Author : Jay Haytch

Did they teach you in school why the Soviet Union broke up? The story everyone ‘knew’ was of internal strife and bureaucratic inefficiency, but really it was Space Science.

In 1986 we discovered a… ‘thing,’ which stellar parallax put about 107 light-years away. It seemed to perfectly mirror the spectrum of wherever it was observed from. In realtime.

Yes, the Inexplicable Reflector. I like that name better in English than Russian. My colleague came up with it.

Anyway, we studied it for a couple of years until the director-general of the whole program poked his nose in and decreed we should ‘ping’ it. We would send a burst signal, as powerful as we could make, and see what happened. Would it take 214 years to see the result? Who knew?

Well, we started receiving a reply before our apparatus had even finished transmitting. And it was a reply, not just a static reflection – there was clearly information encoded into the complex waveforms.

Eventually – this was 1988; our computers were slow – we processed the signal and dumped the output – 27 pages of coded nonsense – to the printers. We made many copies, which was fortunate because one of the machines caught fire and subsequently destroyed my lab.

This would have been the greatest discovery ever, had it happened anywhere else, but our bosses demanded secrecy so we kept the outside world in the dark while we studied its contents. Eventually the Soviet system fell, and our top-secret research program evaporated with it. We all went on to careers elsewhere, having reached no satisfactory conclusions about the Inexplicable Reflector.

We never ‘decoded’ the message, never translated it into Russian or English or any other human language, but I know what it was. Simply reading it was enough.

We’d been sent a virus, a great instrument of information warfare that ran on human minds as if we were networked computers. I don’t know how it spread or how many became ‘infected’, but there’s no mistaking the signs. Party loyalists became self-serving agitators, protests, riots, and eventually the Soviet Union – the organization that sent the ‘ping’ – was torn apart.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? 31 years later, researchers in Japan discovered the same object and, again, tried to send a message. And some old Russian men such as myself started coming forward…

We all remember the chaos that followed – apparently the response was much stronger – but I do believe the world is better off since. Every government dissolved, their armies abandoned, bloated corporations shut down out of apathy. But look at what we’ve achieved since then, freed from ages-old bureaucracy! Manned spaceflight, interstellar travel, in just a decade…

Everyone has a theory about the Reflector now. My favourite is that it is an open network port into another universe, and we triggered serious anti-malware defenses from its firewall. But I’m a computer scientist, after all.

Which is why we’re here, just 1.5 AU from the Inexplicable Reflector, on the opposite side from Earth and Sol, in this starship I commissioned. We have no ties to any wider organization – I ensured that. My crew are all men and women like me – scientists; obsessed – driven – with the need to understand this thing.

Proximity didn’t yield any answers. So tomorrow we will tight-beam the most powerful broadcast in human history – the entire energy output of this starship’s drive – right into the maw of the featureless black sphere a planet’s orbit away.

I’m pushing the button. I have to know.

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