A signal from space with an ominous message.
Martin Sowell turned through the dozens of pages enclosed within the brief before him. As the director of National Security he had a healthy dose of skepticism, even given the accumulated evidence.
“NASA confirms. Hawaii, Mexico, and Greenland all verify the same,” I explained from my podium at the far end of the conference table flanked by commanders from every military branch. “Of course, China denies anything.”
“China always does,” he noted. “So, what are we looking at here?”
“A binary sequence, thirty seven seconds in duration. 1.35 terabytes of information.”
“And as chief science advisor in this matter, Dr. Wilson, what does it mean?”
“Well, um,” I nervously opened my laptop, fumbling at the keys; ironic, as I’d lectured astronomy and astrophysics for nearly twenty years, had led hundreds of symposiums, but here, my hands trembled. Addressing the Joint Chiefs and National Security advisor peaked my anxiety. “It’s definitely extraterrestrial,” I explained, transferring the image to the screen behind me. “Originating from Rigel Kentaurus, or Alpha Centauri, approximately 4.3 lightyears from Earth.”
“And it’s artificial?” a general asked.
“Yes, sir. Confirmed.”
They shifted, whispering.
“Of course, being so close to Earth, it’s frequently monitored, but for decades it’s been relative silence – just random space noise. Nothing remarkable.”
“So, what’s changed?” Sowell asked, when a tall soldier entered the room and whispered into the Security Chief’s ear. “Hmph.” He motioned to the screen. “Looks like someone’s been talking to the press.”
Behind me, my presentation became the local news, which split into a second channel, a third, then nearly two dozen separate sources from around the world, all with basically the same caption: “’Not Alone Anymore.’”
Sowell continued, “Well, with the cat out of the bag, what can you tell us, Dr. Wilson?”
“Um, again, a binary code repeating every thirty-seven seconds for almost exactly twenty-four hours.”
“To make sure the entire planet received it.”
“We think so,” I agreed, then returned my original presentation to the main screen. “Anyways, a fairly straightforward sequence, deciphered with rudimentary mathematics.”
“Oh, it’s a message, we think.”
“We gathered that,” he remarked impatiently. “What does it say?”
“Well, we think it’s a warning,” I explained. “A series of images…mostly of Earth.”
“And it looks like they’ve been watching us.” I hit play.
Haunting clacks and strained groans, an alien language, accompanied the presentation – hundreds of images beginning with war machines and explosions, followed by the concentration camps of World War II. Images flashed with spent battlefields, the capture of Saigon, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. There was war and torture and destruction, finally culminating in the most fearsome visual of all, the enormous mushroom cloud of a thermonuclear detonation. The alien clicks and groans continued. Earth appeared – image-enhanced from across the vastness of space. Suddenly, the planet began to implode, contracting upon itself, before disappearing into a singular pinpoint of starlight which itself faded away.
Stunned silence filled the room.
Next, more clacking, this time gentler. Fields of wildflowers appeared, children playing joyfully, and people of every type and background helping their neighbors. Beautiful cities merged with nature, while smiling families boarded starships soaring for the sky. Next, shocking images showed strange alien creatures warmly welcoming humans into their civilization – a new era of otherworldly possibility. The message concluded with stylized avatars of dozens of different beings, one of them clearly human, and all grouped together in community. A few final alien clicks and the images faded.
Martin Sowell nervously cleared his throat. “What’s your interpretation of this video, Dr. Wilson?”
“Well…I,” I stumbled, suddenly put on the spot. “Even without understanding their language, the message seems clear. If we continue as we are, the Earth will be destroyed. But if we can find a way…well, the potential is astounding.”
He brooded deeply, fingers intertwined and his expression heavy. “I’ll brief the President. Thank you Doctor. That’s all.”
Outside, it was ten minutes for my Uber. Leaning back into the bench, I was joined by a slender man with thick glasses and a worn briefcase.
“So?” he asked.
“I think we did it. We convinced the world it was real.”
“But will it really change anything?”
“Deception is a tricky business,” I replied without even glancing over. “The greatest minds in science are with us.”
“And if this fails?”
“Then we’ll move to stage two.”
My Uber arrived and I rose. “For peace? Whatever it takes.”