“Frank,” Arn shouted into the phone, “come on, God dammit, I’ve left you six messages, stop avoiding me.”
Gone were the days when he could slam down the receiver, how he missed the satisfying smash and the sound of it pounding onto the receiver. Arn would have to settle for pressing the end button really vigorously and then putting his phone back down on his desk, gently. His fists were clenched and he was shaking with rage.
“Renowned Astrophysicist, Frank Berner has proven, for the first time, that extraterrestrial life does exist,” the newscaster repeated for the fourth time, “tune in at nine o’clock for the whole story that has changed our view of the universe forever. This is Julie Nurmberg for Dynascape Nightly News, channel three oh eight, with your up to date news every nine and eleven.”
Arn shut off the television and paced the room furiously, shouting expletives and pulling at his thinning hair. “It was ME Frank. ME.”
* * *
It was late summer of 2022. Arn Slendro was just a young assistant when he first met Frank. Dr. Bernier, renowned astrophysicist. Within their circle, Frank was a rock star and he’d agreed to take a young Arn under his wing. He’d offered this wet-behind-the-ears kid a position at the world famous Martinson’s Observatory in Denver, Colorado. Arn was awestruck, beside himself that the already famous Dr. Frank Bernier thought him worth of an apprenticeship and took the offer immediately. Had he only known that one day he’d come to regret it.
Arn started out organizing star charts and interpreting data, but before long, it became clear that he was destined for more than just an apprenticeship. As the weeks turned to month and the months into years, Arn had proven himself to be Dr. Bernier’s equal in every way. He was incredibly intelligent and a talented Astrophysicist in his own right. In many ways, at only twenty six years old, Arn Slendro had already surpassed his mentor, only Dr. Bernier would never admit it, he was too proud and far too egotistical.
Recognizing this, Dr. Bernier approached Arn one evening, as they were scanning the night sky.
Arn turned to the older man and asked, “Frank, have you ever really taken a good look at Enceladus? I mean really looked at it? I can’t shake the feeling that something’s been missed. It’s just too perfect, it’s a jewel among moons. It has everything that you could ask for; liquid water, a heat source, every building block fo life imaginable.”
In case you’re NOT an astrology fanatic, Enceladus is one of several moons orbiting Saturn, small by celestial standards, only slightly larger than our own, dead satellite, THE moon.
“Have you ever really looked at it?” Arn repeated the question.
“Of course,” Frank replied, surprised by the question, “what of it?”
Arn wasn’t satisfied with Frank’s answer. “How is it possible that every astrologist, astrophysicist and major space agency has at some point acknowledged that Enceladus is a viable habitat for life, yet no one can seem to prove the presence of life? With geysers of liquid water spewing organic material through the atmosphere right out into space, over eight hundred feet from the surface, which have been collected and studied, nonetheless. There is a ton of supporting evidence that there are reservoirs of water beneath its frozen surface. It’s inconceivable to me that they haven’t missed something, some small shred of evidence that everyone’s overlooked or dismissed. I can’t explain it Frank, I just know that I’m right, I feel it in my gut.”
The pair of them, at Frank’s behest, had been jointly researching Jupiter’s moon, Io in conjunction with a team from NASA. They were working from material provided by New Horizons’ last recent fly-bys in late 2021. “Come on now, Arn,” Frank said, being intentionally condescending, “you really think that you’re going to somehow stumble onto something that’s been missed by every major research centre in the world? That you’re somehow smarter that every world- renowned scientific mind who’s ever set out to discover extraterrestrial life in the universe? Not no mention two, massively funded space agencies. I honestly never thought that it was possible for anyone’s ego to surpass my own, Dr. Slendro, but I’ll admit that I was wrong on this one.”
“Fuck you, Frank,” Arn muttered. There were few things in the world that he hated more than a good, old, soul-crushing Dr. Bernier condescension.
“Sure, fuck me. Mix it up a little, huh? Fuck you Frank is getting as old as I am.”
Arn didn’t answer. Frank snorted, like a bull. It was his version of a happy dance, he loved to win. It didn’t matter if it was getting the last donut or shouting checkmate! More than anything though, he took great pleasure in the small victories which he lorded over Arn. It was jealousy.
Unlike Arn’s obsession with Enceladus, Frank had a fascination for Io. It was another of Saturn’s moons, also considered a potential incubator of life. Frank marvelled at it’s incredible volcanic activity and was certain that, if they were going to make their breakthrough discovery, that it was Io which they should focus on. Arn, however, kept returning to the tiny, frozen Enceladus, he was obsessed with it and certain that Dr. Bernier had only stuck to his guns on Io to spite him.
* * *
Arn stared at the screen, now blank. “You were always stuck on Io and you know it. I was the one that put on on to Enceladus, not you.”
* * *
Frank knew that Arn was right.
“You’re barking up the wrong moon,” Frank had said to him, knowing full well that Arn’s research was, in fact pointing them closer. It drove Frank mad.
Every week, it seemed that Arn uncovered something that had, in fact been missed. He’d made several important discoveries that even NASA had missed, small signs of life in the organic material which had been gathered by Enceladus’ massive expulsions. They had been searching for life as we understand it on Earth, but Arn had looked outside the proverbial box and searched beyond the accepted notion of carbon-based life.
“Morning Dr. Slendro,” Frank said.
“Good morning, Dr. Bernier,” Arn responded, handing Frank his latte as he did every morning for the past three years.
“Have you analyzed the organic material?” he asked Arn.
Arn looked sidelong at Frank, “Yes, of course. It’s promising, it contains all of the necessary materials to support life, but nothing that I’ve come across is anything beyond what existing research has shown.”
“Hmm,” Frank said, nodding, “alright, let’s reimagine that research and see if anything’s missing.”
“I’ve done it twice,” Arn insisted, “you want me to do it again?”
“Frank, if there’s anything on Io, I don’t see it. You’re barking up the wrong tree, that golden egg is hiding on Enceladus, my numbers are sound.”
“Well,” Frank said, stroking his chin as he often did when pondering, “I don’t know, they both have promise, but Enceladus is a frozen wasteland. Io is hot, volcanic, perfectly like the conditions during the formation of earth.”
“But Enceladus has shown to have sources of hot water beneath the surface, you know that. They’ve recorded temperatures around two hundred degrees, a perfect temperature for the formation of life,” Arn argued.
What he didn’t know was that Frank already agreed with him and was simply using him to conduct more research, pushing him, goading him into taking a hard stance on Enceladus.
“If you insist, Dr. Slendro,” Frank conceded. He was facing away from Arn and couldn’t conceal a sly grin.
“Just so that you know, the Io project has been shelved,” Frank had already resided to the fact that Io was a wild goose chase, but he’d never say as much to Arn.
“I’m sorry,” Arn said, though he wasn’t, really. He’d known that Io was the wrong choice all along, but he’d never give Frank an I told you so, Arn didn’t handle himself that way anymore, it never ended well. “So, then why are you bothering me about the research?”
“Oh,” Frank said, “It’s just hard to let it go.” He was lying again. His motivations were purely to irritate Arn further before conceding defeat.
Frank had quietly abandoned his exploration of Io weeks ago and lied to Arn about NASA pulling the project. The truth was, that he knew Arn was on to something. He’d been going over all of the notes and pouring over the data. Though Arn didn’t know it yet, Frank would force his way onto the project. Frank feared that Arn was close to a breakthrough and there was no chance that he was going to be usurped. He’d taken Arn in, he’s taught him everything that he knew and now, in Frank’s twisted mind, this was his reward.
* * *
The memory of his time with Dr. Frank Bernier stung but he couldn’t avoid it if he’d wanted to. Everywhere that Arn turned, his former mentor’s smug face was plastered across every screen in the city. Every news outlet was praising his incredible discovery of life on Enceladus and Arn was powerless to fight him. Who was he? He’d never consider himself to be more than Dr. Frank Bernier’s lowly lab assistant. Who would believe him?
Dr. Bernier was a fraud and Arn was the only one who knew it. Frank was a brilliant man, but he was short-sighted and ego driven which was often the blinding force that prevented him from being truly great. However, he did know how to see the potential in others and used them to further his own illustrious career.
Arn watched him over the years and bore witness to Frank’s deceptions. He would be the only one that would ever know.
“Sir, put down the knife,” the officer shouted, his gun drawn and pointed at Arn.
Blood ran down the face of the broad blade. Arn stood motionless, the kitchen knife gripped tightly in his left hand.
“Sir,” the officer said, getting louder, “Drop the knife right now!”
Arn loosened his grip and the knife tumbled to the floor. The dull, metallic clang rang off of the concrete floors of the lab, reverberating off of the bare walls. Three officers rushed in, pinned Arn to the floor and slapped on the cuffs before hauling back to his feet. The last thing that Arn remembered was a female officer reading him his rights.
* * *
“Good evening, Denver. This is Julie Nurmberg for Dynascape Nightly News, channel three oh eight with a breaking story,” Julie was front and centre on the screen, with an image of the observatory superimposed behind her, “Dr. Frank Bernier, the Astrophysicist who will forever be remembered as the man who made the first discovery of extraterrestrial life in our universe, proving what so many have believed for centuries to be true, was found dead in his laboratory. Murdered at the hand of his longtime laboratory assistant, thirty-two year old Dr. Arn Slendro who was said to be his successor and had been by his side during this historic discovery. Slendro, a promising doctor in his own right, claims that it was he who had done the research into life on Enceladus and in fact that it was not Dr. Bernier’s discovery at all.”
An image of Arn, clad in prison orange, his hair a mess and a slight growth of beard was shown in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Julie continued, “Dr. Slendro is being held at the Sterling Correctional facility awaiting trial and it’s presumed that he will be pleading a mental disorder defence. I’m told that he is currently housed in their psychiatric ward under heavy sedation and twenty four hour observation. Stay tuned as we bring you all of the late, breaking news from across the state and across the country.”
* * *
Arn had his own cell, brightly lit and was heavily medicated. He sat on his bed, eyes glazed over. He rocked slowly back and forth, muttering, “It was me, it was me.”