“Hey, Jad, I’ve got something!” Yisaheur swivelled around in his chair, waggling his eye stalks excitedly at his crew-mate. He stabbed a tentacle towards his console, where jagged lines were jumping about across one of the screens.
Ma'jadaloon was more jaded. “Really?” She yawned widely, all three rows of her teeth on menacing display.
They had been out in deep space for a very long time, with nothing whatsoever to show for it, except incredible boredom and a tremendous desire to lay eyes on any being at all, except for each other. They had started out enthusiastic, jubilant even, assuming the journey would change their lives, and also the future of their whole planet, forever. After all, it was a huge honour to be selected for an exploration mission by Finargle High Command. Or so they had thought. They had both been taken in by the aggressive marketing campaign, promising adventure and glory for any lucky applicants shortlisted to pilot a craft.
There had been a parade when they, and the other lucky pilots, at arrived at the military base, eager to be inducted into the space programme. People had lined the streets, waving flags and cheering wildly for the successful candidates.
Now, though, after a gruelling training camp, and endless weeks of empty space, Ma’jadaloon was beginning to think they’d been duped. The basic pay was terrible, the rations were worse, and their hopes of celebrity and fortune on their return relied on them actually locating something interesting to report back to High Command. The last time Yisaheur had thought he’d found something, it had turned out to be a dust storm that stripped all the paint off their hull. Ma’jadaloon was certain payment for the damage would be coming out of their meagre pay cheques.
Yisaheur ignored her lack of interest. “Yeah! Suddenly tons of traffic, off in the direction of that new system we identified a while back. Let’s go check it out!”
Ma'jadaloon rolled her eyes. She had no idea how he had managed to retain his excitement for their mission. He was younger than her, hence her putative status as commander of their pitiful craft. And his energy had been infectious to begin with. Now it was just annoying.
“We can’t just go haring off at the first hint of intelligence, Yis. You know that. We’d get charged for the fuel, and no argument. Even if we did find something interesting, which is pretty doubtful. The chances of us discovering life after all this time are practically nil. We should stay on course.”
“Let’s at least take a closer look at the transmissions,” Yisaheur begged. “If they look promising, we could send a request back to base for authorisation to do a fly-by.”
Ma'jadaloon let out a resigned huff of air and stumped across on her four stubby legs to lean over Yisaheur’s station. He was practically vibrating with tension and excitement. Ma’jadaloon, on the other hand, refused to get her hopes up. There had been too many false alerts and too much featureless nothing for her to think this might prove something different.
“Alright,” she said, touching his nearest tentacle. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Yisaheur enthusiastically manipulated the controls before him, bringing up the transmission on a large screen, so they could both view it. Ma’jadaloon braced herself for the disappointment of an asteroid field or the useless beauty of nebula. It was true that they’d seen some amazing things along their journey and she would at least return home with some great photos to show her family. Along with the disgrace of failure.
The picture crackled and fizzed for a moment, and then resolved itself into vaguely recognisable information. Both crew-mates instantly recoiled from the bright, garish colours and blaring noise.
Letters and figures flashed aggressively, alongside rapidly moving images of unfamiliar objects and what looked like they might possibly be live creatures. They were grotesque, with stringy hair sprouting from the top, and gangly limbs sticking out from the bottom and sides. What may or may not have been their faces were horrifyingly flat and what might conceivably be mouths stretched to reveal blunt, square teeth. They brandished objects at one another, perhaps engaging in some kind of ritualistic battle.
Meanwhile, a constant droning noise overwhelmed the crew-mates’ auditory sensors with incomprehensible sounds.
“These silicone pot scourers are multi-functional, heat-resistant cleaning tools! Revolutionise your washing up with these easy and quick scrubbing solutions from Housewife’s Essentials! Heat-resistant up to 300 degrees! Dishwasher safe - can be washed and dried quickly! Only $12.99 for a pack of forty-seven! Thirty day money-back guarantee! Order now while stocks last!”
Ma'jadaloon reached out a tentacle and stabbed the control that would shut off the screen. She experienced an almost physical rush of relief as silence mercifully fell in the cabin once more.
Yisaheur looked up at her in consternation. “Perhaps we’ll give that system a wide berth after all. What do you think?”
Ma’jadaloon considered. Was it possible they had finally found what they were looking for after all this time? She imagined the joy and anticipation of Finargle High Command when they received the report that the crew-mates had discovered some kind of civilisation. The citizenry would go crazy with excitement. She and Yisaheur would be hailed as the heroes of the whole expedition.
But could they really subject their homeworld to contact with whatever insane society was bombarding space with such a painful sensory assault? And were they sure there was really a comprehensible intelligence behind the broadcast? Perhaps it was just an accidental byproduct of some kind of natural phenomenon, and signified nothing more than strange, meaningless emissions from the planet. And, even if the source of the transmissions was intelligent, it seemed like they were warlike and aggressive, and would probably respond to any attempt at contact with violence.
Ma’jadaloon decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
“Just list it as uninhabited and let’s move on,” Ma'jadaloon agreed with a shudder.
They went about their duties, focusing on the next stop on their exploration mission, and leaving the unpalatable system far behind.