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The Prank

At a giant radio telescope, somewhere in the depths of a featureless desert, a postgrad student was bored. She'd been on calibration duty all week and the monotony was getting to her. But this was the last cycle, just two more to do. Just one more to do. And finally done! She needed to celebrate her achievement. She thought for a moment and then laughed to herself as the song in her earbuds finished and a new one started on the shuffled playlist. She looked around, even though she was alone in the control room, reached for the controls that adjusted the whole telescope, moved it a fraction of a degree, to a star more than two hundred light years away and sent her message. She restored the telescope to its previous position and went on with her work, quickly forgetting about what she'd done.

Some decades after our young astrophysicist had done her little private prank, when it was long forgotten and she was well established in her career, faster than light travel was discovered. Humanity spread from the cradle and reached for the stars.

A colony was established on an unremarkable star, about two hundred light years from Earth. For a while, things went well, and then the ships disappeared and the ansibles fell silent. The colony struggled and eventually settled down to live and grow on its own, cut off from wider human society. But they had a tradition - no matter what happened on their world, they always kept a receiver pointed at the little patch of sky that tradition told them was where the mother world was.

Several generations passed, and the now almost forgotten receiver starts beeping furiously. It's received a message. There's jubilation around the world - they're not alone, Earth has finally contacted them. It takes time to boost the weak signal, clean up the message, and reverse engineer the ancient protocol.

But eventually, they're ready, and the message is played out, across the globe simultaneously. There's a drum beat, a keyboard rhythm, and then...

"Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you..."

– June 2022

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