The call had come through all right. It was the message that got mangled.
Cryptologic analysis revealed the markings obscure and unclassifiable. No known analogs existed in the paralinguistic catalogs. It was reasonable to suppose their origins extrasolar, possibly extragalactic, and likely transhuman. Stone-Age stick figures, Space-Age stenography. Savage scrawls or hyper-sophisticated information encoding. Its interpretation was in any case imperative. Decipherment Priority 1.
Caxton surveyed the stonework with care. What kind of creature, he mused, would encode their cosmology with such impenetrably crude elegance? He considered the possibility, however remote, that the markings amounted to nothing more than random, occasional etching, perhaps even an elaborate time-traveler’s prank. But intelligence implied at least intention. Caxton was duty-bound to decipher theirs.
That night, Caxton dreamed. He found himself standing in a strange cavern, dark as pitch but for what appeared to be the faint illumination of a thousand whirling stars. There was an odd harmonic humming in the stellar configuration. Directly, as if by magic, the stars began to move.
Caxton’s head was aswim with sensation, suffused in the energy of the cave. It occurred to him that this was no ordinary cave, certainly not native to this world he thought he knew. The stars seemed a kind of embodied, or transembodied, articulation. Living, lucid language, encrypted apparition. Starspeak, in short.
By turns it became clear that Caxton was in the presence of a superorganic, if nebulous, intelligent lifeform. The stars danced in constellated clockwork, precise to the pattern, stark and serene as stone.
The meaning you seek, a voice of unclear origin started, is not to be found in any etching or symbol on this or any stone. You must search beyond the surface, beyond your world, and look to the configurations of the stars.
All at once the cave and stars disappeared. Caxton found himself strangely transported back to the waking world, roused by the rising sun.
Caxton went at once to work on the inscrutable, hieroglyphic stone. He noticed, to his astonishment, several new markings. This time he was able to read the markings, as the glyphs oddly mirrored the star configuration Caxton had encountered in his dream.
He recognized what he thought was an analog to ancient Sumerian script. Quasi-runic, possibly proto-Phoenician. The secret of the stone, it read, is silence. Seek your soul in the stars.
Caxton smiled and set forth the words: “Markings unreadable. Origin unknown. Threat level nil. Case closed. Caxton.”
With that Caxton poured himself a gin and tonic, leaned back in his chair, and laughed like he never had before.
[Christopher Greiner is a writer and poet. He has a Masters degree in English and completed graduate work in Anthropology. He has published previously in EHS and has published other work on indigenous poetics and cultural ecology. His interests are diverse, though seem to converge upon shamanic concerns and literature of the fantastic. He blogs occasionally at druidsdharma.blogspot.com, and can be found on Facebook. He will likely publish other work and might even venture to the realm of a full-length book. For now, he does poems, short prose pieces, essays, and reviews.]