Fugue State

Leanne Ogasawara

His words dissolve into the sound of his footsteps as they crunch through the snow. Snow in Hawaii. Miho is perched on the edge of the summit, watching clouds roiling beneath her feet. Twelve white domes, and a few scattered infrared and sub-millimeter telescopes, dot the Martian-like landscape of Mauna Kea. Her dark hair is wild in the wind, as she stands watching the sun sink into the ocean in the distance.

They two first met on the mountain years ago, when they were young astronomers. She wonders if she isn’t more excited about seeing him than in the work that so often brings her to this remote place. Watching him making his way toward her, she can almost make out a few words on frozen air.

Was he singing?

He’d been doing calibration observations of a nearby G-type star with his spectrograph around hydrogen-alpha, 6563 angstroms. At first, he dismissed the two emission lines. But the next day he found a line on one side. Then next, on the other side. Signal frequency varied back and forth. Like an FM radio signal –but optical. Plus, pause, minus-minus, pause, plus-plus-plus, pause…counting upwards. Then a long pause. The computer screen showed a complicated signal that made no sense, plus-plus, rest, plus-plus-plus-plus, rest, plus-plus, rest, continuing. When this complicated signal repeated on the minus side a few seconds later, he began to pant. It was music. A fugue!

They were opening the dome. There wasn’t much time before they would fire up the adaptive optics system, sending a bright beam of light into the night sky. Time for him to get back inside.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “Space is vast and listening here on earth hard enough.

“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”

“In all the possibilities for intelligent life, Miho, there are two things they will likely share with us. The laws of evolution and liquid water.”

“You forgot resource scarcity,” she said. “That is also probable.”

 “If they have math and telescopes, they’ll likely have music,” he keeps talking. “This is the music of the spheres we have been searching for since Aristotle.”

She remains silent.

He takes her cold hands in his and tries again, “It’s a fugue. Or maybe an alien waltz. A Blue Danube from a purple world.”

She frowns, shaking her head. She understood this would happen. One day the human world would receive a signal from a planet like Gliese 832c. But she also knew what her mother would say. “Always keep your head down, Miho. The world is not always a nice place. And the nail that sticks up will be smashed back down.”

“We should be wary of answering back,” she tells him, looking straight into his eyes. It took several minutes to adjust to the deepening darkness. But finally they began to appear in the sky above them— stars upon stars upon stars.

Leanne Ogasawara has worked as a translator from the Japanese for over twenty years. Her translation work has included academic translation, literary, and subtitles for documentary films. Her creative writing has appeared in the Kyoto Journal, River Teeth/Beautiful Things, Hedgehog Review, Entropy, the Dublin Review of Books, and forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine and Gulf Coast Journal. She also has a monthly column at the science and arts blog 3 Quarks Daily.

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