Monday, August 21, 2023

“To Be Sung to the Tune of Silence” • by Mark Vandersluis

We got lucky. We heard the aliens’ signals pretty much as soon as they had started their first broadcasts. They came from a world around 100 light years away, a world which circled a star very similar to our own. It was clear this was not a deliberate attempt to communicate directly with us, but simply their local transmissions leaking out into space. As we listened over the following years, a cacophony of different, competing voices grew, from across their planet.

It wasn’t long before video broadcasts began, showing us how they looked and how they lived. Like us, they were bipedal and carbon-based, but they differed enough for us to know that they were truly alien. And just like us, they were riven by disagreement, factionalism, war, and even atomic warfare. Everyone recognises the distinctive cloud patterns which grow when a nuclear weapon is detonated, and it was a chilling moment when we first saw that shape forming in their news broadcasts.

But like us, they survived, and rapidly developed other sophisticated technologies—some for good, some not—including (finally!) spacecraft. We watched as they started to explore their neighbouring planets and moons, and over the following decades we monitored their progress with increasing excitement and optimism. Now it was time to reach out to them!

We had already devised a protocol for communications. Firstly, we announced that we were here and that we had heard them, and then we offered the hand of friendship across the stars. We communicated with them in the universal language of maths and science and then built on that to tell them about ourselves, our histories and our cultures. We hoped they would note the similarities between our races, our hopes and aspirations, rather than focus on our physical and other differences.

We knew we would have to wait over 200 years for a round trip response to our messages, and while we waited patiently, we continued to listen.


But over the course of the following decades we observed their transmissions starting to dwindle, slowly at first, but with accelerating speed, until they abruptly stopped without warning. We had no clear understanding why this was; maybe they had experienced an Armageddon event, or maybe they had simply switched communication technologies.

We sent further messages and we continued to listen, but nothing more was heard. We knew then that the only way we could find the answers we sought would be to travel there, to send a fleet of automated spacecraft and resolve what had happened.


It took us 800 long years to design, test and build our vast armada, ready for departure. And then we launched them all in a spectacular coordinated event watched by our whole world.


During the long journey to the aliens’ home system, some 10 percent of our probes were lost, but that still meant most of our craft arrived there safely, some 1,500 years later. They deployed according to plans we had revised and updated countless times during the long voyage. We had identified cold, dark rocks in the furthest reaches of their solar system where we could land, manufacture specialised equipment, and then observe for a while before deciding on our next steps. It was clear as we watched and listened that there was only silence, so we moved onwards again towards their home planet.

And when we finally arrived at their home world, we found… nothing. A ravaged, lifeless, dusty world, devoid of the oceans we knew had once existed there. Nothing and nobody now lived on this world, apart from some primitive forms of plant and animal life. Aside from a few remaining ruined buildings, some orbiting satellites and defunct spacecraft, it was as though this race had never existed.


We still don’t understand how their civilisation crashed and burned so quickly and completely, but looking back, maybe the signs were there all along? Their transmissions showed an increasing sense of fear and despair as resources dwindled and wars were fought over what remained—as their whole world sickened and died in front of them. There must have been a rapid decline into anarchy, chaos and destruction. And now all that remains of them are a handful of artefacts, along with our archive of their broadcasts, describing snippets of their history, their lives. Nothing else.

It could so easily have been, or could still be for that matter, our fate too. But for now we survive, and try to learn the lessons from the alternative future laid out so starkly before us. We don’t want our end to mirror that of the aliens we will never meet.


Since then, our search for other alien races has continued, but for all our listening, there is nothing to hear except random noise: the Great Silence, the song of an empty Universe.

Maybe there is no other life in this Galaxy. Maybe we are utterly alone in the whole Universe—a bleak thought indeed—too bleak to bear.

And so we broadcast our story to the Galaxy, continuing our explorations, while increasing the power and range of our transmissions as we become a more powerful, star-spanning race.

We have just one question, and one request.

Is anybody else out there? Please respond to our signal, to this message, to our story. Show us we are not alone!





Mark Vandersluis lives in Nottingham, England and works as a Managing IT Architect . From an early age, his home was the Science Fiction section of the local library. After a lifetime reading science fiction, he recently started writing his own. As well as previously appearing in Stupefying Stories, Mark has had stories published in Nature Futures, and Diabolical Plots. Mark blogs (very) occasionally at and you can follow him on Twitter at @markvsf.



Made in DNA said...

Heartbreaking. Nice story.