For a long time, scientists had said that the chances of detecting an alien civilization through its transmissions was vanishingly small. Unless they were close by, there was a lot of room for an onmidirectional signal to degrade, to say nothing of the increasing move on our part (and, presumably, that of similar civilizations) to sophisticated broadband. In essence, an alien civilization would transmit signals we could pick up only for a short span of their development–we could only pick them up if we were nearby and at the same level or greater.

A lot of sober minds maintained that position, feeling that SETI and the like was just an expensive PR project.

At least until the first signals from Luyten 726-8 were detected, that is.

Naturally, a tight lid was clamped on them at SETI and NASA–ostensibly for verification, in reality to prevent mass panic and hysteria. Detailed analysis revealed that the aliens’ transmissions occupied a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum than ours did, requiring quite a bit of work to make the images and sounds comprehensible to humans.

The aliens appeared to be most similar to certain Cambrian fossils on Earth, implying perhaps a similar environment and convergent evolution. Their size was difficult to judge, but they seemed to be bilaterally symmetrical with odd numbers of appendages–five eyes or eye-like structures, a single motile proboscis, and either three, five, or seven legs. Smaller creatures seemed to have fewer, implying that they added segments as they aged. They assumed a squat posture not unlike beetles when moving and rose upright to manipulate with proboscis (and sometimes grip with available legs). A mouth with bizarre interlocking teeth not unlike an anomalocarid was present, but noise seemed to come from gill-like sphincters on either side of the “head.”

Linguists and anthropologists puzzled over the transmissions; they seemed to mostly be informative news broadcasts, depicting bizzare rituals, technologies, and often a single alien communication with its audience through a mixture of sounds and manipulating its eyes and proboscis. A strong central government, perhaps, broadcasting propaganda, at least in the time frame that the messages were sent. Analysis was just getting started when there was a final burst of transmissions arriving at Earth and then only static.

The content of the final messages? Panicked aliens broadcasting horrifying images of fire descending from the sky.

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