43 years ago, on the 5th of September 1977, a space probe was launched from Earth, and sent on an endless journey through space. The probe, which was affectionately named Voyager 1, contained a multitude of information regarding humanity, including our language, our art, and in a more metaphorical way; Our souls.
Today, the little machine is 22 billion kilometers away from Earth, the furthest reach of our species, though not a manned vessel, it’s still a part of us. Despite its distance, we’re still keeping contact with it, and during it’s journey spanning almost half a century, it has given us an insight into the mysteries of the universe we thought we could only dream about.
My own father spent most of his life on the project, and I have since followed in his footsteps. I dreamed about taking over his work even as a twelve year old kid, and eventually, these dreams would land me at NASA’s doorstep.
Little did I know, that only a few years into my work, the one question that has plagued us since the dawn of mankind, would be answered, forever changing the course of human history.
“Are we alone?”
On the 7th of December 2019, I arrived to the office after having been called in at four in the morning. I immediately noticed the panic that had erupted over night, with my coworkers scurrying around the office, confused, horrified, but seemingly excited about a picture sent from Voyager 1.
The monitors that usually displayed little more than numbers and boring graphs, now all showed the same, singular image; That of a blue planet. I approached one of the screens, and studied the photograph. In many ways, the planet resembled Earth, with vast blue oceans, and split landmasses, but none of the continents were recognizable to me, and the clouds hovering above were red, with a vague, yellow tint.
“Hey, Dan, what’s this?” I asked my neighboring coworker.
At first he barely noticed my presence, too engrossed in his own work as he stared at the screen with a mixture of terror and anticipation.
“Hey, what’s the picture?” I repeated.
“It came from Voyager 1,” he said, barely a whisper.
Impossible. The last image sent from Voyager 1 had been received in 1990, the famous ‘Pale Blue Dot,’ an image we’d posted on the wall of our office for inspiration. Since that fateful day, our engineers turned the camera off to save the probe’s memory, assuring we could still receive more valuable data in the future.
“Don’t be stupid, that’s impossible,” I said, “they turned the camera off decades ago.”
“Something – something turned it back on,” he said with a shaky voice.
His choice of words confused me. Instead of indicating that a person had done it, he said ‘something.’
“What do you mean? How is that even possible?”
“I don’t know, but the signal that turned it on came from the planet on the picture. It overrode the system, effectively hijacking the probe.”
I looked back at the picture, noting its bright surface, an impossible image without a nearby star to light it up, but according to all available data, Voyager 1 should have been several light years away from the nearest star.
“The signal came from within the Oort cloud,” Dan mumbled.
“I know, it’s three hundred years ahead of schedule. We rechecked it five times, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Before I could ask any further questions, my supervisor called me into the main office. There, he showed me the transmission we’d received from Voyager 1. Apparently it wasn’t just the picture, but a sequence of numbers and codes hidden within the radio signal.
“Do you know what it means?” I asked after listening to the mess of sounds about ten times.
“Well, that’s why we called you in. We were hoping your father left behind any ideas about his work, before he passed away.”
My Dad was a magnificent man, brilliant in his own way, but obsessed with finding the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Throughout the past century, Earth has picked up a multitude of different radio signal, most of them just an after effect from collapsing stars and random background radiation.
However, among the mess of noise, several coherent messages have been filtered out from the symphony of the universe. The only problem was that we had no means with which to translate them. My father never could, he could only determine their origin, which fit perfectly with the current location of Voyager 1.
Then it dawned on me, that the last message, coming from Voyager 1, wasn’t just another random signal sent from a thus far unknown planet, but a mathematical key that could be used to translate everything we’d received so far. My theory was, that the species that had hijacked the probe, had used it to understand our language – instructions, of sorts.
We spent the next few days deciphering the message, desperately looking for the key. It took a lot of sleepless nights, and countless amounts of caffeine, but eventually we found the answer.
Without hesitation, we applied the decoder to all previous messages originating from the same region. The first one having arrived in 1968.
Though we had what was essentially an alien dictionary, the language they used contained so many foreign concepts, ideas we still don’t understand, but what follows is the basics of what we’ve deciphered so far:
December 7th, 1968: “Is there anyone out there?”
March 15th, 2003: “Help, help, help.”
October 23rd, 2010: “They are here.”
September 19th, 2011: “We did our best, sorry.”
Though the direct messages didn’t make much sense on their own. The planet had emitted a continuous signal that seemed to contain a very comprehensive history of their world. As far as we could tell, their species first surfaced ten million years ago, and had reached a level of technology that is so far beyond our own, that we can’t even begin to understand it. They make no mention of war, but they talked about a defense grid around their system, one that had been ineffective against a threat mentioned on several accounts. The most approximate translation of this threat has been termed “The Iudex.”
Since the last distress signal in 2011, their planet fell silent. It was a heartbreaking discovery, to finally find intelligent life other than our own, only to have it extinguished immediately.
The more horrifying fact, however, was that their demise wasn’t one of their own making. No, their end had come at the hands of a far superior species, one able to travel through space only to wage war and destruction…
Yet, despite their end, a final message was sent through Voyager 1. One that wasn’t calling for help, or giving us a detailed history, or ideas on how to reach them.
Instead, they left us with a final warning, a simple message, and a translation key. All they said was:
WRITTEN BY: Richard Saxon
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