In the fall of 2040, the collaboration Active Gravity Interferometer Data Analysis identified recurring patterns in the data recovered from two of the three gravity waves detectors active at the time.
After two years of furious discussions, the conclusion was reached that the recurring, quasi-regular patterns were, in fact, time-stamp codes, artificial in nature.
Were they? Was it, really, the first communication from an alien intelligence?
Of course, the modern reader knows that the answer is a resounding "Yes" but, at the time, astrophysicists fights over it were just one tiny step removed from an actual civil war.
However, it would have taken a while before the content of the actual communication was deciphered; this is a short, small recapitulation of how it came to happen.
The possibility galvanized the SETI community, so thousands of scientists and amateur astronomers started searching for other signals in the noise that the gravity waves receivers were picking up.
As it could be expected from signals created by an advanced civilization, they were heavily compressed with a format that approximated almost perfectly the entropy of the source, per Claude Shannon's work.
Or, in layman works, the signals looked almost exactly like white noise.
The signals proved as easily recognizable and interpretable, as it would be a wi-fi transmission for someone without access to an extensive specification of the signal encoding .
The time-stamp code was practically the only part of the format that was "in clear", uncompressed - as we now know, precisely to allow it to be "seen" by fellow sentient species.
Knowing that something was there didn't made any easier to find it, so it took 15 years to crack the code, and even then, it was mostly by coincidence.
In Spring 2052, Rhada Chakravorty entered the team developing DDB - Digital Data Broadcasting, the first "data agnostic" and truly international data broadcasting system.
DDB had been sponsored by the U.N., as an attempt to unify the various digital video and data broadcasting systems in use at the time, all around the world, and featured a then innovative implementation of OFDM(Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing) on a 256 states QAM.
It was also designed to be the base for WiMax3.
It was analysing the rough signals of an early implementation of WiMax3, that Chakravorty recognised a subtle similarity between the antenna signals from the Wimax base and the "noise" from the eLISA space interferometer, that she was spending most of her free time analysing - as a member of the Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers.
In the space of two years, with the collaboration of Dr. Kim Lee Edgar of the Kyung Hee University, she wrote a first decoder for the aggregated stream of data inside eLisa's "white noise".
Chakravorty and Kim received a Nobel Prize in 2081(ironically, the year that is considered the start of the "Earth First" movement) for their development of the first ISDLP (Inter-Stellar Data Link Protocol) decoder of 2054.
Though breaking ISDLP allowed to access the first layer of the transmission channel used by the aliens, this only exposed the data packets inside said stream, but the data inside the packets were, themselves, encoded and compressed, when not - like it happens in any secure connection - cyphered to avoid tampering from third parties (which, essentially, Earth's humanity at the time was - an unintended third party trying to snoop in on a private channel).
Still, the accessibility of the packets multiplied the fronts to attack the data inside it, first by categorizing them by their recurring attributes - essentially, format headers and sizes - then by hypothesizing what each packet type was likely.
In September 2055, Joshua Obote - then a student of the University of Johannesburg - recognized a variant of the LZW compression algorithm, in a medium sized data packet of around 350 kilobytes.
With the help of fellow student Elaine Mahola, hypothesizing that the packet was in fact similar to a black and white GIF image, he managed then to successfully decode the first TGIF (Transsian Graphic Interchange Format) image, here reproduced.
|"The Beautiful Alien"|
The first image from an alien civilization ever decoded, this drawing of
F'Qahj Lize Fjschwann, represented an incredible moment for Earth's humanity.
It is difficult to downplay the importance of this achievement, or its counter-intuitive effects.
In the months mounting to this discovery, polemics about the form and cultures of the aliens had abounded, and fierce resistance to the decoding efforts had been organized by many religious authorities.
The underlying motivation for this resistance was, essentially, the fear of discovering that the intelligences outside our Solar System were really of the "alien starfish" variety - potentially of an atheistic persuasion.
This image changed it all, as most experts inferred from it that:
- The aliens looked remarkably human-like.
- The aliens produced art.
- The aliens had some kind of Internet.
- The aliens liked porn.
- The aliens were, in fact, as humans as everybody's neighbours.
- Finally, that "Internet is for porn"(*) was an universal rule.
Being that the case, from the Pope to the Dalhai Lama, various ayatollah and the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a vast majority of the planet's religious leaders manifested the opinion that the aliens were indeed humans, and as such amenable to conversion and salvation - per the tenets of each leader's religion, of course.
As a result, the religious authorities of the whole Earth felt not only relieve - as no widespread adoption of atheism was likely to result from a contact with what seemed to be just another variant of humanity - but a surge of hope.
Dwindling as their faithful's numbers may have been in the modern world, the people outside Earth could be more receptive to the message of hope in their faiths.
Each Pope, Ulamā, Ayatollah, and - generally - every predicator of a religion having proselytism in its beliefs system, saw the future with more hope, as a result of "The Beautiful Alien" image.
Maybe, an entire galaxy was waiting for their Faith's Words and Salvation.
Little did they know, that this was a play that could be played by both sides, and that the aliens had spent millennia playing it.
(*) Note: as we now know, the latter three deductions were not correct... this is, in fact, a religious image out of a theocratic culture, the Transsian, that is interested to sex only for one month every two years - when all the members of the species enter a collective oestrus state - and has no use whatsoever for what Earth humans call porn, or "sexual sins" of any kind.
Only a mere 40% of the human cultures in our octant of the galaxy shares Earth's humans lack of a strict, "mandatory" oestrus cycle, and are therefore compatibles with "sexual concepts".
The others cannot really understand what the fuss is all about.
As an example, in the Transsian culture, the Earth word "porn" has been adopted just as a contraction of the phrase "scenery porn", indicating an excessive attention - in drawings - to background details.