It was incredible. For so many years, this hunk of metal had been flying through the cold heart of space. It had seen innumerable stars, burning planets. It had felt the cold death that awaited just beyond the edge of where our sunlight reached. But, here it was again, sitting in my lab.
It was slightly damaged, microscopic pieces of space-dust having crashed against it as it took its trip. No one expected it to be a round-trip. I was one of the few who knew about the probe’s return. If word got out, it would cause undo panic, and that was something the world couldn’t afford right now. I don’t think our president could even wrap his wig-covered mind around where this probe had come from.
I slowly pulled my gloves further up my wrists, adjusting the breather of the hazmat suit I was wearing. If the probe had been sent back, it meant one of two things: it hit something that pinballed it right back at us (unlikely), or it was captured and refueled and sent rocketing home. The latter was an unnerving thought. There was no way to know what possible microbes or messages that it brought with it. Thus why it had been contained in a plexiglass box and shipped directly to me.
The exam room was hermetically sealed. Without my special suit, I couldn’t be in the room with it. “Much like your journey through space,” I commented sardonically to the probe. “You’re used to no atmosphere.”
As my eyes roved over it, I noted a bulging under the siding. I glanced at the computer screen, looking at the diagrams that had been given to me. This probe wasn’t built with this, and it didn’t resemble any of the damage from gliding through space for so many years. My heart was suddenly in my throat. Could this be a clue to where the probe had been?
Slowly, I used a screwdriver to pry open the fold in the probe’s side. It gave with a groan, clanking heavily on the table. I frowned as I stared at what I saw. It was a thick disk, much like the golden record that had accompanied Voyager 2. My heart seized again in my chest, and the screwdriver slipped from my hand, clattering loudly to the table. I was trembling, my eyes wide and unblinking.
“What is it, Dr. Franklin?” a voice demanded over the intercom.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away as I reached shaking hands toward the disk. “T-there’s a message,” I breathed, knowing the microphone in my suit was relaying my words to the onlookers outside of the room.
“What does it say?” the voice was hushed, frightened and confused.
I ran my gloved fingers across the disk, feeling my fright giving way to confusion and surprise. I lifted the disk, angling it against the overhead light. “It says…’Stop shooting your trash at us’.”