The one thing that every sentient being in the universe wants is not to be loved, that is too soft an ambition. Some would say it is to be needed. But it is more than that, it is to be recognised, but recognised by whom? A disembodied consciousness, an embodied but unconscious source of infinite wisdom, or a brother? Well, that is the question.
A star exploded in an arm of a spiral galaxy. The supernova shell spread in perfect symmetry and triggered the formation of many new stars, some of which were just the right size and composition to become yellow suns surrounded by planets. By the time the universe was half as old again; they had spread out so that, still close in relative terms, none was prominent in the skies of the others.
When a water-
On one such planet of the suns formed by this supernova burst, events had proceeded much further. Here the dominant life form had taken the physical sciences to the point where they had almost complete control over themselves and their environment. But they also knew that some questions were outside the bounds of logic, at least the logic accessible to them, and could never be answered. Above all there was one, ‘What is the meaning of our self-
All questions of morality and what had once been called religion resolved themselves to this: what uses are you making of the gifts that have been given you? Mind-
They did not avoid risk, although they did not encourage it. But situations inevitably arose when the life of one person or group must needs be balanced against that of another. It was here that decisions were made by comparing the sum of the intensity of existence of each group. None could willingly kill another. Should it become avoidable, the imperative was that the outcome be the positive choice of the unfortunate party. Should the intensity of existence of a person or group fall to such a low level that their lives seemed to them to be purposeless, it was accepted such individuals would not wish to continue their existence
It was in fact due to such experiences, that life was not prolonged by genetic manipulation, a decision based on the sound experience of the results of doing just that. Instead their society aimed to develop the most complete interaction with what they called the ‘what-
The step that lead to the discovery of this omission, and the development of the new art-
It has always been known as ‘The Unrepeatable Experiment’. Her studies of repeated low-
The instrument emitted a noise that was later described as rather wooden and dull. Then, moving her fingers, she blew again, and this time the sound was different and more compelling. By the fifth stage, the sound quality was electrifying. And then, two more notes (as they were later called) she moved smoothly to the eighth and last. Then she slowly repeated the sequence in reverse order. She did not need to say anything. Everyone had seen the now obvious; but what to call it, and what they chose became, in every language, known as C-
The scientific tools available to this civilisation had long reached their ultimate level of sensitivity. In particular, they had developed methods for beaming radiation at chosen targets and analysing the reflected responses. In this way they knew which of the suns, formed in the primordial supernova cloud, possessed planets similar to their own, although resolution was too low to detect the presence of life. Now they had a new and powerful means in their hands.
If the subjective experience of music could only be triggered by exposure to a compelling musical sequence on an advanced planet, it was virtually certain that truly primitive societies could not possess it. It was also clear that music was a powerful means of communication, though what it communicated remained deeply mysterious. Now they were able to tune their beam-
The target planet, as it was now called, was almost a twin of their own, with almost the same orbital period around its parent sun and the essential single large satellite. A mission would be mounted to this planet to study all aspects of its inhabitants and its culture and, the greatest consummation, to meet them face-
For this most exciting possibility it was necessary to study the conditions of its biosphere in every detail. Theory indicated that the responses of the brain to musical prompts revealed the construction of that brain and, at the same time, gave significant information about the biochemical and chemical environment of the planet. A series of modulated beams were transmitted, and the receivers tuned to wait for the long-
It could have been an unmanned vehicle, but it was not. Wherever space travel has been invented, invariably on water-
Because the cruising speed to be achieved could not be much more than a quarter that of light, it was fortunate that the target planet was one of the nearest. Nevertheless the crew would be subjected to interrupted suspended animation, and the journey would at most consume one tenth of their biological life-
Now the time came when enough was known about the inhabitants of the planet for signals to be transmitted to raise their level of technical development to the point where they would generate electromagnetic signals, and in doing so, return more concentrated information and halve the time delay in comparison with the existing method.
Before this took full effect, musical responses started to return. They came slowly at first, showing naivety, gaiety, sadness, then music and religious feeling merged,the major mode slipped into the minor, and the tragic outcome revealed itself. Music and technical progress roped together like two climbers negotiating an icefield. Both would progress, but eventually one must fall, dragging the other down and in a punctuated progression, no matter that either found a temporary handhold, the momentum of the partner wrenched it away. Analysis showed just one course. Before the travellers reached the target, music would be everywhere, but what music! Themes, tunes infecting each mind and reducing its conscious space as surely as a prison cell. Ahead lay a planet populated by a race whose psyche had been fatally undermined, its great potential turned in upon itself. The longed-
Too late they understood what music communicates. It communicates promise. And the nature of promise is that although it seems to pass from higher to lower, from giver to taker, it passes both ways. The beings on the target planet would sense it as purpose, their purpose, but now this purpose could never be fulfilled.
The pilot’s instructions were quite clear on one point: contact between the races must be avoided if either might be damaged by it. The compromises required to find a course enabling either landing or fly-
Everything now depended on the crucial analysis, would the new civilisation survive its contact with the old? What it came down to was this. When the two civilisations met, however good their intentions and however skilful their handling of the situation, would it be possible to conceal from them the most destructive message that anyone could bring?
All that you are and all that you think you have done has, in fact, been done by us’. This great civilisation that you are so proud of, Bach, Goethe, Einstein, Titian, Shakespeare. These, and all the others, are nothing more than our creations. Do you think you can cope with that? And together with this, all that you might have been, we have taken away.
As the analysis proceeded, firmed up by data that was being received at an overwhelming rate, it became clear that the answer was No! Not only would the consequences be devastating to the inhabitants of the planet, it was unlikely that the in-
But promise was still promise; something had to be done. Something must be sent, and explanation, consolation, an apology. The task was first given to the most senior among them. He needed to find a voice to communicate, but a single voice was not enough, neither were two or three sufficient, but although it seems most probable that four would bring success, attempts were also made with five working together, C-
On a planet, known to its inhabitants as ‘Earth’, in what was called there as the late 20th century, a device called the ‘mobile phone’ appeared. At first this was just a curiosity, but it spread with amazing speed to every so-
Then one day every mobile phone belonging to every person on the planet began to ring, but not as they ever had rung before. Instead of the usual insistent call, each phone emitted notes of such sweetness that by the time only the third had sounded, all were transfixed. Sleepers awakened around the world. Mothers took their babies in their arms and gathered children, too young to have phones of their own, around them. Everyone knew, with utter certainty, that they had spent their whole life waiting for this call. And the message itself; silence, but silence of a special kind, an infinite hollow, and within that hollow lay this understanding:
The visitor you have been waiting for is unable to meet you.
No explanation, no excuse, no “he has somewhere better to go”, just silence.
Then the waiting: the knowledge that nothing important would ever happen again, and a voice conveying the unspoken thought: “If you do not wish to continue, press ‘next’. and there, in the centre of the key pad, was a button of a strange colour that no one had ever seen before.