Flashfic

Message in a Bottle

Log made by the 17th child of the 96th brood:

I found the object during the third rotation of the cycle. A dead day, the elders say, but I am only twenty cycles old and smooth-skinned enough (their words) to ignore tradition, so I was out in my shuttle anyway, with the viewing port turned to the stars rather than the dark smooth curve of Home on a dead day. Even so, I might have missed the object, but pure chance made me look up at just the right moment.

It took me a while to bring it in. My limbs are ungainly still — I’m not sure if that is the right word. There is only a small sample of the language available, and my translation software is old. I could have asked my brood-mother for help, but it was a dead day, like I said, and she’s sixty cycles old already, not smooth-skinned enough to ignore tradition at all (though I think she is still beautiful, even with the scar that seams across her face). Anyway, I have some language skills myself, so between myself and the translation software, maybe I’m putting this into words you can understand.

In any case, I got the object and brought it into the habitation ring. Nobody saw me, since they’re all busy meditating or, for those who only want to appear traditional, taking some extra time to sleep. It didn’t take me long to decipher the thing, though the method of accessing the data is unusual and the form of much of the data bizarre. Who communicates using vibrations in the air? Still, when I privacy locked my living space enough that I could make an atmosphere and take off my breather, I built the device it indicated and let it make its noises. Some of it was very strange, but then I found some of the music. Obviously, any culture that can make such music deserves some kind of response, a decision it took me only one rotation to come to. It was a little more difficult to gather components with my elders drifting around everywhere you look, but my brood mother was busy with sensor calibrations, and my brood siblings have their own tasks.

So, hello! Adanniš lu šulmu! Bonjour tout le monde! Kay pachamamta niytapas maytapas rimapallasta runasimipi! Ni strebas vivi en paco kun la popoloj de la tuta mondo, de la tuta kosmo!

We’re here! We hear you!

Log made by Brood Mother 96:

Twenty cycles old, and still no common sense! Of course she pays no attention in history. She’s sent the thing off into the void with her response already, though, and she is only a smooth-skinned child — it seems unfair to spoil her excitement, and surely even she doesn’t expect a response in her lifetime. Still, it’s a shame to see how education is lacking these days: she should have known of Earth, and how pathetic our race’s first attempts to reach the stars were. I had to look up the object, but it was in Archive, after all: Voyager 2, a probe sent out of the Solar System long before our ancestors learned to tunnel through the void to find a new home. I suppose I can’t blame her. Education has been lax for at least fifty cycles now, since the second big system failure. She doesn’t even know what it’s like when Home is fully pressurised, with an atmosphere maintained throughout the whole structure. To think she’s never heard music before!

I do wonder what the people who sent Voyager 2 would think. Would we be true aliens to them now? Struggling along in our orbital ring, with power shortages and intermittent problems with pressurisation that no one can track down? Using implants to communicate, because speech aloud is too unreliable? In any case, we can’t go back. We just keep making the same mistakes, it seems: we’ve made our orbital as uninhabitable as we made the dead world my brood-child’s message speeds toward. Perhaps it was better, back on Earth. Living without breather helmets. Touching skin to skin for more than just breeding. Listening to music and other people’s voices… Suddenly, I wonder if my brood-children — any of them — have actually heard my voice.

Perhaps I’m as naive in my own way as my youngest brood-child. After all, here I am recording my thoughts in a dead language, as if I could add them to the response she’s already sent out.

Perhaps I should go and find one of the old instruments and take it to her living space, tell her to pressurise it. We could have music. And perhaps in council, three rotations from now, I’ll remind everyone where we came from and what we’ve lost, and what we still have to gain.


Notes: My favourite thing about this story was getting to weirdify humans. At first I intended to write something about another species finding Voyager 2, but it didn’t fit half so well as this.

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