Short story: Messier

A short story, loosely inspired by Tabby’s Star. Fun fact: when Messier was first categorising galaxies, he actually hated them. He was a comet hunter, and galaxies really annoyed him because they looked like comets (at least with the small telescopes they had the time) but weren’t. His list of galaxies and nebulae was originally compiled to warn other astronomers away from mistaking them for comets. It was only much later that people realised what galaxies were, or that they were actually located a long way outside the Milky Way. Anyway, story time.

We are not alone. At least, that’s the majority opinion. There are still a few astronomers bravely proposing natural explanations for the weird phenomena seen in Messier 113 – Chen-Hi just got a very interesting paper published in Nature that explains the galaxy’s impossible right-handed neutrino flux through a combination of frame dragging and supersymmetry – but most have accepted the ‘alien superstructure’ theory. They’ve even managed to stop giggling at the ASS acronym.

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Exciting news. There’s been another burst of activity from the beacon star (if ‘star’ is the right word) – another blast of polarised light encoding mathematical sequences and constants in little-endian balanced-ternary, followed by a few petabytes of what looks like random noise, but probably isn’t. We don’t know what it says, but like I said, it’s very exciting.

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Another shuttle’s been spotted. That’s what we call these weird Sun-sized objects in M113 that appear to move at nearly the speed of light. This one’s another radial shuttle, racing away from the beacon star under a constant acceleration of about 5g. If it keeps going in a straight line, it should reach the Henare system in just under eight thousand Earth-years. Something to watch out for.

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Among exosociologists, there are two main competing theories about Henare. More shuttles appear to be heading towards Henare than would be expected through random chance, and the star’s heat signature is unusually broadband. This might mean that Henare is some kind of economic hub (exocapitalists imagine it’s a stellar trading post, exosocialists prefer to think of it as a huge redistribution project), or it might mean the system is a battlefield burning in the crossfire of enemy fleets. Every so often, the system chirrups a short blast of semi-structured data, and research is currently ongoing to work out whether these encode adverts or distress calls.

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Messier 113 is currently between 62 million (NASA estimate) and 68 million (ESA/JAXA estimate) light years away. We’ve sent them a short message – for now, just a few number sequences we hope they’ll recognise – and it should reach them some time in the next 60 to 70 million years. It’ll be interesting to see what they make of it.

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It’s odd that we’ve never seen anything moving faster than the speed of light in M113, nor have any definitive violations of conservation laws been spotted. If the ASS theory is true, the inhabitants of the galaxy must be technologically far, far, far superior to us in their understanding of physics, but they still seem restrained by the same laws as we are. A lot of theoreticians would be upset if it turned out that we’re already at the end of science and there are no amazing secrets lurking beyond the desert. But then again, if they are so much more advanced than us, they could break the known laws of physics in ways that our telescopes and detectors couldn’t even see. Let’s call this a draw for now.

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What are Em-one-thirteenians like? That’s a good question. There are… I would say five decent theories. Monogenism: all M113-ians are of the same species, and originated from the same world. Semimonogenism: all M113-ians came from the same world, but having spread across the galaxy, they’ve evolved into similar but incompatible species. Polygenism: intelligent life evolved independently on multiple worlds in M113, and radically different species all coexist, either peacefully or not. Hybridism: M113-ians uploaded their minds to computers or built robot bodies or learned to genetically engineer themselves, and so there’s no one M113-ian species nor do they follow the laws of evolution any more. And finally, there’s Usurpationism: What we see now isn’t life at all, but the product of robots or whatever who’ve conquered the galaxy after destroying their creators.

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I mean, there are also a bunch of niche theories, lumped under Cryptogenism – M113-ians are actually sentient stars, M113-ians are spontaneously-generated Boltzmann brains, M113-ians were created by an even more powerful species as an experiment. Such obvious nonsense isn’t worth listing here in more detail, although I admit Idiotism is pretty funny. That’s the theory that M113 doesn’t host intelligent life at all but just the equivalent of gigantic dung beetles, busily shuttling stars around for reasons they’re too stupid to understand. Probably wrong, but funny to imagine.

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Speaking of things it’s not worth mentioning, there was of course a bit of a religious brouhaha when the news broke about M113, as I’m sure you can imagine. The Pope wrote a very confusing bull about charity to non-humans, some American preachers worked very hard to prove this was all a Satanic hoax, a ‘godman’ built a cult around what he said was clearly evidence of M113s in the Vedas, someone tried to blow up a radio telescope. All very cliché, and it disappeared pretty quickly when it became clear just how far away 62 million light years really was. And I’m not even going to touch the theory that M113 is actually Heaven, seen from afar. Total bullshit.

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There’s been another broadcast. Same sequences, but it looks like about seven percent of the data is different – much more than usual. Although there was a gamma ray burst from a nearby galaxy at around the same time. Maybe the data was just swamped and corrupted by noise. If we can ever decode these messages, we’ll find out for sure.

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There’s a new theory emerging which could totally reinvent our understanding of M113. It’s awfully big coincidence that the gamma ray burst just happened to coincide with the beacon star emissions. What if… the M113-ians deliberately triggered it themselves? It throws everything into a new light. We’ve always assumed that their activity was limited to their own galaxy, but maybe that’s not the case. A civilisation capable of triggering a supernova in a distant galaxy would be far higher up the Kardashev scale than we thought. Unimaginable energy and technology must be at their fingertips. Unless it is just a coincidence.

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Hollywood used to pump out all these movies set in M113, but that seems to have eased off now. They were all pretty generic anyway. Just normal space opera, Star Wars stuff, except they’d mention a few M113 landmarks like Henare and the beacon star. It got oversaturated, and I think people are pretty bored with that stuff now. It’s dragged down the whole sci-fi industry.

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The annual M113 conference will be taking place in Lagos next month. Unless we can rustle up a bit more funding, it might be the last one for a while. I’ll be hosting a session in the ‘New observations’ track, and there are some very interesting talks lined up. Taware Henare himself will have the latest spectral data on his eponymous star system and… well, I don’t want to break embargo here, but let’s just say the isotope distribution of a certain metalloid is very different to that predicted. Rachela Rodriguez y Iglesias has noticed some unusual bunching in the velocity distribution of dust in the galaxy’s outer disc, and Priya Varsani is making a name for herself with her detection of the missing harmonics in gravitational wave data from the galaxy. If data like this keeps rolling in, it will surely just be a matter of time until we fully understand M113 and its inhabitants. Assuming, of course, that they exist.

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