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In Space, No One Can Hear You Brainstorm

07 Jun

Yesterday Aaron posted what I have to work with, and I have many ideas in store for it already. One does involve a sack of potatoes wearing a bow-tie. I swear, he set me up almost too-easily for Monty Python sketch. I think I might have to fight all my impulses not to just silly it up.

Anyway, for my story for Aaron, as I said in my last post, I wanted to challenge him, to get him out of his comfort zone. His biggest consistent problem is his punctuation, and it would be very challenging to structure a story around that, so I ruled that out. Then I thought I would make a story with no main characters. No characters at all. What would he do then? But I couldn’t figure out a way to do that.

So that’s what led me to what I wrote. By setting it in a place that would have no humans, and really no lifeforms at all, I’m leaving the door open for him to do what he wants with it. He initially said “Great, I have to write about aliens!?” but he doesn’t. All he needs to do is keep it in the location of a probe orbiting Saturn. It doesn’t HAVE to be about aliens, even though the “expected” setup leads him to believe that’s where it should go. Turns out he’s actually doing research on the Cassini project, so that’s pretty cool. Anyway, here’s what he has to work with. I did not title it:

 

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

 

It took almost a half hour to actually recognize that the scrambled signal that Arnold received was something other than the typical static drone of interspace. It appeared amidst the cosmic din only as raw data, a jumbled mass of 1s and 0s arranged in a pattern that seemed to dance more than inform. It likely would have stayed that way had he not despaired in the third hour of decrypting and run it through a data filter that hadn’t been in use for years. What came out was clear:

 

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

 

Arnold didn’t know what it meant, other than that it was an amalgam of multi-lingual alphanumerics and perhaps even symbols. He shipped it off to the coders at SETI to work on the text; he was more interested in the source. He swiveled his chair around to a different bank of monitors. The periodic transmissions emanated from a steady location: 59° 5’ ESE of the ecliptic plane, an area known as the dead zone because of how few stars there were.

“That makes no sense,” he reasoned to himself. “The signal is way too strong to be coming from that far away. It would be garbled by cosmic radiation by now. Unless it… or it could… oh wow…” He typed in some data and coordinates and ran a few diagnostic simulations when at last he saw something that left him momentarily dumstruck.

He leapt to the telephone and dialed. He was greeted coldly by a man who was obviously awakened by the call.

“What do you want?”

“Mike?”

“It’s three o’clock.”

“It’s me, Arnold, over at SETI. We’re getting pinged.”

The voice on the other end was silent, stunned. Those three words woke him up like no cup of coffee ever could.

“Did I just hear that right?”

“One ping every five minutes for the last four hours.”

Michael Jones cleared his throat. Since his decision to join NASA a decade ago, contact from outside the solar system had always been one of his greatest goals, but now that he’d come across it, he didn’t know what to say. As a high ranking official, he tried to remember protocol. “What form of telemetry?”

“Mostly binary, but in a shifting pattern. It seems more like a… pidgin binary or something. Like binary with an accent.”

“You filter it yet?”

“I got a string of alphanumerics and symbols. The coders are working it as we speak.”

“Fantastic,” he said genuinely.

Michael’s wife stirred now, but he waved her off with a flip of his wrist. He had already put on some clothes and was trying to find his keys. He tossed on some flip flops and started down the stairs. He still wasn’t sure where he was going, or if he even needed to be going anywhere; he was moving on pure adrenaline.

“Michael, I need you to wrangle up the JetPro boys pronto.”

Michael stopped mid-stride in the hallway leading to the door. “What do you need with the Jet Propulsion Lab?”

“The communication is coming from within the termination shock.”

“Wait, what?”

Arnold was tripping over his words in excitement. “It’s coming from the direction of the dead zone – so either someone has the ability to radio from sixty-thousand kiloparsecs with no loss of—”

Mike cut in loudly, “Are you saying that we’re getting pinged from within our solar system?” By now his kids were at the banister, trying to see what the ruckus was about.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Arnold confirmed.

“So what do you want JetPro to do? You want them to swing Cassini around to hunt for aliens? C’mon, you know the lag is 3 hours for any controls to—”

Cassini doesn’t have to do anything. Or rather, Cassini already is doing something. It’s pinging us.”

Michael snorted, a mix of a laugh and a gasp. “Did I just hear you right? It sounded like you just said our unmanned space probe is talking gibberish to us.”

“Mike, believe it or not, we’re receiving foreign communication of some sort from Cassini,” he said, as he watched his telemetry display.

 

ⱴæhperΦnn ∩ ӄooӹ ⅎᵿm9

 

Michael’s jaw dropped. “Holy shit,” he said into the phone. His wife covered his son’s ears.

***

            On board the Cassini, if it could be said to even have an interior, there was a hum of electrical systems still transmitting data Earthside.

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