Dangling Conversations by Edward M. Lerner

Matthews just didn’t get their point: “us” and “them” were just pronouns. An undecoded dataset so early in the effort also failed to faze him … why should ET’s message be immediately clear? ET was alien. They waffled for two days, by which time the external media had moved on to newer news.

* * * *

Waiting for the emergency meeting to start, Matthews wondered if the committee had learned its lesson. The loss of signal was already widely known; he felt they should just acknowledge it.

Ricard had inexplicably brought a gavel, which he wielded to open the meeting. Some overseas members, unable to join the short-notice session in person, were videoconferenced in by encrypted network link; they winced as the chairman pounded too close to the mike.

“Thank you all for coming.” After excessive pleasantries, Ricard came to the point. “It has been reported that the signal from ET has been lost. The matter being so important, we will discuss a suitable statement for recommendation to the steering committee.” Heads nodded.

“Point of clarification,” interrupted Matthews. “A more precise statement is that the signal has ceased. Every observatory, government-funded and other, reports the same thing.” He’d been on-line for much of his flight; the message boards were unanimous about the time that the signal had disappeared. It hadn’t faded or been randomly garbled by cosmic interference, both of which had often happened. The signal was just gone.

“Do we know why?” asked someone.

“The short and honest answer is: no. On the ‘net, the most common guess is that ET’s orbit is bringing him to the side of his sun opposite us, so he’s stopped sending until he can get a clean signal through again. Perhaps, once we’ve decoded the entire message, he’ll have told us.”

In a pleasant surprise, reason won out. The not-too-tardy press release simply reported the cessation of transmission.

* * * *

“You’ve got incoming.”

For a Brit, Bridget had a fair grasp of American slang. Matthews still reserved judgment whether he had cause to worry.

He was nonetheless suspicious. It was eight in the evening for him, making it the middle of the night in Switzerland. Moreover, she’d contacted him over the ‘net, and Internet telephony had far lower voice quality than a normal call.

The task force had provided its members with PC-compatible encryption devices of unusual robustness, which he guessed she wanted to use. That turned out to be correct.

“What’s up?” he asked once they’d opened a secure session.

“You know there are ITU staffers on the Signals committee. One gave me a sneak preview of their latest finding. You’ll surely hear all about it in Media. Judging from the tizzy your friends got into over ‘us’ and ‘them,’ this news is sure to throw them for a circle. A head’s up seemed in order.”

For a loop, he thought to himself. “What is it?”


She opened two windows on his PC. In a red window she ran the animation of ET’s “us”-labelled spectral flip book. The other window, colored green, showed a similar sequence of images. She slid the second window over the first, and re-ran them superimposed. The green charts were in all cases a superset of the red.

“Green is our best-guess reconstruction of Earth’s aggregated RF emissions over time. The big energy spikes are from TV transmitters and ballistic missile early warning radars.”

“When does your animation start?”

She grinned at him from the corner of his screen still showing real-time video. “The best fit matches ET’s spectrum animation with our reconstructed data starting in mid 1950.”

She had used the term “incoming” correctly: ET had lobbed a figurative bombshell at them.

* * * *

Apropos of the New York venue, it was deja vu all over again: another short-notice Media meeting. So far, only the task force had the explosive news. If Media moved quickly, this time they could shape the world’s impressions.

ET had in 1958 captured signals emitted by Earth in 1950. He’d waited more than thirty years to respond. Why?

“It’s devastating,” said Dr. Shah, a psychologist, “that ET could not be bothered to answer. Are we so insignificant?”

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Categories: Edward Lerner