“No nudes,” the tech said as he sidled up next to me.
“Word from the top. No tits for aliens.”
“You've got to be kidding me.”
“Sagan's throwing a fit in his office.”
“I might throw one myself. Might as well shove an Amish guy into space and call it good. What about birth? Basic anatomy?”
“Well, I guess the aliens didn't need to see the Statue of David. Not like it's a big deal.”
He laughed like it was the funniest thing he'd heard all day, or like it was either laugh or he'd never stop crying.
Someone picked up on the tell-tale hint of a strange signature. Just enough to stir interest. Suddenly every free telescope on the planet was pointed in one direction, searching out the source.
Pinning it down took some time. Getting a clear picture took longer. By the time some brain in the north figured it out, the object was already winging past the planet, deeper into the solar system. But the blurred, barely-there picture was enough. It wasn't an asteroid. It wasn't anything they'd ever seen.
“So this LAGEOS plaque.”
“We're working under the assumption that everything we've done here will be forgotten. That, eight-odd million years from now, there will be humans—“
“Or something, yes, but the Voyager, and us, and everything are forgotten. Just, gone. Dust and corrupted data files. And these humans, or whatever, will be alien to us.”
“It's goddamn lonely. And even if, by defying every statistic in the universe, this heap of space junk manages to reach someone, it'll be so far in the future it won't matter. Everything will be gone. All these pictures and messages and music, it won't mean anything.”
“Why are you in this project, then?”
“It's beautiful. Even if it doesn't mean anything, even if no one ever finds it, I want it to exist. To float out in the cosmos, aimless and tiny. I want it to exist, full of loneliness and hope.”
It came around again, many years later. The last remainders of the first-pass generation cried out with such force that the rest of the world couldn't help but be swept up in the excitement. Clearer pictures came through now. It frightened some. It awed others.
There was a lot of talk about catching the object, but the technology simply wasn't there. Still, they could now find its trajectory, estimate when it would come back again. Many years. They could only hope they would be in time for the next pass.
“It's funny, you know.”
“All of this. Sending out a love letter into deep space like this, when we haven't even set foot on Mars.”
“You think we should be focusing on manned missions?”
“No, not really. I mean, yes, but this is good too. It's just funny. Egocentric, I guess. Proud. ”
“That's humanity for you.”
“Yeah. Virtue or vice, the Voyager's carrying that, too.”
They caught it. Not on the next pass, not on the one after that. But eventually, they caught it and opened it up, studying the disc and making machines to decode it. It took a long time, but they managed.
And the first golden strains of Mugam drifted out over an alien world.