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An ordinary day on Earth in the not too distant future.
The sun rose. Birds chirped. Waves crashed. Trees swayed. People drove to work. Just like every other day.
But in the afternoon, something occurred. It first appeared as patterned noise.
Satellite dishes detected it first. Television sets around the globe picked up on the signal too. A single, multiplexed UHF transmission, not unlike our own. Digital tuners honed in on it as though it were another terrestrial channel. Nobody knew what it was at first. Blurry shadow-like images swimming in a sea of static. Humanoid figures talking to one another in a language, as yet, unknown. As a whole: garbled, snowy, gobbledygook… nothing more.
Orbiting satellites traced the signal and found it originated from the constellation of Canis Major. The strongest point around a blue supergiant star called Aludra or Eta Canis Majoris to be precise. Later, the international news media dubbed the transmission as “The Phenomenon.” An unimaginative yet functional title, nonetheless.
Over the next year, the signal became clearer and stronger. The humanoids on the screen appeared in greater resolution and full color. Aludrans, we call them. They are foreign in appearance but not unpleasant to look at either. What was most apparent was that when they spoke it wasn’t just in a dialect that was unfamiliar to the human ear.
What was also ‘transmitted’ was a low pitch hum that shifted in tone with each humanoid present. Strangely enough, it wasn’t audible to microphones. It could only be heard mentally whenever you watched the transmission.
The majority of the Earth’s population could ‘hear’ the hum. A small number of skeptics debated the authenticity of the hum’s existence on talk shows and panels, postulating that this was nothing more than an elaborate hoax shot in real time at a film studio and denying that they heard anything at all. Some people reacted to it violently and fell ill, giving religious zealots of various faiths a reason to claim it was the work of the devil himself. Others found it soothing.
The signal continued uninterrupted, 24/7. It was construed, after careful consideration, that this was in part how the Aludrans communicated to one another through their language. A tonal frequency that lended itself to signaling the individual’s feelings with another to harmonize and promote empathy with fellow Aludrans.
To quell speculation over the signal’s authenticity, all world governments acknowledged that there was, in fact, intelligent life in the universe. No amount of money could concoct something like this. The transmission was real. But given that Aludra was 2000 light years away, the transmission we were receiving now was 2000 years in their past. By contrast, humanity had only been transmitting for little over 100 years so it was concluded that any awareness of our existence and subsequent fears of a possible “invasion” by the Aludrans were remote at best. Besides, Aludrans acted peacefully. From what we currently saw of them 2000 years ago. Nor did they seem to display any technology too advanced from our own. We had to assume that we were safe at present.
We watched the Aludran civilization evolve over the years. Scholars began to construe their language, deriving the written and verbal communication in the transmission by poring over thousands upon thousands of recorded hours. Naturally, not enough people were on hand to watch all of it. But a basis for the Aludran Language was nonetheless formed and built upon.
Shortly after, learning the language was part of the curriculum of every educated child on earth. The United Nations and world governments outlined a decree that if one of us visited the other, we would need to communicate and be fluent. We were now part of an “intergalactic community,” as silly as it sounded. As it was apparent they didn’t yet know of our existence, we had a head start. Some opposed the idea of learning a language that was intrinsically alien to us, arguing that it had no place in human society. “Why in a world divided by 6,500 spoken languages, should we all learn this one?” they demanded. But the language continued to be taught over the next century. Popular literature was translated and soon the voices of the opposing generation died away in the sea of history.
Decades wore on. The Aludran language grew in fluency until all other human languages became redundant. It was found that the Aludrans spoke more effectively and that over time human beings were able to absorb and promote the seemingly telepathic abilities through the Aludran language alone. It had awoken a primordial element buried deep in the human consciousness. That harmonizing tone, the ‘hum,’ which underscored the native tongue of the Aludrans had now been endowed onto humanity. It was but a note for each person, one in a symphony of music to the human experience. A diegesis of the greater gestalt that ultimately brought a new level of unity and understanding for each other, bringing us closer together. War and violence were now a thing of the past in human civilization.
Our knowledge of their world grew in time. The nature of the flora and fauna that inhabit the Aludrans’ home planet and beyond. A cross section of their social lives. Their sun and the planets orbiting it. Medical breakthroughs. Humanity, up to this point, had piggybacked the social, scientific, and technical advancements of the Aludran people to a near point of parity with their transmission.
2000 years had passed since the first radio transmission from earth. We presumed that Aludrans would begin hearing our signals by now. Yet scientists continually questioned whether they were able to pick up on it. Had they phased out their radio communication? How would we know that they know of us?
As Aludrans explored their solar system, so did we. When they began to colonize their solar system, so did humanity. Interplanetary travel was commonplace in human society and we had the Aludrans to thank for that. Never in the history of Mankind had such lengths of universal prosperity been known. A time of innumerable scientific progress and a free flowing association of ideas. Humans had a complete map to the Aludran way of life across the galaxy. Like neighbors with no fence dividing them.
And then, humanity received confirmation of their knowledge to our existence.
We all watched in apprehension as the Aludrans figured out where our transmissions originated. They were bombarded with thousands upon thousands of transmissions originating from every continent on Earth. A map of our location relative to the Aludran System was drawn out. Like a mirror turned inward, they begin to learn our languages. Old dialects now foreign to our own ears except to linguistic anthropologists. This also informed them to adopt our way of life and our own ideas. But the universal human language they learned quickest was not verbal or written. Not even love or laughter. But that of war.
The Aludran impression of humanity was that we are ultimately violent, that we will destroy anything different to us. The atrocities of the 20th and 21st century were made plain to them. The Aludrans would respond in kind.
For over 100 years, the Aludrans developed our once archaic weapons into their own. Advancing them well beyond our capabilities. Everything they created thus far became faster, louder, deadlier. Until they revealed a final technology, one that suffused humanity with an old but real fear of invasion.
We scrambled to develop this technology immediately. What arose was an intersystem cold war. One with an enemy both known and unknown. Seen but not understood. Distant yet passionately hostile. All this, even though we held the assumption that the Aludrans were still unaware that we knew of their existence. Scientists estimated that we had 10 more years to go until the discovery of “The phenomenon” from our global transmissions reached them. But the Aludrans desire to destroy humanity wasn’t hidden from us. It was self-evident.
Our plan in response was to escape our solar system in a mass exodus and hide on other worlds.
A small group of scientists spoke up to rationalize the fear. They argued that if the Aludrans wanted to invade us, they would have done it relative to the developed interstellar technology on their world. Shortly after they received our transmissions. Not 2000 years after their transmission of discovering it had reached us.
Why, after all this time, had they not traveled and invaded us back then?
Well, a funny thing occurred. Internal conflict arose among the Aludrans. The focus of their transmission diverted from us onto a growing conflict they had with each other. They began to fight over territories, planets, morals, political ideologies. It was as though our own humanity had infected them. They considered each other with barbaric fervor and mistrust. Squabbling over petty differences. No longer transmitting their harmonizing tone to one another but communicating through adopted language barriers and wallowing in self-importance and facades of entitlement.
And then on the eve of unveiling our interstellar capabilities, the greatest irony.
The Aludrans had wiped themselves out completely. Conflict had risen to a tipping point and beyond. A volley of devastating weapons was fired from each domain within the Aludran realm onto the other. Each colonized planet was bombarded many times over, destroying every square inch of their cities into rubble.
And over time, when the remaining electricity on the Aludran colonies shut down, the signal died to static. “The phenomenon” ended up as nothing more than the ghost of a dead civilization, passing by our solar system and beyond. Into the infinite.
Years after, the Aludran system was finally visited by humanity. Their home planet and colonies were still too irradiated to attempt any landing. We could only watch from above as our ships orbited from a safe distance, scanning their ruins. And at times, people wondered how it would’ve turned out if only we could have visited the Aludran’s earlier…
…and demonstrated just how alike we all were.
Past Mistakes was first published in OMNIReboot.com in 2015, before the name change, way way back when Trilobites were still swimming in Earth's Cambrian oceans.
I've decided to plonk it back into the new website. I mean, why not, amirite? :)