Author : Victoria Randall

General Jackson was not exuding patience. His lips were thinned, his gray eyebrows bristled in irritation and he snapped at the two men standing before him. “Well, can you or can you not decipher the messages?”

Charlie had never seen his boss so nervous. Howard licked his lips and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Yes, sir. That is, Charlie Ward here is the one who figured out the key.”

The general’s penetrating gaze moved to Charlie. “You figured it out.”

Charlie cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. My team, to tell the truth. At first we thought it was simple code, but it’s actually a language. It’s similar to Morse code, but of course with a different alphabetic base, and has elements similar to dolphin language and surprisingly, contains directional elements like the bee dances. It’s not –“

“Mr. Ward. Can you translate what is being beamed at us? There is a certain urgency, I’m sure you’re aware.” The general pointed out of the large window spanning the wall of his office, and Charlie looked out at the fleet of ovoid, gleaming dark ships hovering over New York. They had arrived yesterday, but their arrival had been seen a month in advance, as they sped into Sol system at lightspeed. They had been broadcasting messages as they came, and code breakers and language experts all over the world had been working nonstop to decipher them. Since they had arrived, the messages had stopped.

“Yes, sir. The thing is,” Charlie coughed, “the messages don’t seem directed at us.”

“They don’t.” The general folded his arms. “Who are they directed at?”

“We’re not sure.” Before the general could ask, Charlie pulled a sheet from his picket. “This is the gist of the translation.”

“Read it!”

“Yes sir. Best guesses as to alternate meanings are included. It says: Brothers/cell mates/platoon mates, greetings. We are pleased to have located you at last. While we would enjoy/love/be thrilled to take you home with us, we are sure you know that is impossible due to population/numbers/legroom. But we could transition/convey/ferry you to another location/planet/foodsource if this one does not suit. We await your reply.”

The general stared in silence. “But who –“

“No idea. But it looks like they’re waiting for an answer.”

Before the general could reply, Charlie became aware of a distant sound that had been going on for some time. He had dismissed it as a passing train, but it had been growing louder over the past few minutes until it was a rumbling thunder. The building shivered. Rustling sounds filled the room, seeming to come from the walls.

“Earthquake?” Howard gasped.

“No, look!” Charlie pointed out the window. The roofs of the city to the south were visible from their high vantage point, and black streams were pouring onto the rooftops. It looked like dark water or ink, but he could not tell what it was.

“Sir!” An aide rushed up to them and saluted. “Reports are flooding in from cities all over: Moscow, Paris, London, Beijing – it’s roaches! Cockroaches are coming out everywhere.”

A musical buzzing filled the air. Charlie moved closer to the window to hear better. He listened, translating in his head, his lips moving.

“What are they saying?” the general asked. “Can you understand that?”

Charlie nodded, his throat dry. “It’s more primitive, but – They’re saying Yes brothers. We are glad also. We are fine here, and invite you to join us. There is plenty for all, and our hosts/caretakers/domestic animals provide all we need.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows