It started up with a bang and a hiss. Steam billowed through its vented sides.
The engineers frantically scanned their paperwork. Was it supposed to do any of that? Their paperwork failed to reveal that answer.
The scientists huddled football team style and muttered worriedly amongst themselves. One of them would be expected to try out the alien craft. It was their duty as scientists and they all knew it. But the sounds it was making…Such a clamor! Such a ruckus! It couldn’t possibly be safe. As for all that steam? That was ominous. No doubts there. So, who would go?
Who would go on an unknown craft to see where it would go?
Put that way, it sounded tempting.
It was everything every scientist dreamed of doing: breaking free of Earth’s boundaries of space and time and expected laws and rules. To be a true discoverer.
Another Christopher Columbus.
Maybe even another Vasco da Gama.
What was out there, waiting for the first human contact?
Thinking about it that way made it sound tremendously tempting.
And wondrously exciting.
One scientist volunteered and another volunteered and another and another. All except for one oldtimer. He muttered dire warnings about Apollo 1 and that it was foolhardy to send so many men in an untested craft. Especially one that had been cobbled together from the interpretations of an alien transmission.
But no one paid any attention to the oldtimer.
The scientists rushed aboard like overly eager children.
The engineers looked over the plans one last time. Everything seemed to be all right. They huddled together and asked the looming question: Who was going to give the scientists the all clear? If something were to go wrong…If the craft were to burst into flames, the fault would lie heavily on that one person’s head.
Yet, if all went well and better than well, the person who gave the all clear would be remembered. As a side note, for sure, but they would be remembered throughout the ages.
Delicious, beautiful, enticing fame. It was a glory that engineers never knew. The were always the dirt and grime people in the background. The nerds. The geeks. The pocket protectors.
It was alluring.
It was tempting.
It was impossible to resist.
The engineers rushed into the control room and converged on the intercom microphone. Seven different hands pressed on the intercom button. In one loud voice, they chorused, “Time for an all system check.”
They ran down everything on their master check list and the scientists reported that each item checked out fine.
“Very good.” the engineers chorused. “Time to begin the countdown. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One! You are clear for lift off.”
They all watched the alien craft. It sat large, squat, and fat outside their large windows. Steam continued to vent through its sides.
They all held their breaths.
They all imagined the scientists pressing all of the right buttons, pulling all of the correct levers. Hopefully, they were all buckled up.
The air buzzed.
The ground shook.
The windows vibrated and shattered.
The alien craft exploded.
The engineers stood in collective shock. Yet, their minds raced, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.
What did they do wrong?
Was the translation wrong?
Was it the wrong material?
Too much fuel?
The wrong kind of fuel?
Each engineer asked himself, “What did I do wrong?”
How do we tell their families?
How do we explain it to them when I don’t even know what went wrong?
The flames self-extinguished.
The shattered, twisted rubble trembled on the ground.
The sound of a hurricane rushing through filled the air.
The lights flickered, dimmed, died.
The rubble rose up into the air.
The pieces became bright and new.
They spun in the air and landed like so like so and like so.
Bit by bit, the alien craft came back to life until at last…
It was whole again.
The engineers stood in their darkened control room.
And quietly, secretly, unspoken afraid.
The door to the alien craft swung open.
No one moved.
No one spoke.
The scientists left the craft and stepped into the bright sunlight.
They entered the control room and looked solemn-faced at their colleagues.
The engineers stepped back, ready to run if and when needed.
The oldtimer scientist looked around for something to use as a weapon if and when needed.
The scientist who was the first volunteer opened his mouth.
He spoke in a voice softened with awe and respect, “There are no words for what I have seen.”
The other scientists nodded.
“None at all.”