Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner

“We see no new symbols in the indigo region, so I would not think it is tutorial. We also found none of the ‘us to them’ or ‘them to us’ phrases, so I do not think indigo relates to trading.”

“As I expected.” Matthews pushed back his chair, feeling the need to pace. “One of the few things ET already knows about us is that the signals we send, or more accurately leak, are so weak he can barely hear us. That’s pretty clear from the time-lapsed replay of what he’s heard. Surely if ET had extracted any information from Earth’s radio leakage, instead of just our dial tone, he’d have sent a bit of it back to let us know.

“ET’s transmitter is far more powerful than anything on Earth, or it’s capable of incredibly focused beamcasting, or both. So, another speculation. I bet that the indigo material, the electronics, is a transmitter design. There’s no reason for ET to ask to trade until we learn to speak intelligibly.”

“Perhaps I can complete the decoding,” added Matsumoto. “If we grant Dean’s speculation, a meaning might also be placed on the last portion. At a high level, as I said, the part of the message coded in violet derives units of measure. This appears to include time intervals and a radio frequency.

“If Dean is correct, the last part of the message may be telling us when and where ET will be listening for our reply.”


A side effect of Matthew’s new assignment was more time spent in New York. The steering committee met often, with only the furthest-away members telecommuting. His house plants took it hard, but otherwise it worked well. In particular, it gave him the chance to better bond with the other steerers. His new routine of a morning jog with Vladimir Antinov was pure bonus.

Pounding along a Central Park track, Dean saved his breath for keeping up with the fanatically fit general, while Antinov did the speaking. Each run brought a revelation and the always useful reminder one learned more by listening than by talking.

Today Vladimir was pondering a new press release from Dean’s former committee fellows. His perspective was always an eye opener, as different from Dean’s industrial viewpoint as Dean’s was from the academics and bureaucrats who dominated the task force.

“Good technique, my friend, divide and conquer.” The Russian didn’t appear to be sweating. “Analyzing as much of the message at once as possible makes sense.”

“In my world, we call it parallel processing.”

“The labs back home say it is an interesting approach.” He referred to what had indeed proven to be a transmitter design.

Dean considered, reminded of his favorite evasion. As in: this casserole is interesting. “More surprising than interesting.” Pant, pant. “Curiously complex.”

“You should think like a Russian.” When the physicist made no reply, Antinov continued. “Consider Mir. I loved seeing the faces on your astronauts when they first came aboard. They were in shock about Mir. So primitive. So klugged.”


“Yes, thanks. Kludged. Despite our kludging, or maybe because of it, USSR had a space station twelve years before one piece was launched for a NASA space station.” He jogged in place at the crest of a hill while the huffing American caught up. “The best is the enemy of the good enough.”

“My brain is not at its best when bouncing.”

“You Americans believe advanced capability requires advanced technology. You think ET’s solution must be simple and elegant.” They zigged off the path to pass some mere power walkers, then zagged back on. “You never think of Mir.”

“So.” Matthews was out of breath. “You’re … saying … brute force.”

“Perhaps. Of course, I would not know an elegant radio design if it shot at me. I only suggest that you consider it.”

“Food … for thought.”

“Only five kilometers. You would not survive a real run.” Antinov pointed to a coffee shop. “Come, we’ll get some real food.”

* * * *

“The University of California at Berkeley announced the discovery at the end of the ET message of a deadline for Earth’s response. Dr. Enrique Ramirez, of the Department of Computer Science, stated that ET has requested that Earth begin its reply 97 days from today.

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