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By taking one look at him, you can tell he is the type of person that puts his work before his…. well, anything. Slouched over his desk, Frank Drake, silently goes about his algorithms. A bead of sweat rolls down his quenched forehead, down the bridge of his nose, and into the corner of his mouth. With out a fuss he wipes the salty intruder away with his hand and continues……
All of his life Frank has felt some connection with the stars. Ever since he was a small boy he would just lie in the fields around his house and gaze up at the stars and wonder “What is out there?” This type of attraction to the unknown led him to degrees from M.I.T. and Cornell in astrophysics, and astronomy. But he didn’t want to study what he could see; he wanted to study what he couldn’t.
He was six when he caught his first glimpse of a science fiction movie. “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was the name of it, and it affected him more then anyone could guess. “People on other planets?” It was more then any other six year old could fathom, except for Drake. He knew something was out there, he just knew it.
When he graduated college he received unbelievable offers from aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. But his heart was in the sky and he took a low paying job at NASA as a data technician.
NASA accepted him gladly. With two PhD’s, how could they not. Yet they did not challenge him, and Drake grew frustrated. He was doing what he wanted yes, but he believed he could do so much more. He started going behind the backs of his employers to do extra research with other technicians. Together he and his group would try to figure out, for example, a way to save fuel on the lunar modules. One day after a secret meeting, they discovered a way to make the oxygen tanks more efficient and able to recycle the air more economically. Then the group was faced with a decision. Should they hand over their work to their bosses? Yes they have been overstepping their boundaries research wise, but for obvious benefit. In the end they decided yes, and it was Drake who presented their findings to the head of their department.
The executive was floored, in only two months on the job, Drake had developed a whole new oxygen system for the Apollo space craft. NASA had realized their mistake in snubbing out Drake in a low-level position. And to make it up to him, they gave him his choice of assignments. However Drake had something else in mind. In front of the NASA committee he gave a presentation on how they were not doing enough to actively search for extraterrestrial life. He gave his theories on aliens and he gave them ideas on how to search and find them. The committee was stunned to say the least. In fact a few members left the meeting to protest the ludicrousy. What Drake wanted to do was develop a whole new branch of NASA. A branch totally committed to the search of extraterrestrial life. The committee was less then welcoming. They told Drake, if he could provide some evidence on why they should search for aliens, to provide a reason to waste millions of dollars on an unfounded theory. Then they would consider it, but for now, they would not agree to it.
Drake was ridiculed openly and publicly for his suggestion. His once loyal group of confidants turned there back on them and gave a statement saying that they never knew of his intentions back when they were working together. His bosses laughed at his ideas of “little green men” and then would give him the most horrible assignments. His working conditions got so unbearable that one day he just got up and quit. No fuss, just left the building. Saying to himself, that he would ether come back with a reason for them to take him seriously, or a rifle.
So here Drake sits, in his basement looking for the proof that the he so desperately needs. He first started with biological studies of planets and tried to come up with a formula for determining the chances of life appearing on a planet. But with a background in physics not biology and chemistry those ideas were quickly snuffed out of existence. He then tried a model for determining the correct distance from a star where life could develop. But again, with out a study of biology, he was just reaching a little too much.
But then he realized something. Maybe he is concentrating on too small of a spectrum. Why not open it up a bit. He first realized that the universe was too big of an area. So he decided to concentrate on the Milky Way galaxy alone. He then had to guesstimate the numbers of those stars in the galaxy that are suitable for life. He came up with five more variables considering life on other planets, and he was very happy with his findings. He had seemed to cover all the bases of civilization, and communicating with a distant one. Yet something was nagging him. He felt as though he was missing something. Something so obvious but yet so hidden. He went back over his equation, “by multiplying all these numbers and fractions” he would say to himself, “I get a number”. “This number represents the number of alien civilizations that are out there”. “But what am I missing?”
The answer was so obvious; he almost banged his head on the desk for not noticing it. “Of course!!!” “If the civilization is there anymore how can we communicate with them” and he put his final variable in to the equation, “the lifespan of the society in question.”
He had done it. He had found the evidence he so badly needed. This equation would dictate how many alien worlds there are out there. He had to try it. By taking reasonable if not conservative estimates for all the variables he came up with an answer of more then a thousand possible alien civilizations.
He could not control his excitement. The people at NASA could not turn down his request for the new branch now, not with this evidence. They could not just throw away his work. It was actually feasible. He could not wait to see the looks on the committee members faces. God he will enjoy that moment so much he thought to him self. His first order of business he decided was to fire his previous group of conspirators. He would show them what happens to people that turn their backs on people who need them.
He was halfway through his Nobel Prize acceptance speech when a loud knock on his front door echoed through the house. It startled him so much that he fell of his stool and with a loud bang slammed into the floor. He laid there a moment and listened for the knock again because he was sure that he imagined it. “BANG, BANG, BANG” The knock came again, louder, and fiercer.
It was four in the morning. Who the hell would come here at four in the morning. Jesus, probably his stupid neighbor, Miss. Jinks. Missing her cat again and waking up everyone in the neighborhood to see if they had seen it. God when will that women learn that we have better things to do then to take notes on what her cat is doing. And hasn’t she ever heard of a thing called a telephone.
He gradually made his way upstairs, clutching his side from the fall only moments before. Damn, feels as though he broke his hip, even though he knew he didn’t. He turned right through his basement door, out through his kitchen and walked in to the main hall where the front door was. He undid his dead bolt and slowly opened the heavy door.
It wasn’t Miss. Jinks.
Black suits, that’s all he could see, black suits, a white shirt and a black tie. He gazed upwards to see two stone cold faces with their eyes hidden behind blacked out sunglasses. Sunglasses? It was , what did they need sunglasses for?
“Are you Drake?”
His voice was like ice, showing no emotion at all. He looked into the mans face but saw nothing. No glimpse of a smile or a frown. No twitch of an eyebrow. Nothing.
He repeated his question.
“I said, are you Drake?”
More forceful this time, and he could detect a hint of lost patience. It suddenly occurred to him how large these men were. Each of them was at least 6’ 5” and weighing in at a minimum of 225 pounds. The one that spoke was bald headed and Frank knew under his suit he must have had the body of an Olympic weightlifter. Actually now that he took a second look he realized that these two men look exactly the same. They were twins or could definitely pass as them.
“Yes I’m Frank Drake” He answered, not knowing if he should have or not.
The one who remained silent brought up his pistol faster then Drake could react to it. He brought it down with massive force onto the back of Franks head.
The world went black.
He was out beyond the asteroid belt, surfing on Saturn’s rings. After that he had lunch on Pluto. While he ate he thought to him self, maybe he would go sun him self on Mercury……..
Drake woke with such startled force that he fell with the chair that he was fastened to. He found himself in a bare concrete room, marred only by the single door into the room, and the mirror on the wall. The mirror must have been two way because as he realized his situation, the door opened and in stepped the two men that visited him at his house.
“Where am I??” he demanded, but to anyone else it would have sounded more like a plea.
The men ignored him. The easily lifted him and the chair upright and spun him around. From his position on the floor, Frank did not notice the metal desk and the other chair that were also in the room. The two giants pushed him so he faced the desk and then stalked out.
In this position he could not see the mirror, but he could unquestionably tell that he was being watched from behind it. He tried not to look afraid, but it definitely showed.
Behind him the door opened and then shut. Footsteps followed and then the man whom they belonged to came into view.
“Hello Frank, my name is William”
The man who spoke was another giant. 6’6” easily, and wider then the first two which Frank had the pleasure of meeting earlier. He was dressed in another black suit, and again he had on a pair of sunglasses, dark, dark, sunglasses. His hair was graying, and he had a goatee which matched his head. Frank could detect a slight scar down his cheek.
“Where the hell am I?” Frank inquired forcefully.
“I’ll be asking the questions Mr. Drake” was the quick response.
Frank was startled by this sudden, cold reply. He had so many questions, yet he was scared beyond all reason. Where was he? What he was doing here? Who are these people? These were the questions that he desperately wanted to ask, but is mind was clouded by fear.
William spoke. “Now Mr. Drake, we know what you have discovered tonight, and I for very proud of you.” “Its not often one of you form such an acute, and clever formula.” “However I would like to know how you developed it?”
Frank was confused. How could they know about the equation? He finished it not five minutes before he heard that knock on his door. And did he hear William correctly? Did he say “one of you”? What did he mean by that? Drake decided to play dumb and see what else he could find out.
“What do you mean?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
He caught a glimpse of the fist before it hit him, but not much of a glimpse. –SMACK- Williams knuckles caught him directly in his jaw. Pain shot up the side of his face and down his neck.
Frank could taste the blood pooling in his mouth and the broken fragments of teeth mixing around in his mouth cutting him more. He had never been punched before, but he saw a lot of it in movies, and all he could think was “It looked a lot less painful on TV.”
“Don’t give me that shit Drake!” screamed William, not more then two inches from his face.
“We know about the equation, and we know how you developed it!”
“Your lucky that we have policy to follow or you would already be dead!”
Franks curiosity finally broke through his fear. He had to know. He asked the only question that mattered to him through a mess of broken teeth, and spewed blood.
“Who are you people?”
William stepped back from him almost with a look of amusement on his face.
“Who are we?”
“You want to know who we are, do you?”
Frank nodded his head.
“Well let me show you.”
William looked at the mirror and spoke.
“Bring him in.”
Again the door opened and closed, and Drake heard footsteps coming toward him. The man that stepped into view this time however was much different then the first.
Frank was looking at himself, literally. He was looking at an exact replica of Frank Drake. The face, the overweight body, the hands, were identical to his. He was speechless, he was thoughtless, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe. What was going on?
“Wha…..” That’s all Frank could manage.
“It really is a pity” William continued. “If you just made one or two errors creating the formula, then this meeting of ours would be unnecessary. But it’s perfect.”
“Now we have to change it, and replace you.”
His clone stepped towards him, with a pistol in his hands.
Drakes heart felt as if it was going to brake out of his chest, but their was nothing he could do strapped to the chair. The clone raised the pistol till the muzzle of the barrel rested on Frank’s forehead.
A familiar voice chimed. “I’m sorry Frank.”
Two days later, “Frank Drake” walked in front of the TV cameras.
“Ladies and Gentleman, I call it, the Drake Equation……..”
© Copyright 2004 by the author
All rights reserved