Take 6EQUJS-67 And Call It EQUip JeSus! : a short story by: GF Willmetts (WOW! not included)

January 2, 2022 | By | 1 Reply More

I like the law of averages. If you keep looking long enough, something will show up. Like a bus, why should we be surprised at two extra-terrestrial signals directed at each other. We were just lucky to eavesdrop on two alien species talking to each other across the local systems. Local is still several billion light years away so I doubt if they’d know. They even had a key making it easier to translate. Then considering it was based around the Periodic Table, better than some binary code.

It brought out some sensible logic that we could profile them. The fact they sent a translation key mean they didn’t expect the messages to get there in any one lifetime. Even so, allowing for the speed of light, it would take some time to track the signals to their source points or home planets. At least we would have the telescope equipment to judge what their home planets would be like or, at least, many centuries earlier, assuming both species weren’t extinct by now.

That was for the future. For the moment, it was using their keys to translate their languages into ours. We were expecting some sort of revelation. You know, like the secret of life or eternal happiness or something heavily philosophical. What we actually got were two recipes. Were we seeing two alien geeks or a families of geeks or chefs, bearing in mind the distance between them, covertly discussing food as it was a natural thing to do? We did wonder if something similar might happen if some private citizen kept a first contact quiet themselves, so why couldn’t we imagine such a thing happening out there as well. General chit-chat, just to get to know each other and, oh by the ay, want to try my favourite meal?

These meals weren’t your standard meals. I mean, how would you translate various meats, fruits and vegetables would have been complicated coding? No. What they had sent was a series of chemical formulas to build up various foodstuffs. The proteins alone told us a lot about each species. Even so, we couldn’t ignore growing.

Before you ask, it obviously wasn’t building some sort of creature or even one of their own. The pattern followed the basics of protein and carbohydrate.  As I said, we weren’t expecting fresh fruit, veg or meat. Again, maybe these extra-terrestrials were having a food crisis or just wanted to try each other’s cuisine.

For the want of a better one and something close to terrestrial descriptions, both had the appearance of some kind of pie, evidently something that could be transported easily. Guess even these two species liked to travel on their home-planets or wherever they were sending and receiving their signals some meal they could transport elsewhere.

Thing is, when we compared ingredients, the meals would be toxic to each species. Were they planning to kill each other off? Make nice until a fatal bite? Maybe each truly believed each other was communicating alone but their respective governments or authorities wanting to give closure that would forever cut communication between them. After all, you weren’t going to feed the entire population, a family at most. That could easily drawn some comparison to our own planet where some factions thought it dangerous to look for extra-terrestrial life. If correct or taken to be correct, it could potentially put the SETI program back decades, just when we had one breakthrough…two breakthroughs but they were killing each other. Correct that. Had done, bearing in mind the number of millennia that had passed.

We would definitely need some more alternatives before we finally presented the evidence to the public at large. We needed to heed the signals for a bit longer and see what else was sent. Maybe there was a second course or maybe we missed the starters, some form of cocktail, afters or something. There wasn’t much of a gap in the signal before a repetition. Maybe they sent a few times to ensure accuracy or getting across space with no interference. Like the checksums we use in computer data files in transit.

At least with the current frequencies we now had, we could check other quadrants and see if they or other aliens were doing a similar thing now we were in on their broadband. I mean, for all we knew this could be a test to see our own level of intelligence. Would we be stupid enough to eat these two meals thinking its an act of solidarity or show common-sense and not. Then how would they know? It isn’t like there was any message saying we should send a reply. Even if we did the latter, it could take a millennia for a reply, assuming anyone was still living and still having an interest in all of this and not see it as a footnote in our history. Then again, sending out a signal, maybe we would be hitting on some hidden signal that would speed things up. To do that would need some higher authority looking over the evidence first.

First, though, we needed to look at the signal repetitions to make sure all the code was identical and we hadn’t received any errors in transmission which resulted in the poison element. Some of the team decided to look at the chemical code in more detail. It was, after all, only an assumption that these were similar meals. Maybe some hidden message between two alien pen pals hidden from their own authorities. What part to look at? My suggestion was to look at the toxicity aspect as the key. If they weren’t planning to kill each other, it would be a precise number and not to be used in the final meal. After all, it would be the biggest red flag ever. Even so, it would have to be known to several generations assuming they had limited life-spans. There was still the problem of how a communication between two alien species would spread out that we could pick it up and how many other alien species also received the same message. No wonder we didn’t want to publicly announce the biggest discovery of the age yet. What if someone else worked it out?

We ended up having a list of what it all meant. The most funny but possible one was we had picked up on a galactic cookbook and that we were expected to add a meal ourselves. I mean, we had the key. We knew how to put the ingredients in chemical code so that they could follow and make a copy at their end. If we could figure out how to include a message for them to offer something back with a real message, that might also be complete.

Oh, you want to know some of the technical details of that. Well, you wouldn’t want to note down each compound in detail. You make the main list and a key and then transpose them into a string. Simple huh? A similar technique is used to zip picture files. Except to be economical with space they do it as a 3D matrix, which is how we spotted the toxic elements.

We thought it was done this simple for any species with some understanding of science to translate which did make us think that they might not be intended purely for each other but interlopers like…well, like us. One implication of this is we could send out a recipe of our own and we were eager to join this particular cookbook and maybe make some friends over a millennia. Although would anything we send be regarded as poisonous to another species or would they regard this as a likelihood simply because we wouldn’t know their physiology. It raised an interesting possibility that maybe the poison was seen as deliberate and might still actually be a hidden code. That would have to be investigated. After all, if there was a code in there with a message then we could do a similar thing. If we didn’t then the meal would just reveal us as dumb aliens. Makes sending a standard message of greetings seem naïve in comparison. If true, we needed to show a level of intelligence to join their club.

That brought up endless discussion in the community and all about the meals. There were so many speculations that it could become a book in its own right. No doubt when all of this is revealed to the world, someone will undoubtedly write it. One of the more ingenious ones was we had it the wrong way around. The two alien species had made a meal for the other so if they ever visited, it would be a simple identification check that they had arrived on the right world. Obviously they would check the ingredients and spot the toxic element or maybe not had it been removed, giving an element of trust between the two species. For all we know, we also have got it wrong and what we thought was poisonous wasn’t to them.

Sending out our own recipe undirected might also be seen as an invitation card but, bearing in mind their own metabolisms, would they want to eat it? Maybe we ought to keep scanning for another alien species and see if we can exchange a meal with them and bluff the rest? One bright spark did raise the point that if they expected a visit then we might be dealing with aliens who’ve beaten the faster-than-light problem or already in transit. Every choice was giving us a multitude of good and bad choices. All the speculation would probably mean nothing. The message was many centuries old. The aliens dead and gone, probably extinct. They would be pass caring. We might well be sending a recipe into the void for nothing. Will the universe care?

The problem was what meal to send. We were limited by the number of proteins we could create. A yeast molecule could be used for various things and might actually be common across the galaxy providing they recognised it. They had already sent us a molecule similar to flour in their pie and a test showed we could cultivate a bread base. We didn’t think they would understand a sandwich but we could make a form of pastry and include the content of both species proteins as the meal inside. Just to make one thing original, we made a form of beer. Low alcohol but it could also be seen as including at least one thing that might be poisonous to one of them.

Were we worried about any repercussions from all of this? We doubted if any of us would live that long. In the end, the numbers added up. Even if both species still lived, the number of generations, no matter how long they were, would have seen them go through several civilisations and might have had all the crises we’ve had from pandemics, epidemics global warmings and extinction. Well, not the last one for us yet. Even if some species did pick our recipe, the passage of light years the signal will travel, we might no longer be here if a reply was sent back. If we were still here, a properly equipped advanced version of ourselves would more likely have all the answers.

Off the signal went and we were prepared to go back to our regular lives after we told the populations. Of course, we expected some flak for the initial secrecy and even suggestions that we should have discussed our food choices with some celebrity chef or three. More so that we sent alcohol. We had to explain the difficulties of sending a tea or coffee molecule. Of course, we kept secret about the hidden poison key. We had to keep some secrets. Various people tried the normal recipe and thought it interesting if a little dry. We admitted we had kept the water levels down to keep the datafile short.

We weren’t keen on sending out where we lived but thought we would include a few notes about our species just in case anyone was still out there reading these recipes and would be able to pick up a response on the same frequency. Maybe many generations down the line our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren would get a reply.

For the media, it was a one event wonder and forgotten over the passage of time. Our SETI program was now adequately funded and had more time on radio telescopes and even a few specialised dishes in space keeping an eye on those frequencies, just in case we got any more messages…er…recipes.

We weren’t idle, spending time on the recipes still looking for any hidden code and message. Scholars spent time looking at the reason for the poisonous element and many agreed with us that it was a warning to check the food was OK before eating it. An interesting hypothesis was it could be the food for the aliens should they ever visit each other’s planet. We explained that could never happen because of the distances involved.

Did we actually makes their two recipes? Of course, but even without their toxicity, some aspects of their food didn’t make it appetising. Even so, a couple brave souls did try it and, although they didn’t die, said it wouldn’t pass any cookery contests although someone did suggest that perhaps we hadn’t cooked it enough.

It was then a sudden surprise five years later that we had a new signal. Correction. Two signals. Both species again. By now, I was deputy had of the institute and likely to be promoted to head within a couple years. This was still my project and the computers were geared for translation. This time we had a more direct key code for language based off what we had understood from the earlier recipes from both of them. Initially, it was to appreciate both the meal and the beer. It appears alcohol is a common pastime after all.

It also appears the signal we sent our hit a neutrino wave that allowed for speedier messages within our lifetimes. We might grow older waiting for replies but we might be alive to get them.

We thought for a while we had won their contest for new recipes or them wanting to visit us, despite neither sending the necessary to translate into pictures. Early days I guess.

Every detail of the messages were explored and then one of the upcoming scientists spotting a time frame note. Both of the species wasn’t in our time frame but from the future. The distant future. Even they weren’t in the same time frame. One was much further ahead again. We had always though that one day alien communication might be receiving a message from the distant past but it now looks like we are the aliens from a long time ago. Even if they wanted to visit us, it would be time travel into, what would be for them, ancient history of the universe. Even if we had the necessary spacecraft that could utilise such a carrier wave, it would be impractical to go. The distance between stars was long enough. The projections into the future would take even longer. Far more than a neutrino carrier wave that they had advanced to since the first two recipes.

Thing is, did they know that we were in the past and should we tell them, assuming they couldn’t read the data in front of them? What if they assumed we already knew this but had given us future knowledge? Maybe that was supposed to happen at this point in our time but would they know that? Were they just playing with us? Temporal physics was never going to be easy.

Want they really wanted was more recipes. Had food got so tired in the future? Discrete enquired to a well-known spicy chicken and coke (not that kind of coke) companies got us polite refusals to put them into space, even encoded. Even in the future, they wanted their secrets secret not immortalised. Two fingers each to them. Other descriptive words came from other members of the team. Mind you, did we really want to attempt to encode and explain what it was they were making. We would have to keep things reasonably simple to be filesize economic.

We were still limited by what we could make. No fruit or veg. No meat. We were lucky with yeast. We also knew how long it took to pass messages. Maybe we could suggest taking ingredients from their recipes and spice them up? So, here we are. Making the longest running cookbook in the cosmos. Would the universe ever be big enough? No meal big enough. Raise a toast to our new drinking buddies.


The End

© GF Willmetts 2022

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About UncleGeoff

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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  1. Mark Brooks says:

    Typo… oh by the ay … you are missing the W

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