Anthony Michael Morena
from The Voyager Record
She asked me what I was listening to. I told her about Voyager, and the interstellar record and the attempt to sum up all of humanity in one record. The next song started, ethereal and spare, “Flowing Streams,” 流水.
“Why would they send the type of music aliens would like instead of sending real music?”
“That’s not alien music,” I explained. “That’s Chinese.”
I like the indifferent greetings the most, the hesitant ones. The Rajasthani greeting says: “We are happy here and you be happy there.” The Arabic greeting is less indifferent, but still wary. It says: “Greetings to our friends in the stars. May time bring us together.” Which doesn’t tell the aliens not to come, but maybe not to come over just yet.
The aliens who discover the Voyager record are confused by the 55 greetings. They have difficulty with linguistics. Is each word a separate meaning? What does one word have to do with the next? Does each word represent the sounds of a different language? Does each phoneme? Where does one word end and the next word begin? Is this one language with many facets to it, expressing with sound a mood, a face to each feeling, a so-many chambered heart—like the aliens’ heart, which has fourteen? Why, 55 times, do these people say the same thing over and over? Did they think that we would not get the point?
The aliens who find the record have no ears, no auditory system of any kind. They communicate through a series of signs that they tap on each other’s chests. One tap for yes, two taps for no. They have no audio technology because they never needed to listen to anything before. The data on the Golden Record that they can understand—the images—is all that makes sense next to the rest of this gibberish. But they want to understand, so they build two massive speakers, lay their curling heads between the boxes, and let the woofers rattle their brains.
As I listen to the Bulgarian folk song “Izlel je Delyo Hajdutin,” I picture your destruction by a thousand micro-impacts spread out over time in the empty regions of space, in the Oort cloud, which I imagine as dust, or space filled with dust, hard rock bits and ice. Battered, Voyager rolls away from each hit, as this song plays accompanying soundtrack. The receiver dish shatters without noise, Voyager lists and is cold. This was not a suicide mission, but no extra steps were made to protect you other than to put a cover on you. They did not bury you in a black box deep within the craft. Does it make you a more valid artistic work that you were never viable? If you are ever found, what will be left will not be you but something unintentional. Each impact makes another tiny perforation in you, punctuating song. You become a remix: not many songs, but one. “Izlel je Delyo Hajdutin” is about a rebel Bulgarian who fought the Ottoman Turks. They said he couldn’t be killed by ordinary means, but only by a silver bullet. You are made of gold plated-copper. The song has bagpipes too, playing just like a fucking cop died.
The essential difference between a robotic mission like Voyager and a manned mission is the difference between a linear narrative and a cyclical one. We want people to come back to the circling world, like a record, so we can start again. From scratch. A cycle’s humanity is its finality: it has to end somewhere, it has to begin again. Voyager, on the other hand, may never stop.
Anthony Michael Morena is a writer from New York who moved to Tel Aviv, where he lives with his wife and son. The Voyager Record, forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in 2016, is his first book. He reads fiction for Gigantic Sequins, tweets semi-regularly at @anphimimor, and is currently at work on an MA in creative writing.