“I hope you’re right. I hope this is a false positive. But we need to proceed under the assumption that it’s not,” Graves said. “The briefing is now over; approach me afterwards if you have any further questions.”

Norah shimmied out of the briefing with Jamesson and Skiltmaler shortly behind, all managing to jam their elbows or the corners of their file folders into someone or something vulnerable.

“Did you notice,” Norah said, “that Angelo didn’t say a word during that whole briefing?”

“The astrophysicist and SETI muckity-muck isn’t the one you’d expect to stay quiet during a bombshell like that,” agreed Jameson.

A roll of an oily ocean swell caused Skiltmaler to lose balance for a moment, arms pinwheeling. “Looked kind of green, maybe it was seasickness?”

“I thought Norwegians were Vikings, people of the sea, with brine for blood and oars for arms,” Norah laughed.

“Oh, that’s all true,” Skiltmaler said. “But we’re no good on anything bigger than a longboat. But put me in a kayak and watch out.”

They kept on talking, and joking, without even approaching the subject of the briefing. Perhaps that was because, in their thunderstruck states, there was simply nothing to say. Falling back on banter was a familiar recourse during times of extreme stress.

They found Angelo hanging over one of the destroyer’s gunwales, looking every bit as green as Skiltmaler had said.

“A bit surprising, wouldn’t you say, when the ET expert has nothing to say when Graves tells us flat out we might be looking at proof of extraterrestrial life, wouldn’t you say?” Jameson said, sidling alongside the SETI alum.

“Look, I get it,” Norah added, leaning on the rail to Angelo’s left. “What can you say? It’s just so huge. So enormous. I think I might be a little sick too, once it has time to sink in.”

Angelo’s eyes widened, and for a moment it looked like hurling over the side was a very real possibility. Instead of breakfast, though, words croaked out from between chapped lips. “That briefing. I’ve been there before.”

“Haven’t we all,” Skiltmaler chuckled. “I worked with Graves on Project Neo-Habakkuk, and the briefings there were basically the same.”

“No,” Angelo croaked. “That same exact meeting. The ship encountered something…sank with all hands…and now we’re back, here, before it even began.”

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