Three destroyed outer planets. Two SETI scientists. One question: Can humanity prevent its destruction? #pitprom #sf
Dear Agents and Editors,
What would you do if the world is going to end in ten years? For Jennifer Epstein, a by-the-books senior researcher at SETI, there is only one answer: prevent the apocalypse from happening. Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus have been destroyed by an alien threat. The deck is stacked against humanity.
But Jennifer isn’t alone. She has Samantha Monroe, her excitable but brilliant subordinate. From South Africa, CEO Muzikayise Khulu of Khulu Global supplies his vast resources to the ultimate race for survival. The three find themselves in an unlikely alliance while political brinkmanship, doomsday cults, and untested technologies form ever-growing obstacles.
Will humanity unite to face the greatest challenge of their time, or will it destroy itself before the alien ship arrives?
THE BASKING is a 125,000 word adult hard science fiction novel. Extensive technical and societal research are woven into the narrative and lend authenticity to the story. The book contains an ethnically-diverse cast alongside an evolving LGBT relationship.
Focusing less on the threat to Earth, THE BASKING examines humanity and how they cope with first contact and the existential crisis forced upon them. This will appeal to readers of other science fiction works that explore human nature in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the style of Neal Stephenson (SEVENEVES), Ben Winters (THE LAST POLICEMAN), and Allen Steele (ARKWRIGHT).
After more than a decade as a Salesforce consultant, I'm now a full time writer, and proud father. My author Twitter account has over a thousand followers and I'm curating a growing list of newsletter subscribers. My extensive contacts in the technology sector give me insights and opportunities to offer authentic content for readers looking to connect with the concepts of the book.
Thank you for your consideration.
~ Trevor Williams
First Ten Pages:
June 20, 2014
A soft but piercing tone cut through the white noise of the humming computers.
"What the hell?" Samantha Moore, a research scientist, winced as the tone blended with the 90s music streaming from her MP3 player. She yanked the earbuds out of her ears, her eyes wide. She'd worked at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute for six years, but she hadn't heard that particular 400Hz triangle wave tone in years.
Pushing away from her desk, she craned her head around the wall of her cubicle so she had a clear line of sight to the back corner. The tone came from the Very Large Monitor Database—a suite of computers hooked up to four 40-inch monitors which continually fed live data from the Allen Telescope Array. "SIGNAL DETECTED" flashed in the center of the lower-left monitor.
Almost falling out of her seat, she ran to the VLM. Without taking her eyes off the alert window, her mind ran through the possibilities as “Groove Is In The Heart” started to play. She took a deep breath as she sat in front of the four waking monitors, each displaying spectrographic data that should've been impossible.
Okay, okay, okay, is this real? This can't be real, but is it?
"Time to confirm," she said out loud as the tone fell silent upon clearing the alert. Time to see from what area of space the detected signal originated.
As the main riff of the song played, Sam's mind and energy honed on this signal, her fingers typing while scanning local wide-band and narrow-band frequencies. Her first goal was to rule out any Earth-born signals that could've bounced off a satellite and hit the radio dishes at ATA.
"Holy shit," she whispered as the data in front of her confirmed the space-born nature of the signal. Twice. Three times.
No. This can't be real.
Sam chewed on her lip, scrutinizing the formulas on the monitor in front of her that broke down the narrow-band frequency into several distinct sections. She looked for common errors in the software that could've triggered the alert, then looked for modulations in the signal that would indicate a spinning pulsar or a late-type star generating the signal.
The analysis software worked as intended - no stars or pulsars existed in the direction that the signal emanated from.
This just can't.
She glanced at the desk phone to the left of the keyboard. No way I'm calling anyone, she thought. Have to confirm everything. She knew better than to cry wolf when there were false-positives in the past; calling in the entire brigade would result in her being in hot water if it turned out to be anything other than extraterrestrial in origin—something that seemed more and more likely.
She sucked in a large breath of air as she leaned closer to the monitor which displayed the source of the signal: Pluto.
Pluto! At least, all indicators said that approximately seven hours ago the dwarf planet was the source of a possible extraterrestrial beacon.
She typed several commands to process the fresh data even further, triangulating the approximate location on or near Pluto that the frequency originated. After mashing the ENTER key, the displayed dataset made her blink rapidly with a slackened mouth, as if the data was a mirage and blinking would correct it. The signal originated fifteen thousand kilometers over the surface of Pluto and not beyond the planet. With every false-positive in the past, the signals originated from other stars. Detecting one just 7.5 billion kilometers away from Earth was a first. She had to make sure every decibel, every frequency, every number that’s carried forward- that everything was correct. And she checked again. And again.
“Groove Is In The Heart” came to a close. Sam glanced at the date and time in the corner of the monitor. The signal was broadcasting itself for at least seven hours, the amount of time needed for it to reach Earth from Pluto. Everything pointed to this not being a fluke.
"Holy shit," she proclaimed again, her right leg rapidly bobbing under the desk. "I need to call Jennifer. Get more people here now."
She reached for the desk phone and dialed Jennifer Epstein's cell, one of the Senior Research Scientists at SETI and Sam's superior. She rarely called her outside of regular work hours unless it was an emergency or critically important - this signal qualified as both. Her heart pounded in her chest as she kept staring at the spread of information in front of her, the sound of Jennifer's phone ringing from the desk phone speaker.
This is real.
Covered by an open magazine that contained articles on current world events, a smartphone began playing the first six seconds of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, a ringtone selected for all stored SETI contacts. The sound from the phone's speakers was loud enough to cause Jennifer to shift under her cotton bedding. It took three rings before Jennifer flung her hand over to the phone, knocking the magazine and her reading glasses onto the floor from the nightstand. As she mentally ran through the short list of people that had her cell number, Jennifer, now resting on her side, brought the phone to eye level. Though everything was blurry and some of her shoulder-length black hair further obscured her vision, the name on the phone's screen was unmistakable.
Jennifer exhaled as she slid her thumb across the screen, answering the call while she pressed the speaker button, amplifying the excited voice of Sam. "Dr. Epstein! Get here quick!"
"What happened, Sam?" Jennifer queried, her mind still hazy from the abrupt wake-up call.
"I was just, you know, doing my usual graveyard shift, running some algorithms through the latest batch of spectral modulations from Allen - data mining and all that -"
"Please, cut to the chase," Jennifer interrupted, her head now firmly planted back on her pillow and eyes closed.
"Signal detected, doc. Signal detected!"
Ah, this again. Jennifer participated in dozens of events like this, all of which ended with false positives or were new astronomical discoveries that happened to emanate radio waves. One more such event, though exciting, shouldn't get her protégé so frantic.
"Have you run the frequency through normal detection procedures?" Jennifer continued to make herself comfortable in her warm bed, not reacting too much to this news.
"I've triple-checked everything. This is real and coming from Pluto!"
"What?" Jennifer pushed herself into a sitting position against the back of her bed. Her brow raised slightly at the mention of Pluto - a signal coming from one of Earth's own planetary neighbors was a twist.
"We need to bring in the rest of the team pronto, doc," Sam said. "Gordan, Nic, the whole team! Alert the director, too."
Jennifer leaned over the side of her bed to scoop her glasses off the carpeted floor, then opened the drawer to her nightstand and grabbed the thin, black slab that was her SETI-provided smartphone. Unlike her personal phone, this had secured access to SETI's servers which included an app designed to push the same alerts the VRM received. After the screen turned on, she tapped her password.
"Dr. Epstein? Doctor?" Sam impatiently waited for a response as Jennifer swiped down on her phone screen to see the signal notification that was pushed to her phone at 4:39am, along with the signal origin coordinates and frequency: Right Asc: 18h 52m 57.7s Decl: -20° 14' 37.1" ; Freq: 5106.82MHz. The numbers all came into focus as she slid her glasses on. She cocked her head as she scratched the side of her jaw. The frequency presented was far higher than anything they've detected in space before outside of pulsars - except this originated from Pluto.
"Why would there be a signal from Pluto?" Jennifer asked herself.
"That's what I can't wait to find out," Sam said. "Shall I call in the rest?"
Jennifer shook her head, despite Sam not being able to see the gesture. Stay composed. "Once I review the data, we'll decide if having the team on-site at six in the morning will be better than at nine," Jennifer answered. She dropped the smart phone onto her bed and started toward her closet. She eyeballed a button-down shirt and pants that she could quickly throw on for her twenty-minute drive to the office. "However, I'll be there immediately."
Despite it being a weekday, the drive along Route 237 West was uneventful and fast. Jennifer knew the highways around her home well, though she was never a fan of waking up early enough to beat rush-hour traffic. Her work phone, loosely nestled in the cup holder in front of the unused CD player, dinged with text messages from Sam. She picked up her phone and scanned the first message before she placed the phone back down: "Still can't believe it. Nicolas is on the way."
Of course Nic's on the way, Jennifer thought -- he's one of the most obsessed support scientists on her team. Even the slightest variance in a star's brightness would send him into a researcher frenzy to understand everything there was to know about that star. Where his bursts of energy came from, she might never know, but his contributions to the team couldn't be denied.
As she left behind the suburban blocks of Milpitas and looked at the water-starved fields just beyond the Los Esteros Energy Center, thoughts of both the past and future filled her mind. Though she'd been working at SETI for over twenty years, every "signal found" message always found a way to send chills down her spine.
Dried fields gave way to vast corporate parks and the runways behind the NASA Ames Research Center. One thought dogged Jennifer.
If this is really happening, everything will change.
Her personal phone vibrated atop her work phone. The predicted text message from Grace, her mother, arrived on schedule: a verse from the Torah that she likely felt was appropriate for the week.
Hopefully, Jennifer thought as she looked at the message from her mother while hearing her work phone chime once more. Hopefully this signal could bring the change we all need.
Nic's hybrid, a dark blue sedan from 2009 that'd spent way more time in direct sunlight than the paint could handle, was already in the parking lot. Bringing her car to a halt next to his, she went through the motions of turning the car off with one hand while smoothing down her shirt with the other, aiming to keep composure. Nevertheless, her heart raced faster than usual as she took long strides to the front of SETI.
At minimum, she allowed herself a brisk pace from her car to her team's corner of the building where Vern - her pet name for the VLM - churned through data. She passed through the automatic doors as her ID badge reeled itself back against her waist after being swiped. As she got closer, an odd warbling sound filled the air. It was emanating from where she worked. Jennifer swiped her card again and entered the office.
"The amplitude of this section is incredible!" Nic said as he adjusted his glasses. His voice could just be heard over the pitched warbling sound that pulsed every second from Vern’s speakers.
Jennifer started toward Nic and Sam, both of which sat in front of Vern. They were both fixated on the monitors in front of them.
"What is going on..." Jennifer began, but trailed off when she saw the strong spike in the signal on the bottom monitors. On one screen was a live feed of the warbling pulse, each second turning the center of the frequency medium into a jagged spike just past the five-gigahertz level. The screen Nic and Sam were looking over had parts of the signal broken out into static screenshots for analysis. Above them were the remaining two monitors. The right displayed a graphical representation of Earth along with the sea of satellites that orbit it in the form of red, green and blue dots, while the left had a scrolling text-based feed of the signal's location and frequency, with the initial capture of it pinned at the top.
Just seeing and hearing this warbling blast of audio made her skin tingle as blood rushed through her in response.
Sam had one leg extended away from Vern, as if she wanted to run over to her own computer, but was glued to the screen in front of her. "Doc, I've been running this through every spectrum analyzer and pulse reader we have."
"Have you checked all civilian and military sources?" Jennifer asked as she ran to her computer a few desks down on the same wall as Vern, dropping herself into her chair.
"Yes, ma'am," Sam affirmed as she continued swiping through frequency analyzer programs. "So far, AWAC reported back negative. Nic, what's the status on spacecraft activity, NORAD sats?"
"No unusual activity in our neck of the woods," Nic pulled up another window that flashed in the task bar. "Got confirmation on ATA status."
Nic turned toward Jennifer, his eyes beaming through his glasses. "All forty-two dishes reporting green operations, and all are picking up the signal."
As Jennifer's computer awoke from sleep mode, she glanced at her smartphone, which still had the original signal notification on display. "Is there any possibility that our software or hardware is malfunctioning?"
"Looking into that now," Nic stepped back from Vern’s main console and pulled out his sticker-covered laptop to start diagnostics.
"Doc, I have confirmation on sidereal motion for the signal," Sam stated, her leg bouncing on her toes under the desk as she kept her focus on the monitors. "Interferometric positioning still places the signal origin fifteen thousand kilometers over Pluto."
"But that doesn't make sense," Jennifer darted her eyes toward Sam as she brought up astronomical mapping displays on her screen. "Can you confirm when we first received the signal, and confirm again right ascension eighteen hours, fifty-two minutes, fifty-seven-point-seven seconds; declination minus twenty degrees, fourteen minutes?"
"I'll run the numbers again, Doc," Sam said.
Nic's laptop snapped shut as he started for the server room. "So far diagnostics are coming in clean. Gonna directly access the servers."
Jennifer looked at Nic with urgent concern. "Do you think someone could be spoofing this?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," Nic said as he swiped his card on the security panel. The heavy door’s lock opened with a click. "But we now have dozens of safeguards and detection criteria in place that would make such a hack significantly more challenging today. In the past, yes, we had several false-positives thanks to backdoor attacks, but I'm certain this is not one of those events."
Just as the doors to the server room closed, the office door swung open, the wall groaning as the door arched to the fullest extent on its hinges. Jennifer turned to see Gordan Ivanovic, another research scientist who worked alongside Jennifer, marching toward his desk. Like Jennifer and Nic before him, he paused when he saw the signal data on Vern.
"Holy Christ," he said as he ran his fingers through his gray hair. "Where are we with signal confirmation?"
"You're missing the action, Gordan," Sam quipped. "I can use your help analyzing the signal pattern. Did you see the ascension and declination positions?"
"Yes, and I still don't believe it," Gordan regained his composure and threw his messenger bag into his cubicle before walking over to Jennifer. "What are your thoughts, Jennifer?"
"Well, Nic is checking the servers for possible online tampering while Sam could use you over at Vern," Jennifer said as she pointed at one of the spectrum breakout charts on her screen. She allowed herself a quick chuckle. "It would be nice, though, if it weren't another false reading!"
"Agreed," said Gordan as he lightly patted Jennifer on the shoulder before walking to his desk. "Perhaps we can get Kabir on the line to run a check for us."
"Go for it," Jennifer said.
Kabir Reddy worked out of Pune, India, home of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope which was operated by the Tata Institute. Though Tata drove the goals for the radio telescopes - most of which didn't align with SETI's objectives - Kabir, being one of the view people staffed at the GMRT, used his position to redirect some of the dishes to aid in SETI research. It made perfect sense. Pluto rose over India right about now, and Kabir was manning one of the few radio telescope arrays for thousands of miles.
She heard the server room doors unlock, which prompted her to rotate her chair toward the door as Nic exited. "Give me some good news."
"No unauthorized activity or login attempts over the last four weeks." Nic noticed Jennifer's raised eyebrow in response. "I just wanted to be thorough. But yes, the only thing my audits found was a three gigabyte download of music, which I traced back to Sam's laptop."
Sam turned toward Nic and Jennifer, both of which looked over at her. "Hey, if you want this girl to code, she needs her weekly dose of number one, two, and three hits from the greatest decade for the ears!"
"Oh, not that conversation again," Gordan rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry, I think we may have the greatest song singing from Vern's mouth right now," Sam added as she brought her right ear to one of the speakers, letting the warbling sound flow into her body.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,