I was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. It’s inoperable because it’s laying right up against my cerebellum and spinal cord. I’m told that taking the tumor out will likely result in me losing the ability to breathe and walk on my own – at best. At worst, I could just never wake up from the operation. If I want to live a few more months, I can go without surgery, say my goodbyes, and do some stupid things that I would have otherwise never done like base jumping, high-stakes gambling, and breaking the silence I’ve held for over 15 years.
In 2001 I was a stupid kid who knew a lot about computers. I either had too much knowledge for the amount of common sense I had, or too little common sense for the knowledge. I was one of the only kids at my school with an unsecured internet connection and a good knowledge of how to navigate the creepier parts of the internet. I remember charging my peers on the bus outlandish – for a 15 years old – fees for pictures from rotten.com and Microsoft Works files from the Anarchist’s Cookbook. I used to sell burned copies of CDs for $5 a piece. It was a great way to make money.
One summer I wanted a bit more of challenge, so I started sniffing around government websites. I tried to find employee portals to MI6 to see if there was a real Q Branch, attempted to look in US State Department email accounts to try to find mention of real Men in Black. They were sealed to a hacker with my limited brute force skills. A password cracking program – if those even existed – could probably do it, but I had no idea where to find one.
So I turned to NASA. The Mars Odyssey camera was launched that year and I just wanted to see if I could look at the data stream from the rocket. I had given up on finding the world’s secrets.
It wasn’t hard to find a page on the NASA site that was enabled with remote desktop connections for site designers. For whatever reason, the connections weren’t password protected at all. The site designers had limited access to the NASA database, but I did find a list of other valid usernames. I copied and pasted until I found someone who cleverly used “password” as their password. And then I was in.
I spent the entire day looking around the site, peeking at the video feeds from the current Shuttle mission and Mission Control on Earth. It was awesome.
My story was in the papers. I found a file on the NASA site with pictures of UFOs near NASA rockets and the Space Shuttle Endeavor. I was kicked from my remote connection before I could save the photos, dial-up speeds being what they were in 2001, and was then arrested from my home in Ohio. I was tried as an adult under the trumped up charges of endangering the lives of astronauts and causing, potentially, millions of dollars of damage.
I went to juvenile detention for 6 months, then was placed under house arrest until my 18th birthday. I wasn’t allowed near an internet connection for a further three years.
By the time I was an adult, I was something of a celebrity among the UFO community. Everyone with a cable TV show or home video contract wanted me to tell them about what I saw; a cigar-shaped craft shooting a beam of light at the engine of a rocket. A silver sphere hanging in space directly in front of the Shuttle cockpit.
But it was all bullshit. It was part of my agreement with the government.
I wasn’t actually taken to juvie; I went to Washington DC. I was held in the most fancy, wood-paneled conference room you can imagine for two weeks. I ate meals cooked for me personally by the White House head chef. I had internet access, the fastest I had experienced until 2010. All that luxury and I couldn’t enjoy it.
What I had actually seen on the NASA server was burned into my eyes. When sleep, elusive to me since that summer day, finally came, I would dream of those fucking pictures. I would wake, my whole body buzzing and tense, thinking I was floating in space with it.
One day, the President himself and a bunch of generals – brass tacked to varying dark Earth-tones – came to visit me. They explained to me the importance of staying quiet about what I had seen.
I agreed, but explained that my family and friends would need some sort of explanation. Even if it didn’t come out during the court case, they would want me to come clean at home. I needed something.
And so the Air Force general suggested the UFO story. I went with it, made some money from TV appearances. I even started to believe the lie. Sometime at night, I would lie awake and wonder if the real pictures, the trip to DC, were all lifelike dreams from being unable to sleep in juvie.
Then I got the cancer diagnosis. I don’t think it’s right for me to stay silent any longer.
I didn’t see a UFO on the NASA server.
What I saw was footage from the Voyager space probes. I clicked on photos and marveled at the fly-bys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune throughout the 70s and 80s. Then I moved to the mid-90s and saw nothing. Each picture, black. I thought one probe might have failed so I checked the other, finding the same result. Black.
I traced the problem back through the years, looking for signs of a camera failure. What I found instead was a picture from Voyager 1 in February of 1993 where the stars and constellations familiar from Earth are horribly distorted, like viewing a planetarium show from right next to the projector screen. The next picture showed a grid of light beams, something I didn’t recognize then but I now understand to be the basis of a holographic projection.
The stars and galaxies we see when we look up at night are nothing. Nothing more than a light show to dazzle us. But that’s not what frightened me so much I couldn’t sleep.
After finding the strange pictures in 1993, I moved to the most recent photos from the probe. The inky void had given way to some sort of dust cloud. As the probe moved closer, the particles had shape.
Bodies. Human bodies. Millions of human bodies were floating in the middle of empty, black space. They were nude or, in some cases, clothed very slightly in tattered, thin cloth that flowed in the weightless environment like ocean waves. Most of the bodies were in various states of dismemberment; limbs and eyes torn out, ragged strips of flesh trailing frozen blood into the void.
In the final batch of pictures, Voyager 1 had moved close to one body in particular. The mouth hung open, eyes wide as if screaming in pain. The skin, especially areas surrounding a wound, was peppered with small, dark streaks. Clicking back and forth through the images, I watched the streaks undulate and burrow into the flesh, leaving behind an ugly hole.
Even now I’m not sure what to make of it. The generals and the President weren’t either. It might be that our solar system has always been alone in space, surrounded by God knows what. If that’s the case, then who projected the stars?
More frightening, it may be that the night sky was once real and that these writhing worms have consumed everything in their path.