"You feeling the mood?" John Breichenhoff asked his wife. "Oh I'm feeling it alright." She replied seductively.

It was a cold, stormy, late March night on Great Duck Island, but the feeling was quite the opposite in Mr. and Mrs. Breichenhoff's bedroom. They had watched Casablanca on the Betamax they recently bought, enjoyed a box of imported Belgian chocolates and French wine, and now this symphony of desire would reach its peak…

"Darling the phone's ringing." Mrs. Breichenhoff said. "I know," Mr. B said stubbornly, "I'll let the machine get it."
"It could be important."
"Honey, come on. I don't want to let something like a telemarketer mess up the mood." He insisted. "John, answer the phone." His wife commanded. "Fine…" he fumed, getting up and proceeding down the hall. He was thirty-four years old, but at this particular moment he was as frustrated as a sixteen-year-old. "This had better be important as hell." He grumbled.

"Breichenhoff, you there?" asked the voice on the other end.
"Yes. What is it, Jasper?" John replied.
"We got some funny readings coming in—" Jasper began,
"Maybe you've found aliens." John interrupted sarcastically.
"I'm serious, John." Jasper said indignantly, "This isn't background radiation. It's immensely strong and it's in a cloudlike formation that's approaching US."
"Are you sure it isn't just a result of a solar flare? John asked, more sincere on hearing this.
"Positive." Sergey Jasper declared, "It's a veritable cloud of radiation, approximately 885 km long and growing, it is moving East by Southeast at roughly 150 kilometers per hour." Jasper concluded proudly.
"Where did the cloud first appear?" Breichenhoff inquired.
"Quadratus." Jasper said.

There are four nations that touch the Great Lakes: Canada, the United States, the Orbin Federation, and Quadratus. The first three were highly prosperous, but the latter was not. Quadratus had troubles—loads of them. The government was a bureaucratic labyrinth from which no one returned. The economy was in a constant depression, the people were living in conditions that were downright Soviet. The school system was limp and ineffective, and children frequently roamed the streets of their towns, doing as they pleased while many smaller villages didn't even have schools. Much of both landscape and cityscape was scarred by years of street fighting and civil war. Quadratus was known to the world as "the most unstable country north of the Rio Grande". But although Quadratus was a largely unpleasant place, its larger cities were adequately functional, and a law passed by President Rüfner eight years ago had brought electricity to the home of every Quadratian.

They following week, John and Mary Breichenhoff got in their car and pulled out onto the highway they always took from their house on the lakeshore to the radio telescope in St. Edmund where they worked.

The couple had met shortly after college some years ago. They were both technicians for the telescope. John oversaw the collection of the information with Mr. Jasper, and Mary analyzed the data. They had a son named George and a daughter named Lisa. Both children attended the Catholic school in St. Edmund and were in elementary school.

St. Edmund was an old city. It was one of the first cities built on the Great Lakes and the largest on Great Duck Island. It was built shortly after Napoleon's downfall and sat at the northern tip of the little island, a downright gem of a city. With its olden-style Mediterranean architecture and its pleasant beaches and antiquated streets lined with parked cars, St. Edmund seamed lost in time.

At 7:58 AM, the Breichenhoff's Chrysler pulled into the parking lot of the Stellaspiga Radio Telescope. It was a large building, elegant but in a scientific way, as though it was stating "As stylish as I am, first and foremost I am a building of science." It had been build a little over 20 years ago, and the Breichenhoff parents had both come to work there a few years recently.

They headed into the building to begin another day. "I wonder if Jasper's got anything new on that radiation cloud." John said curiously. He had explained to his wife the anomaly Sergey reported last night. "I guess we'll find out." She responded.
"Good morning, Jasper," Breichenhoff said, "what do you have for me today?"
"Well, I've been keeping a watch on that radiation cloud," Sergey Jasper said, "and it's gradually moving southeast. Not really anything new since last night."