Hienz typed quietly in his journal, hunched over his computer.
“If I am honest with myself I do not know what I am doing here. Why spend so much of my adult life studying, chemistry, geology, even astro-physics only to sit in this cramped little room and watch a big black shape on a little screen? We have some of the best minds in Europe sitting here watching a rock fly through space. 10 years work and $500 million dollars and what do we have to show for it? Hundreds of hour of grainy video of Comet 67P and one little sound byte from poor little Philea and that was just the noise of the comet expelling some gas!”
He chuckled a bit at that and hit play on the file he was playing with. Now sped up 15 times it sounded much more musical. A low thrum which at time died to a faint pounding and other times seemed to swell into a loud buzzing. The first piece of the recent mission to attract any real media attention – cosmic flatulence.
There was a flash of movement on one of the big monitors at the front of the room and suddenly everyone was buzzing with excitement.
“Rosetta camera 4, could we get a replay of that?” said Peter, the current mission commander.
Heinz played with the feed, rewinding it back and replaying the sequence at a quarter of the speed. His efforts were mirror on the display at the front and as the team quieted as they watched the shape shaken from the side of the comet and fly out, away from the sun. “It must be nearly 40 meters!” said someone, excitedly.
“Heinz, can you send that clip back to Lars and Saskia?” said Peter. “It would be get their read on the size. Also Saskia,” turning and smiling to a blond woman beside him “do you have a moment to put together a short media piece on this?”
“Sure! You want a photo and one of those little science notes?”
“That would be wunderbar. Maybe just the size and how as the comet warms over the next few days we can expect more of these events.” said Peter.
Saskia bobbed out of the room past Heinz. He looked up and was momentarily lost in her hair waving back and forth over her back. Compared to the coffee stained men hunched over their little screens she was a ray of sunshine in that dark room. A smile broke out across his face, and his mind wandered from the uncharted regions of space to the clearly defined shapes bouncing along in front of him.
Peter interrupted his musings. “A good news everyone! Tech has just confirmed that they are back in contact with Philea!”
A small “Whoop!” went round the room at that.
“We’ll have an update at the meeting tonight, but hope is to restart the lander over the next few…” Peter trailed off, losing his words and as Heinz swung round he saw why.
On the monitor he had left playing huge chunks of the comet were breaking away, not little pieces, if the 40m piece a moment ago cold be considered little, but craggy slabs half the length of the comet. They spun as they peeled away from the sides revealing thin faces to the camera, showing themselves to be wide thin pieces like plates or sheets.
“Like a egg.” said Heinz into the quiet of the room.
And whether it was his comment or simply the light filtering in through the cracks in the rock they all saw it for the first time. There was something moving within the comet. Something punching it’s way through the thin surface of the comet, tearing itself free. Someone gasped, someone else let out a little scream.
Then just as suddenly as it had started the video screen went black.
It wasn’t until much later that night, once the yelling and swearing had quieted, the damage to the lander had been assessed, and the first of many media releases had been sent that anyone remembered about little Philea, the lander perched on what they had thought was a comet. She was still in range and, although the signal was faint from the distance she had been thrown, they were able to begin downloading some of her instrument data.
Heinz found the file he was looking for and wound it forward to what was now being called “Time of First Contact” 01:04 – 13/08/2015. The video was still up on the main screen and as it came around in the now familiar loop he hit play.
And so Heinz was the first human to hear, through a barrage of static and shredding shell, the odd, stuttering roar of a space animal.