Recently Kumail Nanjiani tweeted that the best Star Trek...
“Blue Planet” by Helen Doremus
August 19th, 2012
He is a young man when the noise is first plucked out of the inky cacophony of space. The discovery promises him a long, healthy career in the burgeoning field of interplanetary communications. For a few heady, glorious months, he is the face plastered across the news feeds. The tiny piece of intelligent noise is grafted onto the fabric of the world’s culture, layered into music and the butt of a thousand delightful and repetitive jokes.
The beacon is deciphered over hundreds of hours of relentless toil, and while it translates to little more than a packet of sterile information, the imagination and hopes of the world are captivated by the bare descriptions of the only other inhabited planet in the universe. (As yet discovered.)
It takes two years more to formulate a response considered acceptable by all the many world leaders. The young man, as the world’s foremost expert on the transmission, is the one who sends out the response, encoded in the original language of the received transmission and beamed back to the coordinates specified in the beacon.
He is older – the world is so very much older – when the response finally arrives. There are no parties or cheery jocularity this time. There is no one standing over his shoulder any longer to share the news with. There is hardly anyone left at all anymore, the majority of the world’s population left rotting in the fields and mountains, victims all of the war of the nations. Survivors, much as the old man, keep to themselves, dying in the best way they know how.
The beacon is despised, as is the old man, blamed for the loss of billions of lives as much as are the world’s erstwhile leadership, who scrabbled and fought to be first to profit from the beacon’s world. To send people out into the vacuum to find and intercept their new neighbor, which must surely have technology and insight worthy of the ruthless shedding of blood.
The new message is short and simple, but it filled the old man with a horror of his own life, a regret for all the hopes he had carried for an escape and refuge. The faith in an answer to vindicate the final labored gasps of his world.
“We are Earth. Can you help us?”