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Is there anybody out there?

Irish SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) HQ
Today

9:07

Kate clocks-in a bit late. Her supervisor will notice. As if those few minutes make any difference. If there is an intelligent life out there, obviously they wouldn’t transmit the message before coffee. Control room is empty. She clears some papers from the desk, stares motionless at her inbox, then turns in the chair five times clockwise and back, anticlockwise, then she receives a text from her mother: ‘Mike was here. You should take him back <love heart> I don’t want to die without a grandchild. <sad face, very sad face>’

At the morning break, she sits alone by the wall and looks into her tea. They’ve never liked her. They call her a Trekkie, not only because of her Captain Kirk mug and ‘Beam me up hottie’ t-shirt. In her latest paper she suggested that extra terrestrials could study us, maybe even learn our language and culture before making the first contact.

‘Hello Kate, how are you today?’ An obese scientist casts a big shadow on her table.

‘Who are you?’

‘Matt, I’ve been working here for eight weeks now. I heard you’re at the listening station. It’s so cool. I bet they’ll start with primary numbers.’

She ignores him until he goes away. After Mike, she has promised herself not to fall for pretty eyes and academic titles again. She goes back to her desk having found no signs of intelligent life in the canteen. Yet, hope remains as the forgotten ham and cheese sandwich in the fridge is getting close to growing limbs.

Back at her desk and hungry, she wishes her chocolate was there. She writes a reports: Still no sign of life, when her supervisor walks in.

‘Hello, happy campers,’ he says way too loud.

‘I’m alone here.’

‘Well, now, don’t get discouraged. Surely we’re not alone in the universe. That wouldn’t make much sense now, would it? Not with all the funding we’re getting.’ He sits on the edge of her desk, way too close for comfort.

‘Yeah. Here’s your report.’ She gets up and opens the filing cabinet. ‘I have to get back to the listening.’

‘Yes, of course. Thanks for that. Just don’t be late again, alrighty?’

With a neon pink highlighter she marks off tasks from her to-do list. Text from her mother says: ‘I talked to my school friend, Ella. She has twin boys your age. You can pick either one. <love heart><love heart> They earn in IT three times as much as you. Each.’

16:57

Three minutes to five, she has her coat on. Of course now, when she’s ready to leave, the red light blinks. This is it. It’s what the humanity has been waiting for since it became capable of waiting. The very first contact with another life form, distant civilisation, an intelligence, hopefully. She clicks a few times and the message loads on her screen. No primary numbers, no mathematical constructs, but an image. She wipes her glasses and pulls the monitor closer. It is a shade of green, with something like a tentacle, a bit slimy. She cannot make heads or tails of it, but at least there are no teeth or claws, looks friendly enough with a patch of green hair and shiny spots.
‘Nice to meet you,’ she says to the screen. ‘You’re not pretty but neither am I.’
Computer beeps. A text message. It makes sense to first show what you look like and then say hello. Her hand trembles. Is it possible she has been right all along? What do they say? Will she understand what they mean? Is it a greeting of peace or threat of war? She breaths in. Clicks to open. The cursor spits one letter after another. She reads out loud: ‘wat u wearin? Wanna reproduce?’

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