Synapse

Here it came again. A microsecond burst, inaudible to human ears, and – until relatively recently – to human-designed technology, the sudden squirt of dense information still alarmed those who were exposed to it; even slowed down so that it lasted just over a second it sounded like nothing on Earth.

The first transmission which had been intercepted had made headlines; people all over the world had celebrated what was being described as the first clear indication of intelligent life out there somewhere, but nearly a year on, it was old news.

Mainly it was old news because no sense had been made of the transmissions at all. The finest minds of several generations had been applied to them; colossal research grants and vast amounts of government funding had been poured into decoding them, and absolutely nothing of any use had been discovered.

The intervals between the transmissions were random; the sounds themselves were dense, complex and unrepeating, but no-one had been able to relate them to anything – well over a million personal computers were hooked up to a collaborative project to compare the various elements of the signal to the digits of pi or a broad selection of other universal and interesting numbers, but nothing. The signal had been dissected, sliced and spliced; subjected to analysis at all frequencies and even merged with itself, layered over and over until it resembled white noise – but a type of white noise unsettlingly unlike what was familiar to human ears.

Nothing. Nothing usable in any way. The transmissions were of uniform length, but the duration seemed to give no clue – it related to no known wavelength or frequency. The complex waveforms of the signal delivered no meaning, and even the painstaking work which had been done in unpicking the signal – stripping out individual sounds – gave no indication of how they had been produced, or why.

The only practical application of the signals, aside from the endless philosophising which the human race had suddenly become prone to, was a piece of dance music which some enterprising producer had put together. Using the signals as source material, and using the random intervals between them as an erratic and awkward rhythm, the resulting piece of music had been a brief sensation – thousands of listeners all over the world had claimed to divine some kind of message from it, but none of them could agree in any way just what that message was, and the excitement surrounding it died as quickly as it had flared.

The most puzzling thing of all, of course, was that the signals appeared to come from somewhere close. Close enough, in fact, to be within the moon’s orbit. Any number of outlandish explanations for this had been offered, but even a hastily put together collaborative space flight could shed no light on it. The signal came from nowhere, and as far as anyone could tell, meant nothing. Funding was slowly redirected to other projects, and the attention of the world moved on.

In a place which human understanding of the time was incapable of describing, a lifeform which was closer to an idea than a corporeal form took the decision to stop the transmissions. Had it been capable of speaking in English – which it most certainly was not – it might have said something like:

“Pity. They appeared more intelligent than they were. We’ll try again in another 43 lifecycles or so.”

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