Fiction: Noise

An essay by Unnamed Crystalline Sample #1, as provided by John A. McColley
Art by Ariel Alian Wilson

My first awareness in this plane was a buzz, a vibration that ran through my body. At first it was novel, different than anything I’d experienced. As it wore on, it became boring, annoying. When I nudged it, it fluctuated. The pitch rose or fell, but then quickly slid back to the baseline. This was something more than noise, something I could interact with. I practiced prodding the tone, sliding it up and down, learning control, half tones, quarter, creating different patterns. Then, after untold ages of just me and the tone, playing with different adjustments, experimenting with splitting the tone into two parallel vibrations … the tone changed on its own.

I waited, listened. Was it a one off? Some kind of reflection? An echo? Something that happened when my signal returned to me? But then it came again, a singular blip. I waited for another, but after hundreds, thousands of cycles, nothing happened. I sent out a blip like the one I had received. A few hundred cycles, I got another blip, followed by a second a mere hundred cycles later.

I responded with two and heard three, three and heard four.

Could a natural phenomenon add blips? Would an echo do that? I didn’t know. How could I? The tone was all I knew about this world. I sent out a more complex signal, a rising and falling wave. If the blips were natural, background noise of some sort, I would simply get a few of them in return, I reasoned.

The complexity I had been experimenting with had never returned to me before, and hundreds of thousands of cycles had passed. Perhaps there was a delay, some distant object reflecting back, or there was a kind of loop where it went around in a closed shape of some sort to return to me. In either case, the next blips I should hear would be related to the first ones I sent out. Conversely, if I received back the wave as I sent it, perhaps something was trying to communicate. If it was simply backward, I would expect a new reflection was the cause. It was so hard to identify such with a simple blip.

To my shock, none of the above occurred. I received back a highly complex signal that was neither a reflection nor the same signal sent back in the same direction. This was an entirely new signal! There was someone out there! Frantically, I sent a series of other signals, progressing from a blip to a rise and fall, to a fall and rise, stepped signals at what I had determined was a unit of amplitude, then two, three, ten.

Illustration of a person looking at a cluster of crystals.

“Did you just … ask a question?”

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2019 collection.

Unnamed Crystalline Sample #1 was discovered during experiments in transdimensional contact. While it was forcibly removed from its home, it is far more interested in learning about this dimension than wreaking vengeance on humanity. It spends its time investigating the myriad aspects of life on Earth and physical quirks of this universe.

John A. McColley is a monkey at a keyboard, smashing keys until he finds combinations of squiggles on the screen that people will publish. So far, those squiggles have been shaped into tales of steampunk superheroes, aliens worlds, and of course, crazed scientists certain that their ends justify the means. He’s currently alternating between serializing scifi and fantasy novel series here:

Ariel Alian Wilson is a few things: artist, writer, gamer, and role-player. Having dabbled in a few different art mediums, Ariel has been drawing since she was small, having always held a passion for it. She’s always juggling numerous projects. She currently lives in Seattle with her cat, Persephone. You can find doodles, sketches, and more at her blog

“Noise” is © 2019 John A. McColley
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Ariel Alian Wilson

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