Dr. Edmond
Dr. Valdamir
Dr. Lucretius
Dr. Rizzo

In the computer control room of the world's largest radio telescope, located in the small municipality of Arecibo in Puerto Rico. Dr. Edmond and Dr. Valdamir, junior researchers on the SETI project sit one evening on worn and familiar swivel chairs, facing a bank of computers. Dr. Edmond tries to boot one of the computers. He types with both hands, frustrated at the lack of top-of-the-line equipment and kluged solutions that engineers and researchers have cobbled together.

He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again.
As before.
Enter Dr. Valdamir.
Dr. Edmond:
(giving up again). Nothing to be heard.
Dr. Valdamir:
(advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my time on this project I've tried to put it from me, saying Dr. Valdamir, be reasonable, we haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to Dr. Edmond.) So here we are again.
Dr. Edmond:
We are?
Dr. Valdamir:
I'm glad to see you back. I thought you'd considered quitting the project.
Dr. Edmond:
No, I'm staying put. Glad to see you too.
Dr. Valdamir:
Together again at last! We'll have to celebrate this. But how? (He reflects.) Get up till I embrace you.
Dr. Edmond:
(irritably). Not now, not now.
Dr. Valdamir:
(hurt, coldly). Is that the same shirt you wore yesterday? Where were you last night?
Dr. Edmond:
Here in the lab, what do you think?
Dr. Valdamir:
(admiringly). The lab! Where? On the floor? In your chair?
Dr. Edmond:
(without gesture). Over there.
Dr. Valdamir:
And nobody told you to go home?
Dr. Edmond:
Home? Certainly they asked why I was here so late. Nobody will kick me out for doing extra work, they even offered me coffee!
Dr. Valdamir:
The same brew as usual?
Dr. Edmond:
The same? I don't know. Something local, it's great having all this fresh coffee from the markets.
Dr. Valdamir:
When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would we be . . . (Decisively.) You'd be nothing more than a struggling astronomer on some an obscure project at the present minute, no doubt about it.
Dr. Edmond:
And what of it?
Dr. Valdamir:
(gloomily). It's too much for one man. (Pause. Cheerfully.) On the other hand what's the good of losing heart now, that's what I say. We should have thought of it a two decades ago, in the nineties.
Dr. Edmond:
Ah stop blathering and help me with this bloody thing.
Dr. Valdamir:
Hand in hand around the world, wouldn't it be great to give some uniting perspective to humanity? But it's getting late now, people want results. (Dr. Edmond punches at his keys and clicks the mouse) What are you doing?
Dr. Edmond:
Booting up my computer. Don't you boot yours regularly?
Dr. Valdamir:
Computers must be restarted every day, I'm tired telling you that. Why don't you listen to me?
Dr. Edmond:
(feebly). Help me! This one seems to be frozen!
Dr. Valdamir:
It stalled?
Dr. Edmond:
(angrily). Frozen! He wants to know if it's frozen!
Dr. Valdamir:
(angrily). Oh sure. No one ever suffers but you. What, I don't count? I'd like to hear what you'd say if you had what I have.
Dr. Edmond:
It sucks?
Dr. Valdamir:
(angrily). Frozen! He wants to know if it's frozen!
Dr. Edmond:
(pointing). You might try spraying out the heat sink all the same. It's probably overheated.
Dr. Valdamir:
(stooping to take apart the case and blast the corrugated aluminum heat sink with a can of compressed air). True. Never neglect the details of life.
Dr. Edmond:
What do you expect, you always wait till the last moment.
Dr. Valdamir:
(musingly). The last moment . . . (He meditates.) "Hope deferred maketh the something sick," who said that?
Dr. Edmond:
Why don't you help me with the other machines? They'll probably freeze up for the same reason soon. Ha! The machines overheat and we say they're frozen! Hey, want to go out for fried ice cream later?
Dr. Valdamir:
Sometimes I imagine I can feel it coming all the same. Like some piece of equipment is going to crash suddenly since there haven't been any problems for too long. Then I go all queer. (He takes off his hat, peers inside it, feels about inside it, shakes it, puts it on again.) How shall I say? Relieved and at the same time . . . (he searches for the word) . . . frightened for what is to come. (With emphasis.) FRIGHT-ENED. (He takes off his hat again, peers inside it.) Funny. (He knocks on the crown as though to dislodge a foreign body, peers into it again, puts it on again.) Nothing to be done. (Dr. Edmond restarts his first machine successfully. He runs some diagnostics on it to make sure the overheating hasn't corrupted any sectors on the hard drive, since he knows that heat is a risk factor for hard drives as well as processors. The scan comes back clean.) Well?
Dr. Edmond:
Nothing. The scan came back clean, all the data is just fine.
Dr. Valdamir:
Show me.
Dr. Edmond:
There's nothing to show. What, you want me to go through each and every file? The scanning utility already checked for corrupted data, it should be fine.
Dr. Valdamir:
Scan it again.
Dr. Edmond:
(proceeding to load the analysis programs again). I'll run the analysis for a while, it looks like we got through that problem.
Dr. Valdamir:
There's man all over for you, blaming his tools for the faults of his mind. (He turns from the ancient cathode ray monitor, opens the case of one of the machines again, peers inside it, taps a few wires, looks at some of the tiny jumpers on the motherboard and blows on some of the dustier parts. He closes the case again.) This is getting alarming. (Silence. Dr. Valdamir deep in thought)

Dr. Valdamir:
Do you remember the pictures sent back to earth from outer space?
Dr. Edmond:
I remember the color images that Voyager 1 sent back to earth after pointing its camera our way. Striking images showing our planet from far away in outer space. Very pretty. The earth was just one pixel, a single pale blue dot. Seeing our planet so small in comparison to our surroundings made me feel kind of small. Well, that's where we are. Where we'll be. We can be happy here, even it it's just one speck in the cosmos. It's big enough for us all if we cooperate.
Dr. Valdamir:
You should have been a poet.
Dr. Edmond:
I am. Didn't you read my last post?. (opens a browser window and clicks on his bookmarked page). Isn't that obvious? (Dr. Valdamir begins reading the text of several limericks about far-away stars, each sprinkled with astronomy jargon. He rolls his eyes).
Silence.
Dr. Valdamir:
Where was I . . . How's your machine?
Dr. Edmond:
Running fine.

Dr. Edmond:
Look at us. People are bloody ignorant apes.
He coasts about in his wheeled swivel chair, gliding along the floor backwards as he rolls past cabinets and tables full of humming machines. He glances at some of the monitors showing progress on returned data packets. Dr. Valdamir watches him, then goes and checks the latch of Dr. Edmond's computer, and taps it to make sure it's closed.
Dr. Edmond:
Charming spot in the sky. (He turns, admiring the labeled stars of a tiny sector in the sky shown on one of the monitors.) Inspiring prospects. (He turns to Dr. Valdamir.) Let's go.
Dr. Valdamir:
We can't.
Dr. Edmond:
Why not?
Dr. Valdamir:
We're waiting for a signal. Results.
Dr. Edmond:
(despairingly). Ah! (Pause.) You're sure it was this star?
Dr. Valdamir:
What?
Dr. Edmond:
That we were to listen to.
Dr. Valdamir:
This star has a strong Gaussian according to the preliminary analysis. It's one of the strongest we've received this week. (They look at the list of returned files, sorted by relevance.) Do you see any others?
Dr. Edmond:
What is it?
Dr. Valdamir:
I don't know. A star similar to the sun.
Dr. Edmond:
How old is it?
Dr. Valdamir:
It must be dying.

Enter Drs. Rizzo and Lucretius, new hires to the project fresh out of grad school. Both were hired after submitting exciting new ideas for how they would contribute to the project.
Dr. Lucretius is the first to enter, and carries an armload of computer equipment trailing long cables. Dr. Rizzo trails shortly behind, helping to support the long cables and keep Dr. Lucretius from tripping or catching the cables on other equipment in the crowded lab.

Noise of Dr. Lucretius falling with all his equipment. Dr. Valdamir and Dr. Edmond turn towards him, half wishing half fearing to go to his assistance. Dr. Valdamir takes a step towards Dr. Lucretius, Dr. Edmond looks how he can help.
Dr. Valdamir:
You need any help?
Dr. Edmond:
What's all this stuff?
Dr. Rizzo:
Be careful! It looks expensive! (Dr. Valdamir and Dr. Edmond turn towards Dr. Rizzo.)
Dr. Edmond:
(undertone). Is that new and more sensitive equipment?
Dr. Valdamir:
What?
Dr. Edmond:
(trying to remember the name). Er . . .
Dr. Valdamir:
to find the signal?
Dr. Edmond:
probably.
Dr. Rizzo:
Hello, I'm Dr. Rizzo. Sorry for the hasty introduction, but this stuff just arrived and I wanted to get it installed.
Dr. Valdamir:
(to Dr. Edmond). Not at all! I heard we would be getting some new hires. Welcome to the team.
Dr. Lucretius
Here we are. Time to get down to some research.
Dr. Rizzo
Yeah, I can't wait to set my algorithms loose on that data.
Dr. Lucretius
Sometimes I wonder if we're not using the right approach, though. You ever hear about those sky-watching teams who look for strange stuff in the sky?
Dr. Rizzo
Wait a minute, you're not suggesting . . . you mean those kooks? Hey! We're doing legitimate research here backed up by mathematics, not indulging silly superstitions!
Dr. Lucretius
Yeah, I know what you're talking about. No, I don't mean to start interviewing people who claim to have been "contacted," I just wonder if this is the best way to search for other life out there. Maybe they're not big radio fans. Maybe there is some other way of transmitting data over long distances that we haven't noticed, and they started using that instead.
Dr. Rizzo
Are we talking Andromeda Strain here?
Dr. Lucretius
No, no. I mean maybe there is some other type of radiation or propagating signal that we haven't noticed, something we missed way back. Radio is great, sure. That's why we all have cellphones and WIFI. But maybe this just shows that we missed something really early when doing the original research.
Dr. Rizzo
(turning aside from Drs. Valdamir and Edmond) Hey man, it's your first day. Watch how you make your first impression, nobody likes a newbie who thinks they have all the answers.
Dr. Lucretius
OK, OK. I'll skip this until later.
Dr. Rizzo
Yes. MUCH later.

Drs. Valdamir and Edmond turn towards their new lab mates, and start introducing them to the lab setups and routines.
Dr. Valdamir
As you know, this is the control room. It serves two main purposes. First, it's where we make adjustments to the antenna when collecting data that we later send out as packets for the home project. Second, we run all the secondary analysis here, when the screened packets come back.
Dr. Edmond
Yes, it's kind of a relay point for the info that comes out of those stars above us.
Dr. Valdamir
Every day, we make a few manual checks to see that the data is coming in properly. Sometimes there are bugs in the software, and a few data sets from stars get corrupted.
Dr. Edmond
Yeah, since we're constantly updating the tuning software, a few bugs will show up. We just want to make sure that the data streams go back to normal and we don't waste an entire night recording garbage.

Dr. Lucretius
So this is what you did yesterday?
Dr. Valdamir
Yes, it's important that we do these checks several times throughout the day, these weird errors show up at random times and we don't want to let too much time pass before checking.
Dr. Rizzo
So that's your plan for the night?
Dr. Edmond
Yes, basically. We'll look at some of the analyzed files too. They come back from users who run the home program. We want to check a few of the files manually, especially the tagged ones. Every night, we get a list of the strongest candidates. We've had a few pranks in the past, and many false alarms. It's good to have humans checking the data along with the computer programs.
Dr. Lucretius
Sounds like a good plan. It's good to catch errors early in the process.
Dr. Rizzo
Yeah, can't let those bugs get the best of us. We need to keep listening carefully.
Dr. Valdamir
And keep listening.
Dr. Edmond
Yes, we'll be here listening.
Dr. Valdamir
And analyzing. Well? Shall we open a few files?
Dr. Edmond
Yes, let's see them.
They open the next set of files.

Curtain.

======== Author's Note ========


My apologies to fans of Beckett and SETI. Beckett's famous play gives so many more examples of the interaction between people. I saw a parallel between Estragon and Vladamir's unrewarded vigil for Godot, and the patient search for a signal from outer space. I've borrowed heavily from Beckett, and you'll find a few lines with only minor changes.

I have no firsthand knowledge of the research practices in the SETI lab, and only a vague idea of what goes on in Arecibo. Don't imagine that this reflects their research protocols accurately, since it's entirely fictional. Geek banter is probably the only area that I can talk about from limited experience.

======== Links ========

The original, part 1
The original, part 2
Rio Scale

extraterrestrial
Alien
Wow! signal
Why is the universe silent?

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