It hung in the eternal darkness, alone.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2008
It was clothed in the darkness, cloaked by it, and so little light fell on it that it was quite literally invisible.
It was not just alone, it was so isolated that there was nothing near enough to it to give any sense of scale. But far away, so far that it was difficult even to guess how far they lay, in every direction hung bright dots of colour. And in one direction hung something red, so dim that it was almost below the threshold of vision, so huge that it seemed to stretch till its borders were swallowed by darkness.
It moved towards the red thing, moving very swiftly, but because there was nothing to provide a frame of reference, and because the distances were so vast, there was no way to tell if it were moving at all; but as time went by, a red tinge appeared on its surface and slowly, slowly, grew brighter. And as it grew closer, it became evident that the glowing red body was a gigantic, dim red star.
Little by little, as the red glow brightened, the object began to take recognisable shape. Its metal was scratched and pitted by the bombardment of cosmic dust and micrometeors, but its antennae still stretched out inquisitively towards the darkness, tasting the snap and crackle of radio waves and hard X rays, mapping out sources of radiation, preparing reports it would never send.
It had been on its way so long that the planet that had sent it outwards into the darkness, that lovely little blue ball third out from a small yellow sun, had long since become a charred cinder hanging inside a broiling cloud of helium gas. But it still moved on, further and further from its origin, sweeping around the spiral arm of the galaxy, into the unknown. It met stars and used them as slingshots, swinging past them to build up momentum before whipping into the unknown again.
Yet, each time it approached a star, preset circuits sent out messages, from a power source so long lasting it would still be working when the galaxy grew old and the stars went out. The messages were a locator, a beacon, calling anything that might be listening. Hundreds, thousands of times, it had done this, and nothing had responded.
This time, however, something heard. As it swung round the huge red star, picking up velocity, two shining craft appeared on either side. Force fields reached out and took it in tow. Moving faster than ever, they brought it down to the surface of a rocky planet and put it in a building deep underground. Beings that had evolved ages after the craft’s inventors had died gathered round and probed it with instruments, trying to open up its mysteries.
Long, long ago, this had been anticipated. The craft’s designers had prepared for this. They had thought long and hard and installed clues as to themselves and the location of their fragile, long gone world. And they had also installed a direct message to the creatures that might find the craft – a Rosetta Stone that would open the doors to understanding of the language of the probe’s builders. Based on a language that was built on the spectrum of hydrogen and the radio wavelengths of pulsars, it was a simple message – one that might be thought to be readily comprehensible to any civilisation anywhere in the galaxy.
The beings investigating the craft deciphered the message soon enough. They scratched what passed for their heads and listened to it over and over again:
“Take me to your leader,” the voice from the craft said, in an endless loop. “My name is Little Green Man.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2008