HELLO • by Ishwar

Sometime in the future, somewhere on Earth.

A strange looking dodecahedral object, the size of a small room, descends gently from above and thumps down with a rattle of its instruments. The object, with its antennas and panels shimmering in the mild afternoon sun, lies in stark contrast to its dull brown barren surroundings, like an unwelcome visitor in an  alien land. A small screen on the object flickers a message with regular beeping: “Retrace trajectory complete. Return to base accomplished.”

No one comes forward to greet the object, at least no one on two legs. It is some time before there is movement near the object and a pair of brown insect antennae poke through the ground; slowly a cockroach burrows out with its glossy brown body shrouded in transparent wings, iridescent in the fading light.

The cockroach scuttles around the metallic intruder for some time, clambers up its smooth aluminum surface and wonders what it is. Creeping around the sides on the engraved words “Voyager 2”, the cockroach reaches a bright gold-plated copper disc. Hinged to the center of the disk is a small needle. The cockroach feels the tip of the needle with its antennas as if clashing miniature swords. With a little force the needle rotates slowly about the hinge. The cockroach delights itself in turning this needle around and around till the tip of the needle lands in a small slot on the disk.

As soon as this happens there is a loud sound of thunder and rain. This scares the cockroach away and it hastily scuttles down and hides in its burrow. Other sounds soon follow: chimpanzees whooping in delight; a train’s long  whistle followed by the characteristic chugging and rattling; the sucking noise made by a kiss.

A president’s voice booms: “This is a present from humans on planet Earth. This
record is a brief snapshot of our world: its sounds, images, music, and science. Someday we hope to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record is our message in a bottle to those civilizations.”

Soon there are messages in major human languages all played one after the other in a cyclic manner. From the safety of its burrow, the cockroach hears nothing more than sounds as recorded greetings in 55 human languages are played.

Perceiving no danger and having lost its fear, the cockroach scuttles back and races to the top of the object. The object makes no more sounds, as the message on the disk is complete. Meanwhile a little blue spot attracts the cockroach’s attention. As it creeps towards the spot, the cockroach discovers that the silence is only a pause. A distinctly different sound fills the air now.

“A warm hello to earth from someone far far away. We are a peace-loving group of inhabitants like you and want to be your friends. We have intercepted your spacecraft and sent it back. If you are ready to accept our friendship, please press and hold the blue button for 5 seconds.”

The cockroach prods the button with its antennae. Nothing exciting. It moves on.

The blue button waits.

Ishwar writes out of Bangalore, India.

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