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Quot;the universe machin.., p.2
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       "The Universe Machine", p.2

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  The bumpy ride from the jet was a quiet one. Partially because the Americans were starting to suffer jet-lag—and that was in addition to all the research they were doing while on the flight; partially because Peter was a little upset with Bianca's challenge to the Minister about thirty minutes ago! Indeed, Peter was awaken by some jabs by Charlie and Patrice. He brought his body to a full-seated position in the jeep when his eyes were drawn to a patch-work of lights smudging the night sky, just over a hill topped by trees. But before the jeep even started up the hill, Peter could already see the very top of it...even at that distance from the area.

  There were a few excited expletives from the US operatives. Minister Rek and the young pilot driving the jeep silently smiled to themselves...the site being old hat to them by now.

  As the team topped the hill, Peter could see in person, now, what he only read about and saw on his computer tablet...the Object was slender and vertical, though it leaned just slightly, less so than the Tower of Pisa, but its dimensions were more like that of the Sears Tower of Chicago! Given it was in a somewhat sparsely wooded area of New Zealand with only trees competing for its height and not other skyscrapers, the Thing looked all the more immense! Just as the reports showed, there were, indeed, quite a few blackened and pitted areas of the dull-silvery Object from the entry—crash landing, perhaps?—on Earth.

  Peter was surprised to see that there were a lot more jagged edges on the Thing than he realized from the reports he had if it had broken off of something, yet, even grander! Other than the scorch-marks, the pitting, and the sharp edges, the Intruder was quite uniform. What really made Peter and his team curious was the minimal amount of a crater from something that big to have fallen from space! No doubt, for the conspiratorial ones among humanity, this would feed well into the alien-landing angel. But Evan guessed it had something to do with the nature of something shaped like a dagger crashing into Earth having less contact than, say, something shaped round like a potato—an asteroid or comet, for instance.

  Then there was the human element. Perhaps hundreds of people rimmed the entire shallow crater! They were not curious civilians. Most of them were scientists, government operatives, and military in nature...Peter, having done this type of project for the US government for years, recognized the various attire and instruments that each respective group would normally bring along for such expedition. One thing of note that Patrice pointed out was the fact that of all the agencies at the site, not one of them had set up camp within the crater. Peter guessed, quietly, among the other Americans that none of the teams there, yet, fully understood the potential for radiation from the Object, so they most likely were playing it safe!

  Minister Rek and the pilot was escorting Peter's team to an available spot on the Rim. All seven of them passed what seemed like a United Nations convention of various languages and ethnicity. Some greeted them while most were too focused on doing the science standing over a thousand feet before them!

  Yet another curious scene was one team on the Rim that actually had something equivalent to a call center—with cubical structures and all! Peter payed close attention to them...was not this a secured site? Who in the world could all those people with their headsets and laptops be talking to this time of the early morning? Peter could have sworn they were telemarketers, but deep down inside he feared they were doing something a lot more shady than that...perhaps this was how governments around the world “controlled” UFO-sitings; by disseminate disinformation, in order to preempt anything reported by independent sources?

  As they started to unpack their own gear and set up camp on the Rim, Peter saw that a few other teams were also finding a spot to conduct their own studies...again, more questions. And Peter could see it on his team's faces. Normally, the host-nation would have a more controlled system for scientists to do science. Much like archeological digs. Most nations allow only so many people—especially non-citizens—to dig on site...what was New Zealand's stake in all this? Aside from the fact that the Object was on their Northern island.

  Minister Rek asked if he could speak with Peter alone while his team set up shop. Peter agreed to it. In fact, it was the perfect opportunity for him to ask the myriad of questions that had been bugging his crew and in his own mind. Donald left the pilot behind with the American scientists while he and Peter walked several yards opposite of the Thing. The Minister had a tablet tucked under one of his arms as they strolled.

  “Go ahead, Peter...” Donald said this with an air of askance. They had worked together over the past several years in various countries, so they were well at ease with being frank to each other.

  Peter scratched his forehead, not liking what was needed to be said. “You and Bianca may not get along the best, but I think she had some valid points...Your government has plenty of hard hitters without my team and I here. Obviously, It is alien,” he said, gesturing toward the Object with flinging arms. “You don't need us to verify that for your government...seriously, Don, what's going on?”

  Pensively, the Minister lifted the cover from the computer tablet and did a series of commands. He then handed it to Peter without a word. Indeed, none was needed. For on the screen, there was a checkered-format of small pictures of about ten different places with similar Objects! But those other Objects came in a variety of shapes. A couple of them were more like a pile of interstellar trash, mangled from the burning entry into Earth. One was almost a complete sphere, but for a large, gaping whole off to the side. Another Object looked as if one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt had dropped from the sky and one of the pyramid's bottom-corner was slammed into the Earth two-thirds of the way into the ground! And like the camp site were Peter's team was, in each of those locales, hoards of people gathered around the Rims of each respective Object in all the pictures.

  Peter's eyes slowly looked up from the monitor and met an all-knowing gaze from Minister Rek. “Before you ask, it is not an invasion...we haven't detected any dangerous levels of radiation or any other chemicals from any of the crash sites. No signs whatsoever of any life at any of the other sites. We're triple-checking for this site, just to be sure, but there's no reason to expect it to be any different from the other Shard-sites.”

  Peter flinched, the tablet still firmly in his hands. “Shards...? Why, that implies that the Object is a tiny piece of something else!”

  The Minister slowly nodded his head; his face stoic.

  “Minister, is the Moon in any trouble?”

  “Based on the composition of the Shards, Pete, the Objects aren't even from our own galaxy! Remember what Bianca said on the jet about those alien elements we don't even have categorized?” Peter then remembered, but waited to hear more. “Peter...the United States has a reputation for your deeply-held beliefs. We thought if we brought over a team from there as a vanguard, let them see for themselves...maybe you'd all be better-prepared than if you--”

  “Is the planet in danger, Donald?”

  Minister Rek reacted as if someone had splashed cold water on his face. “Oh, my, no, Peter! But many of your fellow-citizens' faith will be endangered...they're all pieces of a Machine, Pete.”

  Peter's entire body froze, the buzz of activity behind them droning on. “A Machine...?”

  Rek merely nodded. The American looked at the Object, then back at the New Zealand official, whom was ever so slightly nodding his head. He hardly had any emotion on his face. Peter then took a couple of steps as he studied the Shard for a long while.

  “So what do you think your president will say about this when you tell him in your report,” Rek finally asked.

  Peter jerked out of his trance of thought and looked behind his shoulder, toward the minister. “Tell him about what?”

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