Placeholder

Bip … bip … bip
“Okay Jim, we’ve got something … we can just make it out. Getting it confirmed … okay, sending through … now.”
No one would have believed in the first years of the 22nd century, that human affairs were not being watched from the timeless worlds of space. Even so, the speed of events in the few months leading up to this momentous point in history had taken all by surprise. It had started innocuously enough, with a routine inspection of software archives.
Francis ‘Frank’ Drake, a contractor from Chicago, was doing some spring cleaning and code optimisation for the Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts program, or SETA. After 28-hours non-stop raking through lists of variable declarations, Drake stumbled across a snippet containing an “unfathomable token”. Not the precise technical term for what he had found, but it was what he scribbled on his jotter, before collapsing into an exhausted heap.
The following evening, refreshed and zinging from his “eye-opener”, Benzodrene and a litre of java, Drake confirmed his initial doubts: he hadn’t been able to make sense of it, simply because it had no discernible purpose. It was a functionless function, a placeholder, for code as yet unwritten. Except, it had somehow become propagated throughout the interpretive algorithms of SETA’s signal analysis. Consequently, its null value was far from nugatory.
Until then, arguments about finding extraterrestrial life had questioned human ability. Was our technology powerful enough to detect alien radio emissions? Were we looking for the right thing? Had we been searching for long enough? Since Drake’s discovery, it was now clear that, more than anything, humans had not been listening properly.
But that had been then, and this was now. The ‘Fermi screens’ flickered in front of the assembled world leaders. Each craned a little closer, breathless, afraid. Risk and uncertainty had no place in politics, and here they were, faced with the greatest of all unknowns.
“Okay … you should be seeing something … about … now”.
Words slowly took form through the screen fog. They constituted the first communication from another world. The aliens had spoken. It read,
"WATCH THIS SPACE"
About these ads

About JFDerry

Writer. Darwin, science & more. 4 books: Piospheres, Darwin in Scotland, Serial Killers. Current project is THE DISSENT OF MAN. Born near London, raised near Primrose Hill and in Lincolnshire, and studied at the Universities of Bangor, York and Edinburgh for degrees in Biochemistry, Bioelectronics and Biological Computation, and a PhD in African Ecology. Mainly working in British and African universities, but also in Spain, Brussels, Mongolia and Australia, to date, publication history is mostly in academic journals, on aspects of computational biology, pastoralism and on Charles Darwin and evolution. However, also written for several national newspapers, various governments, several major record labels and independent book publishers. Fiction has appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and poetry is at the Human Genre Project. Lives in Edinburgh, with partner and their two daughters.
This entry was posted in Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Placeholder

  1. Katie Yeoman says:

    I love the last line! Actually laughed out loud.
    On another note, heard a documentary recently on SETA, suggesting that it had rather run its course and they were thinking of dismantling it as a failure. Do you know anything about that?

  2. JFDerry says:

    Thank you, I was worried it was too tongue-in-cheek / subtle. Relieved that you got it.

    wrt SETA, sorry I don’t have any news. seems currently discussed in the fora at http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/

  3. I really loved your writing throughout. It worked so well to build your story, as well as set the tone. Love the humor of the message after all that build up to something profound.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Placeholder | OSQUALITUDE -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s