ALERT: Childish behaviour and Adult profanity…
“JÜRGEN! Kommen Sie!”
“What is it?”
“Quickly! I can’t believe I’m seeing this!”
“I was focusing on der exoplanet, Proxima B and I spotted a naked woman on der planet walking away from my view!... Ja! You can see her tucus, look!”
“Ridiculous!!? Let me see…”
Dr. Jürgen Muller, head of the German branch of SETi - Search For Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, nudged his colleague, Instrumentation Engineer Thomas Wolfe, away from the telescope’s eyepiece.
“…Are you crazy? There’s no naked woman and that’s not Proxima B.”
“…Ja, you’re correct, Jürgen... I was mistaken. It was only Uranus, I saw… Ja? You get it? Your Anus… Ho! You are so easy to fool.”
…The constant Antarctic winter isolation and lack of total privacy in the polar habitat had stretched the two men’s relationship beyond normal tolerances.
Thomas Wolfe’s relentless pranking began on day one of their remote assignment. With 70 days of their 160-day cohabitation remaining, a myriad of breaking-point resentment had irritatingly been tattooed under Jürgen Muller’s skin.
“Thomas, this must stop. We are expected to be professional here and take our work seriously. Please cease your constant joking around. You’re not funny!”
“It breaks der ice… get it? We’re in Antarctica… breaks der ice! Get it? Get it?”
“There!... It’s that kind of incessant, annoying shit-wit of yours that makes me want to scream, but we’re thousands of kilometres from civilisation, so what good would it do.”
“You could scream over der radio comms…”
“Thomas, please shut up! We have serious and important work to do. What if you were just joking around while the ice outside broke apart and we were suddenly surrounded by…”
“…FUCKING WATER!!!... What if you were fooling around saying, Oh, Jürgen, Oh Jürgen, look at my anus..”
“Whoever has their anus sticking in der eyepiece, who fucking cares? You’re playing Prank-My-Co-Worker and there are icebergs rolling around, pushing us into the sea… Bah!!! I’ve lost my fucking point…”
“We’d have to call for help. It’s protocol…”
“Precisely, Thomas! But we couldn’t because you’d be too busy looking at your anus!!!”
“Now, that was funny,” Thomas chimed in.
Defeated, Jürgen retreated to his desk to study the data displayed on his computer monitor. Thomas, who had kept a constant watch of the telescope’s monitor - during Jürgen’s rant, mockingly mumbled ‘Yurr-En-Us, Yurr-En-Us, Yurr-En-Us, finally finishing with a chuckling, ‘Your Anus.’
Clearly, Thomas was suffering from a form of cabin fever. It had been days since either of the two scientists had been outside of their 3D-printed, self-contained, portable polar observatory, and the strain was clearly evident.
Designed for the lengthy Antarctic darkness, the pioneering mobile observatory was ideally equipped to not only withstand the winter’s intermittent hurricane-force winds, it also provided a unique listening post to search for extra-terrestrial life. SETi’s main servers in Northern California’s Silicon Valley collate and analyse gigabits of digital data at quantum speeds, so when, or if, a signal is detected, the powerful telescope can be remotely activated to pinpoint and visually capture the source of the signal – a kind of galactic E.T selfie.
“One minute to upload test. Thomas, can you please do a visual check of the exterior antennas.”
Grabbing a walkie-talkie from his desk, Thomas took up position at a large window overlooking the small base. Bright LED work lights scattered at strategic distances around the camp’s perimeter, simulated temporary daylight to help alleviate bouts of neurosis in the frozen, dark wilderness. They also served to illuminate their location to any passing aircraft.
Jürgen tapped a few keystrokes into his computer, and a face appeared on his monitor. “Guten Tag, Mountain View,” Jürgen began. The grainy smiling face on his monitor nodded her head. Her lips moved as if talking but there was a delay in the sound expressing her words.
“Doctor Muller, hello. It is time for Elevensies.”
This was the terminology for the upload of test data, confirming the comms link was operating at maximum efficiency. Antarctica was unforgiving, so working communications were vital for survival. ‘Elevensies’ referred not only to the check-in time of day, but also the test code for the comms test: ‘11-11-11.’ Daily upload tests are a necessary and vital part of SETi’s operations. Jürgen was only too aware of the danger of losing communications with the mainframe in California. No working comms meant a potential loss of vital data and more importantly, the loss of a lifeline to civilisation.
Bracing himself for the exasperating part of the test, Jürgen concentrated solely on his monitor because the computer’s simultaneous audio cadence of the data upload, always encouraged Thomas to tap dance the beat like he was Michael Flatley, the lord of the Riverdance.
Clearing his walkie-talkie’s channel, Jürgen started the process.
“…Antenna check, Thomas.”
There was an annoying pause before Jürgen’s walkie-talkie crackled back at him.
“…It’s still there,” was the reply. “…But the generator is missing.”
Jürgen immediately jumped to his feet.
“Thomas,” came the scolding voice from the screen. “Don’t…”
“Just kidding,” Thomas shouted.
SETi Central knew Thomas all too well and Jürgen marvelled at the distant authority they held over Thomas from so far away. All Jürgen could do was roll his eyes at the face on the screen, secretly texting, ‘Any chance of replacing Thomas before end of shift?’ The face on the screen did not bother to reply, she just smiled, shook her head and mouthed the word, No.
“…Initialising the upload.”
Jürgen frustratingly hit the Enter key on his keyboard. The rhythmic audio played its version of the upload. On cue, Thomas tapped his feet to the pattern, finishing with a dramatic dance pose as the test winged its way through the atmosphere towards California. After a few quiet moments, the face onscreen - once again out of sync with the audio – mouthed something. Two seconds later the confirmation, ‘Upload confirmed,’ echoed through the computer’s speaker. At the same time, Jürgen received the following text reply on his screen, ‘Situation not ideal, we understand. Unfortunately, no relief until end of shift. Sorry. See you for Elevensies tomorrow.’ Almost immediately, the onscreen meeting was terminated, leaving Jürgen to quietly mull over his predicament.
“Has Mother gone? I wanted to say Hallo,” a disappointed Thomas asked.
“Did you check all the exterior lights?”
“Are they working?”
“Ja, I suppose. They could have been on a smoko or coffee break, you know. Der work does get a bit boring for them at this time of year, just sitting around shining on things, so it’s hard to tell der difference.”
An irritated Jürgen closed his eyes, exhaling heavily.
“Prepare for the siren and beacon test.”
Thomas complied and like a ballerina, pirouetted toward a switchboard mounted next to the exit door. The name tags of ‘Siren’ and ‘Beacon’ positioned above each of their respective green and red buttons mounted on a control panel, needed no deciphering. In the event of extreme whiteout conditions, their main purpose was to trigger a loud foghorn and a special amber-hued flashing beacon. Acting as directional signals, they were designed to cut through the noisiest and most tempestuous weather conditions, guiding home anyone blindly stuck outside during a storm.
“Ready and waiting!”
Thomas stood next to the control panel, poised like a game show contestant ready to be the first to press the answer button.
“Beacon on my count,” commanded Jürgen. “Three, Two, One, Go!”
Thomas swiftly pushed the beacon button. Through the large rectangular windows, intermittent flashing amber light flooded the room, confirming its successful operation.
“Siren on my count… Three, Two, One… Go!”
Thomas eagerly activated the outside siren, then mimicked a deafening reaction to its sound by firmly pressing the palms of his hands to his ears and closing his eyes tightly – a way over-the-top exaggeration, as the habitat was adequately insulated against exterior noise. Jürgen exasperatingly jumped up and down, trying to get his annoying colleague to turn the beacon and siren off. Cutting a frustrated figure, he rushed to the control panel and terminated the test himself.
“You have the most unwanted propensity to annoy me! Why must you fool around all of the time?”
Thomas shrugged his shoulders, pointing at his ears, simulating some form of deafness.
Not pandering to the schoolboy antics, Jürgen turned and went to sit back at his desk, while Thomas continued to act the fool.
Hoping to find some form of empathy from SETi Central, Jürgen quickly and emotionally composed an email, then hit the send button. A few moments later, his inbox lit up with the returned email and message, ‘Email cannot be sent. Retrying in 60 seconds.’ At the same time, a white, rectangular bar across the bottom of his screen displayed text in red saying, ‘No Internet Access. Please check Sat Link.’
“Thomas… the system monitor has flagged that we’ve lost our Internet link.”
Reacting immediately, Thomas checked his own monitor. This was his realm – as Instrumentation/Comms Engineer, and the one thing he took seriously. To him, no Internet meant no porn.
“Perhaps the siren test has interfered with the link.”
“The sound produces vibration waves in the air that may have dislodged the laser link to the satellite.”
‘Finally, a straight answer,’ thought Jürgen. Relaxing his guard, he probed further.
“Is that easy to fix?”
“…Ja! We just have to... wait for it... to bounce back off your anus!… Oh mein Gott… you are so easy. Der Wolfe is on a hot streak!”
Jürgen introspectively kicked himself for trusting Thomas could be serious for one small second. At the looming threat of being chastised, Thomas quickly added,
“I will have to go outside and recalibrate the beam. Put der coffee pot on. I will need warming up when I return.”
Donning his insulated jacket, gloves, and boots, Thomas headed toward the exit into the innovative climate-controlled airlock, specially designed for rapid integration from warm to cold and vice-versa.
“Don’t forget your walkie-talkie,” instructed Jürgen.
“Copy that! My call sign will be 'Howler.' Get it? I’m der Wolfe and I howl like the wolf cries to communicate.”
“You’re only Wolfe in name, not in nature.”
“You know, Jürgen. Sometimes you can be profoundly funny… but not this time, OW-WOO!”
Entering the airlock howling, Thomas closed the door, pushed a button on the airlock wall, and waited for several moments before activating the outer sliding door. Stepping into the freezing air, he paused and took out a magic marker pen to write something on the outside of the door.
“…Howler to base,” crackled Jürgen’s walkie-talkie.
“…Go ahead,” confirmed Jürgen.
“…OW-WOO! A beautiful clear sky above. The views of the universe are amazing!”
“…How does the Milky Way look…?”
The question stuck in Jürgen’s throat just as he finished it, so he waited for the inevitable.
“…You know what it looks like, don’t you…”
“…No, it looks like your big fat arse filling the window frame, HAH! Der Wolfe is boss!”
Surprising himself, Jürgen let out a small chuckle as Thomas waved back at him.
“…I’ll be out of your eyeline in just a moment. Remind me what idiot put the laser link on the other side of the generator shed?”
“…That was a certain call sign named Howler. You said it was to make sure no accidental movement of the ice dislodged it and shone it straight onto our sensitive equipment.”
“…Oh yes, the Manfred Mann effect.”
Thomas started singing,
“…Blinded by the light.
Wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night…”
“…Yes, I think what he really sang was, Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night…”
“…I like my version better.”
“…Ok, I’ve reached the laser link... Yes, as expected, it’s moved. Whoa! Did you feel that? The ground just vibrated.”
“…Nothing detected here. Better fix the link quickly and head back in.”
“…Done! Satellite coordinates have been reset… Was ist das?... Jürgen, there is a strange light moving towards me.”
“…It’s hovering about 20 metres above my position.”
Ignoring him, Jürgen returned to his computer. The alert message now displaying the text, ‘Internet Access Restored,’ he checked his email. ‘Message Sent,’ was displayed on the screen.
“…Jürgen! I have a situation out here und can’t believe what I’m seeing.”
Ignoring the latest childish attempt to fool him, Jürgen prepared two mugs of instant hot coffee, then sat with one of them in his hand, listening to Thomas's impromptu radio mystery theatre performance, distortedly crunching through his walkie-talkie.
“…There’s what I can only describe as a spaceship sixty metres from here. Look out the window. You’ll for sure see it land.”
“…You see it?”
“…Something is exiting down its ramp… It’s a… Polar Bear?”
“…Really, Thomas. In Antarctica?”
“…It’s not alone. A man, a very tall, thin man with white hair and a matching white suit is walking by its side. Jürgen, can you see them?”
“…Ja, Thomas. Maybe they’re from your anus.”
“…I’m not joking… He says he had to stop to let his polar bear take a pee and find him something to eat.”
“…Ja? Ask him what his 'Polar Bear' likes to eat.”
“…He said… anything but him…”
A few moments pass then an excited, almost hysterical Thomas howls through his walkie-talkie.
“…He’s chasing me, the bear is chasing me! OW-WOO! Jürgen, please help! His teeth are around my neck…”
The walkie-talkie continued to transmit a muffled growling sound, pushing Jürgen beyond his thinly-layered patience.
“…That’s enough Thomas! You get back in here now, or I’m locking you out.”
Angrily, Jürgen moved toward the airlock, but something caught the corner of his eye as he passed a window. Outside, a very large polar bear was gripping Thomas in his jaws. Stood next to them was an equally tall albino-looking man in a white leisure suit. Jürgen instinctively banged on the window and yelled something unintelligible to
distract the bear, but the bear just bit into Thomas’s neck, then dropped his lifeless carcass onto the snow-covered ground. From outside, the amused tall white man noticed Jürgen silently screaming, then watched him move swiftly away from view. Inside, the panicked Jürgen pushed the beacon and siren buttons. His action instantly had the desired effect. The tall white man signalled to the polar bear, who retreated with him into a chrome-covered spaceship, closing the ramp behind them. Within seconds, the craft was airborne, momentarily hovering, before vanishing in a streak of trailing light.
Several silent minutes elapsed as Jürgen remained frozen in shock at what he had just witnessed. Thomas lay still on the snowy ground. A ruby red pool of blood spreading out from his head, quickly coagulated in the cold air.
“Dr. Muller,” a voice drifted through the cabin. “Are you there, Dr. Muller?”
Dazed and confused, Jürgen turned to see the project director’s face on his computer monitor.
“Dr. Muller… Hello?”
Jürgen stumbled to his desk and sat down.
“There you are. I received your email. Please accept my apologies for my curt answer earlier. Your message has caused a little concern and I wanted to respond… Where is Thomas?”
“What’s he doing outside?”
“He went to recalibrate the satellite laser link and a polar bear killed him.”
“I’m sorry, what did you… a polar bear… in Antarctica?”
“It was with a very tall, thin man in a… spaceship.”
Her expression quietly morphed into serious before she jotted something onto a piece of paper, then handed it to someone offscreen.
“I see... Look, don’t go outside. I have a team on their way from McMurdo Station. They’ll be with you in two hours. Remain calm and we’ll get this cleared up in no time.”
“It bit right through his neck, CHOMP,” Jürgen deliriously re-enacted.
“…Do you have any sedatives in your medical supplies?”
“Ok, please take two and wait there. Don’t do anything rash.”
“Rash? What do you mean?”
“Sorry, I meant that we’ll figure this out when the security team arrives.”
Jürgen was rudely woken by six, armed paramilitary looking men. He had been asleep for almost three hours. One of the men pulled up a chair to Jürgen’s bed and sat opposite him.
“Dr. Muller, I’m Chief Willem from SETi Security… What happened here?”
Still slightly groggy, Jürgen told his incredulous story to Chief Willem, who maintained a blank facial expression as he listened, but his raised right eyebrow revealed a detached element of scepticism. Right after the description of the spaceship escaping, Willem immediately ordered his men to hog-tie Jürgen and place the pleading murder suspect into the back of their helicopter. Sitting at Jürgen’s computer, Willem logged into SETi Central via a secure channel.
“It’s as you suspected, ma'am. He’s gone totally insane. It’s clear to us here on the ground that he slashed Engineer Wolfe’s throat – quite clumsily.”
“Thank you, Chief Willem. I received his emailed confession prior to... you know…”
“Yes, ma'am… I’ll need a copy for evidence. What did it say?”
“He declared his distaste for his associate, and that he couldn’t continue working with him. He threatened to do something extreme if we didn't help.
‘I won’t be held responsible for any actions I take to rid me of this anus,’ was his email's exact words… I'm sending it to you now.”
“Thank you, ma'am. We've seen it before in this environment. Some people just can't cope with the isolation.”
“Any truth to his polar bear story?
“In Antarctica, ma'am?”
“Yes, as I thought… and the E.T?”
“Possibly some form of alienated psychosis or a delusional Sci-Fi fantasy...
“What makes you think that?”
“He scrawled a strange graffiti message on the outside door.”
“What does it say?”
“…May the glow of Proxima Centauri shine its light on your anus.”
“It’s pronounced… never mind, forget it. Clearly the writings of a troubled mind…”