Chapter no 38

Winter World

FOWLER and I have analyzed the data from the Midway fleet. It’s staggering

—the scale of our enemy. We’re now calling the artifacts solar cells, and as I suspected, there are many more of them.

Yesterday, we received another mini comm brick, this one from the Helios fleet. The information is timely—and has convinced us of what we have to do.

We turn Fowler’s office at the new NASA headquarters into a war room. And that’s what we’re planning: war. We’ve found our enemy. And we’re going to fight back. The thing is, it’s going to take every last person on Earth working together if we’re going to have any shot of winning this thing. Our first great challenge is convincing the politicians that we’re right.



THE FRIGID APOCALYPSE that has gripped the globe leaves a lot to be desired. There are, however, some highlights. The one I’m appreciating right now: no more business suits. In America’s grand exodus from our homeland, formal business attire didn’t make the list of things to save. Formality and style are buried in ice, probably gone forever.

So I dress in my gray slacks and black sweater and polish my boots and shave because this is the most important day of my life. I’m about to propose that the human race launch its most important scientific endeavor in history. We’re going to strike back. And if we don’t, I don’t know what will happen. If I can’t convince my audience, it might truly be the end for

the human race. This presentation is the most important I will ever give. And I’m nervous.

Emma seems to realize that. “You’ll do fine,” she insists.

“These are politicians. Anything could happen. They could say no.” “They won’t.”

“But what if they do? This is our last chance, Emma. The final roll of the dice. It’s this or nothing. If we don’t go out there and fight, we’ll die a slow, cold death.”

She takes my face in her hands. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Just take one step at a time.”

She is my rock. I know the weeks since landing have been agonizing for her. But I think she’s getting better. I know she’s frustrated with her progress. I wish she weren’t.

“Is Oscar going with you?” she asks. “No.”

I can’t risk taking him. That’s the truth.

To Emma, I say, “He needs to stay here and help you.”

“I’m fine on my own. Besides, I wish I were going with you.” “Rehab is the most important thing in your life right now.”

“Rehab is far from the most important thing in my life.”

I wish she’d finished the thought. I wish she’d said what is the most important thing in her life. But like so many conversations between us, it’s left unfinished.



THE MEETING TAKES place in a gym. We don’t have schools here at Camp Seven, but they built a gym for exercise—and, I think, because basketball and volleyball, and watching kids play, makes the world seem normal, makes it seem like we’re going to get through this.

There’s a screen hanging where the basketball goals used to be. The bleachers have been taken out. The floor is covered with rows of desks on platforms that step up like a stadium.

In the pit, looking up at the rows of desks and faces and people waiting patiently, I stand beside Fowler, like two men awaiting a firing squad. It’ll

probably be a lot like that.

Fowler starts things off. He summarizes the activities of the mission— the launch of the Pax and the Fornax, the discovery of the second artifact, the dispatching of the Midway and Helios fleets, the encounter with the artifact. This information is already known to the audience—it was in the briefing distributed beforehand—so he goes through it quickly.

Finally, he introduces me, and across the audience I see glimmers of recognition, as if they’re thinking, Oh, that James Sinclair.

The menacing stares don’t help my nerves. I feel like a kid who signed up for robotics camp but wound up on the debate team at the state finals; making presentations and arguing with people just isn’t my cup of tea. Desperate times, however, require sacrifice.

I clear my throat and start my slide deck.

“As Dr. Fowler has indicated, the crew aboard the Pax went to great lengths to acquire the information I’m about to share with you. As of right now, it’s probably the biggest secret in the world—and the most unsettling news we have ever had to confront as a civilization. We face a decision about the future of the human race. And these are the facts.”

I click the remote pointer, and the screen changes to a map of our solar system. In the black expanse are two white dots that I’ve circled. The positions for Earth, the Sun, and the asteroid belt are all noted.

“The circles you see are the last known locations of the two artifacts. Until yesterday, these were the only artifacts we knew of. But now we’ve heard back from the Midway fleet. And we have data to share.”

I click the pointer, and the map updates. Where there were two circles before, for two artifacts, now there are hundreds. The screen looks like a smattering of breadcrumbs. All in a line. All leading from the asteroid belt to the Sun.

“The Midway fleet has found 193 artifacts thus far. All of the same design. All of the same shape and size. All with relatively the same velocity curve and vector.”

Like a wave crashing to the shore, a ripple runs through the crowd. The expressions on their faces, the way they sit up straight, look up from their laptops, whisper to each other. I have their attention now.

A hand goes up in the front row. The Atlantic Union is made up of fifty nations. Fowler was very diplomatic when he described the formation of the union and the dynamics of the member states. Reading between the lines, it

boils down to this: most of the authority was seized by those nations with the greatest military power and the largest industrial base to move their populations. In short, the US, the UK, Germany, Canada, Italy, and France are the real superpowers.

The prime minister of the UK speaks in a calm, even voice, her demeanor stoic. “Dr. Sinclair, can you cut to the chase? What exactly does this imply?”

“Madam Prime Minister, this data point is just one of several I’d like to share with you today. I think when they are all taken together, the implications will be quite clear. But I do think it’s important for you to have all the data first. I would never presume to draw conclusions for you. I’m just a scientist.”

I thought that last part was a nice touch. Maybe I’m catching on to this politics thing. The prime minister seems to like it.

She inclines her head. “Do continue.”

I click the pointer, and the screen displays a grainy image taken from an extreme distance. It shows a cluster of the hexagonal artifacts joined together like the honeycomb of a beehive. They float before the Sun like a vast blanket covering part of it.

“This is an image captured by one of the Helios drones. These drones were sent to the Sun to confirm what several of us aboard the Pax had come to believe: that the artifacts are nothing more than solar cells; I’ll refer to them as such for the remainder of this presentation. We have also come to believe that the solar cells were created with the express intent of harvesting our Sun’s output.”

The first ripple that went through the crowd was like a gentle wave crashing to the shore; this one is a tsunami. I hear gasps. Questions yelled. Most I can’t make out. The gym is a sea of turmoil. Confusion, anger, fear. And here and there, stoic resolve.

Fowler rises from his seat and comes to stand beside me. He holds up his hand and says loudly, “Please, ladies and gentlemen, please. Dr. Sinclair needs to finish this presentation, and we’ll have a discussion right after.”

The noise dies down, and I continue.

“At this point, we are certain of a few things. One: the solar cells have been made or perhaps evolved to fit together. This much you can see for yourself.

“Two: the cells are drawn to our Sun. Their acceleration increases as they move closer to the Sun, implying that they feed on solar radiation and are able to propel themselves faster as they come into contact with more of that radiation.

“Three: their intentions toward us are hostile. The decrease in solar output that Earth is experiencing is not uniform in the space around Earth. We are, frankly, orbiting the Sun in a small pocket of diminished solar output. This cannot be a natural occurrence. The Earth has been specifically targeted.

“The solar radiation reaching Earth is falling in a geometric pattern. I believe that pattern is based solely on the arrival of additional solar cells at the Sun or at some point between the Earth and the sun. And as you can see from the Midway fleet’s preliminary survey, more cells are due to arrive at the Sun and are probably arriving as we speak. The 193 cells discovered are likely only the tip of the iceberg. Space is vast, and the Midway fleet is comparatively very small.”

A hand goes up in the front row. The chancellor of Germany. Fowler stands again and is going to stop the man, but I nod to the chancellor. I think it’s important to our cause to give these leaders the information they want at the exact moment they want it. Our fate is in their hands.

“If the Helios fleet is so small, I believe Dr. Fowler said it was only three drones, how were you able to discover the cells near the Sun? As you just said, space is vast.”

“That’s a good question. As I mentioned earlier, I, along with the crew of the Pax, developed several theories about the solar cells and what’s happening in our solar system. One theory was that the solar cells are responsible for the Long Winter. As such, we isolated the area of the Sun where they would need to assemble in order to block solar radiation bound for Earth. In short, we simply sent the drones to that location. And that’s exactly where we found the assembled solar cells.”

The chancellor nods, his expression grim. “Thank you, Dr. Sinclair.

That’s very helpful.”

“You’re welcome.” Focusing on the larger group, I step forward, away from the podium, like a prosecutor making his closing argument to a jury.

“The evidence strongly implies that the solar cells and their creators have come to our solar system to harvest the energy of our Sun. The real question is why. I believe the answer is clear. Resource constraints.

“Wherever the solar cells and their makers came from, their home system only has so much solar energy. They can generate more energy in a variety of ways. In particular, they can convert mass to energy—as posited by Einstein, mass and energy are actually interchangeable—but they have limited mass as well. Thus when they reach the resource limits of their home system, they have to go elsewhere for mass and energy. They have come here.”

I turn my back to the audience, letting the words sink in. It’s dead quiet in the gym, not even the sound of paper rustling.

“It’s obvious,” I continue, “that they are aware of our existence, and that they see us as a threat to their efforts to harvest our Sun. They have moved to counter that threat. Not only have they reduced the solar output reaching Earth in hopes of killing us, they have taken direct action.

“I will remind this group that when the first solar cell was spotted, our probe was disabled and likely destroyed. When the information was sent back to the ISS, the station was destroyed—as well as every satellite, telescope, and manmade object in orbit. We can conclude from these actions that the first solar cell and its makers sought to hide the scale of their presence in our solar system. When we communicated with one of these solar cells, attempting to established a dialogue, it once again attacked

—the moment it learned that we were alien. And finally, when we counterattacked the solar cell, it chose to destroy itself rather than let us study it. Perhaps most importantly, the climate change on Earth accelerated rapidly after that confrontation. I believe that was a response to us fighting back. I believe all the pieces make sense now. The solar cells won’t stop until we’re wiped out.”

The prime minister of Canada raises a hand, and I acknowledge him.

“Dr. Fowler said that you had severed a piece of the artifact. Or solar cell, as you now call it. Can you apprise us as to what has become of that piece? And what the study of it has revealed?”

“That’s another good question. We did succeed in cleaving a part of the solar cell off. Unfortunately, while that piece was being ferried back to Pax by one of our drones, the solar cell reacted to our nuclear strike. The bomb detonated far outside of the radius we expected. I was separated from the Pax at that time, so I don’t know whether the drone with the sample escaped the blast. All I can say is that the sample hasn’t reached Earth yet, and frankly I’m not optimistic that it will. I’m also doubtful that its study

would reveal anything that might alter the course of action I intend to propose today.”

“Thank you,” the prime minister says quietly.

I click the pointer, and my second-to-last slide appears. It’s a chart of the global average temperature. In a single image, it shows the fate of our planet and our species.

“The world is getting colder. The rate of global temperature decrease is accelerating. The solar cells are causing this. They are aware that we have moved to intervene in their plan. I believe we can expect the rate of temperature decline to increase further. I also suspect that it is within the realm of possibility that the solar cells and their makers will engage us more directly.”

The room erupts with questions, but Fowler is once again there beside me to force order. When the din recedes, I continue.

“The conclusion is this: our enemy wants our Sun’s output. They are willing to kill us to get it. They will freeze us, and if need be, they will come here to finish us.”

I let the words hang in the air. Every eye is on me.

I click the pointer one last time, and my final slide appears. It shows once again all the solar cells we’ve found.

“There is hope, however.” My words boom in the gymnasium, like a drum beating. “If our enemy is after energy, it would stand to reason that they are greatly concerned with the efficiency of gathering that energy. Energy is the currency that governs them, and its collection and conservation is their industry. As such, it wouldn’t make sense to send a fleet of these artifacts—these solar cells—across the vast expanse of space. They may not even be capable of travel outside of our solar system.”

I can tell the implication hits many people in the audience. Some of those assembled here are scientists.

“What are you saying?” It’s the president of the United States who speaks, his voice gruff, annoyed. Scared, probably.

“I’m saying that I believe the solar cells didn’t travel from outside of our solar system. I believe they were manufactured here. And that we can stop them.”

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