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art by Ron Sanders

The Signal

Spencer Sandoval has been writing stories since he was a kid. His grandfather encouraged him with the reward of one dollar for every completed work, no matter how small. When Spencer developed an interest in science fiction, he began to write more and more, catalyzed by the endless possibilities of the genre. Now he writes almost daily, and always in the memory of his grandfather who helped his talent grow. “The Signal” was my first attempt at flash fiction, and I had absolutely no idea how difficult it was going to be. The entire time writing this, I watched in horror as my word count got closer and closer to the limit, always very aware that I couldn’t waste a single word. It’s a lot of pressure, but definitely worth it. I feel like the thing I love most about this story is that the ending packs a punch. And I did my best to make the main character a relatable enough guy that it would mean more to the reader when they got to those last words. Hopefully I accomplished that goal.
Day 1:
This morning, our satellites picked up a radio signal originating from somewhere near the edge of our galaxy. A couple of us think it's more than the usual static background noise we sometimes pick up. Maybe a lot more. We've decided to keep it quiet until we can understand what we're actually hearing. But I think I'll tell Molly. She'll probably be more excited than I am, and that's saying a lot.
Day 36:
The signal is definitely something, we're detecting patterns that can't just be radiation. None of us know exactly what to think yet, and we're doing our best to clean up the mess that we're receiving. If it does turn out to be something, this could be big. Bigger than the faster-than-light engine the government's been working on. We're working harder than we have in years. Me especially, it feels like I'm researching in University again. Coming to work in the morning is... well, it's not a chore anymore. Molly's seen a difference in me too, even though it's only been a few weeks. I cooked for her. I can't remember the last time I did that.
Day 57:
I know how this sounds. I'm getting ahead of myself, I am... but I was in the listening station today and I heard something. Two somethings, actually. I think it was a conversation between two members of whatever species is on the other side of the galaxy. The voices were just so distinct and, I don't know, it had the same timing and cadence of two people talking, albeit in a language I can't understand. The other guys are getting more carried away than I am, I'm pretty sure they called their spouses as soon as they heard the piece of recording I showed them. It's getting harder and harder to keep this thing under wraps.
Day 71:
Director Crib was waiting for us outside our lab this morning. He demanded to know why he hadn't been informed of the signal as soon as we'd found it. Rick and Dave were both speechless, so I told him that we weren't sure the signal was anything yet. Crib disagreed. He seemed okay after that though, I think the excitement took over. Job not in jeopardy.
Day 83:
It's all hands on deck now that the secret's out. Most of the building's personnel have been reassigned to analyze our signal. Which is good, because it hasn't stopped since we first detected it. We just keep getting more and more information, it's overwhelming. No idea what any of it means yet, but I think I'm getting somewhere. I've heard more "conversations," they start and end more or less the same way every time. It's not a solid basis to decode an entire language, but maybe it'll give me somewhere to start, at least.
Day 97:
Equipment trucks were blocking the road on the way into the lab today. More scientists have been called in to help with the signal. We have a large enough antenna to receive it, but we don't have top of the line analysis equipment. At least, we didn't. Every day I see more serious and more professional looking men roaming our halls. This is getting out of hand. I miss the old days where we sat around in our jeans, daydreaming what it'd be like to actually hear something from an alien life form. Now that the dream might be reality... well, be careful what you wish for.
Day 104:
Molly's pregnant! I... I'm flabbergasted. I never knew that I wanted to be a father until she told me the news last night. And now I can't imagine anything more important. We talked all night, until she finally fell asleep in my arms a few minutes before sunrise. We're off to her parents to tell them in person. How could I possibly go into work today?
Day 236:
They found the source of the signal. Not only that, but one of our orbital telescopes was actually able to take a picture of the planet. Yes, a planet. It's not a great picture, but it looks surprisingly like home. Whenever I thought of an alien world, I always expect it to be... I don't know, at least a different color. But no, our planets could have been sisters. Crib and some of the military officials have been in meetings for the last couple weeks. I'm not important enough to know what's going on, but there's talk of some weird construction starting at the space center. A lot of people are saying we might be attempting a manned mission to the planet.
Day 315:
Jonathan Nicholas came into the world today. A beautiful, bright, happy baby boy. Molly's doing great. No problems or complications. Well, not as far as the birth is concerned. Director Crib contacted me today, wanting me to come to his office. I didn't want to leave Molly, but she told me she was just going to be sleeping anyway. I couldn't believe what he told me. There is a ship. And he asked me to be on the crew. I'm the only one that knows the language. I thought others were studying it, but apparently not. I don't know what to do.
Day 385:
I couldn't ask for a better family. A better wife. Molly cried when I told her the news three months ago, but she was smiling the whole time. She told me that she knows I've been waiting for an opportunity like this for decades. She told me that she could be strong while I was away, like she had accepted I was going before I even reached a decision. I'll only be gone one or two years if the FTL engine does what it's supposed to... I can't believe I'm going to meet another alien race. I was actually able to translate what they call their planet, too.
I hope the people of Earth are as welcoming as they sound.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Spencer Sandoval has been writing stories since he was a kid. His grandfather encouraged him with the reward of one dollar for every completed work, no matter how small. When Spencer developed an interest in science fiction, he began to write more and more, catalyzed by the endless possibilities of the genre. Now he writes almost daily, and always in the memory of his grandfather who helped his talent grow. “The Signal” was my first attempt at flash fiction, and I had absolutely no idea how difficult it was going to be. The entire time writing this, I watched in horror as my word count got closer and closer to the limit, always very aware that I couldn’t waste a single word. It’s a lot of pressure, but definitely worth it. I feel like the thing I love most about this story is that the ending packs a punch. And I did my best to make the main character a relatable enough guy that it would mean more to the reader when they got to those last words. Hopefully I accomplished that goal.

- Spencer Sandoval

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