Obsolete In A Bottle: a short story by: GF Willmetts.

October 29, 2017 | By | Reply More

We only have ourselves to blame. It was once said that computer tech was revised every 18 months and we all moved along with the updates, often forgetting some things in the rush. We felt ourselves quite proud when we got it down to a year. Of course, the punters, that you folk, couldn’t always keep up. That didn’t stop them jumping a few generations whenever their old equipment broke down. It helped a lot by making sure their kit had an obsoletion date after the guarantee date passed. Why keep things when they’re past and could be recycled. We put a random date on this just to make sure it wasn’t too obvious to the watchdogs. If your computer lasted longer than your neighbour’s, then aren’t you the lucky one. Still, to run the latest software, you would either have to trade it on and update or go without. There was never any thought to preserving old games or the hardware to run them. Such is life but at least we took care of melting down old computers and reused their resources than just let it fall to scrap. We thought we were efficient.

That is until our first alien visitation. Spacefarers who came across one of our old probes and found our message disk. They were sleek tall silvery beings, coming down in a smaller vessel, leaving their mothership in orbit. They played a portion of the disk over and over and talked in the same pattern. It wasn’t hard to deduce that this was probably closest to their own language and they had a successful translation. No doubt they wanted a response in the same language. One problem. There was no one left alive who could speak it, let alone have a file using it. Obsolete. Why should we keep anything to do with it? The probe was very old. A bygone age. A relic. We hadn’t even kept a copy of its information. Why should we? We never expected to see it again. We even searched there in case there was a copy of the original disk and the equipment to play it on. Thing was even if we found one, we’d have nothing to play it on.

We tried out current languages with the aliens who looked on dumb-founded as if it was we were who were talking gibberish. To their eyes, we were obviously not the people they were looking for. They must have thought we’d regressed or even another species. They pointed at diagrams from a plaque that pointed to a particularly planetary system. It was almost as though they were asking the question was there another planetary system that this probe had come from? How could we answer? Even stripping down to show we matched the images wasn’t enough. Did they think we walked around naked all the time?

They showed us other aspects of the disk hoping that it might stir some memories. We did match a few geographical places and showed photos of these. Erosion and environmental, not to mention age, had made them less than they were. The music tracks were as alien to us as they were to them. Our ancestors had some funny ideas when it came to music. Who wanted regular beats and repetitive chorus lyrics anymore?

If we could find the means to communicate, we would have found a way to explain. As it was, we were both seeking something that no longer existed. A renaissance. A relic. Something long gone. We had no way to contact our own past and it was becoming increasingly obvious that these aliens weren’t seeing us as advanced but regressives.

We needed to talk to some of the few pariahs who broke the law and hoarded those useless antiques as if their lives depended on them. So, here was I with my small team visiting one of them hoping not to be corrupted but needed some answers before these aliens left.

Contamination was a problem but we chose the blues than the whites, knowing they’d be burnt when we returned to civilisation. This oddball didn’t even live in the city but in what looked like a junkshop. I came across a reference to one once.

We didn’t know what to expect. A tall greying smiling man with his hair in a ponytail who offered his oily hand in greeting. I looked down disdainfully but shook it, confident that I could have the residue removed when we returned to civilisation. We needed his trust and co-operation not dislike.

‘Sure I got the kit, man. Don’t work anymore. Chips broke down. They weren’t made to last long outside of guarantee an’ that was a long time ago.’

‘You’ve heard of this golden disk that went out on one of the early space probes?’

‘You mean the Voyager? Number one album sent out of the Solar system. Yeah, I heard of it.’

‘Did you keep a copy? On something we can hear today.’

The geek looked around and pointed at several large boxes across the room. ‘Not an original. Galvanized gold. Give me a few hours to look through those and there might be some sort of recording in there. It’s very old. An antique even to the likes of me.’

‘We’re running out of time. We don’t know when there ETs are leaving.’

The geek looked suspiciously at each of the four men before smiling. ‘OK. But I want in and meet the aliens when you go back. Deal?’

‘Deal. You might even be able to decipher the language.’’

‘Each of you grab a box. Look for any label that says ‘Space’ or ‘Voyager’. If we’re lucky, maybe both.’

‘Do you know what’s on the disk? We’ve only seen a little of what it contains.’

‘It’s a sampler album, dude. Mostly classical music. A few 20th century like the Beatles and Chuck Berry. Some stiffshirts, no offence, wanted to show our best and then went back to 18th century and the like.’

‘What’s music?’

‘Ever heard of Elvis?’

I shook my head. ‘Noise preservation order.’

‘Whoever said music would last forever. Want me to play some?’

‘Let’s find this Voyager information first.’

As we worked our way through the boxes, the geek often paused to smile at something or other and slip it into a different box or his pocket.

‘Did you ever transfer any of these into modern formats?’

‘Some. But then you guys stopped doing compatibility leads or rejected the formats being used. I’ve been cobbling together old kits ever since to keep things playable for as long as I can. What I do now is viewed as illegal. I’ve probably violated half a dozen laws here in front of you guys.’

‘I will see that doesn’t happen.’

‘You will? That’s neat, dude. I’d hate to move again.’

‘I think we’re learning that this, what do you call it?’

‘History, man.’

‘Is becoming important.’

‘I wish my collection was bigger but it needs bigger transport than I can afford anymore.’

‘Hey, look what I found. This might be what you need.’

‘It doesn’t look like a golden disk.’

‘It’s a film about the Voyager itself.’

‘Can we watch it?’

‘Maybe. It’s a good thing it’s on disk. Magnetic tape never lasted forever. You realise if we ever had a nuclear accident we could probably wipe most of the info stored there?’

‘I thought you didn’t keep up with anything modern?’

‘You kidding, dude? I’d rather like knowing what’s brewin’ than be surprised by it. Not all of it though.’

The machine lit up and the geek manipulated a control remote after checking it had something inside it and gave it a wallop when nothing happened. Suddenly, a picture appeared and began to show the film.

‘I don’t understand the language.’

The geek manipulated the control. ‘Sorry. There isn’t a language option with this one. Even the sub-titler is shit.’

Ten minutes into the programme, the picture stalled.

‘Should I slap the machine like you did the remote?’

‘Yes…No! It needs a proper repair. Might damage the laser or disk. I said this equipment is old. I’ll have to cannibalise some old equipment assuming I can find out what’s wrong.’

‘How long will that take?’

‘I dunno, man.’ He turned off the machine. ‘Ages until I find the actual fault. Let’s finish searching these boxes. There might be another data format in there.’

‘There’s more than one?’

‘Hell yes, dude. I wouldn’t keep them all otherwise without a back-up. I’m always on the look-out for old gear. Just got to find time for repairs.’

‘Even if it has no purpose today.’

‘Really, man? Why else are you here?’

‘Good point.’

‘You look worried, man.’

‘What if it isn’t here?’

‘There’s always storage. I got more boxes there. I would have kept it. Part of history, man, like the Apollo landings.’

‘That’s a place, right?’

‘The Moon. First landing.’

‘You mean Luna?’

‘Moon. Luna. Our satellite. The one up there.’

They continued to search.

‘What are you going to do when you find out which language, man?’

‘See if we have it on record anywhere and use it to talk to these ETs.’

‘And if you don’t?’

‘Guess we’ll see if you can help.’

The geek raised his eyebrows.

‘We will pay.’

‘Hey, that’s appreciated, man.’

My AUPH rang and I listened patiently before hanging up.

‘We have to get a move on. We think they’re getting ready to leave.’

‘I think I have it. Memory chip. Should work in any of my computers.’

The Geek found a computer and plugged it in and we settled down to watch with me recording on my AUPH. Same programme. Good copy. Shame I still couldn’t understand it.

‘Do you understand what they’re saying?’

‘It’s an old language. There was a translator programme but haven’t been able to find a manual I can read. You should see the languages it listed though. They were real polyglots back then.’

They studied the footage.

‘At least the pictures make sense. Those lines show which direction the probe went. Your science boys should be able to work out where these alien dudes came from.’

‘Talk away. I’m making a record so we’ll check anything we can. I think we might have left it too late. They were packing.’

The Geek pulled out another remote and flicked on another screen displaying the news bulletin focusing the aliens.

‘They don’t seem happy.’

‘What’s this.’

‘The disk man. Sheer gold in more ways than one with this version. There’s a sub-title list identifying the languages. Press this button to pause when you spot it.’

They listened patiently and then I pressed the button.

‘What is it?’

The Geek’s face dropped. ‘Man, this one is tough. An obsolete dead language called Anglish.’

The AUPH rang again. I listened. ‘Too late. They left a box and gone. They think it’s a bomb.’

‘Or it could be a communication device, dude. They may be giving the benefit of the doubt. We found the language. We can tell them when we can speak it.’

‘You’re an optimist, aren’t you?’

‘Better than a pessimist, man. The deal still stands?’

‘Yeah! I’ll even ensure your funds. You’ve raised us from no hope to some hope. I’m even talking like you.’

‘High seven, dude. We’ll get them back.




© GF Willmetts 2017

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Category: Books, Scifi

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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