FLASH FLASH FLASH trigger threshold reached on protocol MUTUAL OBSERVER, phenomenon RED ANTELOPE detected # message regarding RED ANTELOPE follows: # sensor platform Xo23 detected stellar flare from candidate star ross-128 at an extraction of one-point-three-two-eight (1.328) lightyears, shifted scientific platform to observe, classified natural phenomenon five-hundred (500) seconds until first detection of phenomenon RED ANTELOPE: determined possible subject of protocol MUTUAL OBSERVER, dedicated to further analysis anomalous, patterned radio emissions characterised phenomenon RED ANTELOPE after duration of one (1) kilosecond RED ANTELOPE concluded after duration of thirty-six (36) kiloseconds, analysis follows: total information content multiply-redundant; repeating on cycle of approximately one-hundred-twenty (120) seconds, estimated information content: 2592000 bits information content analysis indicates non-terrestrial origin, product of non-human technology standard package radio transmission sent, including modified transmission approximating RED ANTELOPE frequency, response expected in eighty-three-point-eight-two (83.82) megaseconds approx. RED ANTELOPE elevated from suspected protocol MUTUAL OBSERVER phenomenon to category highly probable, advisory follows: ADVISORY: RED ANTELOPE is likely of NON-HUMAN ORIGIN, construction of further interstellar probes and dispatch of appropriate transmissions recommended # message ends #
—Transmission received from starwisp interstellar probe Xo23
in 2127, classified under international law
–Artwork based on images transmitted by probe
Xo23, artist unknown
First detected as long ago as 2017, anomalous radio signals have long been a mystery associated with Ross 128, a red dwarf star a mere eleven lightyears from Earth. Despite initially being disregarded as manmade interference from covert satellites, intermittent radio emissions originating from Ross 128 have been detected ever since, usually (although not always) coinciding with particularly energetic flares emitted by Ross 128.
In the decades which followed, much theoretical work was done to better understand the physical basis underpinning these inconsistent radio emissions , but few conclusions were reached. Soon, the radio whispers of Ross 128 became another fact of life, featured in second-rate science fiction and the source of endless conspiracy theories but given little further thought.
By the 2110’s, the development of space infrastructure and laser launch technology opened new frontiers in astronomy and exoplanet research. The first interstellar probes, so-called starwisps — compact sensor packages attached to ultra-lightweight lightsails — were launched to nearby stars. Although the majority of these were the product of nation states, not unlike the friendly competition of the First and Second Space Races, some mission plans were developed or even funded by public and private institutions.
One such mission plan, funded in part by the SETI Institute, was to send a starwisp to study Ross 128’s planets, in part to put to rest conspiracy and cheap fiction about the radio emissions alike. Xo23’s mission became a media sensation as thousands of people — many of them dressed in bug-eyed alien costumes or tinfoil hats — camped outside of the SETI Institute’s headquarters for the launch of the probe.
The long years of Xo23’s approach were largely quiet, punctuated either by occasional, sensationalised tabloid headlines about alien-worshipping cults and first contact, or by mundane articles penned by astronomers appealing in vain for calm and reason. Leaving aside constant jokes by late-night talk-show hosts and second-class washed-up comedians about alien invasions, most people seemed to think nothing would happen.
And then, suddenly, everything went quiet. Senior researchers at the SETI institute were ushered into government cars in the middle of the night, physicists and astronomers around the world were quietly pressed into service of the United Nations, and across the InterPlaNet, rumour, speculation and conspiracy bloomed and died.
–Low-resolution image broadcast by Xo23 during
flyby through Ross 128 system
The silence was deafening and prolonged. Even as anxieties mounted among the public, the media at large refused to cover this breaking story. News articles focused conspicuously on the usual mores of celebrity gossip rather than the defining existential question of an age. Governments around the world refused to answer questions of any kind; refused even to acknowledge them. Humanity waited with bated breath.
But the wall of silence couldn’t last forever.
Two days after the quiet set in, someone broke the line. On half a dozen imageboards, social media sites and discussion forums, a trove of official data was leaked. The original transmission from the probe, intelligence analyses, half a dozen fuzzy, low-resolution images taken by Xo23. At first, worms and viruses engineered by intelligence agencies chased these leaks across the networks, but they were never quite as fast as the people sharing and rehosting the disclosures.
By midday, the suppression of the leaks was called off.
If waiting for answers had been bad, getting them was worse. By the time the American president had finished her press conference, there was rioting in the streets. Fires raged across the world. The masses lashed out in blind, animal panic; the natural response to having one’s place in the universe questioned.
What followed, however, was a cultural renaissance, a flurry of art and poetry and speculation about the aliens — Ross’ Antelopes, people started calling them. Physicists and engineers were shepherded before live audiences to answer questions, experts in spacecraft propulsion and closed-cycle ecologies offered their takes on interstellar travel. Alien life wasn’t just known, however mysterious — it was tantalisingly close.
Soon, the enthusiasm turned nervous, however. The Antelopes’ continued silence troubled humanity at large. Where was the invitation to join some great Galactic council? Careful, studious analysis of the Antelopes’ message made little headway into understanding its contents — but the Ross 128 transmission contained only 324 kilobytes of data, about the same information content as a single page of plain text.
Answers came less than three years later, when Xo23 made its flyby of the Ross 128 system at half the speed of light.
Grainy, blurry images showed not a bustling hub of alien culture or society but a great, ruined machine, tumbling lazily in its orbit around Ross 128b, the innermost planet in Ross 128’s litter. It would come to be known as the Whisker Rake.
–Various views on the “Whisker Rake,” otherwise known
as Red Antelope Artifact One
Even by the standards of the early space age, the so-called Whisker Rake was crude. A gold-plated transmitter array, 200 metres across, made from interlocking hexagonal tiles, most of them damaged. Sheltering beneath these plates, an icosahedral ball of metals and ceramic, riddled with trackmarks and punctures, spilling faded wires and glassy rubble, a ring of conventional-looking RCS thrusters mounted to its equator. And tied to all of that, huge, flexible trelliswork vanes a couple of square kilometres in diameter.
Immediately, the physicists understood the machine. It must, once, have been powered either by a reactor or a solar array, long since lost to damage. The Whisker Rake, however crude its design, was built nonetheless to be resilient. Even with its onboard memory banks in ruins and deprived of power, the machine’s circuitry must still have worked. And fortunately for us, Ross 128 was a flare star.
Whenever the surface of Ross 128 erupted, the multi-kilometre vanes of the Whisker Rake — a receiver array meant to sniff out faint signals from other stars — drew power from the furious energies flowing past. For as much as a few days at a time, solar flares allowed the ruined machine to scream into the void, in search — we assume — of repair. For whatever reason, tech support never showed up.
With the realisation that the alien machine at Ross 128 was utterly mundane, knowledge of alien life became just that — knowledge. People largely moved on. Reaching Ross 128 with anything more than a handful of flyby probes driven by lightsails was a fantasy in the early 22nd Century, well beyond the technological capabilities of the era. The first spacecraft to leave the Solar System wouldn’t do so until the late 2190s, and when they did, it was on seventy-year voyages to stars much closer than Ross 128.
It wasn’t until late in the 2300s that humans first reached Ross 128 and had chance to study up close the alien artifact left there. The outermost hull of the Whisker Rake showed pitting due to micrometeorite impacts consistent with having been manufactured between eleven and fifteen thousand years before present, incredibly recent in cosmic terms, but unfortunately long enough that the machine’s volatile memory banks, exposed to open space, were wiped clean of any useful data.
The presence of the ruins of an advanced, starfaring species has been taken by some researchers to suggest that the solution of Fermi’s Paradox is a Great Filter, or extinction-level event, which lies in humanity’s immediate future, although many have decried these claims as needlessly alarmist.
Puzzlingly, aside from debris thought to have originated from the Whisker Rake itself, no other artefacts of the Red Antelope civilisation have been found among the worlds and asteroids orbiting Ross 128, despite extensive development by subsequent human colonists — which has led some to suggest that the Red Antelope civilisation was comprised not of organic aliens but instead either of artificial intelligences or uploaded minds.
In any event, the discovery of these alien ruins shocked humanity to its core, both because it left the human race unsure of their place or purpose in a universe now confirmed to host other intelligences, and because it left lingering and, frankly, disturbing questions about the longevity of starfaring human civilisation.
In the centuries since, more artefacts of the Red Antelope civilisation have been discovered, all of them in a similar state of disrepair to the original Whisker Rake orbiting Ross 128b, spread thin across the entire spinward portion of what is now Human Space. It is widely believed that the Antelopes never developed wormhole technology or any other means of faster-than-light communication or travel.
The apparent extinction of the Antelopes is unclear both in its cause, and its exact duration — it remains to be determined whether simple accident or decay ended the Red Antelope civilisation, for example, or whether warfare or some sort of attack was responsible; similarly it is unclear how long, exactly, the Antelopes took to go extinct.
: Strange Signals from the Nearby Red Dwarf Star Ross 128, Mendez A., (2017)
: Signals from A Nearby Star System?, Shostack S., SETI Institute, (2018)
: Ross 128b, Metallic Orbital Debris and Radio Emissions, Chavez, K., CERN, (2037)
: Flare Star-Driven Atmospheric Radio Emissions and Ross 128, Gupta, J., IoP Bhubaneswar, (2067)
: RED ANTELOPE and a Disturbing Hypothesis Resolving Fermi’s Paradox, Chen, et. al., University of Ceres South, (2431)