Sandra Kazan had been working for years just to get a vague answer, a response that may give hope to future humans. She was 24 years old when she entered SETI as an intern and now she had the responsibility to process data from every single home computer that helped SETI process their information.
She was now almost forty and felt her life had amounted to nothing. Every single day looking at screens with numbers and numbers and, at the end of the day, they meant nothing. Her outlet was her teaching, the only place where she felt she was of use. When the classes where over, she felt useless, bored.
The woman went to her mother's home for the holidays. Seeing her mom felt great and weird at the same time. She had always wanted Sandra to be more an active scientist and not just a teacher. It wasn't that she disapproved of her but she felt her daughter was made of a stronger material. She had even encouraged her, years before, to submit her application to NASA in order to become an astronaut. She said it would make her very proud if her daughter became one of the few black women in space, as she would represent all the efforts made by her ascendants.
But that didn't happen. Sandra was captivated by the search for extraterrestrial life and that was her passion. Although going to space was a dream, she would rather be the one that announced the discovery of life in other planets to the rest of the world.
In her mother's home, she stayed in a small room. It wasn't the room of her childhood but the only other room in the small apartment. Her father had died five years ago, so her mom had bought a new place with her savings and money her husband had left.
The first day, they behave like strangers. The truth was that Sandra didn't visit her mother as much and, now that her brother had left the country for work, she had the task of checking on her mother's needs and the state of her life. She was an older woman, but she was strong still and much more active than others. She loved dancing so she visited a senior center often to dance with various partners that always enjoyed her presence.
Sadly for Sandra, she had not inherited that from her mother, that candor, her charm. She had always been more private, trying to keep things serious and grounded. She was like her father, a man that rarely laughed or encouraged jokes. But Sandra would have loved to be more like her mother, a bit careless but ultimately happy.
Days after getting home, the two women had a fight. The mother had reminded her daughter of her short lived marriage and Sandra just exploded, yelling and telling her mother not to mess with things she didn't know about.
It was no use to try to talk as there was no real confidence. Her parents had not raised her to trust them but to respect them, so she had no need or urge to explain anything to her mother.
She had married Matt Jackson around the time she turned thirty. At first, everything was perfect, ideal even. They got a house and she left her job at SETI. She was dedicated to make it work so she only kept her work as a teacher as it had flexible hours.
But things turned bad fast. Matt was violent and absent frequently. He never hit Sandra but could be even more violent with his mouth, saying what he said. It hurt bad. And then he left for work and acted as if nothing had happened. He was a scientist too and traveled often to Europe and Asia for conferences. He was a respected man in the community.
Just after the first year of marriage, he was selected to go to space, with a team of other scientist to test theories and make experiments in zero gravity. The Soyuz craft that transported him to the ISS exploded over Asia. She was officially a widow and was handed a flag and given money. But the truth was Sandra was relieved. She had never loved him for real and feared him every time he was close. She wasn't happy but not sad either.
It was still a hard subject to deal with, however. And she knew her mother blamed her for the bad relationship and for not being able to give her the grandson that her brother finally gave her. Sandra never remarried and was not interested in men any more, at least not as husbands.
On Christmas day, she tried to make it up to her mother by doing all the cooking. She loved to cook as it relaxed her, so she did some turkey with a delicious gravy and a meat pie, and two desserts and even a tasty lemonade. She also made corn bread, her mother's favorite, hoping to mend things after their argument.
It appeared to have worked as they enjoyed a very nice meal for the two of them. She gave her mother presents she had brought with her like clothes and a music CD she knew she would love. Her mother thanked her and told her she was happy to have her around for such a sensible time for her. Sandra's father had died days after Christmas day, so her mother was very sensitive.
The following week, they visited the cemetery, put flowers on Sandra's father grave and went into the church for mass. It had been years since Sandra had entered a church and she felt a bit guilty as she had been raised a catholic but faith had never really been something she had. It didn't mattered is she believed in God or not, the concept of faith for her was hard as she was rather blunt with her decisions and opinions.
Suddenly her phone rang and she had to excuse herself in order to answer the call outside the church. something amazing had happened at SETI and she was asked to come back and process some information to confirm a possible signal they had detected.
Sandra waited outside for her mother. When the woman got out, she told her the news but the older woman didn't really understand what was going on. On the way home, Sandra explained what her work was about and how urgent it was for them to decipher the data. But her mother was more sad than interested in her reasons for leaving.
As Sandra packed, she realized her mother had faded a bit, as a plant that begins to lose color, life. She asked her how she felt and the woman answered she was "fine". Sandra told her mom how sorry she was to leave but that it was necessary, as they needed her. The mother then told her she needed her too, as she felt alone and sad after visiting her husband's grave. She felt she had been left alone in the world and now she had nothing.
Of course, Sandra felt guilty and decided to take her mother home with her, at least for the remainder of the holidays. It took a lot of convincing but the older woman finally accepted. They got there that same night and Sandra drove directly to work. She settled her mother in her office with a big sofa, blankets and a TV, as she worked in a desk nearby, in silence.
When she saw her daughter's dedication, the mother realized she had never really known her daughter and that maybe it was time to really get to know each other.
In the morning, the woman was woken up by Sandra's cheering. She was really happy, throwing papers around and cheering loudly. Some people had already arrived and she finally explained she had gotten through the data and that the announcement could be made.
The woman was present when her daughter announced, on national television, the discovery of an extraterrestrial signal that repeated itself, like a beacon. They had proved it wasn't from a natural source and that it seemed almost like a call of some sorts.
But the mother didn't really understood all of that. She shed a tear because, after years of years of her own neglect, she realized her daughter was a brilliant woman, capable and exemplary. And Sandra saw her tears and smiled.