Stars bleed through waves of kinetic wash as between-space unfolds and deposits you between a pair of cold, supermassive gas giants that hover ominously in the void. Readings trickle in from your ship’s sensors, and while one of the giants shows the expected waveforms and radiation curves for a jupiter-type world, the other, the darker one, has a different chorus all its own.
Nudging your ship toward the anomalous readings, you drop a mote-probe into the void, watch the readings come in as the tiny machine starts to dip into the wide, glittering rings of the darker gas giant. The results are bizarre, full of traces of frozen carbiforms and alloys far too pure to be natural. Unusual radiation gradients fill your mind with the distillate of machine analysis, and then you realize– these rings, they aren’t dust or ice. These rings are the remains of something huge, something manufactured.
Something that, somehow, even mostly atomized by eons of tumbling through the void, is still actively transmitting.
Other minds connect in the network as you upload a continuous stream of waveform data, sorting sounds from static until the tattered edges of a message begins to form in the analytical in-between. It’s simple, mathematical, and full of pixelated pictures when decoded. Only when one of the other networked minds recognizes some of the symbols does anything start to make sense. It’s an echo of something from humanity’s own distant past, a lone voice crying out as the people of Earth once did, asking the eternal question, is anybody out there?
No life remains in the debris ring to receive the message, but as the linked minds withdraw, you decide to send it anyway. Using the same parameters, the same language as the question, you send a carefully-composed answer back. It’s simple, almost painfully so, but it’s also something that those lost souls might have been desperate to hear so very long ago.
Yes, the message says. We are many. Welcome to the community.