A young experimenter follows up unexpected results to a shocking conclusion
J. E. McCarty
A small town family, with twin eight-year-old boys, arrived at the Washington Elementary School’s annual science fair, on a warm sunny morning. It was the only science fair in town, so it was for students through grade twelve. Once inside the athletic field, they saw the booths by the younger students first. One booth had a small radio powered by lemons. They found another booth where a young student was boiling water with a large magnifying mirror.
Over by the school building, where there was access to power, where the booths by students in grade five and up. They walked up to a quieter booth, between a Geology exhibit, and a booth on The Theory of Flight, and found Henry Davis’s booth. They joined the gathering in front of the booth, and watched.
Henry placed a small houseplant in a box, lined with metal plates on the inside. He closed its door, with a camera mounted on it, and began to explain his experiment to the small group watching.
“This is an experiment in 3-D Kirlian photography. It is totally dark inside the box. After putting a very high DC voltage and a radio frequency to the metal plates on the inside of the box, I’ll take a time-exposure picture of the plant. The plant won’t be harmed.”
The people looked at him with doubt in their faces as he showed them that there were no images in the camera. He was hoping the crowed would be more open-minded.
One of the fathers in the group asked, “Why do you need all that voltage?”
“It takes a lot of voltage for 3-D. It is usually done in 2-D, against a plate. That takes only a few hundred volts.” The man had a critical look on his face.
He put the camera back on the door and switched on the high-voltage power supply. When the voltage readings were correct, he started a 30-second exposure with the low-light camera. When the camera finished the exposure, he turned off the voltage, took the camera off the door, and opened the box to show that there was no harm to the plant. He connected the camera to a printer and printed out the image.
The picture that came out showed a dark image of the plant, slightly illuminated by the soft glow of many blue wandering lines, which appeared to be coming out from it. And, there was a pink glow from the plates inside the box. He then let his audience compare the printout to the only image now in the camera.
One of the mothers in the audience asked, “Are you sure that plant is okay?”
“Yes, I’m sure it‘s fine, ma’am.” He took the plant out of the box and allowed the people to examine it. No one found any damage to the plant.
A professional looking man asked, “Were those blue lines made by the electricity?”
“Not truly,” he replied. “The electricity set up the conditions for the plant’s aura to make the lines. All objects have a field of energy around them, called an aura, especially living things. Kirlian photography is a way to make this energy visible.”
“I’ve heard of auras,” a younger man said. “Some weird people say they can see them.”
“Yes, some people say they can see auras. But, that doesn’t mean they’re weird.”
“Yeah, well, if nothing else, that picture would make a nice poster. But, I don’t think you’ve proven anything, young man.”
The group began to break up. He began to wonder if anyone here was ready to consider an unorthodox idea.
Most of the people who stopped at Henry’s booth didn’t stay very long, while the Geology exhibit to his left and the Theory of Flight one to his right always seemed to have people standing there. The weather was also warmer than he would have liked it to be, but he had three gallons of water. He did his best not to look discouraged to the people walking by.
* * * * *
By the end of the fair, Henry had a few more pictures of the plant’s aura posted in his booth. He looked hopeful as he saw the judges coming his way. When they reached him, one of them said, “Let’s see, young man. Your name is Henry Davis, and your experiment is 3-D Kirlian photography, is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct, sir.”
“You have a very unusual experiment. And, those are some interesting pictures, Henry. After careful consideration, we are awarding you for having the fair’s most unusual experiment. You show promise, young man. We hope to see you next year.”
These people are a bunch of stiffs, he thought. “Thank you for the award. I might be back next year.”
After the judges left his booth, his father walked up and found him looking at his certificate. His father messed up Henry’s blond hair, and asked, “Did you win an award?”
“Yea, kind of.”
“You received the most unusual experiment award…. They award only one of those for each year."
Not sounding very excited, he replied, “I know, Dad.”
“I know you were hoping for a ribbon. It’s not easy to earn a ribbon; that’s what makes them worth something. And, this isn’t exactly a mainstream experiment.
“My science fair projects didn’t do all that well either. One year, I made a board of Christmas lights that would display messages, like today’s
electronic marquees. It was a little ahead of the times. Today, I’m a computer science engineer.”
“I don’t think you’ve told that story before. That must’ve been before your experiments in robotics.”
“Yes, it was a little before then. If you’re ready to pack up, I think your mother has something special for dinner tonight. I bet she’d like to see your award, Henry.”
“I’ll try to work up an appetite, Dad.”
* * * * *
Two days later, Mr. Fredric Davis, Henry’s father, found Henry’s blond head looking into another box in the workshop behind the house. As he walked up to the workbench, he saw tools, test equipment, a few baseball cards spread out; and, he saw wires attached to another plant, next to the new box. “What are you doing with this plant, Henry?”
“I’m going to record resistance readings from leaves of the plant while it’s inside a Faraday chamber, to block out all interference. But, the only way I found to make a recording, was to record DC levels with this old hi-fi tape recorder. The trick was making a switching circuit for the tape heads.”
“You have read about, and seem to understand a lot about many technical subjects, but you haven’t had any electronics courses yet. Even though you have been very imaginative and resourceful, you will find that a tape recorder will not record DC levels very well, if at all, at least not the way you’re doing it. Also, this sounds very similar to another experiment, done many years ago. The results were interesting, but there wasn’t much anyone could do with them.”
“Okay, Dad. And, I know about the old experiment. But, I think I’ll go ahead and run it this way, and then we can talk about any changes I might need to make.”
Very focused, Henry carefully placed the wired plant into the Faraday chamber. He connected the wires to an amplifier inside, closed the door, turned on the amplifier and started the recorder.
Moments after starting the recorder, Henry bumped a button and the tape started moving at high speed. “Shit! What’s wrong, Dad?”
“You bumped the fast forward button.”
“Oh!” He stopped the recorder and rewound the tape. “I might as well see what I got.” He changed his switching circuit and started playing the tape. At first, they heard nothing. When the tape reached the point where it was recording in fast forward, they heard some high-pitched background noise, randomly cutting in and out. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know. But, it sounds like you either have a leak in your Faraday chamber, or you have a bad circuit somewhere. I don’t think a plant can do that.”
“I don’t think so, Dad. I completely checked everything out. I think the noise is coming from the plant. This is something I’ve got to check out.”
“All right, Henry. I know what you’re like when something catches your interest. But there are many sources that noise could be coming from. Let me know if you need any help.”
* * * * *
About a week later, Henry managed to borrow a digital recorder, capable of recording almost any frequency. He had rechecked everything for noise, and repeated his experiment using that recorder.
After he made another recording for about a minute, he replayed it, slowed down ten thousand times. For some time, he heard nothing. He began to wonder if the noise was from the old tape recorder. Then suddenly, the noise returned. It seemed to have a little static, but he thought it sounded a lot like a digital signal.
He cleaned up four good samples of the sound. Then, he was almost certain the noise was some kind of digital signal.
He checked the time and figured his father was probably home. He soon found him in the kitchen, fixing a snack.
“Dad, I have something I want you to listen to.”
“Is it a new hit song?”
“No, I have some good samples of that noise from the plant, slowed way down.”
“Okay, I’m game. Let’s have a listen.”
He put his computer down on the kitchen table. Enthusiastically, he said, “Out of a one minute recording with a state of the art digital recorder, that I borrowed from one of my geek friends, I got four good samples of the noise, slowed down ten thousand times.” Henry played the four noise samples for his father; his father looked as if he recognized something.
After listening to the samples, his father said, “It sounds a bit like an old dial-up modem, something before your time, really speeded up. Are you sure you’re not picking up local interference, like from someone’s computer or cell phone?”
“Yes, I made the Faraday chamber over specs, and it’s very well grounded. I checked everything for noise in every frequency I could. I’m really sure it’s coming from the pant, Dad.”
“Well…where do you plan to go from here?”
“For now, record more samples, right after I watch the ball game.”
“All right, just don’t harm any plants. And, let me know who wins. After the game, we can go out to the garage and I’ll let you hear what an old dial-up modem sounds like.”
* * * * *
Three years later….
Birthday parties can be a little different for the only child of a computer engineer. The only ones there about his own age were a few friends and neighbors. Over half of Henry’s friends were older than he is. But, that was not a misfortune.
Many of Henry’s and his dad’s friends were geeks and nerds. His mother was not very technical; so she and many of the others, save Brenda Stevens, Henry’s new friend from school, often talked among themselves while they talked about technical subjects.
“How does it feel to be thirteen, Henry?” asked his Uncle Larry.
“A little different than twelve; I don’t have any complaints, yet.”
His geek friend, Steve said, “You’ve borrowed a lot of equipment over the last few years. I have something for you I think you’ll like.”
He took the heavy box and responded, “Thanks Steve.” With Brenda looking over his shoulder, he tore it open to find a full-featured band-tunable digital recorder. “Wow! Thanks, Steve! I can sure use this.”
Brenda said, “It looks complicated. But, we always seem to figure out almost anything, when we put our heads together.”
His father said, “I have something to go with that,” and handed him a small package.
Curiously, he opened it to find a software bundle, including an advanced signal processor, and language / code analysis software.
“Gee, thanks! Where did you find these, Dad?”
“I have connections. How have you been doing in your electronics class?”
“I have been doing fine. Brenda can confirm that,” he said smiling.
Brenda smiled and glanced at Henry. “Yes, I think he’s doing okay. I have trouble keeping up with him sometimes, as he does with me. He seems to be the perfect study partner.”
Henry asked Brenda, “Are you calling me perfect?”
“Well, as a study partner, I am, others seem to want me to do their homework. We can work together. You also like monster movies. And, smart girls don’t seem to scare you.”
His friend Mike remarked, “It looks like you may have found more than a study partner. And by the sound of the experiments I hear you’re doing, I think you might become a botanist.”
“Maybe, or something to do with plants, I don’t like being indoors a lot. And, well, I like Brenda.”
“I think he’ll be good at whatever he does,” remarked Brenda with a little smile.
Henry quickly glanced at her; he didn’t think she noticed.
She looked back at Henry. “Are you ready to go over your recorder’s user’s manual?”
* * * * *
That evening, he was back in the workshop setting up his plant and Faraday chamber experiment, with his new recorder.
He replaced the amplifier in the box with one that can pick up almost any frequency about a month earlier. After making a number of short recordings, he found the noise on six of them. He played one of them back at the one-hundred-thousandth normal speed; but it was still much too fast to tell what it was for sure. He tried time and again, listening to the sound slower each time, until he had slowed it down to one-ten-billionth its normal speed.
He then knew for certain that it was a digital signal of some kind. When he analyzed it with his computer, he discovered it was in a very unusual format. After a little more analysis, he printed it out.
He soon found his father in the living room, reading in his new overstuffed recliner. His mother was doing some paperwork at the oak desk.
“Dad, you’ve got to see this!”
“What, did Brenda send you her picture?” His mother looked up with a smirk.
He blushed and said, “No, I already have one. It’s my analysis of the plant noise; it’s a base-three digital signal at a really high speed. My problem now, is my language software only works with binary signals.”
His father looked at the printout, and said, “If this is correct, how are you going to process the signal?”
“I’ll find a way, Dad,” he said with that gleam in his eyes.
He looked back at Henry, and said, “That wouldn’t surprise me. However, first, let’s see if we can find this code on-line.”
* * * * *
Electronics class concluded for the day. The subject was basic troubleshooting.
Henry met up with Brenda after class, as usual. He smiled and enthusiastically told her, “Brenda, I was able to analyze the plant noise using my new recorder, and discovered that it’s a high speed digital signal, in base-three!”
She looked questioningly at him and said, “A plant isn’t going to make a digital signal; and I don’t think anybody uses base-three.”
“A few have used base-three; but, my dad and I couldn’t find that code anywhere.”
“So, what are you going to do with a signal like that?”
“I’m going to decode it.”
“How are you planning to do that?”
“First, we need to build a ternary to binary interface.”
She looked surprised and responded, “We, Henry? And, what is ternary?”
“Sorry, ternary is another word for base-three, like binary for base-two. And, I thought you might like to help,” he said with a little smile.
She looked back at him for a moment, briefly smiled back and said, “Well, maybe, as long as it doesn’t take too much time. We don’t want to get behind in our studies.”
“Once we get all the parts together, it shouldn’t take too long. Some experimental computers used base-three, so the circuits should be out there.”
“You make it sound easy. We’ll still have time just to hang out, won’t we?”
“Oh, sure we will, Brenda.”
* * * * *
Brenda is working at her computer and her mother walks up, and asks, “Why are you looking at a list of electronic parts?”
“I’m helping Henry find parts for something he wants to build.”
“Those are some complicated looking circuit boards. What does he want to build?”
“He has a base-three signal he needs to convert into binary. These are experimental computer parts to build an interface.”
“That doesn’t sound like an easy project. Why are you helping him to build this interface?”
“I kind of like Henry. And, this project seems interesting.”
“I don’t want to interfere too much with your personal life. But, I’ll tell you that I’ve seen Henry before. And, I’m not sure what I think of him.”
“When did you see Henry, Mother?”
“It was three years ago, while you were visiting Aunt Emma.”
“Why are you not sure what to think of him?”
“I would rather not go into that, yet. What kind of relationship do you think you are going to have with him?”
“He’s very shy. So, I don’t know if we will be boyfriend / girlfriend or not. I’ll take it slow and see.”
“I hope he is as smart as you seem to think he is.”
* * * * *
About six weeks later, Henry and Brenda were in the workshop. Brenda seemed a little tired.
Henry said, “See, it wasn’t very hard to put the interface together.”
“Yeah, it wasn’t too hard to put it together; but, it felt like ‘Mission Impossible’ to find the parts. Some of the responses we got, made it sound like we’re mad scientists or something.”
“People can be funny like that. But, the only thing that’s important is we succeeded. I really appreciate all your help.”
She smiled and said, “You’re welcome; it was kind of fun. I helped you over this hurdle, but you’re on your own to decode this signal of yours. I’m not good with codes.”
“I have software to help me with that.” Feeling energized, he hooked up the interface. “Now, I can save the recordings in my computer.”
He started the download, and said, “It seems to be working; but, at this speed, it’ll take almost an hour.” Then giving her his full attention, he asked, “Did you bring any homework we can work on?”
“No, I didn’t have much homework today.”
“So, how are things at home?”
She looked back at him with a slight smile, and said, “Well, you know my mother is a bit of a worrier. She has started telling me I don’t have broad enough interests. She says I should give more attention to subjects other than science and math. She even suggested I learn to cook.”
* * * * *
A week later, Brenda walked up to Henry in the hallway at school, and wondered why he didn’t seem to notice her. “Hi, you seem lost in thought. What’s on your mind?”
He perked up and said, “Oh, hi, Brenda. It’s my plant noise analysis. After figuring out the signal’s structure, my software says it is in several formats and in several languages; but it hasn’t been able to translate any of them yet. I think I need a lot more data, and a better receiver.”
“Why do you need a better receiver?”
“My reception cuts in and out, but I think I figured out a way to use a bigger plant, a tree.”
“You’d need a really big Faraday chamber for a tree.”
He smiled and said, “That’s true; but I think I know another way to get rid of interference.”
“I’ve got to see that. But, have you forgotten anything?”
A moment later, he grinned and said, “Oh yes, the monster movie at your house. I’ll be there. It sounds like fun, Brenda.”
She looked back at him with a funny smile. “I’m glad you remembered.”
* * * * *
Brenda got up off the floor and took the movie disc out of the player. Henry asked, “Where did you find a movie made that long ago?”
“I know a guy who used to run a video store. He showed me a website where I can order just about anything.”
“That’s the first time I’ve seen a man turn into an insect. It was a little gross, but kinda cool.”
“Yah, I thought of you when I found this movie. I also saw a bunch of movies about a giant lizard like monster that would come out of the ocean and destroy cities. It was called Godzilla.”
Henry got up off the floor and said, “That sounds cool.” He looked around and quietly asked, “Your mother looked in on us more than usual. Do you know why?”
She quietly answered, “My mother and I had a little girl talk before you got here. She just worries a little too much. Henry, what do you think of my new outfit?”
“I think it looks really nice, Brenda. I’ve never seen you wear a skirt that short before.”
“Thanks, I’m glad you like it. But, my mother isn’t so sure she likes it.”
* * * * *
Henry was in the yard behind the workshop. His father walked up to find him building a yoke-like device around the small oak tree.
His father asked, “How did you get the rest of this receiver put together so fast?”
“Brenda and I talked our electronics instructor into making it a class project.”
“You are resourceful. But, I’m still not so sure that this electrostatic / electromagnetic sensor will work. Remember your letdown at the science fair? Its basic concepts seem to be sound. But, I’ll give it one chance in a million to work.”
“I’ll take that chance, Dad.”
His dad was quiet for a moment, and asked, “Why are you doing this experiment?”
“I don’t know…. I just feel I need to do it.”
“You remind me of someone I know very, very well, Henry.”
* * * * *
He was making the final check of his new receiver, when Brenda tapped on the door of the workshop, and said, “Henry, I got your message. So, where’s this new receiver we built?”
He opened the door, and said, “Oh, you look nice.”
“The main part is in the back yard. I’m just finishing checking it here at its control panel. Come with me, I’ll show it to you.”
They walked around to the back of the workshop and into the back yard. The oak tree was in the middle of the back yard. After winding through the colorful, fragrant rosebushes, they got a clear look at the tree. Around the base of the trunk was a wide band, connected to the workshop by some cables, through a box on the ground. Attached to the band around the tree, were more than a dozen small boxes, on the ends of short wooden dowels. A third of the boxes were above the band, a third of them were circling the middle of it, and the other third were below the band.
As they walked up to the tree she said, “I didn’t see the overall sketch. What’re those little boxes on the ends of the short round sticks for?”
“They’re pickups for interference. What they pick up goes to the noise canceling circuits. When correctly adjusted, they take the place of a Faraday chamber. Those adjustments took me most of a day, using a small spark-gap transmitter as a source of test noise.”
“How does the receiver work? You haven’t said much about that either, except for its long name. You’ve said so little about this receiver; we just barely talked the instructor into having the class help build it.”
“It uses strong electric and magnetic fields to detect impulses in the tree. What is left after the noise-canceling circuits will be my signal, I hope.”
She paused for a moment and said, “Well, I’ll have to wait and see how it works.”
Almost smiling, he said, “That sounds fair.”
Once they returned to the workshop, he hooked everything up, and began starting up the receiver. Brenda watched him for a moment, and then looked through a small window in the back, with a view of the tree.
When the receiver was ready, he looked at a gauge on the control panel. After a few moments, he said, “There’s something!”
Brenda looked back at him as he made an adjustment on the panel and quickly started the recorder.
Looking a little surprised, she asked, “What was something?”
“I have a gauge that reads receiver output in the frequencies of the signal. I had it turned up too high. I turned it down, and just recorded a little over a second of the signal. Now, I’ll play it back, slowed down.”
He played back the recording, and said, “It sounds like the same signal I was picking up before. I’ll download it to my computer, and see.” He started to hook up his computer. She looked out the window again, and looked back at Henry a short time later.
Henry was looking very intensely at his computer screen. In a slightly hopeful voice, she asked him, “What does your computer say?”
After a few moments, he responded, “That’s the signal, loud and clear.”
Again, seeming a little surprised, she said, “So, what are you going to do now?”
Enthusiastically he said, “I’m going to record a large sample of the signal onto an external drive. I’ll then continue to decode it.”
“I wish you luck, Henry.”
“I brought my algebra homework today.”
“Good, I have my English homework. I’ll start making the new recording, and we can get started on them. Oh, there’s something I’ve been wondering about. Your mother is asking to look over our science homework more often. Do you know why?”
“I’m not sure. But, she is a science teacher. Also, she says she knows you, but doesn’t want to explain how. All she told me, is it was while I was visiting my aunt three years ago.”
He spent almost the next week analyzing and sorting all the signals he recorded, that is, when he wasn’t watching movies. Some of it seemed to be images. Being less interested in that kind of information, at that time, and not having software to process unknown image formats, he passed them over to decode the language information.
There were a handful of unknown languages in the signals, so he decided to focus on the predominant one. His computer ran day and night for four days, before it began to produce any understandable results.
When it seemed to have reached its word limit for that language, one of the clearest messages read, “We choose the second (unknown word). It is more (unknown word). When will you be (unknown word)? We need to exchange our (unknown word) soon.”
He seemed to have a somewhat workable vocabulary for the language, but none of the messages made much sense. He then succumbed to an obvious conclusion.
* * * * *
Henry began to smile when he found Brenda in the school lunchroom. “Here you are, Brenda. How’s school today?”
She smiled back, and said, “It’s okay, but my English teacher seemed a little grumpy.”
“Maybe, she’s having trouble moving her vowels.”
She laughed, and said, “That’s funny, Henry.”
“I have some grapes. Would you like some?”
“Sure, thanks.” Her smile then faded. “You don’t tell many jokes. Are you trying to butter me up for something?”
“Am I that easy to see through?”
“Yes, sometimes. What’s going on?”
“Well, first I’ll give you the good news. My computer has started to translate the plant signals.”
With a big grin she said, “Great! Do you know where they’re coming from?”
“No, not yet, I do know that there weren’t any languages in the signals previously known to my software.”
“What are the messages about?”
“That’s where the bad news comes in. My computer could translate less than eighty percent of the words; and, the messages aren’t making much sense.”
“Oh, what are you going to do now?”
“I think my best choice is to try to have a conversation with one of the senders. Back in electronics class, I had an idea about how I might be able to do that. One of the things we need to do to have a conversation, is to build the outgoing side of the interface.”
Looking less pleased, she responded, “You said ‘WE’ again. That’s a tall order. You might answer a question before we talk about this any more. Do you have any idea how your plants can pick up these signals?”
He looked at her for a few seconds, and said, “This started as a follow up to an old experiment I read about. In the old experiment, they discovered that plants seem to be able to communicate, but they didn’t know how. They also discovered that plants react to what we think about them. I was starting to look deeper into that old experiment, when I discovered these signals. I don’t know how the plants are doing this; and I don’t know where the signals are coming from. But, the best guess anyone has come up with, is that it’s something like ESP., and it seems that someone has figured out a way to communicate the same way as the plants.”
She smiled again and said, “Now, that I find interesting. I’d like to read that old experiment.”
“Okay, I have a printout of it at home.”
* * * * *
Henry was sitting in front of the computer in the den with his dad, discussing his idea. “Dad, I know this experimental transmitter will draw even more power, but I don’t figure I’ll be transmitting very much. And, it will be well shielded; so it won’t mess with TVs and radios.”
“You have a point, but you were very lucky that the receiver worked. Even though the idea you have for this transmitter uses the same principals, it is even more off beat than the receiver. I’m afraid that you’re building yourself up for a big letdown. I’m remembering some of my experiments. The chances are very slim that whatever is happening when you are receiving these signals, will work in reverse, at least not with a plant.”
“I don’t know if it will work either, Dad. But, I’ll take another look at those pages about ions inside of cells.”
“We should probably do that. But, how did you come up with these ideas?”
“I was researching plant cells, and the idea for the receiver was just suddenly there in my head. The idea for the transmitter occurred to me in electronics class about the same way.”
* * * * *
In the workshop, Brenda quietly asked, “What does your dad think of this project of yours?”
“He has helped me with a lot of the research, and some of the assembly. But, he has always had doubts, each step of the way. He gave the large receiver one chance in a million to work. He doesn’t seem sure what to say about the transmitter part, except that it is even more off beat.”
She paused, looked him in the eye and said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I didn’t think your receiver would work either. What did you think?”
“Even though I know my dad is very smart, I gave it about one chance in three. What chances do you give this outgoing side of the interface to work?”
With a little smile, she answered, “A lot better than a tree working as a transmitter.”
With raised eyebrows, he responded, “Ha ha. Well, I think it has its best chance to work around the middle of a warm sunny day. The tree will have the most energy then. If the yoke idea doesn’t work, I could try putting a light at the top of the tree and send my signal through it.”
“You may think too much.”
“That could be, but let’s finish testing the interface. We went through a lot of trouble, having people think we’re mad scientists, getting the parts.”
She chuckled and said, “You said a mouthful. Oh, my mother has started to ask more questions.”
“She has asked you questions about what you’re doing before. You said she knows me. Sometimes, it seems she doesn’t trust me.”
“I think that’s because we’re thirteen.”
He blushed, and responded, “Oh yea, I see what you mean…. That must be why your mother doesn’t like your short skirts.”
“Yes, that is why. I wear those skirts for you, Henry.”
“Oh, I think they are nice. Did I see one of the boys in your Algebra class talking to you today?”
“Yes, he offered me ten dollars to do his homework. I said no. Does anyone ever offer to pay you to do their homework?”
“Sometimes, but I don’t do it either. And, I don’t talk to many girls. I’m not sure what to say.”
“I didn’t think you talked to many girls. That’s okay.”
When they finished the testing, he looked at Brenda, paused and said, “It seems to be working. Now, I guess I’ll make some final checks of the transmitter.”
She started to look like she was bored, and asked, “What are all those changes you made, when you made it a transmitter?”
“The round box around the yoke is shielding, so that when I transmit, it doesn’t send radio waves across about half the state. The new box has the transmitter circuits in it.”
“How does it transmit?”
“All living cells, plants and animals, have charged particles inside of them. The transmitter vibrates these particles. The opposite way is how I think the receiver works.”
She began to look concerned, and asked, “How do you think the tree will handle having its particles vibrated by your transmitter?”
“I don’t know yet; but it’s a big tree.”
“You’ve made a big transmitter, Henry. How’s it checking out?”
“It seems to be working just fine.” He pauses again, and his face became a little flushed. “You know, you’ve been a lot of help. I don’t think I would’ve gotten this far without you. I feel you deserve something more than just a thank you.”
She looked at him quizzically and said, “I’m not sure what to suggest, but, you’re welcome.” She looked up at the “Mothman” poster on the wall. He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She turned back looking surprised, but then she smiled.
A few seconds later, there was a knock at the workshop’s door. Henry opened the door to find his dad and Brenda’s mother in the doorway.
Henry’s dad said, “Brenda’s mother came by to talk about this project. I told her that you don’t seem to be doing any harm, and you seem to be behaving yourselves; but I do agree that it seems a little irregular. We have talked about this before. So, we came out here to have a chat about what you have been doing.” Brenda appeared a little shocked.
Henry was a little flustered; but he composed himself and said, “Mrs. Stevens, Dad, this experiment started as a follow-up to an old experiment, where they discovered that plants somehow communicate with each other, and people, to a point. In my experiment, I discovered a signal from a plant that a plant can’t make, and I’ve been investigating it for over three years. It began to become ‘irregular’ when I discovered that it’s a high-speed digital signal in a very unusual format, base-three.”
He started looking very focused. “The first set of ‘irregular’ parts was to build a converter to convert the signal from the plant into a format that my computer can process. Then, after recording enough signals from a better receiver, my software could do only a partial translation of one of the unknown languages in the signals. So, I decided to try a two-way conversation, hoping that a sender and I might be able to understand each other.
“I’ve turned my receiver into a transceiver¾like a two-way radio. That job took more ‘irregular’ parts to convert the information from my computer into the format of the signals from the plants.”
Mrs. Stevens asked, “How can plants communicate? I haven’t read that old experiment.”
“The old experiment seemed to show that they (plants) have something like ESP., and it seems someone has figured out a way to send signals the same way.”
“That sounds really out there. Do you have any idea where these signals are coming from, young man?”
“No, ma’am, my partial translation isn’t clear enough to identify any of the senders.”
“If you can contact them, how do you know they’ll answer you? You may have stumbled upon a secret government project.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if my transmitter will work, either. All I can do is try. I’m ready to make my first attempt, now.”
Mrs. Stevens turned to Henry’s father, and asked, “What do you think, Mr. Davis?”
“With some help from Brenda, and me, he has defied the odds more than once during this experiment. He hasn’t hurt anything so far. If his transmitter works and it’s a government project, they’ll probably just ignore him, unless he is persistent.”
“Okay, I would like to see if this far out experiment works, as long as he doesn’t make too many attempts.”
Henry sifted through a stack of paper and began looking at a printout.
Brenda asked, “What are you doing now?”
“I’m checking to see which signature appears the most in the messages.”
After a few moments, he marked one of the signatures and turned to his computer. He typed in the signature “Omow113.” For his signature, he typed “Henry000.”
“Now, what should I say?”
Brenda said, “How about, ‘Hi there.’”
He smiled a little and said, “I don’t think that would translate well. I have an idea.” He typed, “Greetings, response requested.” He readied his transmitter, clicked ‘Send,’ and switched back to receive. “The message has been sent. Now, I’ll see if my small plant picked up my signal.”
He checked the recorder connected to his plant in the Faraday chamber. “It picked up a strong signal at the time I sent my message.”
His dad asked, “How will you pick up incoming signals with your recorder connected to your old receiver?”
“We put in a couple of memory cards…. Wait, something just came in addressed to my signature.”
The translation screen said:
“Sender: Omow113, Addressed to: Henry000:
‘This is not a valid sender name. Sender, please identify yourself and state planet of origin.’”
“State planet of origin!” Henry shouted.
The four of them looked bewildered as they read the message on Henry’s computer screen. Mrs. Stevens said, “This has got to be some kind of joke or something, right, Mr. Davis?” Henry’s father was staring at the computer screen. “Mr. Davis?”
He then answered, “Chances are the message isn’t from another planet.”
“What do you mean, ‘chances are?’”
“This is not an understood means of communication; so, almost anything is possible, I guess.”
“I hope you’re not encouraging him to believe he’s contacted another planet.”
“No, I’m just saying that it may be possible, but very unlikely that he has contacted another planet.”
Henry had heard enough of that conversation, and started typing a reply. After using auto word choice of the words that his software could translate, his message read, “You asked an unexpected question. We call this planet ‘Earth.’ We have not made contact with any other planet, nor do we have any proof that there is anyone living on any other planet. I am a young person who discovered signals received by plants. I am trying to discover where these signals are coming from. None of us in this room are sure if we can believe what we see in your message.”
He then asked everyone, “Does this reply look okay?”
No one voiced any opinion. He then transmitted the message.
Looking concerned, Brenda asked, “Henry, if you get an answer, how will you know if it’s the truth?”
He thought for a moment, and said, “I read somewhere, or maybe it was in a movie, that in such a situation the best we can do is put aside what we want or expect to hear, and listen to our gut.”
Mrs. Stevens said, “I don’t think I would believe anyone who asks you to state your planet of origin.”
Mr. Davis asked, “What is the activity on your screen, Henry?”
“It’s traffic to other signatures. I’ll file them to look at later.”
“What are those untranslatable files?”
“Some are other languages. The others may be images.”
He suddenly stopped filing messages, and announced, “This one is mine, from Omow113.” He displayed the translated message on the screen.
Brenda remarked, “This person must type fast.”
The message read:
“I will attempt only to use words that you will be able to translate.
“Many other worlds have known about ‘Earth’ for a long time. I have often monitored signals from Earth. The reason the people on Earth do not know about anyone on other planets, is in part the state of your technology, and on purpose. We did not expect anyone on your planet to discover this means of communication this soon. If not for the repeater placed on your moon, it is unlikely that this conversation would be possible at this time. We placed the repeater on your moon for the purposes of monitoring and interacting with your planet’s bio-signals.
“It seems that we have under estimated the intelligence of your species. This could be to your advantage in your long-term survival.
“We have chosen not to make any contact with your planet at your current level of development. We have also decided that it is best to allow you to form your own ideas about that, until your culture evolves, or until you develop the technology to find us. Until then, you are being isolated, allowing you to evolve undisturbed.
“Worlds in this universe inhabited by sentient beings are classified into levels. At the primitive level, the average individual is most concerned with how to survive to live another day. They are aware of little about life beyond that. At the next level, their awareness is expanding; however, most individuals are dealing with many issues about their society and themselves. They have not fully made the choice to live or die as a society. This is a hazardous level of development. This is where your world is.
“When, or if, you evolve to the next level, an advanced society, you will be ready to be contacted. At that level, there will be no question that you have chosen life over destruction. You are closer to making that choice than you may think. Most worlds in the local universe that know about your planet, hope that you do evolve to the next level. You are an interesting and dynamic species. But, it is not our practice to interfere with the evolution of developing cultures.
“It would be preferable if you do not make how you contacted another world public, until it becomes clear that your society is ready to understand what I have told you. Then, we might engage in a limited, long distance dialogue.
“I have one more request. If you are using a large plant as a part of your transmitter, I wish to suggest that you do not do this very much. A plant may not survive that. Study the cell walls.”
Everyone in the room was speechless after reading the message, until Brenda deliberately said, “That is an interesting reply. Maybe, you did contact another planet!”
Mrs. Stevens said, “That’s nothing like what I expected; but, I wouldn’t believe a word of it. What about you, Mr. Davis?”
Henry’s father was standing there with his mouth open. Then he said, “Well, it does sound logical, like it could have come from another planet. Beyond that, I don’t know. It still seems highly unlikely. It’s probably a hoax; but I’ll keep an open mind.”
Henry stated, “I don’t know what to think yet. I’m more amazed that the transmitter worked, than I may have contacted space aliens. For now, I want to study these signals more.”
Mrs. Stevens interjected, “I never told Brenda this, because I thought it might color what she thought about you, Henry. But, I was on the judging panel at the science fair, three years ago. I remember your exhibit, that’s how I know you. The only reason we didn’t award you a ribbon, was that I didn’t feel that it was good science. It was a very good attempt, but it seemed more like a show than an experiment; and I felt that you’re able to do a lot better.
“I may not be ready to accept the idea that you’ve managed to contact intelligent life on another planet; I’m one of those skeptics about there being life on other planets. But, you’ve conducted this experiment very logically. Maybe, you should enter the fair again, with a different experiment. You might walk away with the top prize.”
Brenda leaned over and whispered in his ear, “See, my mother isn’t so bad.” As he gave her a funny look, she smiled and said, “Too bad we can’t see those image-files.”