Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner

No, the real problem would came later, after the analysis. It was not merely appropriate for Earth’s answer to come from the UN level. Two days after Xu’s press release, the General Assembly had passed an emergency resolution. With its hasty ratification by three fourths of UN member countries, an international treaty now required that any response come only under UN auspices. Mbeke, Smythe, and their ilk showed little interest in okaying any such transmission.

Protocol be damned. He started pushing through the crowd to the American ambassador.

* * * *

Alexander Klein had an imposing resume. He had earned PhDs in history and international studies from Yale at 22. He was tenured at Stanford at 27. At thirty, he was a senior staffer on the National Security Council. The UN ambassadorship was his second cabinet-level position.

Klein overruled the aide attempting to shoo Matthews away. They stepped into a small chamber off the COPUOS hearing room. The ambassador heard Matthews out, asking occasional questions and jotting notes. Glancing often at his watch, Klein kept the conversation ruthlessly focused: absent a compelling new argument, the hearing was moving towards shut-down of the task force. Matthews hoped he was making that case.

Roderigo’s gavel fell. Ambassadors, witnesses, staff and observers all took their seats. The chairman recognized Klein.

After a flowery introduction, Klein took some notes from his jacket. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Dr. Satterswaithe, might I impose on you for a bit longer?”

Bridget nodded.

“I’d like us to step back from the text of ET’s message, or rather from the part of that message so far decoded. I’ve been led to believe that it might be instructive to consider the broader context.”

Klein glanced again at the notes of his consultation with Matthews. “Would I be correct in understanding the following? In just the last few weeks we’ve been given proof that humans are not alone in the universe. In fact, we have neighbors who can see our little world here.”

“That’s right, Mr. Ambassador.”

“And these neighbors not only have better telescopes than we do, they have better radios as well.”

“Again, that’s correct.”

“That’s a lot of knowledge from a supposedly secretive source.” Klein studied his notes again. “And the signal that conveyed all of that knowledge to us, was sent by a transmitter far more powerful than anything we’ve ever built?”

As Bridget agreed once more, Matthews worried that Klein was overdoing it. The Third World delegations had already shown more discomfort with possible culture clashes and perceived inferiority than the physicist had thought possible.

“Thanks for keeping me clear on these points, Doctor.” Klein took off and polished his glasses, the image of a harmless college don. “Some of my esteemed colleagues have raised a concern, and I am not unsympathetic, about the cost of the task force.

“I have reason to believe that these are not the only costs. If I could refer you for a moment to your ‘day job,’ would I be correct in my understanding that radio spectrum is a valuable resource? An economically precious resource?”

Bridget leaned forward with a renewed confidence. She (and the ambassador) had gotten it. “Very much so. For example, we had to disrupt the plans of a global satcom company to avoid interference on ET’s channel.” She had in mind NetSat.

“I see. Presumably our Lalande friends have to sacrifice the same frequency to communicate with us?”


Klein turned his attention to his fellow ambassadors. “I find that my perception of ET differs from some of my colleagues. For example, I feel that I know a lot about him. He’s curious: he wants to know more about us. He’s smart: he knows a few tricks we might like to learn. He’s serious: whatever effort we’ve made to hear and understand his signal, it must be far smaller than the investment ET made to formulate such an elegant message, to reserve valuable radio spectrum just in case we answer, and to devote a transmitter the likes of which we have yet to build. We would know none of that if our neighbor had simply chosen not to tell us.”

He tucked his notes—perfectly delivered, so far, thought Dean—back into his jacket. “It’s said that money talks. ET has dedicated quite a lot of whatever he uses for money to this endeavor. I think he’s entitled to have us hear him out.

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Categories: Edward Lerner