.
Huff wondered if he’d died. He felt his head, wondering if it smashed into the side of the ship. It was thankfully still intact.
In the viewing window, Huff saw the planet. It looked just as the Gurgoji had drawn it. Massive cities, with architecture visible from so far away.
The ship tracked in automatically. The captain of the VanGogh made futile attempts to push buttons, but the buttons did nothing. The ship tracked to the ground, landing at a building and pulling inside what looked like a large hangar.
Huff opened the ship and stepped down the ladder. The hangar was bright white, blinding, painful to the eyes.
A Gurgoji stepped forward and Huff focused on him just to soothe his eyes.
“Hello,” said the Gurgoji. “We’re thankful that you came, Mr. Huff Smythe.” Huff realized he didn’t hear the words. They were entering straight into his mind.
Huff spoke through his mind. “I’m glad I made it. But why me?”
“We knew you would come. We wanted people who we thought could help us. A different kind of logic. Your desire to meet us. We need a new way of thinking. Our way is getting us killed. It wouldn’t hurt either of us to have an ally from afar. But we needed the best. We needed those who would struggle.
“The uplink never worked. The specs were followed.”
“Following our specs was just the initial phase. We never intended it to do anything. We just wanted you to figure out how to get here. We wanted physical contact, like we made with you.”
“I have others who have a different way of thinking, others who are just as passionate as I am. One in particular.”
The Gurgoji seemed to give a slight nod. “Amber. We know.”
Huff turned back and waved his arm to his crew. They walked down the ladder, blinded by the light, all wondering about the next mission.
Robert Steele – As a brief bio, his debut novel, “Those Outside the Law,” was recently published in May of 2016. You can check out my website at: robertwilliamsteele.wordpress.