Jake glanced around the room. The panel was scheduled to start in just a couple of minutes. Those researchers presenting papers sat at a table in the front of the room, with the moderator off to one side. The rows of seats were slowly, but steadily filling up. This was guaranteed to be a popular panel – perhaps the most popular at the conference.
Shifting in his seat to see if he knew anybody, Jake found himself wishing he could just leave early and go home. But the university was paying his way to this conference, including a non-trivial amount of money for his transportation via humgate, the human-compatible equivalent of jump gates for ships, and his panel wasn’t until this afternoon. And then there was the meet-and-greet reception later this evening and the dean had been very clear that she expected Jake to attend and represent the university. He sighed. At least using the humgates meant that he could be back home with just the travel time between the hotel and the nearest gate.
“I think it’s time to get started,” the moderator announced somewhat diffidently.
Jake looked around again. The room was filled, and people were lining the walls along the sides and in the back. He settled into the rather uncomfortable hotel chair and pulled out his tablet to take notes. Last night he’d noted the authors of the papers to be presented and read through the abstracts which gave very brief outlines of methodology and findings. Based on that, he’d prepared some questions which he knew were going to cause a stir. He smiled. Serena would tell him not to be modest… he was going to cause an uproar when he revealed the findings at the temple on Taland. Normally, Serena would be here with him as his co-author but she had elected to stay home with Melia. Jake couldn’t argue with his choice. Next time they were going to rock-paper-scissors to determine which of them would have to suffer through a major academic conference.
“Credit where credit is due, my love,” he muttered to himself. “You’re the one who figured out the connection with the Greek gods.”
“Pardon?” The older man on his left looked over with a small frown.
“Nothing. Sorry. Just reminding myself of other research,” Jake said with a small smile.
The man gave a sniff and turned his attention to the front of the room where the moderator was introducing the panelists. Jake settled in. The paper he was really interested in would likely be the third of four papers.
The first two papers made some interesting points, but they were more along the lines of meta-analyses of discoveries of alien civilizations and architecture. The third paper was, as Jake expected, a treatise on the impossibility of any unknown contacts between Old Earth and currently inhabited planets or newly discovered races. Other planets where archaeologists had made discoveries similar to what Jake and Serena’s team had found on Taland, were dismissed as obvious hoaxes with lots of hand-waving and some rather flimsy “evidence” purporting to show the impossibility of finding artifacts where they had indeed been found.
Jake personally knew some of the team leads on the digs the presenter was currently trashing. While Cesár Montgomery was a well-known and generally well-respected leading academic in the field of xenoarchaeology and history, it was also known that he hadn’t been out in the field in several decades. Nor had he been off his home planet in an equally long period of time. In short, Jake knew Dr. Montgomery was relying on sketchy field reports and papers published by grad students whom he was supervising. Jake’s questions were going to cause a firestorm. But at least his panel would be well attended.
After the final paper, the moderator opened the floor to questions from the audience. Jake’s hand shot in the air. Might as well get things going. The moderator pointed in his direction and the aide with the microphone bustled over.
“My question is for Dr. Montgomery. I’m wondering if your theories would apply to a temple my team recently opened on Taland. It’s a very close copy of the main temple of Aphrodite or Venus in Athens and Rome on Old. Earth. The name ‘Venus’ even appears in an invocation carved above the main altar. If, as you maintain, such contact was impossible, do you have an explanation for this temple? And, no, we didn’t plant any evidence as you’ve implied regarding the work of others,” Jake said. He sat down and handed the microphone back to the aide while the noise level in the room slowly rose.
“Quiet! Quiet! Please let Dr. Montgomery respond!” the moderated shouted into his mic.
Once the conversation died down, Montgomery began his answer with what he was known for… academic insults and put-downs.
“Well, young man, I’m not sure where you studied or how you came to the conclusion that an alien language would adequately translate into Common, but I can say that you are sadly mistaken…” Montgomery began.
“No, he’s not,” a voice from the back called. “You are. I’ve found something similar on Cereus. A temple dedicated to Apollo with the name etched in stone over the altar. Can you explain that without prior contact between aliens and humans? Are the Greek gods aliens? Or are they truly gods who traveled between worlds?”
The large room stilled as everybody held their breath waiting for Montgomery to respond.
“Ah, yes, the awkward silence best found in a large group of experts put in uncomfortable positions,” the man on Jake’s right muttered, grinning at him. “Montgomery’s been wrong for a while now. Maybe he’ll finally retire after this.”
“Paradigm shifts are always awkward,” Jake agreed.
“Indeed. Are you presenting your findings here?” the man asked.
“Yes, this afternoon,” Jake told him.
“Wonderful. I shall be there. I want to hear more about this impossible temple to Venus.”
Jake and Serena and their dig seem to be spending some time in my brain recently. I’m not quite sure how this is all going to come out, but I’ll keep paying attention to their story when they ask me to. This week I traded prompts with Fiona Grey. She challenged me with “Ah, yes, the awkward silence best found in a large group of technology experts put in uncomfortable positions.” While I gave her: The scent of plumerias floated in the air. Get yourself over to More Odds Than Ends to see what she and everybody else did with their responses. If you feel like joining in, grab a spare and have at! Or send one in to oddprompts <at> gmail <dot> com. It’s easy and fun!