“This is telemetry from a Integrated Operational NuDet Detection System, or IONDS, satellite over the South Pacific Gyre,” said Graves. The image changed to a bright flash of visible light over cloudy water from a low-Earth orbit.

“NuDet?” Skiltmaler said, snickering. It was impossible to tell if the long, drawn-out ‘u’ that resulted was from sarcasm or a Norwegian accent.

“Nuclear detonation,” Graves replied. The mood of the briefing room sobered considerably. “IONDS is designed to detect nuclear detonations by looking for their characteristic double-flash. As of the timestamp on this image, it found one in an impossible place.”

“An unsanctioned nuclear test?” Jameson said.

“We have taken that possibility into account,” Graves replied. “Such a thing has been done before, like the unsanctioned South Africa/Israel test near the Prince Edward Islands in 1979. But we don’t think so.”

“Why not?” Skiltmaler asked, all business now, perhaps to make up for the earlier levity, which now felt nails-on-a-chalkboard out of place.

“IONDS is carefully calibrated for NuD–er, nuclear detonations. This was far, far outside of the expected profile of any nuclear explosion past or present. And there’s also this, captured by the Near-Earth Climate Observer satellite.”

The image changed yet again, to a shallower angle with less resolution. A bright yellow streak was visible, seeming to exist like a time-lapse, across several different instants.

“This is without a doubt a reentry of some sort, but the trajectory, timing, and of course aberrant nuclear double-flash rule out all possible known near-earth objects, manmade and natural.” Graves clicked the hidden remote again, and a new image took the screen, this one resembling an amateur astronomer’s smeared observation. “We collated the data with observations made by Haleakalā Observatory in Hawaii, and it appears that the object in question had been observed for some time by automated systems without being detected.”

“Are you saying,” Jameson whispered, “what I think you’re saying?”

“The trajectory indicates an extrasolar origin, and the double-flash implies a manner of…intelligent design,” Graves said. “It is possible that this is an artificial craft that was deliberately ditched much like we would one of our own.”

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