The New Neighbors Episode 3
“It’s just too lonely. You can’t begin to conceive of the depths of isolation that I must endure.”
It was a voice. No one had ever heard anything like it before. It came from every device on the planet. It echoed. It reverberated. And it was the most pitiful sound we had ever perceived.
Mouths dropped open. Eyes lit with fear, wonder, awe, or any combination of those feelings anyone could find a way to experience.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you when I stopped your power. I wanted to show you how unimaginably vast this universe is. I wanted you to see my home. It’s a massive empty house. I wish physics worked differently. I had hoped to show everyone on your planet, but Sol had other plans.”
I looked at the monitor that Jobson and Ellison were still appearing on. “Can it hear me if I respond, Peter?”
“If it can send, it can receive Mr. President.”
“I hear you, human leader.” It was the alien voice. It had the tone of a child whose stuffed rabbit is about to be burned in the rubbish heap.
“Who are you?”
“My name is not one humans can pronounce, and I can’t get my device to transmit it as a sound you could comprehend.”
“We’d like to hear it anyway, if that would be all right.” Ellison had an insatiable curiosity. He also had a complete disregard for authority. The monitor showed he was sitting while the President was standing. Part of me wanted to remind him that in this room when the President stands nobody sits, but this wasn’t the time.
And the sound began to fill the room. The Oval Office. The West Wing. The White House. Washington, DC. Every street and highway, every body of water, every desert, and every set of ears on the planet. Sailors observed every form of sea life breaching the surface of the oceans in a perfectly synchronized ballet. Every bird took flight. Every other sound was silenced for the interval of the name. Its music, its chaos, its inaudibility with sounds too high and too low for human ears to process, resonated to every grain of sand, every blade of grass, every drop of water, and every satellite in orbit.
When it finished, there was complete silence. We were all swimming in the inexplicable beauty of the name. We were lost in thought, in the new canals carved into our souls, in the new spirituality that opened like a door in the darkness out of which an impossibly bright light shone.
Finally, I found my voice. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth…”
“… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The alien seemed satisfied with itself. “I like your words on paper. You have quite a few of those. You have such vibrant lives. I envy you.”
“Maybe we should call you Horatio? How would that be?” If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Ellison was in love.
“Brevity is the soul of wit. I like Horatio. It’s easier for you to say, and he is an admirable character. He cares. He loves. He has neither greed nor malice. Horatio is an apt name for me.”
“Hello, Horatio. I’m Joseph. I’m pleased to meet you. I have the privilege of speaking on behalf of a large portion of this planet, and my portion, at least, welcomes you to our community. What can we do for you?”
“I just would like… company… that’s the word… company… companionship… a sense of more than myself. I’m the last of a once mighty civilization. We came so far in such a short time. Our science allowed us to do the… what do you call it… Inconceivable. We colonized uninhabited planets throughout the galaxy. We expanded our technical knowledge but lost track of our moral… compass? Compassion… Company… so many words you have. Company… Corporation… Cooperation… Competition… Corruption. Crumbling. Collapse. Catastrophe. Cold. Space, Joseph, is so very cold.”
“You have absorbed quite a bit of Western Culture.”
“I have already absorbed, if that is the word, all of the cultures on your world. I have seen all you have produced. I’ve read all you’ve written. You’ve composed roughly 40 quadrillion words, so it took nearly three entire seconds to comprehend them all. I’ve heard all your broadcasts. You are a remarkable people. You are beautiful. You are savage. You are kind. You are ruthless and heartless. You are so many things. There is much to fill the void. The universe is not so empty as I had believed.”
“Where are you?” Jobson wanted to start pointing telescopes. “How distant? How did you find us?”
“It doesn’t really matter since I’m going to cease to exist in what you measure as four minutes and twenty seconds. I understand your scientific curiosity, however, and I approve of it. What’s left of me is floating quietly through what you call the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy. I’m seventy thousand of your light years away from you. If you make it to the speed of light, any missiles you want to launch, Admiral Fitzgerald, can be here in time to see me slipping into what you call a… a black hole. I’ll be doing that for the rest of time. Fortunately, I will be unable to perceive the experience for much longer. It is singularly unpleasant to be pulled into a singularity.”
“What is your means of propulsion? Can you reverse your engines and escape?” Ellison couldn’t bear to give up his new friend.
“I could have until I reached out to you. I expended the rest of my energy to establish this connection.”
“You gave your life to talk to us?” It was a decision I couldn’t understand.
“Life in endless solitude isn’t life, Joseph. It was one of your favorite authors who said Fathers and teachers, I ponder, “What is hell?” I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his coming to earth the power of saying, “I am and I love.” Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous.”
“He understood me before any of you conceived of me. I didn’t want to make that creature’s mistake. I wanted, for only the briefest of moments, to love. I wanted you to know the universe is not so empty as you thought it was. I was here. My civilization was here. There must be others. If there are two, there must be three, and therefore, four, and if so, five. The universe must be positively bristling with life, if only we can find it. I found you by using what your Dr. Jobson describes, frighteningly inaccurately, as quantum entanglement. It’s so much simpler, Peter, but it’s too complicated for you to understand that simplicity. If I had two hours left, I might be able to teach you to spell it.”
Jobson smiled. “Touche.”
“Ms. Kirkendall, you can tell the world that there is life beyond Earth and that life spoke exclusively to your President. MSNBC will love that story. Fox will call me part of a Communist Plot. It doesn’t need to spun, though, since everyone with access to sound equipment has heard all of it. The planet has firsthand knowledge of the most important moment in your history… so far. There is more yet to be written.”
“Is there going to be any record of this event? Can we get video or something?” Claudia was already seeing press conferences in her head.
“I’ve taken the liberty of using every recording device on your planet to capture the entire incident. I apologize for using up so much of your Memory. You should all probably go and buy some external drives. Amazon has great deals. And… now that I think of it, Mr. Bezos wants to give them away in celebration of this event. Free SSD external drives only at Amazon dot com. I don’t know how long that will last, but it should at least hold until the connection dies. I don’t know how long it will take their tech team to fix it after I’m gone. I don’t care all that much, though. Do you? Oh, and Claudia?”
“This is ‘The Inner Light’ episode you discussed. A dying civilization sends its history to the universe.”
“We have your complete history?”
“You have the part of it that matters.”
“Is there more life out there? Have you met anyone else that still exists? Can you give us their phone numbers?”
“Mr. Ellison, this could be a wonderful science fiction story for you to write. Sadly, everyone on Earth already knows how it ends.”
“Joseph, I want you to help everyone understand. If my presence tells you nothing else, you should know this. All the hyperbole aside, it was Love that caused me to seek you out. It was the hope of Love that led me to sacrifice the remainder of my existence for these few moments of connection to other living beings. You represented your species admirably. You have given me no reason to regret my decision. I am grateful.”
“Thank you for showing us something beyond our fishbowl. We’re going to reach for the stars. And you’ve shown us they’re bound to be within our grasp. On behalf of humanity, I thank you humbly. And if you ask around, you’ll find I’m really not a guy who’s prone to humility. Mostly I tell people to shut the hell up and just do what I say.”
Horatio’s laughter was the last we ever heard of him. The signal broke down, and all of our devices went back to their normal operating conditions.
There was an unnatural silence that permeated the Earth. As one, we wiped our eyes. I took a breath, and then I addressed my staff. “Okay… What’s next?”