Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


 

Originally published in Perihelion Science Fiction. Free science fiction stories, science articles, comic strips, reviews, and more, on the Internet. Every month, Perihelion presents solid stories with strong plots, intriguing characters, with a sense of wonder reminiscent of the classic science fiction pulp magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. Artwork is by award winning illustrators. Articles are by experts in their fields. Established in 1967, originally as a print magazine, by Sam Bellotto Jr. and Eric M. Jones, the magazine was revisioned in 2012 as an online publication, and has been published regularly every month since. For the best in entertainment and information, bookmark Perihelion on your favorites list.

Copyright © 2016 by Holly Schofield.

I Love Lupi

By Holly Schofield

RAY PEREZ WONDERED IF IT would be unprofessional to have one of those mini-trampolines in front of his work station. He’d improvised a standing desk last week, when he’d detected the incoming signals from far beyond Nu2 Lupi, so that he could jitter from foot to foot as he verified the data. Now that he’d reduced the signal-to-noise ratio enough to confirm the data stream had real content, Ray had an almost uncontrollable urge to bouncy-bounce through his day.

He poured coffee into his twenty-two ounce mug and straightened his Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt. First Contact was really happening! He looked out the computer lab’s window at the dusty parking lot, as if he could see the South African plain ten kilometers away where thousands of small antennas stood row on row. The Square Kilometer Array, the world’s largest radio telescope array, was as sensitive as whiskers on a newborn kitten. Or so he supposed—he’d never actually tested the whiskers of a newborn kitten for sensitivity, so it was just a hypothesis.

The ring of his cell phone almost made him drop his cup. His old college roommate, now a world-class cryptographer and linguistics expert, was ecstatic. “Fascinating stuff you sent! It is a language! I’ve run some algorithms and posted it on a few forums! It’s already gone viral!”

Ray winced at the data leak, then shrugged. Whatever. He’d dreamed of this moment since he was six-years-old standing in his backyard shining a flashlight up at the stars. First Contact! He squeaked out: “What is it? Numbers? A Golden Record?”

“Nah, neither. Pictures, audio streaming, repeating over and over, each about an hour long.” Kevin’s voice held a peculiar, strangled-sounding note.

“Real communication from real aliens?”

“The real deal, from ten-kay light years away. These particular aliens are long dead and buried but their message has reached us. See for yourself, my friend. I’m sending you what I’ve analyzed so far.”

Kevin kept talking, something about aspect ratios and frequency shifting, but Ray let his phone clatter to his desk and loaded Kevin’s incoming file. A video started—blue scaly monsters doing a complicated, graceful dance around a sort of gigantic furry tree.

He stared, dumbfounded. This was a far-off civilization’s best attempt at an intergalactic message? He picked up his phone, still connected. “Kev?”

“And you wondered why any advanced race would deliberately send out signals with two periodicities and in the IR spectrum. Turn up the volume.”

The handsome dragon-like creatures were speaking in rapid-fire contraltos that swooped and soared like the best of Pink Floyd’s guitar bridges. The dragons began making oddly shaped pottery from the lumpy mushrooms at their feet, iridescent claws flashing under a violet sun.

Ray stuttered as the truth dawned. “A ssssit-com? Or a reality show?”

Kevin’s chuckle was tinny through the phone. “The Lupian equivalent of Leave it to Beaver or maybe Gunsmoke. It’s a pretty good show. It’ll be even better when the forum hivemind cracks the spoken language and we attune the colors more to our visible spectrum. Cool, eh!”

***

Over the next two months, the world slowly went Lupi-mad or, in Ray’s opinion, just plain loopy. The observatory had instantly crowdfunded enough money to automate all the data conversion processes for the next few centuries. Kevin moved into Ray’s laboratory, for the convenience of watching the shows as soon as they were ready for viewing on the giant wall screen the observatory director installed, and for the top-of-the-line popcorn machine. Most of the observatory staff moved in as well, complete with couches and La-Z-Boy chairs.

Dozens of Lupi shows, once deciphered, gave a continuous entertainment stream of dramas, comedies, cartoons, even variety shows. The broadcasts seemed endless—Ray figured the aliens must have used analog for a very long time. The reptilian people had an appealing, likeable blend of all the same foibles, emotions, and situations as humans. Panspermia theories abounded for a while but languished from disinterest when a Lupian class-conflict drama started a new season.

Ray leaned forward, using both armrests. He’d given up on the standing desk and, most nights, he curled up in his chair with a blanket. Now, he studied the remaining news sites. A week ago, the UN had declared access to the Lupian shows to be a basic human right, causing a ripple effect on various economies. Small villages in Brunei now had Internet and wall screens in their marketplaces, and rows of folding chairs on their offshore oil rig platforms, to the detriment of their national GDP. At least, Ray suspected it had—most of the statisticians who collected GDP data abandoned their posts in favor of watching Lupian game shows.

Wall Street had officially closed from lack of interest yesterday, after a Lupian network started a new season, and not a single stockbroker showed up for work.

Ray closed the news site and switched back to his raw data feed. The Lupians must be sending Earth some kind of intelligent message. He’d find it even if no one else would.

Somehow.

***

“Come on, Ray. Watch. Just for a minute. You’ll like this one.” Kevin said, patting the couch cushion next to him. He gestured at the huge wall screen on Ray’s laboratory wall. “And, V’ana will be up soon, according to my probability software.” A dozen former observatory staff members seated nearby shushed him.

“They’re only TV shows,” Ray said loudly for the umpteenth time, watching data flow past, his butt firmly in his chair. He was probably the last person working anywhere. Stubbornly, he held to his dream: to find a sign from the stars, to know that someone was trying to communicate.

Half an hour later, the rom-com resolved its current relationship conundrum and neatly tied up its loose plot ends. Kevin and the rest of the audience moaned with satisfaction. Ray had managed to keep his back to the screen and had only listened in a couple of times. Well, maybe three times.

Ping! Ping!

Ray jumped. He checked the feed receiver before he realized it was just the former observatory director starting up the popcorn machine. The catchy theme song for “V’ana” began to blare from the massive speakers and the crowd in the observatory hummed along blissfully. Before he knew it, Ray was half-standing, half-turning toward the big screen. He grabbed his chair’s armrests and forced himself to sit. If he joined the crowd, if he sat over there at the big screen, he’d never get up again.

“It’s V’ana, buddy, she’s on and she looks hot!” Kevin called over.

Ray wouldn’t look. He wouldn’t.

“She’s got a steely glint in her eye!” exclaimed a woman in the audience. “And is that black leather?”

“Look at her arsenal of weapons!” said the ex-director, drawing chortles from the crowd.

Ray kept his back resolutely to the screen.

As he gritted his teeth, a thought wormed into his mind. Maybe “V’ana” and all the other shows of the long-dead Lupians were a sign. Maybe the medium was the message. And Earth, in turn, was sending out its TV broadcasts, its own messages to alien worlds, all of which would arrive in their own good time.

Ray spun his chair around. With bouncy footsteps, he walked to the couch and motioned Kevin to scoot over. “Hand me some of that popcorn,” he said.

And sat down. END

Holly Schofield is a member of SFWA. Her fiction has appeared in “Lightspeed,” “AE: the Canadian Science Fiction Review,” “Unlikely Stories,” and other publications. Her previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-JAN-2016 issue.

 

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