The Tuesday Morning Market here in Gulfport isn’t too busy today, which is a shame, because it’s nice out. Seventy degrees, sunny. Some darker clouds on the horizon, they’re calling for thunderstorms later, but that’s not too surprising.
He’s here, looking as rough as he always does. Sitting alone on the curb by the Peninsula, off near a fence and away from the road. He’s got his little tan briefcase out, open. I can see the hand-written sign in black and red marker: “Famous!” it says, “Twenty dollars an image!” He’s sitting cross-legged right by the curb. No one seems to notice him.
So here we go. Let’s see if he’s ready for us.
Excuse me, sir?
My name is Allie. Officer Dawson said I could come by today and see you here?
Ah, yes. Officer Dawson. He’s well, I trust?
He is. He always is. Is it okay if I record this?
First, what is your name?
My name is Finlay. Dr. Julian Finlay… Tell me your name again, dear?
I’m Allie. Allie Marple. I write for the newspaper here in town. Did you say “Dr.”?
Yes, dear. I have a doctorate in astrophysics from M.I.T., a Master’s degree in biochemistry from Yale, and a dual undergraduate degree in mathematics and biology from Harvard.
That’s really something, Dr. Finlay.
Thank you, dear.
And you live here now? In Gulfport? What do you do here in Gulfport, Dr. Finlay?
I live at an apartment complex less than one eighth of a mile from this spot called the Double Palms. It is a small place, but it serves my purposes. I am what you might call their resident handyman.
What’s that, like your retirement plan?
Something along those lines, dear, yes.
How’d you get from places like Harvard and M.I.T. to a place like this?
In large part, the answer lies in the photographs. And aren’t these what you’re really here for?
Yes, actually they are, Dr. Finlay. These photographs – they’re very strange. What… well. What are they supposed to be?
You see these four that I have clipped to the top of my case? These are my display photos. I chose them randomly. “Man riding on another man’s back while using what looks like a laptop.” “Naked refrigerator cat feeder.” “Puffer-fish drums.” “Basketball eggs.”
None of them make any sense. At all.
No, not to you.
Not to anybody. Why do you have them? And why are you trying to sell them for so much? I don’t mean to be disrespectful Dr. Finlay, but who would pay twenty dollars for a picture of a dog with an éclair on his head?
It’s not so much about the image, young lady, as the story behind them. My preference would be to sell them as a complete set.
Twelve hundred dollars for the lot? It must be quite a story. You know, Dr. Finlay, if you tell me the story, I can publish it and drive the business your way. If the story is good enough, you could ask for even more.
It is not about the money, dear. It is about passing along an American treasure.
I’m having a hard time seeing why a bodybuilder with his butt in the front is an American treasure. Why don’t you tell me the story, Dr. Finlay, and we’ll go from there.
Very well, dear. None of these images make any sense to you or to anyone else. Naturally, this is by design.
In 1977, as you may or may not know, NASA launched the twin deep-space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. To this day, both of them carry a gold-plated phonograph depicting the sounds of life on Earth. Carl Sagan himself helped pick out the more than one-hundred images and the music that each vessel carries.
The idea is to put a happy face of life on Earth, should either of the Voyagers encounter alien life.
That, of course, is the story we told the public.
What we didn’t tell the public is that alien life already contacted Earth, back in the ’40s. It was an alien ship that crash-landed, and it was carrying a message — a message that took years to decipher. You don’t suppose all those code breakers at the National Security Agency and the CIA were really working on defeating the Soviets in the Cold War, do you?
The message was that Earth — and our solar system — was next on the list. And not the kind of list on which we would want to be.
A brilliant campaign of disinformation was concocted. First was the cover-up. Launch the Voyagers into deep space. Tell the world all about them.
Then secretly launch the Loki probe towards the galaxy from which the aliens originated. Loki, as you may know, is the Norse God of mischief… and disinformation.
The Loki probe looked just like the Voyager probes, but was filled with violent, horrible sounds. Sounds no carbon-based life form would be likely to tolerate.
The images were next. Remember, this was the mid nineteen seventies. We did not have the luxury of things like ‘Photoshop’ – everything was staged. Some of the shots took days to complete.
[cough…] Um, well. Uh, Dr. Finlay. That is… remarkable. […ahem] Just a couple more questions, then. First, how, um, did you come into possession of the photos if they’re supposed to be on a spaceship…
Deep space probe.
…uh, yeah, deep space probe? And two, there’s stuff in some of these photos that pre-dates the Seventies. There’s that guy riding the other guy with a laptop. There’s the weird thumbs-up kid and everyone is asleep at a personal computer. Isn’t that a Volvo in hunter dog?
I kept copies because I was the photographer.
And only a few of these went up with the original Loki. There have been other, more recent Loki missions.
Because, my dear… the first ones didn’t work.
© 2013 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.
Originally published at terribleminds for a flash fiction challenge.