A Ripple in the Fractal Pattern

Author: David Henson

The table is still set, and one of the plates is untouched— baked cod, peas, potatoes. Cold. Ruined. I was so upset at work, I forgot to call and tell Helen I wouldn’t be home for dinner.

I hurry upstairs and find the bedroom door locked. “Helen, I’m sorry. Helen?” Shit. Looks like the couch. Again.

Next morning, the door is still locked. “Helen, don’t be mad…. OK, see you this evening. Love you.” I hesitate at the door a few seconds then leave for work.

***

I’d always enjoyed my job at SETI, had been totally dedicated to it. Too much so in hindsight. But lately it’s making me miserable. Since we’d developed a breakthrough signal processing algorithm based on quantum gravity waves, progress had accelerated exponentially. In fact, during the first 60 years, my predecessors searched a portion of the universe equal to a glass of water in the ocean. In the 10 years since, we’ve drunk the whole ocean. Now I think we’re about to make a huge mistake.

***

“I’ve taken what I need. I won’t be back.” I crumple the note and run upstairs. Helen’s side of the closet is practically empty. I go back downstairs and smooth out the paper on the kitchen counter and read it again. Simple and elegant, just as the universe prefers. Just as Occam’s Razor would — Simpson, you fool. I’ve just learned my wife’s gone, and my mind’s reflecting on scientific philosophy. No wonder she left me.

***

I don’t know how much I’ve had by the time I stagger outside. The sky is bursting at the seams with stars. Bursting at the seams. How’s that for technical accuracy? I lose my balance, fall flat on my back, and stare at the Big Dipper. “Fill’er up,” I laugh, stretching open my mouth.

***

I take a couple more aspirin and chug another bottle of water. “Sally, has management made a final decision?”

“Yes, Stan. Are you OK? That’s the third time you’ve asked me.”

“What about the ripple in the fractal pattern?”

“Mr. Quinnipen said, and I quote, ‘Tell Simpson that sometimes a fractal pattern ripple is just a fractal pattern ripple.’ Then he said something about a cigar and laughed. Seriously, boss, we’ve studied this to death.”

“So that’s it? We’re going to tell the world tomorrow that there’s no sign of intelligent life anywhere else in the universe? That we’re all alone and giving up the search? This isn’t helping my headache.”

“I’ve got my resume up to date,” Sally says.

***

People reacted more or less as we expected. Many rejected the findings. Some “rejoiced.” Most chattered about it a few days, then turned attention to the upcoming Global Trophy competition.

As for me, I’ve started my own small research group, and we’re studying the fractal pattern ripple in the data. I still don’t think the anomaly is natural, but we haven’t been able to prove it. Yet.

I’m also trying to adjust to coming home to an empty house. Well, not completely empty. I have a cat now. I take her out back with me on starry nights, always leaving the door open so I might hear in case Helen returns. Tabby sits on my lap, and I scratch behind her ear. It’s silly, I know, but I pretend she’s really an envoy from a planetary system that somehow has escaped our prying algorithms. When I ask about her home world, she looks right at me, and, sometimes, in the sparkle of her eyes, I swear I can see a galaxy, hidden and waiting.

5 Comments

  1. Jae

    Of ending hope on a grand scale whilst continuing to hope on a personal one.

    Oh yes. Like this one a lot.

  2. JH

    Off topic, but I LOVE reading the random story every day.

    It would be great if there were a second link to it at the bottom of the page, since that is the natural place to want to click to it from…………

  3. SimonJM

    Hope is the last thing to give up, and that’s a big one … love it, such quiet pathos.

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