<COMMUNICATION BEGINS> No contact, silence, not even static. The machine had been silent for nearly thirteen standard Earth years. It sat, its apparent antiquity looking out of place amongst the sleek more modern communications equipment that was standard at Outpost 43.
Operator 14 had been given a short lecture about the incongruous machine before he started his first shift at the now famous Outpost 43 ten years ago, he had been told that it had been left behind by a rogue sentient starship that named itself “Man or Astro-man?” before it upped sticks and left the local area of the galaxy two hundred and fifty years ago to pursue, as it put it, “more meaningful endeavours”. Leaving instructions that the curious machine would be used to receive communications regarding what (if anything) it found.
Outpost 43 was one of the last remaining manned listening stations left in this part of the galaxy, since most of the modern AIs and starships communicated with each other (or their humanoid crews) telepathically. But Outpost 43 was retained for strategic purposes, in other words, spying.
Then two hundred and forty five years after the starship had set off, the machine turned itself on and produced approximately forty five minutes of what could only be interpreted as music. Then after repeating the communique, ironically titled “Is It… Man or Astro-Man?”, five or six times the machine once again switched off.
What this message actually meant has never been fully interpreted, amongst the separate sections, or tracks, there are elements of spoken word, or “vocals”, but these have never shed any light on what was happening or had been happening to the ship light years away. Had it not leaked through the Network and been picked up by some of Earth’s more adventurous inhabitants and enjoyed as just entertainment, it may well have just been seen as an aberration and forgotten about.
This pattern repeated every year or so, each time the content of the communication took the form of what on Earth had been entitled “Surf guitar”, a guitar being a popular stringed instrument that had enormous popularity on the relatively backward planet. In fact Earth became a keen recipient of the communiques when they appeared, to the point that the Network started actively selling these communiques as releases from an Earth based band!
And then thirteen years ago the apparently final broadcast was sent, entitled “A Spectrum of Infinite Scale”, by now a lot of the higher echelons of command had started to think these were just the ravings of the ship which had clearly gone senile after its enormous journey. These opinions seemed to be confirmed as the titles of the messages contained within the broadcasts were getting increasingly surreal, “Many Pieces of Large Fuzzy Mammals Gathered Together at a Rave and Schmoozing with a Brick” for example.
By this time Operator 14 had taken quite an interest in trying to decode these missives, believing there must be some meaning attached. But up to now he, like everyone else, had come to nothing and after ten years of silence he had pretty much given up trying.
Then, in the middle of his shift, just has he was about to start leafing through a particularly salacious looking holo-mag that the previous operator had left behind, the ancient machine crackled loudly into life. It was safe to say that 14 nearly soiled himself in shock.
Text flashed up on the screen “DEFCON 5….4….3….2….1”, this did not mean anything to 14, defcon was not a word he was familiar with. The content did not differ greatly from previous communiques, it still had the familiar surf guitar sound but more of the individual tracks contained vocals, not that they gave 14 any real clues (again) to what the message was all about. The title however was bugging him so he called up the Network and initiated a search for the term DEFCON. The Network returned just one result, a document detailing conflict and war on Earth which explained DEFCON as an abbreviation of DEFence CONdition and the numbers referred to severity. All of a sudden Operator 14 felt a cold shiver and decided he needed to look a little closer.
“Antimatter Man”, “Disintegrate”, “Communications Breakdown Part II”, “Electric Arc” and “New Cocoon” were the titles of the tracks interspersed between tracks entitled Defcon 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, they somehow seemed ominous. The message ended on Defcon 1, the most severe state of defence readiness, what did this all mean??
After listening intently (and admittedly, dancing around the Outpost a bit, there was a surveillance clip that would no doubt be shown at the christmas party!) for the final hours of his shift he had not really come to any real conclusions (except this latest communique was pretty bloody fun) so retired to his bunk.
Operator 14’s eyes suddenly flicked open, he had no idea how long he had been asleep but somehow he instantly realised what the message was. He leapt out of bunk, struggled to get some trousers on and literally ran out of the little dormitory to alert his superiors, the galaxy was in great danger, people had to be told!! This was not just a collection of music, this WAS a warning, they had to get word out, they had very little ti..….<END COMMUNICATION>