When we made contact, it was not an earth-shattering meeting. It was not an invasion, nor an offer of friendship. It was not even contact. It was a whisper overheard in the darkness.
We were eavesdropping on a conversation that had taken place 90 years before. It would take 90 years before our ecstatic greetings reached Kepler 266f and another 90 years before we could hope for a reply.
Yet that distant voice changed everything.
Image credit: NASA Ames / SETI Institute
Not at first. When we recognized the signal, there was excitement, even war, but it faded into the backdrop of scientific knowledge and popular culture. Yet those soundscapes saturated our consciousness and transformed us. All of us metamorphosed, even those who still resist, trying to find their way back to a silent universe where humans were the height of creation.
It is too late to stop our ears. We cannot unhear what we have heard.
We are not alone.
This is hard, harder than I remember, laying down these words one by one, heavy as limestone, these slow symbols, letters that represent sounds, sounds that form words, words that symbolize concepts, concepts that coalesce into sentences, sentences that build paragraphs, paragraphs that stack up into chapters. The pyramids of Giza seem easier to build than a book.
I know writing was never easy for anyone, especially for me. I struggled with essays, stories, emails, even text messages. But it seems harder now. I have spent days writing these few words, rearranging them, weighing substitutions. I am forced to settle on inadequate terms like “voice,” “whisper,” “conversation,” and “soundscapes.” Such words cannot describe the audio-visio choruses of the Sixes, nor can they capture those complex events, elaborately woven through time and space, that lead to our transformation.
So why bother with this archaic form of communication? Why spell it out when we can experience the entirety of surviving memory in an instant?
No, I am not a Regressive, nor an Individualist. I am not a Muslim anymore, nor a Fire Baptist.
I have chosen to write it out in the old form for therapeutic reasons. I need to tell the story the way we used to tell stories, to describe the changes in the language we used then, as if I were speaking to people before first contact.
I need to see if we are–if I am–still capable of telling stories.
And, yes, it is nostalgia for a time that was not simpler, but was more . . . human. I recognize my neurotic obsession with humanity as a backwards, species-centered trait that limits me to obsessive individualism.
Nevertheless, my window says that I may try to write it out. I will access memory banks only when it is essential to get the details right. I must do this in order to externalize those barriers that are holding me back from the biosphere. I have permission to try.
And if I am entirely honest–as my window says I should be–then I must admit that I am writing for Cass, if she is still alive, in hopes that she will read this and know that we–she and I–can still communicate: the Regressive and the Supplicant. I want to convince her to pass with me. I know that I should not care for her more than anyone or anything else, but her scowl and her laugh are stuck on endless repeat in my brain, along with that last message: “I am sorry, Rasheed. I can give up love, but I cannot give up ice cream.”
I don’t know how to forget her if she does not join me.
She is certainly dead, but if by some miracle she lives (how could she when she rejected the upload?), she will never receive this message, for the window will not deliver it. Although the collective of Supplicants feels every word I write, no one in the outside world will see this message.
She will never read it. Cass will never hear my story. Our story.
Even if she lives.
But if you read this, Cass, if you can hear me, please listen to my distant voice and join me in the biosphere.
(For the next part of the story, click A Distant Voice: Part 1: The Quiet Girl.)