Because of her

To commemorate the 50th anniversay of man’s arrival to the moon, GMV’s Space and Robotics Department has organized a competition of short stories with a space-exploration theme.

We are proud to present the winning story written by Fernando Alemán Roda. We hope you like it as much as we do.

Because of her

 She’s my inspiration; she gives me the energy I need to keep going, to keep heart after so many years of work. Despite being at the decisive moment of my research, now that we’ll soon know if I am a madman or a genius, in these crucial moments I remember her more than ever. I review the data of the secondary instrument, the one I managed to include in the mission after hundreds of meetings and promises, and her face is superimposed on the graphics I’m analyzing, with the gesture she sketched when I told her what I was doing in the university and she exclaimed excitedly: “How interesting! You’ll have to tell me everything”. We’d been dating for two weeks and I hadn’t given many details about my studies. I considered it a miracle that she had shown any interest in me, with my unkempt appearance like a freaky, and I didn’t want the incomprehensible spell that kept her by my side to disappear upon learning that I was a researcher of subjects close to science fiction. However, the beautiful Politics student, defying the laws I thought applied to those girls from the faculties on the other side of the campus, showed the luminous face I now see on my papers. And I began to tell her about my PhD, about how planets could be detected outside the Solar System, about the hundreds of planets that had already been discovered, about the more advanced missions that aimed to study their characteristics in detail. They were the best months of my life, an ephemeral supernova in the darkness of space built with kisses, long walks, caresses, deep conversations and lots of complicity. A recurrent theme we fantasized about was how the discovery of an extra‐terrestrial civilization would affect world politics. She encouraged me to think about scientific means that would allow us to find out if any of these planets harbored, not only life, but some kind of social organization. I curbed her loquacity by explaining that we didn’t know with certainty if there was any kind of life even in the Solar System, so the difficulty of finding irrefutable evidence of life outside it was almost insurmountable. I told her about electromagnetic emissions, about the SETI project, about signal attenuation with distance, but she was still committed to stir my intellect, to push me towards that chimera of finding civilizations light years away from here. She seemed immune to scientific truths, as if our axioms were as far from her character and her education as our Earth is from those newly discovered worlds.

 

One afternoon, when I left the laboratory, I received a brief message: “My mother has fallen ill, I’ve got to go home. Kisses. Eve”. And it was the last one, because hours later a call from her best friend broke my soul. Eva had died in a traffic accident on the way to her parents’ town, on the other side of the country. I never recovered from that tremendous blow, and it took me a long time to redirect my steps, to give a new meaning to my existence. I was convinced that she would have loved me to delve into those almost impossible challenges she made me face, so I oriented my doctorate towards the risky issue of detecting signs of life, preferably intelligent life, in exoplanets. I worked hard on it, even after my dissertation had been read. It didn’t matter that five, ten, fifteen years had passed since her death; the determination with which I faced my research did not waver. I managed to add a small payload, designed by me, into the space observatory that the university was going to orbit around Lagrange point L2. The observatory’s mission was to deepen our knowledge of the geological and atmospheric composition of the potentially life-harboring exoplanets found to date; the mission of my little instrument was to analyze a very specific part of the electromagnetic spectrum in search of traces of intelligent life. I had to drag myself to the offices of incompetent politicians, with the best of my smiles, to convince them that my idea was feasible, that I was not delirious. Nor did I need much persuasion, because the possibility of finding some indication of an advanced society was a great argument from the marketing point of view. They didn’t have much to lose, except the peanuts that my invention cost. The reception of my initiative by my scientific colleagues was different. The least offensive epithet they assigned to me was “clown of Astrophysics”. I didn’t care; I did everything because of her, sure she would have been proud of me.

 

Her face fades and I look again at the graphics of the last planet tracked by the observatory, which has been operational for fifteen months. The results have been devastating to date and now I am not even the clown of the department. They ignore me, I’ve been forgotten; they take my most absolute failure for granted;  I live cooped up in a miserable office to which the products generated by my absurd instrument are sent, as the prisoners of the medieval dungeons were fed with waste. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold out much longer. I observe an anomaly in the spectrum that the screen shows me, consistent with another artefact still unexplained in the data of the main instrument. With an accelerated heart, I use the deciphering algorithm for the first time and wait for it to do its job, to dictate if there is any intelligent pattern in the anomalous signal that has been identified. What appears before my eyes freezes my blood, a result that goes infinitely beyond what is expected. “Hi, Adam, I’m Eva. I was convinced you would achieve it”. I still don’t know if I am a madman or a genius.

 

Space-exploration

 

Fernando Alemán Roda

Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV
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