WE ARE NOT ALONE, read the news chyron. Everyone on Earth was watching.
BLACK EYE TRANSMISSION: SCIENTISTS CONFIRM INTELLIGENT LIFE IN UNIVERSE
“‘Other’ intelligent life,” said Jack. “We already knew there was intelligent life.” They ignored him.
The whole office was transfixed by the screen. Something in the Black Eye Galaxy had extended a hand (if, indeed, they had hands) through the frigid void towards humanity. One by one, people turned to their phones, the existential earthquake followed by the desperate urge to commune with loved ones — to feel connected, grounded.
Jack went back to his desk.
His hand hovered over his phone. He hadn’t spoken to Sarah since the divorce, but she worked at the university physics department — she’d not have been sucked in by this hysteria. It would be good to talk to someone sane.
The phone vibrated, startling him. The caller ID showed Sarah and him, mugging for the camera. He sighed, declined the call, and went back to his inbox. No one was replying to emails. He headed home.
People were getting blind drunk, cramming into houses of worship, or just standing, staring upwards. Like there was something to see. Like the Black Eye Galaxy wasn’t 24 million light years away.
Sarah tried him again. He let it go to voicemail.
News panels waxed lyrical about how everything had changed. “We are no longer alone in the universe.” Jack sat in his chilly bedsit, glowering at the TV. Nothing had changed.
The UN announced the launch of the Department of Extragalactic Affairs. It was absurd. Assuming humanity could even decode the solitary signal, it would take 24 million years for their reply to be received. Earth’s resources would be long depleted, humanity dead or unrecognisably altered before the Black Eye Galaxy knew we’d responded. We were as alone as we’d ever been.
Jack looked around the bare walls of his apartment. It would be nice to go out and get drunk, actually. He grabbed his phone. He had another missed call from Sarah.
His finger lingered over the screen. Then he tapped ‘Call Back’.
“Hi.” She sounded nervous, exhausted.
They sat there for a while, not saying anything.