Lore Archive/2011-11-15a

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[edit] BACKSTORY: HENRY BRIGGS – PART I – 4.3.2631

On the day he graduated from Southwestern State University with a triple PhD in Xenobiology, Cultural Anthropology and Linguistics, Henry Briggs, all of 27 years old, stomped off the stage with confidence. He knew, despite all his problems, he was firmly on the road to riches and glory. Henry was a genius and people would be idiots to not to want the honor of working with him.

But after ten long and anxious months interviewing at the most prestigious companies and universities, not a single job was offered. In fact, no one ever called to tell him they had no intention of hiring him.

Henry’s problem was not that he was a genius. His grades proved that. His problem was he made people nervous. In school he could sit alone and do his work, but in the real world he had to deal with others and that never turned out well. He was barely five when he realized he didn’t like other people, his parents included. Most were stupid, more interested in playing games or wasting time chattering to each other than in reading books and educating themselves. When he tried to correct their very obvious mistakes, on whatever subject they pretended to have knowledge about, they would usually laugh and ignore him. He figured if they were going to ignore him, he’d just have to ignore them first.

When he was six, Henry’s parents, already concerned with his disinterest in playing with other children, lack of empathy for anyone else, obvious absence of social skills and even the interest in developing any, brought him to doctors who diagnosed him as having Asperger’s syndrome. They said Henry was extremely intelligent, and if put in the correct circumstances would do well in life. His know-it-all demeanor, however, would never win him a Mr. Congeniality award.

And so, by both desire and circumstances, Henry Briggs grew up without friends or even the realization he needed to make any.

Henry swore, even without steady work, he would not live at home with his parents, so he swallowed his pride and took on any job that would help pay the rent on the closet-sized one-room apartment he could barely afford. He washed dishes. He waxed cars. He did telemarketing. For two hours he was a nanny to some spoiled 4-year-old, before the kid threw pudding at him and he was fired.

After a day cleaning toilets at the old-age home, Henry would hurry home, get on the holonet, and surf the science boards. He’d sputter and curse over every crackpot theory, especially when they were spouted by some big-shot, well connected, so-called “scientist” who probably couldn’t tell the difference between a particle quark and a quart of low-fat cheese. What manner of unjust providence allowed them to get work when he couldn’t?

And Henry made sure he let them know what he thought. He tore apart their theories. He tore apart their politics. He tore apart every stupid comment they made until everyone either left the boards or banned him from their blogs. That these were the very people he applied to for work or government grants never entered his mind. He was right about what he said and it was his right to let them all know. And so, for another year, Henry was forced to take a dozen different jobs he knew were far below him. And when he was fired, as he always was, he’d blame the job, never accepting the truth.

On February 18, 2631, Henry received a call from a woman looking for a dog walker. The vid-screen showed the scowling face of an older woman dressed in a very formal business suit. She said she got his name from one of the job agencies he was registered with. He would take care of several German shepherds, feed them three times a day, walk them whenever they needed, and would spend the rest of the day playing with them.

Henry hung up on her without even giving an answer. Ever since he was a child and spent five long minutes logically arguing with a local stray to return his baseball, only to be bitten on the lips for his effort, dogs, especially large ones, frightened the hell out of him.

The woman called again a month later. He had just been fired from his latest job and was desperate. He agreed to meet her. He was about to hang up when she asked, “Are you willing to travel?” He nodded yes. She continued. “Not for just an hour or two. A minimum of two years. Possibly three.”

Henry knew he had no other prospects. Without money he would be forced to move back home. Anything, even walking a unruly herd of growling German shepherds, was better than listening to his parents remind him how much of a failure he was. “Two years? Maybe three? Why not? Okay,” he thought.

At 9:00 AM the next morning, Henry promptly knocked on the door of the address the scowling woman had given him. He heard what sounded like the unbelievably loud barking of every dog in the world coming from the other side.

The Scowl opened the door, looked him over, and with a hurrumph of begrudging acceptance, led him inside. The hallway was larger than his apartment. It was larger than his parents’ entire house. It was paneled in dark cherry wood and covered floor to ceiling with photographs. Henry looked at them and gasped in recognition.

“That’s President Connery,” he stammered. “He’s in every one of those pictures. And those other people. I know them, I mean, I recognize some of them. They’re the leaders of the T.R.. Bunch of fascists, you know. I can give you facts that prove--” He saw her glare at him and remembered what his father had told him when he announced he was going on yet another job interview. “Son, one word of advice, and if you never listened to me before listen to me now. If whoever’s hiring you looks at you like he wants to set you on fire, don’t argue with them. Just shut up. Don’t say another word. Do that for me, okay?”

Henry shut up mid-sentence and smiled at her. “President Connery. I, umm, voted for him. Uh huh.”

“The dogs you’re going to walk belong to President Connery. Former President, actually. He doesn’t abide meaningless titles. He served the people then stepped down. He’s a civilian again. Which is why he prefers to be called by his given name. Tom. Not Thomas. Tom. Of course, despite what he prefers, you haven’t yet earned that right, so you will only address him as ‘Sir,’ or ‘Mr. Connery.’ Do you understand?”

She was still staring at him like she wanted to set him on fire, so Henry silently nodded.

He knew former Terran Republic President Tom Connery was beloved, not only for his terms in office but for his work before and since he left the Presidency. Connery had been a space colonizer, opening up and terraforming planets throughout the solar system. In 2615, Connery discovered what he called “the Moon Belt,” a sparsely populated sub-section of the icy Kuiper Belt that extended from Neptune’s orbit to beyond.

Henry remembered reading all the news reports. Connery and his crew had found the shattered remains of Pluto as well as fragments of hundreds of moons that had been destroyed millennia before Earth’s crust cooled and the first one-celled life form split into two. The discovery of finding something other than various types of ice in the vast Kuiper belt, never mind the presence of pieces of the destroyed dwarf planet, was nothing short of a miracle. There had been rumors that some of the larger chunks could provide clues to possible alien existence, although Connery neither confirmed nor denied that. In the hundreds of years since space travel became common, no one had ever discovered any signs of extraterrestrial life. But everyone believed if it did exist, Tom Connery would be the man to find it.

In May of 2618, T.R. Vice President Martin Harris died of a heart attack. President Sylvia Wyatt asked Connery to fill the position for the remaining few months of her term. Although nobody expected he would agree, Connery took the position. When President Wyatt’s term ended and she retired, Connery ran for the office and on November 10, 2618, he was elected in a near-unanimous vote. He served three four-year terms and finally retired in January of 2630 with the intent of finally returning to the Moon Belt.

Henry had actually not voted for Connery. Henry never voted. He considered politicians to be an evil he would remove from existence if he could. But Connery’s other achievements and discoveries made him almost acceptable. If Henry had decided to vote, Connery would have been the one exception.

But, like nearly everyone else on Earth, Henry had read about Connery’s dogs. He remembered the Tigershark was a derelict cargo ship that crashed into Devi, the fourth moon of Shiva. Connery was returning from the Moon Belt when he picked up its distress signal. Investigating, he and his crew found more than 60 hungry and frightened pups, but there was no sign that any humans had ever been on board. What happened to them and how the ship crashed on Devi was never learned. The pups were divided amongst the crew. Connery adopted six of them. Their loyalty to their master had been extensively written about, as well as his loyalty to them. Even as President, Connery went nowhere without them.

Henry gasped again. He was told that he’d be joining Connery on a trip that would last three years. Obviously, Connery was returning to the Moon Belt and he was going with him. His mind raced. Why return? Why not explore new areas? Was there something that had been discovered on that first trip that he needed to find again? Had Connery found signs of alien life? Was there something on that moon chunk he wasn’t able to get to? Something that required… better resources? More power? Tech unavailable to civilians? This could be something great. And if so, Henry wondered, was that the reason he accepted the job of Vice President and later ran for the Presidency? Did he take those positions solely in order to get whatever it was so he could return to the Moon Belt?

• • •

Connery was more than what Briggs expected. Tall, trim, distinguished, and well-spoken, Connery also had a biting sense of humor that he used to keep in line anyone who questioned his actions. Henry approved. People needed to be put into place. Of course, when Henry did that, people would glare at him like they wished they had evolved the ability to fire plasma bolts from their eye sockets. When Connery did it, they somehow understood he was leading them into making better decisions. Briggs studied him even as Connery studied Briggs.

“You really don’t like dogs, do you, Henry?”
“No. But yours aren’t too bad. At least they’re not trying to eat me.”
“It’s not why we hired you, you know that. You’re smarter than you’re portraying yourself right now. But I’ve read your files and I’ve read your blog posts. You don’t know how to play well with others, and in this life, whether you agree or not, playing with others is how you survive.”
“But…” Henry was about to argue but Connery stopped him.
“Shut up, Henry, and listen. There are other xenobiologists out there and I could have hired any of them. You don’t have a clue when it comes to dealing with people, but somewhere inside your mad little brain there’s a genius when it comes to understanding things that are not human. You’re not trapped into thinking like the others. Your mind goes places they can’t even conceive. And that’s why I wanted you here with me.
“But I don’t abide crazy. And I won’t put up with crap. So I won’t… and make sure you understand this completely: I won’t put up with you if you don’t start acting your IQ. Even if you have to fake smiling and pretending to enjoy others as you work, you will, or I will shoot your ass back to Earth faster than you can believe. This is going to be a very long and probably tense trip and I can’t allow one person, not even one as smart as you, to ruin it for everyone else.”
“Did I say you can speak? I don’t think so. You’re going to do what I’m telling you to do, and in return you are going to see things no human being has ever seen before. Henry, I read your doctoral dissertation, and trust me when I say what you will experience will prove almost every theory you expounded and probably answer most of the questions you asked.”
“So, Henry, are you ready to join the human race so we can learn about the others?”

Henry stared at Connery for a long time before answering.

• • •

It took them 15 months to reach the Moon Belt and another 3 to find one particular fragment that, Briggs estimated, was no more than half a mile long by fifteen hundred feet wide. It was an unremarkable pencil-thin line of rock that resembled many of the various fragments they had found before. To anyone exploring the Moon Belt after its discovery, this particular pieces of rock looked like all the others. Connery, however, thought differently of it.

On Connery’s first trip he had detected a high-frequency signal pulsing with a steady repeating rhythm. Its pattern wasn’t natural and therefore had to have been created. The question was, by who or what? Connery didn’t have the equipment with him to locate its source, and swore he’d return another time with all the proper resources. Henry was right; Connery had used his connections as T.R. President to get everything he needed and more.

Henry Briggs was at Connery’s side when, after searching the rock for almost a week, the sound detectors they brought with them pinpointed the source of the rhythms. He helped Connery drill into the rock wall. It opened onto a small tunnel. He was behind Connery when they found at the far end of the tunnel some sort of thing, half embedded in the stone, that pulsed synchronously with the rhythms. And next to that, also embedded in stone, Briggs saw a small figurine no more than eight inches tall. It was definitely not human.

They spent another week searching the tunnel before leaving. Back inside their ship Henry stared at tiny figure in his hand and he knew that this was the very moment his life forever changed.

What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t know, was that sixteen years later, on a planet on the other side of the universe, he would find a second identical figure. He couldn’t know that because of his discovery he’d be the first human to hear an actual alien voice. And it would speak directly to him.

Nor could he know that precisely ten years after that historic day, Henry Briggs would commit suicide.

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