Author: David Barber

1. Pauli Neutrino Telescope, Antarctica, 22nd July, 15.05 GMT

Elusive particles flash through the array buried deep in the Ross Ice Shelf. Outside, at 50 below, the wind howls like a ghost in the machine.

The latest plan is to run the PNT remotely, while Beckman insists we stay on site. How do we confess the electronics need constantly tinkering? But in the new round of cuts, even McMurdo Station is being mothballed.

Beckman is in Washington, pestering the National Science Foundation for funding. He video-calls us from his hotel.

“How’s it going Prof?” says Glen brightly. Glen’s on his own sleep cycle, stoked by coffee and the absence of sunlight.

Beckman shrugs. Through the window behind him the skies are cornflower blue.

“It’s this Man In The Street policy,” he says. “If it’s not useful, it’s not funded.”

“Still got that bug in the phasing software,” I say after a while.

Beckman frowns, but it’s not the Recession or the new Administration, it’s something he can fix.

“I’ll look at the code again—”

Then every monitor lights up.

2. Wow, 15.24 GMT

Clusters of neutrino spikes race across our screens, while Beckman’s tinny voice rattles from Glen’s laptop, demanding to know what the hell’s happening.

Either the whole array’s gone bad, or someone with a reactor has technology we’ve never heard of.

The neutrino signal grows so strong we can use the array as a directional antenna as the Earth spins. In ten minutes, Glen has coordinates.

About two hundred thousand years ago, out in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a candle was lit in the dark.

3. End of Signal, 23th July, 21.06 GMT

“Looks like binary code,” we tell Beckman, helpless a world away. “What physics does that?”

“Tweaking a sun,” breathes Glen, watching neutrinos pulse like a heart in distress. “Should have known radio was for newbies.”

“For God’s sake,” Beckman implores me. “Keep Glen off Twitter.”

We chase the source star for thirty amphetamine hours, until a vast tsunami of neutrinos throb from its stellar core. Type 1a supernova signature. Then nothing.

“But you’ve got it all recorded?” Beckman keeps asking. He’s sent the coordinates to the Astronomical Union.

I caution Glen about calling it a signal.

“Not aimed at us,” he concedes, and sweeps his hand like a lighthouse beam. “We were just in its path.”

Converted to numbers, an endless string of 1’s and 0’s unwind across Glen’s laptop. He sighs.

We have no idea where to start.

4. Anomalous Neutrino Output From The Small Magellanic Cloud

There’s no point Beckman flying back from the States. We’re being shipped out with the McMurdo personnel.

“How long will the array work without us?” I demand, angry with Beckman for things not his fault.

The brightness in the SMC is fading. If the signal had come just a few months later we would have missed it.

Beckman shrugs defensively. “It’s all on the Internet. And I’m writing a paper. What else can we do?”

Glen thinks they pumped a star to generate the neutrinos and we should be watching for replies. But then, Glen believes all questions have answers.

I think suns burst with fathomless indifference to flesh that thinks, that they saw the supernova coming and were saying goodbye.

These days I work on SETI at the Green Bank Observatory.

Our headphones hiss with ancient radio noise from galaxies lost in time. We guilty survivors listen late into the night for voices, for someone to tell us it is otherwise.