To Make an Interstellar Omelet, Part Epsilon

Justin had promised to think about Alice’s offer, but the next day was Sunday, and on principle, Justin didn’t think on Sunday morning.

Instead, he would usually sit on his black leather recliner in front of his large, flat-screen TV, with a half-drunk cup of coffee on the side table and a half-eaten donut on his lap. He would lean back in the chair and doze as the Sunday morning news droned in the background.

He was spending the Sunday morning after his encounter with Alice in the usual way, though his cat had stolen his half-eaten donut, when the voice of a news anchor wormed its way into his subconscious. Something about the words triggered alarm bells in his head, though he was too groggy to figure out why.

“The blogsphere is buzzing over this photo of what appears to be a small rodent, taken by the Mars rover. Could this be the next ‘face on Mars?’”

Justin’s eyes flew open. Was he still dreaming? Did this really make the news?

“We go now to our science correspondent, Marion Johnson, who is at the NASA Space Center in Houston, TX. Marion, are you there?”

“Hey, Chuck,” the screen split, and beside the studio anchor was a shot of another anchor, standing in front of the Space Center. “The word here at NASA is that this is a picture of an ordinary rock.” The picture from Alice’s website appeared on screen. “They say the rock only looks like a rodent because of the pattern of shadows and light. This is the same phenomenon of pattern-seeking that caused a lot of people to see the ‘face on Mars.’”

Another image appeared on screen- a side by side comparison of the ‘face on Mars’ photos from the Viking Orbiter, where the face could be seen, and the higher resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image, where it could not be seen.

The smiling anchors appeared again, side by side. They looked so similar, Justin thought they could be brothers.

“Now, in that second, higher resolution image, the Mars face couldn’t be seen. But the ‘Mars rat,’ photo is pretty high resolution already, isn’t it?”

Justin couldn’t believe his ears. Mars rat- they had given it a name. It was officially a thing.

“Yes, that is a pretty clear photo, but it looks more like a hamster, to me” the correspondent laughed. “I guess we’ll have to wait to see how this develops.”

Justin jumped out of his chair and began to pace the room. Tibby, his grey cat, jumped onto the warm seat he had just vacated. Tibby sat, and watched with intent green eyes as Justin paced back and forth.

“This is unbelievable. Clearly, Alice’s stupid plan isn’t working,” Justin said to Tibby.

Tibby meowed.

“The most frustrating thing,” Justin continued, “is that the news channel didn’t interview a single expert. They just had that idiot correspondent. No one cares about the facts. Alice’s website is just feeding into the sensationalism people want.”

Tibby continued to watch Justin pace, hoping he would drop another donut.

“I’m not going to play her game,” Justin said decisively, “but if Alice wants an expert, then I’ll be one. I’ll tell people the whole truth, and expose her sham of a website.”

Justin clapped his hands together, and then stalked away to retrieve his laptop. Tibby lay on the chair, and began to clean donut glaze from his paws and whiskers.

#

Justin was ready.

His grey eyes gleamed silver in the laptop’s glow as he looked over the finished website one final time, seeking out the smallest error- scanning the page with mathematical precision. All of the evidence was here, neatly catalogued, and organized under easy- to- reference headings. His arguments were solid and rational. The website was live.

He went to the vision forums, first, and posted the link anonymously, with only a short description of his evidence beneath. Then he copied his comment, and pasted it and the link on the science board he frequented, also anonymously.

He smiled with grim satisfaction as he added a heading to the science board post, which read, “Do not engage The Vision’s writers or channel moderators. They are deliberate trolls.”

“I was almost drawn into a debate with The Vision’s founder and head writer, Alice Stevens, but I decided not to engage her, because I didn’t want to legitimize her outlandish claims. I glad I made that decision, because I’ve discovered that the site is a hoax, and that Alice is telling deliberate lies in order to push her own twisted agenda.

“Alice doesn’t really believe anything she posts on her website, and neither do her fellow writers and moderators, including former cosmonaut Yuri Volkov. Alice has manipulated her followers into believing that they will promote science funding and education if they anger the public.

“I know that you may be skeptical of my claims, and that’s good! Skeptical inquiry is what we should all be about. I’ve compiled evidence to support my claim at my website- the link is below.”

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