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Mar 18, 2012

Good to Go

In my last blog post I suggested a way to start a fan fiction sequel to Carl Sagan's science fiction story, Contact. In the first episode (Pull the Plug), Ellie learns that she has "alien" devices (nanorobotic probes) inside her brain.

In the Exodemic Fictional Universe I usually depict the use of nanites as a kind of emergency strategy for erasing memories from Earthlings who have seen too much (often by interacting with Observers). However, it might also be the case that the Observers and even the Interventionists would more routinely maintain collections of nanite probes inside the brains of key people on Earth (such as S. R. Hadden).

Question
If Observers were routinely using nanoscopic devices to monitor and control the behavior of Earthlings, have we now reached a level of technological advancement that is needed to stumble upon -and recognize- those nanites? My guess is that the answer is "no", but what if someone like Dr. Arroway was tipped off? Could we Earthlings devise a way to show that there are hidden nanites inside some human brains?

That is the key challenge facing Ellie in the second episode of the Contact television series. She wakes up in David Grant USAF Medical Center, having collapsed while on her first space flight. Her personal physician, Dr. Zelter has already performed a high resolution scan of Ellie's brain, but nothing unusual was found.

Ellie has a new "vision" of Hadden. Ellie awakens with a hunch (apparently inserted into her brain by Hadden again sending signals to the nanites in her brain) that the nanites use a type of atomic scale magnetic memory. Ellie now dismisses the brain scanning methods used by Dr. Zelter as "too primitive" and Ellie now also has a deep distrust of Zelter. Ellie tells Palmer that she has a plan for how to remove the alien nanoscopic probes that are inside her brain. They devise a plan for how to leave the hospital, go to Area 51 and remove the nanites from her body, or at least inactivate them. They return to Area 51 where there is a large underground set of rotating rings such as those in the Machine.

The Star Trek solution: handy antimatter containment bottle.
The Area 51 "ring facility" is about to go online and start producing large amounts of antimatter that will then be used to produce energy, but the engineers are trying to devise a magnetic confinement system that will allow storage of antimatter. Ellie and Palmer plan to use the high strength magnetic field of the antimatter containment system to inactivate the nanites that are inside Ellie, but first they test the antimatter containment equipment on the video recorder that Ellie used inside the Machine.

About this time, Ellie wakes up from a bad dream in which she was talking to the President. In the dream, the President agrees that Ellie has earned the right to participate in all attempts to contact aliens. She thanks the President then watches in horror while he decays into a statue-like collection of dust that then crumbles into a heap on the floor. Tiny bug-like machines scurry away, leaving nothing but the President's clothing in a heap on the floor. Upon waking from the dream, Ellie is very upset and she has trouble knowing where the boundary is between her real memories and her dream visions. Palmer tries to calm her down, but Ellie demands to know how well Palmer knows the President. Unable to satisfy her paranoid demands for information, Palmer later calls Dr. Zelter and tells her that Ellie is continuing to have flashbacks and is displaying paranoid behavior.


After exposing the video camera to the high strength magnetic field, they take it to the Area 51 electron microscopy facility. The microscopy technician dips the camera in a cleaning solution bath then images the residue that is washed out of the camera. They find some strange globular objects. Upon switching the microscope to its highest magnification they can begin to see that the globules are composed of an intricate three dimensional structure, a kind of complex atomic circuitry at the low nanometer scale. Palmer is worried about possibly damaging Ellie's brain if they try to inactivate the nanites that are in her body, but Ellie insists that the nanites in her brain be inactivated.

After looking into past research on the biological effects of powerful magnetic fields, Palmer strongly objects to the idea of exposing Ellie to the same strength magnetic field as was used on the video recording device. After a heated argument, Ellie agrees to wait until an experiment is performed on a lab rat.

The rat is put into to the magnetic confinement system and it dies 12 hours after being exposed to the powerful magnetic field. It is not clear what killed the rat.

Also around this time, Palmer is in communication with the White House. The President asks Palmer to find out if Ellie wants to go to Mars. [Not explained at this point, but the trip to Mars is the public cover story for a planned expedition to what deep space radar indicates is a large asteroid at the position that radio triangulation has identified as the origin of the "message from Vega".] Palmer explains that Ellie is trying to get treatment for her PTDS and that a long space flight might not be a good idea.

Ellie asks the Area 51 security chief, Director (Theodor) Schwartz about Dr. Zelter's background. He tells Ellie that he was amazed to find that Karen was born in 1953, but "she looks like she's only 25". Ellie suggests to Schwartz that large numbers of people might be infected by alien nanites. Schwartz recognizes that nanites might be a serious security risk so he agrees to help Ellie expose herself to the high magnetic field that is generated by the antimatter containment system. Palmer has been keeping an eye on Ellie and he catches her in the act of trying to free herself from the nanites.
Dr. Zelter, having previously been contacted by Palmer and learning from surveillance of the White House where Palmer is, has arrived at Area 51. Palmer calls for medical help to be sent to the magnetic confinement facility. Zelter and Palmer arrive just in time to see Ellie inside the magnetic field generator of the antimatter confinement system and hear Ellie telling Schwartz that she is, "good to go." When the magnetic field starts to increase some nanites invade Schwartz and Palmer. At the controls of the antimatter containment system, Schwartz never raised the magnetic field strength above 0.1 of what was used previously to inactivate the nanites. Ellie falls unconscious. Schwartz robotically reports the level of magnetic field strength that Ellie was exposed to. Palmer, also speaking robotically, tells Dr. Zelter that Ellie has "found nanites in the video recorder". Dr. Zelter tells Schwartz and Palmer to forget everything that they know about nanites. Schwartz and Palmer collapse and then Dr. Zelter, demonstrating superhuman strength, picks up Ellie and carries her back to the guest quarters where she has been staying.

The next day, Ellie wakes up. Dr. Zelter is there sitting at her bedside while Schwartz and Palmer are standing to the side like zombies. Dr. Zelter tells Ellie that she has been suffering from "space sickness", but she just needs some rest. Dr. Zelter tells Ellie that she must return to her practice in New Mexico. Zelter and Schwartz leave the room.

Ellie looks at Palmer and has a brief flashback of the dead rat and the electron microscope images of the nanites. Confused, she asks Palmer, "What about the rat?"

Palmer looks puzzled and says, "Sorry, I followed you to the lab." He has a flashback of Dr. Zelter giving Palmer and Schwartz an order at the antimatter confinement facility, but he only sees her and can't hear what the order was. Palmer jokingly asks Ellie if her flashbacks might be contagious.

Ellie remembers Hadden and she tell Palmer that they have to get back into space aboard the Inspiration. He asks why, but Ellie does not want to say anything more. She asks Palmer to keep having faith in her.

Backstory (spoiler alert).
Dr. Zelter is an Overseer who is tasked with keeping an eye on Ellie. Viewers of the Contact series will not be explicitly told that Karen is a Genesaunt.

After the first two episodes, the viewers have a vague idea that there are "aliens" within the solar system, but the struggle between the Overseers (such as Zelter) and the Interventionists (such as Hadden) will not start to come into view until Episode #3.

In the Exodemic Fictional Universe I typically do not have Overseers introducing nanites into Earthlings, but for Contact I'm imagining that a strategic decision has been made by the Overseers: something had to be done in order to save we Earthlings from ourselves. This is Ellie's #1 question for aliens when she is being interviewed as a candidate for the Machine seat: "How did you survive your technological adolescence?" The Interventionists are continually stimulating the pace of technological developments on Earth and the Overseers are constantly trying to follow along behind and prevent the bumbling Earthlings from doing too much damage to themselves and the planet.

Images. Top; imagine nanoscopic devices that can enter the brain and influence thoughts and memories. Bottom; another image of "Thirteen" from "House". It would be fun to have Olivia Wilde in the role of Dr. Zelter for the Contact television series.

Contact Episode 1: Pull the Plug
Contact Episode 2: Good to Go
Contact Episode 3: Voice from the Sky
Contact Episode 4: Hail to Vega
Contact Episode 5: Look Closer

Collaborative fiction. If you would like to help write the scripts for some episodes of the Contact television series, let me know!

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