Irish SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) HQ
Kate clocks-in a bit late. Her supervisor will notice. As if those few minutes make any difference. If there is intelligent life out there, surely they would transmit the message for longer than that, and not before coffee. Control room is empty. She clears some papers from the desk, stares motionless at her inbox, then turns on the chair five times clockwise and back.
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>’.
She performs equipment checks. The light bulb in the red alert lamp is in working order. Kate waits for the morning break.
Why has she waited? She sits alone by the wall and looks into her tea. They’ve never liked her. They call her Trekkie, not only because of her Captain Kirk mug. 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 and 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.
One hour 58 minutes until lunch. She writes a report. She may as well. The constant low buzz of the computer and white noise from the speakers help her focus. She puts on another cardigan. Budget cuts.
She sits outside under the satellite dish and eats her salad. With each crunchy bite she can feel inches disappearing from her waist. She will have to compensate with chocolate after getting home.
She’s back at her desk, hungry. 3pm slump on the dot. She wishes her chocolate was here. Still no sign of life.
Her supervisor walks in.
‘Hello, campers,’ he says way too loud.
‘I’m alone here.’
‘Well, now, don’t get discouraged. We know we’re not alone in the universe. That wouldn’t make much sense now, would it?’ He sits on the edge of her desk.
‘Yeah.’ She gets up and opens the filing cabinet. ‘Here’s your report. 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: ‘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.’ She prints off another checklist, as the message made her colour outside the lines. The highlighting ritual begins again.
She has her coat on. Of course now, when she’s ready to leave, the red light blinks. This is it. What the humanity has been waiting for since it became capable of waiting. The very first contact with other life forms, 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 tentacles, 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 me neither.’
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 breathes in, clicks to open. The cursor spits a letter after letter. She reads out loud: ‘wat u wearin’.