Doomsday

by Leslie Milligan

'Watching TV again?' said Sarah, annoyed at having to programme their dombot for the third time in a row. Geoff was becoming lazier and had withdrawn from even doing that little chore. The dombot beeped its instructions received signal and commenced with the housework. It was happily buzzing away in the bathroom by the time Sarah sat down next to Geoff and she started to moan in earnest, 'that's the last time I...'

Geoff held up his hand and pointed at the screen, 'Listen. It's unbelievable!'

Sarah followed his finger and looked at the newscast. A young female newsreader was talking in an animated tirade, which Sarah failed to comprehend. Such animation was normally reserved for the last stages of a horse race. Then the scene changed from the newsroom to an outside broadcast from the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope.

From there, the reporter spoke with a more measured tone and Sarah managed to take in what he was saying with ease, 'Here we are at the venerable site of the Jodrell Bank telescope, which is still functional and is still used for some areas of astronomical research. We are hoping the director, a Professor Dawson, will meet with the press shortly. What he announced earlier today is truly shocking. Let's hope he'll give a considerably more detailed of account of his claim that God is coming to Earth next Thursday. That's three days from now and evidently, other radio telescopes all over the globe have received a similar message.

They are all agreed that it is highly unlikely that a hoax is involved. I am assured that the possibility of a satellite or terrestrial source has been eliminated. However, no doubt Professor Dawson will be able to expand on that. Hah here he is now.'

Other reporters crowded in from the corners of the scene and after a bit of jostling the camera steadied upon the professor whose face flickered under an assault of flashlights and leant him a surreal pallor of ever changing intensity.

The first question came from his left and he turned slightly to answer.

'Professor when did this message come through and what form did it take?'

'It was a verbal communication in English, which came through approximately two hours ago.'

From the right, 'What was the source?'

'Indeterminate. Telescopes in other parts of the world, which were all pointing in different directions, received the signal simultaneously and in the appropriate language. This among other more technical considerations most certainly proves that it cannot be a hoax: at least not a hoax of human origin.'

More jostling and then the camera's reporter asked, 'Do you think an alien intelligence is responsible?'

'It's a possibility. I'm an atheist, as is well known, and this possibility seems more credible to me than that it is God himself who has spoken. However, as it has been established that the signal is coming from a considerable distance. In the case of my telescope, thirty thousand light years away, as it is directed at the constellation of Sagittarius at our galactic centre. That means that the signal must have originated thirty thousand years ago: given it was transmitted by the use of electromagnetic waves, which are limited to the speed of light. Some of the other telescopes have received from even greater distances and, of course, other languages. Some of the signals have been received from as much as several hundred thousand years light years away. I must concede, this does place what has happened in the realms of a miracle. However, what may appear as a miracle to us, need not be to an advanced alien intelligence. Furthermore, neither English nor any of the other languages were in existence at the time of the transmission being sent, let alone our having the technology to receive it. That does seem odd does it not?'

A puzzled voice sounded from behind camera, 'Was it a text or verbal message? And if verbal, what did the voice sound like?'

The professor looked directly at the camera in an unfocused way as he was addressing a reporter much further behind. He raised his chin as he said, 'Verbal, the voice was neither male nor female: androgynous I suppose. Perfect English with no trace of an accent as far as I could tell, but I am no expert in that. It was nothing like the voice I would have expected from a deity such as depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.' He let a slight smile ease the tension of his cheeks and raised an eyebrow for further questions.

It came from the left again, 'Can we hear this voice at some point professor?'

'Yes, that is being arranged. Your various channels and media organisations will be sent copies of the message shortly.'

'What was the precise wording professor?'

The professor paused as a case of embarrassment overtook his usual cool and confident demeanour, 'It will not sound the same coming from me. I can say to those who are watching now that they deserve to hear the message directly rather than second hand. If there are no further questions I would like to return to my duties now.' He raised his eyebrows again and a silence met his ears, 'Very well then, good day to you all.' And with that he spun on his heel and returned the way he had come, somewhat faster than before, giving none of the press the opportunity to press him further.

Two hours later, in every known tongue, the world heard the message, 'the time of judgement is upon you and you are found wanting in the balance.'

Only the atheists did not commit suicide and they inherited the Earth and one very smart one said, rather smugly, to a close and trusted friend, 'I've always told you that religion is the ultimate weapon. Am I right, or am I right?'

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