I groaned, rubbing my hands over my eyes. It didn’t really make the aching go away, but I knew that, by the end of my shift, I’d feel worse.
A couple seats over from me, Ricky, the junior technician on duty, looked up with sympathy. “Hey, Dana, I’ve got some aspirin in my bag if you need one,” he offered gallantly.
I managed to give him a weak smile. “Thanks, Ricky,” I told him, “but I’m okay for now. Just getting ready to tackle the next batch of messages.”
“Sure thing,” he said, his eyes lingering on me for another moment before he turned back to his own computer. Glancing over his shoulder, I saw that he appeared to be working on some sort of orbital calculations. Lucky. I’d gladly switch jobs with him.
“Oh, Dana, you must be so lucky!” I mimicked my own voice under my breath, waving my hands back and forth. “You get to work at NASA, and you were around when aliens finally started making contact with humanity! You have the best job in the world! You actually get to read the messages from alien races! I’d give anything to trade jobs with you!”
I shook my head once more in disgust before turning back to my screen. Fighting my growing headache, I started reading through the hundreds of messages that we’d received in the last twenty-four hour period. Message after message came streaming into our high-powered telescopes, the huge supercomputers translating the messages into English.
Or, at least, almost English, I amended that last thought. Broken English. No matter how much we yelled at the engineers and machine learning specialists about it, they insisted that their translations were accurate.
I clicked on the top message. “Meet sexey buuty from Sirius noW!!!” advertised the header, which didn’t give me much hope.
Still, had to read each one. I scrolled down to the message body. “An_invitiation_to_Sirius_SexyTentacles”, it said, all one word. Nothing else. Delete and move on.
When the messages first started pouring in, the entire world erupted in celebration. All around the globe, differences were put aside, at least temporarily. New peace treaties were signed, environmentally degrading projects were put on hiatus, and countries around the world started pouring new money into their space programs. The whole world began quickly cleaning up the worst of its messages, like a lover shoving clothes into the closet to prepare for her date’s first visit to her apartment.
Only after NASA started using its supercomputers to decipher the messages, however, did some of the excitement begin to wane. Instead of finding complex messages of peace and welcome, introducing humanity to the Galactic Coalition of peaceful space-fairing races, we received, well…
…spam. It was spam, through and through, Dana admitted to herself. That was 99% of the messages they received – and since all of their replies were unanswered (presumably because they were sending these messages back to spammers), they couldn’t unsubscribe.
Instead, NASA needed to keep on designating someone to, each night, read through the cacophony of messages that came pouring in. And tonight, Dana had drawn the short straw.
There had been a hope, at first, that they’d find some nuggets of useful information in amid all of the spam. With each passing day, however, those hopes faded a little more. Dana had at first hoped that she’d make a huge breakthrough discovery about alien life. Now, she just enjoyed when she didn’t have any pictures of what, she had to assume, were alien genitalia in any of the night’s messages.
On to the next one. With one hand, Dana rubbed her temples as she dragged the mouse to the next message, this one titled “Galactic International has a shipping surprise for you”. She didn’t have high hopes.
Ricky turned around at the sound of a muffled scream. “Another set of alien genitals?” he asked, not unkindly, as Dana pressed her hands against her eyes, trying to block out the sight.
“Seriously, I should have chosen medical school,” Dana groaned back, gagging a little. “This is the worst.”