Wow!

I float out into the weather, across the pack and down the hill, into a wide, flat valley bordered to the north by a ridge of pale nunataks. The shrieking from the antennas is oppressive. The fetal pig squirms and claws at my chest. I give him a few short, comforting taps. “Hang in there, buddy,” I say. Then I float over the the closest antenna.

The dish is red and swollen. Bulging, mad. I lay a hand on it. Do something! it tells me. I have some tools in my bag. I pull them out. A crescent wrench, a diagnostics machine, some fresh DIMMs…. #6 refuses them, slaps the bag into a drift.

Listen! it screams. Listen!

“Okay,” I reply, raising my hands in submission.

I retrieve my bag, take out a set of headphones, and plug in. The ‘phones slide in, wrap around my cochlear nerve. #6 doesn’t wait. Data immediately screams into my brain. The ARC is here. Welcome to the ARC, Wayne Robertson. The other dishes are linked up, too. They start joining in, one after another: #19, #20, #14, #8. More data streams in. Slightly different data. Observational data. Thermal radiation. #12, #16, and #4 come online. Interference from an Aurora. A pulsar. A meteor. #2, #7. #13, #1. They’re scanning for something. #15. Pressing their ears into the sky. #3, #10. Wrenching the noise out of the vacuum of space, funneling it down to the bottom of the Earth. The rest join in. Data sieves into my ear. But it’s all meaningless noise. Space junk: Thuck-thuck-thuck. Sqqeeeeeee. Thip-ccraaww.

The noise stops. All is quiet, momentarily. I sense they’ve found what they’re looking for. Something small. Almost unnoticeable. Just a blip. It sounds in my ear. Blip. Again. Blip. Blip… blip.

Blip blip blip.

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

It repeats faster and faster, louder and louder each time. Pounding in my ears. My head swells. It’s too much! Stop it! I’m screaming. They don’t hear a thing. STOP IT!

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

BLIP! BLIP! BLIP!

I rip the headphones out. Sharp pain explodes between my ears. Milky, glutinous strands of nerve fiber plunge into the snow. My ears sing.

“Okay, okay!” I plead. “I got it! I’ll figure it out!” I’m screaming, I think. I don’t actually hear myself speak. My ears are destroyed.

I take a breath…. Then, I replay the noise—the blip—in my head. It’s just data, like the rest of the noise. But this little blip of data is unnatural. I can feel it. It’s intelligent. Deliberately forced out into the universe. A tiny little blast of straight lines.

I can do the translation in my head. My eyes roll backward. Waveforms become 1’s and 0’s. Binary. Then… UTF-8. Unicode? Wow, it’s text. Nothing special. Just plain, regular text.

It says… “TELDRS”

I pause. Glance at #6. Run the translation again.

“TELDRS,” again.

TELDRS?

What the hell is that?