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Mar 17, 2012

Pull the Plug


In my last blog post I described some ideas for a television series that would continue the story of Eleanor Arroway from the end of the movie Contact.

In the movie there is a scene where Ellie no longer has funding from the NSF to support her SETI work in Puerto Rico. The NSF director "pulls the plug" on her project, calling it a sure path to professional suicide for Ellie.


At the end of the movie we last see Ellie at the VLA continuing her SETI work, once again with government support, but I imagine that the first episode of the Contact television series will be called "Pull the Plug" and will put an end to her attempts to make further radio contact with alien civilizations. (of course, there can be other ways to achieve communication besides the types of primitive technological tools available to Earthly primates in the year 2000)

I'm picturing a funny scene that would contine right where the movie ended. Ellie falls asleep under the stars and dreams of S. R. Hadden. The dream is guided by the nanites in her brain.

Backstory: Hadden was actually another host for nanites (as Ellie now is). He lived a very long life on Earth (many hundreds of years) and was a tool by which Interventionists provided technological advances to Earth. When Hadden gave the secret of the "primer" to Ellie, the Observers realized that he was a tool of Interventionists and they extracted the nanites from his body. For centuries the nanites had been repairing Hadden's body. Without the nanites he soon dies (on the Mir space station, as shown in the movie). Through their long integration in Hadden's brain, the extracted nanites (or other collections of nanites that have been in communication with the nanites inside Hadden's brain) are able to carry a fairly good "copy" of Hadden's mind and those "Hadden nanites" continue to function within the Genesaunt civilization that exists at a collection of space stations in outer space and extends outward to many nearby star systems.

Using the nanites that are now in Ellie's brain as a receiver, the "Hadden nanites" make contact with Ellie and warn her that she is in danger of sharing Hadden's fate. He tells her that continuing to work with radio telescopes is a waste of time and that only primitives like Earthlings try to use radio waves for interstellar communication.

Dr. Zelter.
Ellie experiences the contact with "Hadden" in much the same way that she had the experience of meeting her dead father in the movie. When she wakes up from her "dream of Hadden", Ellie goes to see her doctor (Karen Zelter). She is undergoing long-term treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder and has been having frequent "flashbacks" of her "trip to the center of the galaxy". This most recent dream-like "contact" with Hadden is something new, quite different from the previous flashbacks. Ellie suggests that more tests need to be done to find out if there was damage to her brain when she was inside the Machine. Dr. Zelter agrees to look into new fMRI techniques for checking on the health of Ellie's brain.

Ellie abandons her research team the VLA and tries to find a way to make new contact with aliens. She tells Palmer that she is returning to Japan in order to try to understand exactly what happened to her when she was inside the Machine. Palmer joins Ellie in Japan and they set up a new test run of the machine that is designed to explore Ellie's claim that the super strong material of the transport pod can become translucent when the machine is powered up. They look at the video recording she made when she was previously in the machine, but each time she tried to point the camera at the translucent walls of the pod, only static was recorded.

Palmer Joss
During the new test of the Machine, Palmer joins Ellie inside the pod, but they do not see the translucent effect that Ellie remembers having seen previously. Ellie realizes that the "signal from Vega" is no longer being received, and that gives her the idea that when the alien signal was being transmitted the Machine and the transport pod behaved differently; in particular, the powered Machine no longer generates an antigravity effect. Ellie and Plamer start to think of the Machine as being a receiver for alien signals.

Ellie remembers part of the instructions for the Machine that nobody had been able to understand. She assumes that those instructions concerned communications equipment that was built into the transport pod.

Palmer tells Ellie about a secret project inside Area 51 that aims to develop new applications for the Machine's technology. After getting the required security clearance for Ellie, Palmer and Ellie visit Area 51. They see a modified space shuttle (named Inspiration) that has been equipped with a small version of the Machine's rotating ring system which functions as an energy source to power the shuttle's engines. The new engines are called "FL engines", meaning "free lunch engines". The rotating ring system can be powered by a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell and produces antimatter that can then be reacted with a small amount of hydrogen to produce vast amounts of energy for heating some hydrogen and generating engine thrust. Nobody understands how the antimatter is produced so efficiently by the rotating rings, but by making use of the ring system, the fuel supply of Inspiration is expected to allow for a one month round trip journey to Mars.

Area 51.
Another research project at Area 51 is centered on the enigmatic Machine instructions that Ellie suspects might describe how to make advanced communications equipment. The Area 51 team that has been working on this project is unable to make any progress. What Ellie suspects is communications circuitry seems to do absolutely nothing. Ellie is again contacted by the "Hadden nanites" and she is given a hint about the importance of gravity. She realizes that when the Machine was running and producing an artificial gravity field, the suspected communications circuitry in the transport pod was no longer being exposed to normal Earth gravity.

Inspiration
Ellie argues that the mysterious circuitry should be installed in the Inspiration shuttle and tested in outer space under microgravity conditions. The President asks Palmer to go along with Ellie on the shuttle flight. The Inspiration is flown to the Vandenberg AFB Shuttle Launch facility and then the crew, including Ellie and Palmer, is launched into space.

The captain of the Inspiration takes the shuttle on a quick trip around the Moon. In microgravity and powered by electricity from the fuel cells, the mysterious communications system activates and starts detecting a blizzard of messages (mostly reflecting information being collect by Observers on Earth and sent to the Observer Base on the Moon). The messages are all coded, but the communications equipment can pinpoint the origins of the mysterious signals (not electromagnetic waves). Ellie and Palmer come to the conclusion that aliens are much closer to home than Vega.

"Hadden" again contacts Ellie and explains to her how she can use the new communications system to contact him so that he no longer needs to make use of the nanites in her head. For the first time she becomes aware of the fact that she has "alien" nanites in her brain. Ellie tells Palmer about the nanites, but suddenly she seems to have a seizure and loses consciousness. Episode 1 of the Contact television series ends with the Inspiration returning to Earth and Palmer making plans to remove the nanites from Ellie's brain.

Episode 2: Good to Go

Images. Top; Ellie Arroway searching for little green men...and all she got was Matthew McConaughey. The 4th image is "Thirteen" from "House". It would be fun to have Olivia Wilde as Dr. Zelter in the Contact television series.

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

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