DIALOGUES
By Jeff Robinson (1,540 words)
(published SFN Anthology from AKW Books 5/2009 "More Alpha Dreams")

The great mystery about the nature of the stars was discovered by men in the year 2352.

The human race had learned the secret to interstellar flight and faster-than-light travel nearly a century before and, as they traveled from one star to another exploring, they systematically recorded the electromagnetic spectrum of the universe around them.

One scientist gathered as much stellar data as he could and studied the changes in frequency and intensity of stars to learn more about their cycles and their nature. After analyzing many such observations, the scientist reported that the time-based variations from some stars, over hundreds and thousands of years, resembled patterns similar to speech.

These fluctuations, he explained to his colleagues, were nonrandom modulations similar to the language patterns of humans, ancient dolphins, and many of the alien races mankind had encountered out in space.

His ideas gained a great deal of popularity in his day and his followers spent years analyzing similar signals, not only from Earth’s star, Sol, but from many others as well.

After decades of research, a famous Institute, named after the scientist and devoted to the study of intelligence, concluded that stars were alive. They claimed that stars were, in fact, long-lived beings who communicated with one another over vast interstellar distances and long spans of time. It seemed incredible, but while electromagnetic and gravitational waves took years to travel such distances for men, they took only moments for them.

Apparently the difference in size affected these being’s perception of the passage of time, as well.

The scientists at the Institute explained that, if the lifespan of a star was, say eight billion years, and the lifespan of a human was a mere century, the star-like entities would think and speak tens of millions of times slower. A word might take a half century to say and a conversation could take thousands of years. A single human lifetime would be a mere two seconds to beings that lived that long.

Fascinated by the idea, the Institute proposed a daring project. “If Sol is intelligent,” they suggested, “perhaps we could communicate with it.”

The challenge, they argued, would be creating instruments that could do so. The problem, as they saw it, was twofold; time and size. In order for a transmitter to be able to communicate with a star, it would need to generate an immense amount of power. Indeed, there was considerable concern that it would be impossible to do. Moreover how could anyone create a message that a star would notice, let alone understand?

“The sun is so huge,” argued opponents, “that nothing we could do would affect it. Even if we pushed an entire planet into a star, it would hardly be noticed at all.”

The second issue was time. No one knew for sure how long would it take to send such a message, or to receive a reply.

The debate went on for decades, until visionary scientists finally rallied enough support to build the devices they had designed. Thus, the governments of the Earth combined their budgets and funded a project to establish contact with their home star, Sol.

Initially, a dozen large devices were built, designed to draw energy directly from the sun itself through the use of large solar arrays. In turn they would generate patterns constructed by computers and programmed to be transmitted very slowly over many, many years.

“The project will take centuries, to complete,” argued the scientists, “but it will be worth the effort.”

The construction project took thirty years, but, once in place, the devices were designed to run on their own, forever.

When the transmitters were finally finished, they builders activated them and they actually ran for three full centuries, before they were interrupted. A new generation of scientists, analyzing the living stars, determined that a different message needed to be sent. A more appropriate greeting to a living star was designed and the programs of all the transmitters were changed. At the same time, they made upgrades to the old equipment. Engineers installed improved power supplies and they widened the frequency bandwidths that were utilized.

Satisfied that the transmitters were better and more efficient, the scientists activated them all once more.

Human progress continued. Man traveled further out into the stars and founded colonies on many distant worlds. Interstellar empires rose and a new age of prosperity dawned for the human race.

After five more centuries, several different governments on widely dispersed worlds decided that the message drafted so long ago was stupid. The scientific community of that day determined that yet another message should be sent instead. The speech of the living stars had now been fully deciphered and mankind more completely understood their language.

Once again, they stopped the giant transmitters and upgraded them. They increase the number of transmitters tenfold and rebuilt the transmitters, making them larger and more powerful. Some were now the size of small moons, powered not by the Sun, but by antimatter generators of incredible power. These machines could generate as much energy in a day as the entire planet Earth once consumed in an entire year.

This time, the generators ran for nearly a thousand years before they stopped transmitting.

This time, is was because of a war. Humankind had grown and expanded. In the power shifts that occurred during that time, a dispute erupted between Earth and several of its former colonies.

Near the end of the war, the Earth’s solar system defenses were destroyed and, along with them, many of the solar message generators.

The war finally concluded, but neither side won. Both sides were changed and weakened by the devastation of the war. Thus, for a time, Earth became reclusive and had no interest in space flight or indeed anything to do with the stars.

Several hundred years later, a more enlightened and peaceful hegemony, resurrected the long abandoned project and reached once more to talk to the immortal beings they now worshiped as gods.

Newer transmitters were built and a more pious message prepared.

Less than eight hundred years later though, most of the transmitters were switched off and systematically dismantled. The technologically-based government on old Earth, long stripped of its resources, was collapsing and the valuable alloys and metals used to build the transmitters were needed more badly at home.

Unfortunately, the effort to reclaim the precious metals and technology from these devices cost nearly as much as it had taken to create them in the first place. The reclamation project strained the already fragile resources of the desperate political faction that ruled at the time.

Predictably, the salvage effort was never completed. The economy of the failing technocracy collapsed before all the valuable materials could be recycled and the human populations that remained descended into a level of technology that denied them access to the spaceflight.

Earth’s former colonies and other rival civilizations on other stars remained and thrived, but, because of hard feelings left over the course of several particularly nasty wars, they left the Earth alone.

Humankind flourished out across the galaxy, but deprived of resources, Earth itself became an abandoned, backwater world.

The project was eventually forgotten by humanity’s descendents, who proceeded to evolve into a very different species with remarkably different interests.

Nevertheless, a few remaining transmitters continued to patiently send their messages as programmed.

Over many millennia, however, even those machines broke down; nothing lasts forever. Power cores ran out of antimatter and grew cold. Nanocircuity corroded and died. Orbits drifted and gyros that had kept giant antennas turned in the right directions failed, allowing the transmitters to precess slowly across the heavens, misdirecting their messages to empty space.

The handful of transmitters that remained, no longer remained synchronized with one another. Errors that accumulated over the centuries caused the different units to broadcast their messages out of phase with one another.

This time, no one came to repair them and their messages degenerated into random noise.

Finally, after many millennia, even these derelicts failed. Silenced at last, the dream and the message was lost.

*****

“Excuse me, child, what did you say?”

“I don’t mean to interrupt, teacher, but it’s scaring me.”

“What is frightening you?”

“The voices. I’ve been hearing voices that are so loud I haven’t been able to listen to you. It started out as a ringing and buzzing that made it difficult to hear. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn’t go away. Now I’ve been hearing voices that have been growing louder and they’re scaring me.”

“What do the voices say, child?”

“Nonsense… fragments of sentences. We’re here… Look at us… Sometimes longer phrases that plead or make strange requests. Then the voices stop and start again. Now all I hear is whispering and buzzing.”

“Don’t worry, little one. There’s nothing to fret about; it will go away. Such things happen to everyone now and then. Trust me, it isn’t dangerous and will soon pass.”

“Ok, teacher, I’m sorry. I was just scared for a moment. I guess you’re right. The noise is already fading enough that I can barely hear it anymore.”

“Good. Now where were we? Oh yes, we were discussing ancient history. So as I was saying, in the fourteenth cycle of Karnakat, during the reign of scientist-priest Thoristixar, the precepts of universal knowledge sharing and metaphysical economics were finally codified… ”

 

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