Mary, Ivan, Shani, Thalia and Kelsy gathered around the table, to look. Shani gently touched one of the small pieces, and shook her head. “They are far too delicate to be manipulated. Just touching that one as lightly as I did, I could feel how it would disintegrate with even the least pressure. How can you possibly work with them?”
Richard shook his head. “I’m great at figuring out linguistic puzzles, but this has me baffled. Can any of you write a program that will let me play with the shapes on the computer?”
“I can,” Mary said, “but there are shapes under shapes there. I would have to write a program that could ‘see’ those other shapes. How soon do you need to report to Prof. Timmons?”
“He gave me a month, but said he didn’t expect me to have it completely solved that fast.”
“Fine, then. Give me a couple of weeks, and I should have what you want. But I’ll have to work here so I can get pictures of the pieces. I’m afraid if the box is moved too often it could get jarred and we’d lose some, if not all the pieces.”
“Oh, great, Mary, you are a life saver.” Richard gave her a hug. “Make yourself at home here, there is plenty of room, and I can get busy on something else. I’ll tell Prof. Timmons after class this afternoon what we’re doing. He’ll be happy just to know something will be done. He is trying to reconstruct the alien spaceship from whatever debris has been collected. This is from the spacevac. The xenobios are working on the organics.”
Two weeks later, Richard and Mary were hard at work. Mary’s program was working even better than they had hoped, and she was moving images of several brown objects around, trying to fit them together. Richard, meantime, was bending over the box, gently spraying pieces with a fine spray from an atomizer.
“This fixative I made is working great, Mary,” he said. He set the atomizer down and picked up an oddly shaped tool. It was a combination spatula and tweezers. Carefully, he slid one side under a brown piece and gently lifted it out of the box. He placed it on a large microscope slide and placed another piece of glass over it.
“See there?” he exclaimed, “I moved that with absolutely no damage!”
“Wonderful, Richard, soon you’ll have the top layer out, and I can see the next layer. Too bad we can’t just use the pieces as they are, but even with your fixative, they are still too delicate. Actually, this is going a lot faster than I expected. Look at this!” She turned to him, grinning. On the screen the shapes she had been working with were neatly fitted together. Tapping a key the image became three dimensional.
Richard looked at it. “If it wasn’t so small, I’d say that looks like part of an engine cone. Do you think it’s possible that the aliens were very small? Or maybe the organics are from plants or small – well, very tiny animals?”
“I don’t know, Richard. It’s possible, I guess. At this point, anything is possible. Have you heard anything from the xenobios?”
“Nothing yet. Ivan and Shani have been so busy I don’t think they even come up for air!” Richard chuckled. “I saw Thalia yesterday, and she is getting frustrated. So far all she’s had to work with are some very tiny bits of a purplish red stuff that she said reminds her of moss. Guess we’ll have to wait a while yet. Prof Timmons is tearing out what hair he has left in frustration. Maybe we’ll be the first to come up with something. Here, see what you can do with these.” He handed her three slides, each containing another brown shape.
“Thanks – hmmm….I think I see where these will fit. Just let me…” she slipped the slide into the electronic microscope, pressed a few keys, and the new shapes appeared on the screen. For a few silent minutes she manipulated them then shouted “Richard! Look! They fit – and it is an engine cone!”
Richard looked up from the box and stared. Mary was right. With a loud ‘whoop’ he lifted her out of her chair and danced around the table with her. “We have a start!” he shouted. “But where did it come from?”
Mary slapped at his chest, laughing. “Put me down, you great oaf!” Laughing, he did, and they stared at one another for a second. “One of these days, soon I hope, we’ll know. Meanwhile, all we can do it put pieces of the puzzle together.” Then she hugged him.