Thursday, 8 November 2012


     The planet hadn’t been noticed. Hidden behind three gas giants, earlier surveys had missed it. But not this survey, with its bright eyed, rosy cheeked interns and large budget; they’d spotted it, circling the star Mu Arae. A super-Earth, in the goldilocks zone, only fifty light years away; it was too good to be true. The interns became excited and their professors became excited and there was some inappropriate touching in all that excitement and an announcement made to the world.

     Others shifted their gaze to Mu Arae and it was confirmed. A paranoid military turned their listening devices, antennas and satellites to the star.

     And they found a signal. Faint amongst the crackle and whine of the void, nearly undetectable. Others pointed their instruments, picking up the transmission and passing it on until it resounded around the earth. Scientists, mathematicians and polymaths analysed it, endless algorithms were run over it, rewritten and run again. Conferences were organised, speeches given, arguments put forward and fights lost in dark car parks as no-one really understood what the signal meant.

     Finally a bookshop geek came up with the answer. He’d created a genetic algorithm to translate ancient Greek texts and set it analysing the signal once Homer started to bore. He passed the results to the professors who read it and quickly organised a press conference. Those rosy cheeked interns and their professors, all kinds of scientists, and the bookshop geek lined up as the cameras stared at them, holding the eyes of seven billion people.

     The lead scientist stood up, sweating and scruffy. He waffled on about how exciting it was - the changing of human destiny - the first contact with extra-terrestrial life. He looked at the paper in front of him.

     The cameras waited.

     The scientist looked at the interns - apart from the one he’d touched inappropriately.

     Back to the paper.

     Back to the cameras.

     He loosened his tie, coughed and announced.

     “Please, keep the noise down.”