She could recall the exact moment when, on one of many trips to Washington, she discovered that she was falling in love with Ken der Heer.
Arrangements for the meeting with Palmer Joss seemed to be taking forever. Apparently Joss was reluctant to visit the Argus facility; it was the impiety of the scientists, not their interpretation of the Message, he now said, that interested him. And to probe their character, some more neutral ground was needed. Ellie was willing to go anywhere, and a special assistant to the President was negotiating. Other radio astronomers were not to go; the President wanted it to be Ellie alone.
Ellie was also waiting for the day, still some weeks off, when she would fly to Paris for the first full meeting of the World Message Consortium. She and Vaygay were coordination the global data-collection program. The signal acquisition was now fairly routine, and in recent months there had been not one gap in the coverage. So she found to her surprise that she had a little time on her hands. She vowed to have a long talk with her mother, and to remain civil and friendly no matter what provocation was offered. There was an absurd amount of backed-up paper and electronic mail to go through, not just congratulations and criticisms from colleagues, but religious admonitions, pseudoscientific speculations proposed with great confidence, and fan mail from all over the world. She had not read The Astrophysical Journal in months, although she was the first author of a very recent paper that was surely the most extraordinary article that had ever appeared in the august publication. The signal from Vega was so strong that many amateurs – tired of “ham” radio – had begun constructing their own small radio telescopes and signal analyzers. In the early stages of Message acquisition, they had turned up some useful data, and Ellie was still besieged by amateurs who thought they had acquired
something unknown to the SETI professionals. She felt an obligation to write encouraging letters. There were other meritorious radio astronomy programs at the facility – the quasar survey, for example – that needed attending to. But instead of doing all these things, she found herself spending almost all her time with Ken.
Of course, it was her duty to involve the President’s Science Adviser in Project Argus as deeply as he wished. It was important that the President be fully and competently informed. She hoped the leaders of other nations would be as thoroughly briefed on the findings from Vega as was the President of the United States. This President, while untrained in science, genuinely liked the subject and was willing to support science not only for its practical benefits but, at least a little, for the joy of knowing. This had been true of few previous American leaders since James Madison and John Quincy Adams.
Still, it was remarkable how much time der Heer was able to spend at Argus. He did devote an hour or more each day in high-bandpass scrambled communications with his Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Old Executive Office Building in Washington. But the rest of the time, as far as she could see, he was simply… around. He would poke into the innards of the computer system, or visit individual radio telescopes. Sometimes an assistant from Washington would be with him; more often he would be alone. She would see him through the open door of the spare office they had assigned him, his feet propped up on the desk, reading some report or talking on the phone.