Author : Daniel Bensen


This has been a humbling experience.

I can admit now that I was a little arrogant. I suppose I had reason to be. I was—I suppose I still am—the best mathematician on Earth. Funny.

I know I should have expected this. But then, most of us believed then that mathematics was a universal language. I can’t say I ever held much stock in the notion, but the politicians thought so, and that is why they sent me. If you are listening to this, then I know you have read the reports, so I won’t bore you by going over the details.

Suffice to say, the work was difficult. Almost impossible, actually. Math, pure math, may be the universal language, but our understanding of it is so warped by our biology that our systems of notation are completely incompatible. I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything the aliens were sending at first.

Again I won’t bore you with details. Basically, I eventually realized that there was a pattern in their communications. A broad pattern in all of their messages taken as a whole. Soon after we began to exchange information, I realized, they had been trying to teach me.

There were—this is difficult to express to a layman—there were equations that suggested several possible solutions. When I picked the correct one, I would be rewarded by another message. If not, the next message would be blank. Like a multiple-choice test. The pattern of my early work suggests that the correct answers I made were accidental. It was only by constant effort and thought that I could determine what the right answer might be. I wracked my brains. I stayed up for nights on end, running the numbers one way, then another. I nearly drove myself mad. Perhaps I did, since I finally started to get answers from dreams. I can’t say the dream answers were correct much more often than my normal ones, though.

Eventually I broke through a wall.

I can’t exactly describe it. I’m better now, more coherent, but the balance is that I can no longer remember clearly what it was that I said. But I know the answer felt or tasted or smelled right to me. It was a glorious feeling.

The next morning I had another message from the aliens and for the very first time, I understood almost all of it. Unfortunately, I cannot give you very clear reasoning behind my translation, but I know it is true. I know they told me that I had done a very good job, and that I was a very good boy.

Like I said, humbling.

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