The new transmitter emits a quantum signal that can be interpreted by the most rudimentary receivers but is invulnerable to degradation and can travel faster than the speed of light. The U.N.-funded scientists only had enough cash for one, but it was plenty.
The first signal was sent in 2050. It wasn’t a super complicated message. It was debated what we would send. Some argued a description of our home planet or of humanity. Others suggested we let others know where we are relative to large cosmic landmarks. However, what won out was a rather simple message — Pi.
The rationale was that Pi would be a reasonable indication of the intelligence of the source, rather than being written off as cosmic nonsense. Additionally, Pi was believed to be universally understood by any possible intelligent life. Non-threatening, unassuming, just pure numbers.
The only problem was we had no idea how long it would take to receive a response, assuming there’s anybody out there.
So with the signal out, all there was to do was wait. From then on, we became a fire in the night, letting all know that we were out here — that we’re not alone.
Weeks passed and no response. Months passed. No response. After years you’d see an occasional news article here and there but still — silence. When decades started to pass people forgot. It became a piece of trivia for old people to yell at “Jeopardy.”
At first, we didn’t realize what it was. The stream was large. And I don’t mean “somebody tested the meaning of unlimited storage and uploaded their 75 terabyte movie collection to OneDrive” type of large. This was the biggest single packet of information ever received. It took a little over a year to get the signal “all down on paper,” so to speak.
Once we got it down, the scientists who received it let the world know.
It was mayhem.
Over 100 years later and the long-awaited response to the long-forgotten message was finally here. News articles ran 24/7. Many workplaces practically halted due to rampant discussion, speculation and conspiracy. Theologians and philosophers, unsurprisingly, debated the nature of life and the universe yet again.
All this and we didn’t even know what They had said yet.
We had the best and brightest scientists, mathematicians, linguists, cryptologists and even musicologists working on this. After five months we began to realize that the pulse transcription was a dictionary. It was Lincos. It was surprising that we had received a message in a language we already knew (although maybe it shouldn’t have been).
With this knowledge, the deciphering process went much quicker. The bulk of the data was a dictionary. We knew part of it, but They had completed the rest.
All that was left was the actual message.
“Hide. It may be too late. We are sorry.”
The U.N. collapsed.
The Internet’s gone.
Luddites have returned.
We were a fire in the night.
We put out the coals.
But who saw us?